Ahimsa in Jainism
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Ahiṃsā is a fundamental principle forming the cornerstone of its ethics and doctrine in Jainism. The term ahimsa (Sanskrit: अहिंसा, Ahiṃsā) means non-violence, non-injury or absence of desire to harm any life forms. Vegetarianism and other non-violent practices and rituals of Jains flow from the principle of Ahiṃsā. According to Adian Rankin, the concept of Ahiṃsā is so much intertwined with Jainism that it conjures up images of ascetics who cover their mouths and sweep the ground before them with small brushes to avoid injuring the most minuscule forms of life and Jain-owned animal sanctuaries where even the sickest, most deformed birds and beasts are protected and cherished. These overt manifestations of an ancient faith challenge the comfortable – and near-universal – assumption of human precedence over other creatures.
The Jain concept of Ahiṃsā is quite different from the concept of non-violence found in other philosophies. In other religious traditions, violence is usually associated with causing harm to others. In Jainism, violence refers primarily to injuring one's own self – behaviour which inhibits the soul's own ability to attain mokṣa or liberation. At the same time it also means violence to others because it is this tendency to harm others that ultimately harms one's own soul. Furthermore, the Jains have extended the concept of Ahiṃsā not only to humans but to all animals, plants, micro-organisms and all beings having life or life potential. All life is sacred and everyone has a right to live fearlessly to its maximum potential. The living beings do not have any fear from those who have taken the vow of Ahiṃsā. According to Jainism, protection of life, also known as abhayadānam, is the supreme charity that a person can make.
Ahiṃsā does not merely indicate absence of physical violence, but also indicates absence of desire to indulge in any sort of violence. This Jain ideal of Ahiṃsā profoundly influenced Mahatma Gandhi; through his friendship with the Jain scholar Shrimad Rajchandra, it formed a basis of his satyagraha (truth struggle) against colonial rule and caused him to rethink many aspects of contemporary Hindu practices. While Jainism is not a proselytising religion and as such has no organised system of advocating its doctrine, Jains have strongly advocated vegetarianism and non-violence throughout the ages. Ahiṃsā being central to the Jain philosophy, Jain Ācāryas have produced, through ages, quite elaborate and detailed doctrinal materials concerning its various aspects.
- 1 Philosophical Overview
- 1.1 The vow of non-violence
- 1.2 Important constituents
- 1.3 Anekantavada – The non-violence of mind
- 1.4 Various aspects and consequences of violence
- 1.5 Dravya hiṃsā and bhāva hiṃsā
- 1.6 Types of violence
- 1.7 Ways of committing violence
- 2 The rationale of non-violence
- 3 Fruits of non-violence and violence
- 4 Misconceptions of non-violence
- 5 Non-violence and vegetarianism
- 6 Origins and evolution of Ahimsa
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
The vow of non-violence
Ahiṃsā is formalised into Jain doctrine as the first major vow of the ascetics and first minor vow of the laity. According to Jainism, protection of life, also known as abhayadānam, is the supreme charity that a person can make.
The Vow of Ascetics
The Jain monks and the nuns undertake five major vows known as Mahāvratas at the time of their ordination to monkhood, out of which Ahiṃsā is the first and foremost. Jain monks and nuns must rank among the most “non-violent” people in the world. A Jain ascetic is expected to uphold the vow of Ahiṃsā to the highest standard, even at the cost of his own life. The other four major vows – truthfulness, non-stealing, non-possession and celibacy – are in fact extension of the first vow of complete non-violence. According to Amṛtacandra Sūri:
“All sins like falsehood, theft, attachment and immorality are forms of violence which destroy the purity of the soul. They have been separately enumerated only to facilitate their understanding”—Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya 4.42
Ascetic Practices for adherence of Ahiṃsā
The ascetic practices of total renunciation of worldly affairs and possessions, refusal to stay in a single place for a long time, continuous practice of austerities like fasting etc. are geared towards observance of ahiṃsā. The Jain mendicants abide by a rigorous set of rules of conduct, where they must eat, sleep and even walk with full diligence and with an awareness that even walking kills several hundreds of minute beings. They generally brush the ground clear of insects before they tread; some wear a small mask to avoid taking in tiny insects; some monks do not wear even clothes and eat food only when it is not prepared for themselves. The observation of three guptis or the controls of mind, speech and body and five samiti or regulation of walking, speaking, begging of food, keeping items and disposal of items are designed to help the monks in observing the vow of ahiṃsā faultlessly. In fact entire day of a Jain monk is spent in ensuring that he observes his vow of ahiṃsā through mind, body and speech faultlessly. This seemingly extreme behaviour of the monks comes from a sense that every action, no matter however subtle, has a karmic effect which can bind soul and inhibit liberation, especially those that result in hiṃsā. According to Adian Rankin, the concept of Ahiṃsā is so much intertwined with Jainism that it conjures up images of ascetics who cover their mouths and sweep the ground before them with small brushes to avoid injuring the most minuscule forms of life and Jain-owned animal sanctuaries where even the sickest, most deformed birds and beasts are protected and cherished. These overt manifestations of an ancient faith challenge the comfortable – and near-universal – assumption of human precedence over other creatures.
The Vow of the Laity
A Jain layman, on account of his household and occupational compulsions, is unable to adhere to the five major vows of ascetic. Hence he observes aṇuvrata or minor vows which although are similar to the major vows of the ascetics are observed with a lesser severity. It is difficult to avoid some violence by a lay person to single-sensed immobile beings in the process of occupation, cooking, self-defense etc. That is why he vows not to kill without a necessary purpose and determined intention, a moving sentient being, when it is innocent. Tying up, injuring, mutilating, burdening with heavy load and depriving from food and drinks any animal or human being with a mind polluted by anger and other passions are the five aticāra or transgressions of the vow of Ahiṃsā. However, it is to be understood that ultimately, there is limited spiritual progress and no emancipation unless the major vows are adhered to.
Laity Practices for adherence of Ahiṃsā
Jainism is perhaps the only religion in the world that requires all its adherents to follow a strict vegetarian diet. Vegetarian food that also involves more harm to the living beings such as roots, bulbs, multi seeded vegetables etc. are avoided by strict Jains. The importance of Ahiṃsā manifests in many other ways in the daily life of Jains. For a layperson it means participating in business that results in least amount of violence to living beings. No furs, plumes or silk are worn. Use of leather is kept to a minimum and must in any event be from naturally dead animals. Food is usually eaten during the day unless unavoidable, since there is too much danger of injuring insects in cooking at night. The Jain will not use an open light nor leave a container of liquid uncovered lest a stray insect be destroyed; even with this precaution, liquids are always strained before use. Through the ages Jains have sought to avoid occupations that unavoidably entail injury, and this accounts for the disproportionate number who have entered banking, commerce and other mercantile trades.
While Jainism enjoins observance of total non-violence by the ascetics, it is often argued that the man is constantly obliged to engage in destructive activities of eating, drinking, breathing and surviving in order to support his body. According to Jainism, life is omnipresent with infinite beings including microorganisms pervading each and every part of universe. Hence it may still be possible to avoid killing of gross animals, but it is impossible to avoid killing of subtle microorganisms in air and water, plant life and various types of insects that may be crushed by walking. It would thus appear that the continual likelihood of destroying living organisms would create an inexcusable burden on the ascetics trying to follow the Jain path of total renunciation and non-violence.
However, the Jain conception of Ahiṃsā is quite different from what is commonly understood by violence. The violence is defined more by the motives and the consequences to the self rather than by the act itself. Furthermore, according to Jain Scriptures, destruction of less developed organism brings about lesser karmas than destruction of developed animals and karmas generated in observance of religious duties faultlessly disappears almost immediately. Hence, it is possible to observe complete non-violence with right knowledge, even when some outward violence occurs to living beings in the course of performing religious duties by observing carefulness and pure mental disposition without any attachment.
According to Jainism, a monk who is careless in his activities is guilty of violence irrespective of whether a living being remains alive or dies; on the other hand, the person who is ever vigilant and careful in observing the samitis experiences no karmic bondage simply because some violence may have taken place in connection with his activities. Carefulness came to be seen as a defence for the monks against violence in Jainism. One of the most famous passages in the Uttradhayana Sūtra describes Mahāvīra continually exhorting his chief disciple Gautama "to be careful all the while" lest the opportunity to destroy all the karmas and achieve perfection in this lifetime may be lost forever on account of carelessness. Tattvārthasūtra defines hiṃsā or violence simply as removal of life by careless activity of mind, body and speech. Thus action in Jainism came to be regarded as truly violent only when accompanied by carelessness.
Mental states and intention
Ahiṃsā does not merely indicate absence of physical violence, but also indicates absence of desire to indulge in any sort of violence. This Jain ideal of Ahiṃsā profoundly influenced Mahatma Gandhi; through his friendship with the Jain scholar Shrimad Rajchandra, it formed a basis of his satyagraha (truth struggle) against colonial rule and caused him to rethink many aspects of contemporary Hindu practices. While Jainism is not a proselytising religion and as such has no organised system of advocating its doctrine, Jains have strongly advocated vegetarianism and non-violence throughout the ages. Ahiṃsā being central to the Jain philosophy, Jain Ācāryas have produced, through ages, quite elaborate and detailed doctrinal materials concerning its various aspects. Paul Dundas quotes Ācārya Jinabhadra (7th century), who shows that the omnipresence of life-forms in the universe need not totally inhibit normal behaviour of the ascetics:
It is the intention that ultimately matters. From the real point of view, a man does not become a killer only because he has killed or because the world is crowded with souls, or remain innocent only because he has not killed physically. Even if a person does not actually kill, he becomes a killer if he has the intention to kill; while a doctor has to cause pain but is still non-violent and innocent because his intention is pure, for it is the intention which is the deciding factor, not the external act which is inconclusive.
Thus pure intention along with carefulness was considered necessary to practice Ahiṃsā as Jains admitted that even if intention may be pure, careless activities often resulted in violence unknowingly.
The Jains also considered right knowledge as a prerequisite for practising Ahiṃsā. It is necessary to know what is living and what is non-living to practice Ahiṃsā faultlessly. A person who is confused between Living and non-living can never observe non-violence. Daśavaikālika Sūtra declared:
First knowledge, then compassion. Thus does one remain in full control. How can an ignorant person be compassionate, when he cannot distinguish between the good and the evil?
It further declares:
Knowledge of living and non-living alone will enable one to become compassionate towards all living creatures. Knowing this all aspirants, proceed from knowledge to eternal virtues. What can an ignorant do ? How does he know what is noble and what is evil?
The knowledge is also considered necessary to destroy Karmas. Samaṇ Suttaṁ declared:
The ignorant cannot destroy their Karmas by their actions while the wise can do it by their inaction i.e. by controlling their activities because they are free from greed and lustful passions and do not commit any sin as they remain contented—165
Hierarchy of living beings on basis of senses
Jainism divides living beings on the basis of their sensory organs (indriya) and vitalities or life force (praṇa). Accordingly, the higher the number of senses and vitalities a being has, the more is its capacity to suffer and feel pain. Hence according to Jainism, violence to higher-sensed beings like man, cow, tiger and those who have five senses and the capacity to think and feel pain attracts more karma than violence to lesser-sensed beings like insects, or single-sensed beings like microbes and plants. Hence Jainism enjoins its adherents to completely avoid violence to higher-sensed beings and as far as possible minimise violence to lower-sensed and single-sensed beings.
Anekantavada – The non-violence of mind
Anekantavada is the principle of relativity of truth or the doctrine of multiple aspects. Jains hold that truth is multifaceted and has multiple sides that cannot be completely comprehended by anyone. Anekantavada describes the world as a multifaceted, ever-changing reality with an infinity of viewpoints relative to the time, place, nature and state of one who is the viewer and that which is viewed. What is true from one point of view is open to question from another. Absolute truth cannot be grasped from any particular viewpoint alone, because absolute truth is the sum total of all different viewpoints that make up the universe. Because it is rooted in these doctrines, Jainism cannot exclusively uphold the views of any individual, community, nation, or species. It recognises inherently that other views are valid for other peoples, and for other life-forms. This perception leads to the doctrine of syadvada or sevenfold predication stating the truth from different viewpoints. Anekantvada is the doctrine and Syadvada is its expression. According to Jaina philosophers all important philosophical statements should be expressed in this sevenfold way in order to remove the danger of dogmatism (ekanta) in philosophy.
The concept of syadvada allows the Jains to accept the truth in other philosophies from their perspective and thus inculcating a tolerance for other viewpoints. Anekantvada is non-absolutist and stands firmly against all dogmatisms, even including any assertion that only Jainism is the right religious path. It is thus an intellectual Ahimsa or Ahimsa of mind. In Anekantvada, there is no "battle of ideas", because this is considered to be a form of intellectual himsa or damage, leading quite logically to physical violence and war. In today's world, the limitations of the adversarial, "either with us or against us" form of argument are increasingly apparent leading to political, religious and social conflicts.
Various aspects and consequences of violence
Ācārya Amṛtacandra has described as to how the consequences of violence (karmas attracted) differ from person to persons for similar and different types of acts .A small violence may bring serious consequences to one person, while to another person grievous violence may bring about lesser consequences. For instance, a person hunting and killing only one small animal suffers severe consequences while a person who is building a temple or hospital suffers milder karmic consequences even though its construction kills many animals. Even when violence is jointly committed by two persons, the same act may result in severe consequence for one person and mild consequence for another person. This may happen in the case where the leader and planner of violence binds severe karmas, while a follower binds much lesser karmas. One who actually does not commit violence may be responsible for hiṃsā while one who actually commits violence is not responsible for hiṃsā. For instance, a burglar who fails in his robbery is still a felon but a diligent surgeon who is trying to save a patient is not responsible for violence even if a patient dies during the surgery. Persons who have not committed violence may become responsible for violence committed by others. This may happen when a violence which is carried out by someone is approved and instigated by someone else. Ahiṃsā often gives result of hiṃsā to one and hiṃsā may sometimes give result of Ahiṃsā to another. For instance, one person saves another from oppression by use of violence and hence enjoys consequences of Ahiṃsā although resorting to violence, while another does not act to save someone wishing that the other person is not saved and thus suffers the consequences of violence although he may have not actually done anything.
Dravya hiṃsā and bhāva hiṃsā
Types of violence
While the Jain ascetics observe absolute non-violence, so far as a Jain householder is concerned, the violence is categorised as follows:
- Sankalpinī hiṃsā or intentional violence – Intentional violence knowingly done is the worst form of violence and is a transgression of the layperson's vow of non-violence. Examples of sankalpinī hiṃsā are killing for hunting, amusement or decoration, or butchering for food or sacrifice or killing or hurting out of enmity, malice or mischief. sankalpinī hiṃsā has to be totally renounced by a householder.
- Virodhinī hiṃsā or Self-defence – Virodhini hiṃsā One is allowed to practice self-defense against a robber, murderer, or any other criminal. This self-defense is necessary when evil attacks.
- Āṛambhinī (Graharambhi) hiṃsā or domestic or household violence – This violence is unavoidably committed in the course of preparing food, household cleanliness, washing, construction of houses, wells, etc.
- Udyoginī hiṃsā or Occupational Violence – This violence is connected to occupational undertakings like agriculture, building and operating industries, etc.
- While sankalpinī hiṃsā has to be avoided at all costs, the other three types of hiṃsā although unavoidable in some cases, should not exceed the strict requirements of fulfilling the duties of a householder. Furthermore, they should not be influenced by passions like anger, greed, pride and deceit or they take the character of sanpalkinī hiṃsā.
Ways of committing violence
It would be wrong, however, to conclude that ahiṃsā only prohibits physical violence. An early Jain text says: "With the three means of punishment – thoughts, words, deeds – ye shall not injure living beings."  In fact, violence can be committed by combination of the following four factors:
1. The instrumentality of our actions. We can commit violence by either through
- a. body i.e. physical action,
- b. speech i.e. verbal action, or
- c. mind i.e. mental actions
2. The process of committing violence. This includes whether we
- a. only decide or plan to act,
- b. make preparations for the act e.g. like collecting necessary materials or weapons, or
- c. actually begin the action
3. The modality of our action, including if we
- a. we ourselves commit violence,
- b. we instigate others to carry out the violence, or
- c. we give our silent approval for the violence
4. The motivation for action. This includes which of the following negative emotions that the violence is motivated by.
- a. Anger
- b. Greed
- c. Pride
- d. Manipulation or deceit
The rationale of non-violence
According to Jainism, the purpose of non-violence is not simply because it is a commandment of a God or any other supreme being. Its purpose is also not simply because its observance is conducive to general welfare of the state or the community. While it is true that in Jainism, the moral and religious injunctions were laid down as law by Arhats who have achieved perfection through their supreme moral efforts, their adherence is just not to please a God, but the life of the Arhats has demonstrated that such commandments were conductive to Arhat’s own welfare, helping him to reach spiritual victory. Just as Arhats achieved spiritual victory by observing non-violence, so can anyone who follows this path.
Another aspect that provides a rationale to the avoidance of hiṃsā is that, any acts of hiṃsā results in hiṃsā to self. Any act of violence though outwardly is seen to harm others, harms the soul of the person indulging in the act. Thus by an act of violence, a soul may or may not injure the material vitalities known as dravya praṇa of someone else, but always causes injury to its own bhāva praṇa or the psychic vitalities by binding the soul with karmas. It would be entirely wrong to see Ahiṃsā in Jainism in any sentimental light. The Jain doctrine of non-injury is based on rational consciousness, not emotional compassion; on responsibility to self, not on a social fellow feeling. The motive of Ahiṃsā is totally self-centered and for the benefit of the individual. And yet, though the emphasis is on personal liberation, the Jain ethics makes that goal attainable only through consideration for others.
Furthermore, according to the Jain karmic theory, each and every soul, including self, has reincarnated as an animal, plant or microorganism innumerable number of times besides re-incarnated as humans. The concept of Ahiṃsā is more meaningful when understood in conjunction with the concept of karmas. As the doctrine of transmigration of souls includes rebirth in animal as well as human form, it creates a humanitarian sentiment of kinship amongst all life forms. The motto of Jainism – Parasparopagraho jīvānām, translated as: all life is inter-related and it is the duty of souls to assist each other- also provides a rational approach of Jains towards Ahiṃsā.
In conclusion, the insistence of Ahiṃsā is not so much about non-injury to others as it is about non-injury and spiritual welfare of the self. The ultimate rationale of Ahiṃsā is fundamentally is about karmic results of the hiṃsā on self rather than the concern about the well being of other beings for its own sake.
Fruits of non-violence and violence
The consequences of karma are inevitable. The consequences may take some time to take effect but the karma is never fruitless. To explain this, a Jain monk, Ratnaprabhacharya says: "The prosperity of a vicious man and misery of a virtuous man are respectively but the effects of good deeds and bad deeds done previously. The vice and virtue may have their effects in their next lives. In this way the law of causality is not infringed here."
The latent karma becomes active and bears fruit when the supportive conditions arise. A great part of attracted karma bears its consequences with minor fleeting effects, as generally most of our activities are influenced by mild negative emotions. However, those actions that are influenced by intense negative emotions cause an equally strong karmic attachment which usually does not bear fruit immediately. It takes on an inactive state and waits for the supportive conditions—like proper time, place, and environment—to arise for it to manifest and produce effects. If the supportive conditions do not arise, the respective karmas will manifest at the end of maximum period for which it can remain bound to the soul. These supportive conditions for activation of latent karmas are determined by the nature of karmas, intensity of emotional engagement at the time of binding karmas and our actual relation to time, place, surroundings. There are certain laws of precedence among the karmas, according to which the fruition of some of the karmas may be deferred but not absolutely barred.
Misconceptions of non-violence
The Jain Scriptures discuss the misconceptions that are harboured in case of Ahiṃsā. They often oppose the Vedic beliefs in sacrifices and other practices that justified violence in various ways. Ācārya Amṛtacandra’s Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya and Ācārya Hemacandra’s Yogaśāstra discuss these wrong beliefs at length to alert the Jain laity to them. Following are such misconceptions that a Jain layman was advised to avoid.
Vedics believed that animals were created for yajna (sacrifice) and hence it was not considered a slaughter, as it elevated not only the person making the sacrifice, but also the animals. This belief was denounced by Hemacandra that those who mercilessly kill the animals under the pretext of offering the oblations to gods or for the sake of sacrifices are condemned to most terrifying existence in hells. Amṛtacandra also condemned this practice by stating that it is a misconception to hold that Gods are pleased at sacrifices of living beings and there is no wrong in committing hiṃsā for the sake of religion. The Vedic practice of offering sacrifices of animals to dead ancestors was also condemned by Jain Ācāryas.
Worshipping violent gods
Jain Ācāryas, like Hemacandra, Somadeva, Jinasena also decried the worship of violent vedic Gods who demanded sacrifices of animals and glorified the killing of enemies. Ācārya Hemacandra says:
It is a matter of great grief that the gods who wield weapons such as bow and arrows, mace, disc, trident etc. are worshipped as true gods.
Glory of death on the battlefield
Slain you will attain heavens, conquering you will enjoy earth; Therefore rise, O Arjuna, resolved to do battle—Bhagavad Gita ii 37
Madhavacharya comments on this saying, "So in order to protect both the Earth and the heavenly realms it is better for a mighty warrior to face his enemies and fight. This Lord Krishna emphasises with the word hata meaning slain showing that slain or not slain there is benefit in both. So by this Arjunas previous doubt of not knowing what is better to slay or be slain and will they have victory or not are eradicated as both conclusions give benefit. So Arjuna should rise up and fight."
However, according to Jainas, death accompanied by hatred and violence can never lead to heavens. According to a story in Bhagavati Sūtra, all the 840,000 soldiers who perished in a war between Konika, the Magadhan emperor and other kings, were either reborn in hell or as animals. Only one person who maintained equanimity in the midst of death in battlefield was reborn in heaven.
Other wrong beliefs
Additionally Amṛtacandra discusses various wrong beliefs. He says that animals should not be killed for guests or persons deserving respect as often advocated in certain scriptures. It is also a wrong belief that wild animals that kill many other animals should be killed. This is often justified in the name of hunting of ferocious animals like tigers for sport. Another wrong belief forwarded to justify killing of ferocious animals is that, these kill many lives and accumulate grave sins and hence killing them is an act of mercy. According to Jainism, killing can never be an act of mercy. It is also a misconception to believe that it is advisable to kill those who are suffering so that they may get relief from agony. These sorts of arguments are forwarded to justify killing of those animals that may have become old or injured and hence have become commercially useless. Other wrong beliefs are killing those who are in state of happiness or those who are in meditation under wrong belief that the mental state at the time of death will be perpetuated in future lives. It is also a wrong belief that killing of self and others is justified as the soul that is imprisoned in the body will be permanent released and achieve salvation.
Non-violence and vegetarianism
Jain vegetarian diet is practised by the followers of Jain culture and philosophy. It is considered to be one of the most rigorous form of spiritually-motivated diet on the Indian subcontinent and beyond. The Jain cuisine is completely vegetarian and it also excludes potatoes, onions and garlic, similarly like the shojin-ryori cuisine of Japan. The strictest forms of Jain diet is practised by the monastic ascetics, it also additionally exclude potatoes and other root vegetables. The scrupulous and thorough way of applying nonviolence to everyday activities, and especially to food, shapes their entire lives and is the most significant hallmark of Jain identity. For Jains, lacto-vegetarianism (generally known simply as vegetarianism in India) is mandatory. Food which contains even small particles of the bodies of dead animals or eggs is absolutely unacceptable. Some Jain scholars and activists support veganism, as the production of dairy products is perceived to involve violence against cows. Strict Jains don’t eat root vegetables such as potatoes, onions, roots and tubers. This is so because tiny life forms are injured when the plant is pulled up and because the bulb is seen as a living being, as it is able to sprout. Also, consumption of most root vegetables involves uprooting and killing the entire plant. Whereas consumption of most terrestrial vegetables doesn't kill the plant (it lives on after plucking the vegetables or it was seasonally supposed to wither away anyway). Mushrooms, Fungus and Yeasts are forbidden because they are parasites, grow in non-hygienic environments and may harbour other life forms. Alfalfa is the only known plantae that contains vitamin D2 source they can use or make vitamin D2 supplements from. Honey is forbidden, as its collection would amount to violence against the bees. Jains are also not supposed to consume food left overnight because of contamination by microbes. Most Jain recipes substitute potato with plantain.
Origins and evolution of Ahimsa
Ahiṃsā, an important tenet of all the religions originating in India, is now considered as an article of faith by the adherents of the Indian religions. However, not much is known about the historical origins of ahiṃsā and as to how it became widespread and got deeply entrenched in the Indian philosophy. Scholars speculate that the doctrine of ahiṃsā was probably first developed amongst the native non-Aryan people in around 3rd millennium BCE and was adopted by the brahamanas during the later Upanishadic period under the influence of sramanas. The Vedas, the manusmriti, the Dharmasutra and Mahabharata contain many references on killing and slaughter of animals for sacrifices, oblations to dead ancestors, and as well as for various other occasions. However, as the doctrine of karma gained acceptance in the Hindu belief, the tenet of ahiṃsā also gained prominence. Later Hindu scriptures condemn the slaughter of animals, upholding ahimsa as one of the highest ideal. Bal Gangadhar Tilak has credited Jainism with cessation of slaughter of animals in the brahamanical religion. Not surprisingly, some scholars have traced the origin of ahiṃsā to Jainas and their precursor, the sramanas. According to Thomas McEvilley, a noted Indologist, certain seals of Indus Valley civilisation depict a meditative figure surrounded by a multitude of wild animals, providing evidence of proto yoga tradition in India akin to Jainism. This particular image might suggest that all the animals depicted are sacred to this particular practitioner. Consequently, these animals would be protected from harm. This might be the first historical evidence of the practice of ahiṃsā.
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