What is the Jain definition of the term “Ahimsa?”
Of course, ‘Ahimsa’ means non-harming to all living beings. But for Jainism, Ahimsa is as wide as the whole universe. All living beings are protected under the broad definition of Ahimsa. May it be a drop of water, grass blade, insects, birds, all of sea life, animals, human beings, or any beings in between, they all are protected under the Jain principle of ‘Ahimsa’. The wide definition goes far beyond. ‘Ahimsa’ does not stop at physical actions, it extends to thought and speech, to complete the whole ‘AHIMSA’.
The word ‘Ahimsa’ means a harmless way of living, with emphasis on minimizing any possible harm. Take an example from the Jain scriptures. Suppose you are hungry, and you see a tree full of oranges. Hopefully, you would not consider cutting the whole tree for just a few oranges. That would be a gross himsa. But what if you cut only a branch from which you are going to eat the fruits? Naturally, this is better. However, wouldn’t it be preferable to pluck only the oranges, and leave the branch alone? But, it’s still better to look on the ground, and pick the oranges which had already ripened, and fallen there. That is the way of living that Jainism teaches us. That is ‘Ahimsa’, harmlessness.
Just like a human, all living beings whether animals, fish, birds, bugs or plants, etc., have vitality power in variable degrees. This vitality is called Pran in Jain Philosophy. There are altogether ten Prans. One-sensed living beings have four vitalities while five-sensed living beings like humans, animals, birds, and fish have all ten vitalities. These vitalities are:
1) Sparsh‑Indriya Pran: The ability to feel the sensation of touch
2) Ras‑Indriya Pran: The ability to taste
3) Ghran‑Indriya Pran: The ability to smell
4) Chakshu‑Indriya Pran: The ability to see
5) Shravan‑Indriya Pran: The ability to hear
6) Mano‑bal Pran: The ability to think
7) Vachan‑bal Pran: The ability to speak
8) Kaya‑bal Pran: The ability to move the body
9) Shwasoshwas Pran: The ability to inhale and exhale
10) Ayushya Pran: The ability to live
If, at anytime, and for any reason, we hurt any of these vitality either in physical, verbal or mental manner, it is called Pranatipat or Himsa. Opposite of himsa is Ahimsa. Therefore Ahimsa means not to hurt any vitality even in the slightest form of any living creature no matter how trivial that living beings may seem. Jainism goes one step further in defining Ahimsa because it not only includes restraining from hurting anyone by our direct actions, but it also includes that we shall not ask or encourage anyone else (directly or indirectly) to carry out any injurious activity. Therefore, to observe Ahimsa, our individual responsibilities are much more higher and the scope is much more broad than others. The first and foremost vow in Jainism is the vow of Ahimsa — non‑hurting or nonviolence.