Jaina View of War, Warrior and Violence (was Jainism and Violence)

Inst. Of Asian Cultures asia at server.uwindsor.ca
Tue May 27 02:40:10 UTC 1997

[Note: Long Posting]

          Jaina View of War, Warrior and Violence

Though Jainism and ahimsa are inseparable, and Jainism has often
been seen through its mendicants, some of whom have taken the
practice of ahimsa to its extreme, it nevertheless attracted a
good number of the kshatriyas to its fold. This would appear to
be a contradiction since martialism and non-violence (ahimsa),
the corner-stone of Jaina philosophy, are not complementary.

It is therefore quite interesting to raise the question of war,
warrior and violence vis-a-vis Jainism. 

The spirit of martialism in Jainism is manifest in its very own
name (Jain meaning a conqueror), and the epithet accorded to the
last Jain _tirthankar_ of our present yuga is Mahavir, i.e., the
great hero.  

In fact the first hero of Jaina lore, the greatest hero of all,
and the first one to achieve moksa, according to certain Jaina
traditions, is Bahubali (one with strong arms -- one of the many
definitions of Bahubali).

The story of Bahubali, son of Rishabha, the first tirthankar, is
told, among others, in Jinasena's _Adi-Purana_ where Jainism is
described as a weapon of war (1.4), the various ascetic practices
are compared to an army which conquers the enemy, karma (4.153
etc.), and the monk is instructed to abandon his body like that
of an enemy on the battlefield (11.98) (see Paul Dundas, "Jain
Digambar Warrior" (=DJW), in Carrithers and Humphreys, _Assembly
of Listeners_ pp. 173-4).

Though Bahubali did defeat his elder brother Bharata in the
battlefield, he did so in a non-violent fashion. Having won the
war, Bahubali abandoned his claim over the territory and
renounced the world.

"The pivotal position which the Jain religion gives to non-
violence is (not necessarily) at variance with being patronised
by 'practising' warrior adherents. In fact, Jainism has always
been ambivalent about war (see Jaini, _Jaina Path of
Purification_ p. 313), and two examples testify to the existence
of Jain practitioners of warfare at completely different periods
of Jain history. The Pali canon refers to a Jain general
(senapati) called Siha, contemporary with Mahavira and the
Buddha, who was a Jain layman (niganthasavaka) while, two
thousand years later, in the sixteenth century A.D. and
afterwards, Jains participated in what Bayley has called the
'all-India military culture' (C.A. Bayley, "The pre-history of
'communalism': religious conflict in India 1700-1860", _Modern
Asian Studies_ 19 (1985), 183) and fought in the armies of the
Mughal emperors. However, despite this, Indian historians of the
Deccan have always been uneasy when attempting to account for the
undoubtedly violent activities of the many rulers who were
connected with Jainism in the medieval period, often expressing
bafflement at the incongruity involved" (see, S.R. Sharma,
_Jainism and Karnataka Culture_, Dharwar, 1940, p. 148). "In
fact, it does seem likely that total adherence to the principles
of non-violence was of importance only in certain specific and
precisely defined religious contexts, such as ritual or contact
with a monk, and that non-violence did not inform broader issues,
such as a king's obligation to expand his kingdom. In the light
of this, it has to be asked why kings and warriors were attracted
to Jainism and wherein lay their 'Jainness'; did they actively
espouse and promote Jainism or merely protect it?" (Dundas, op.
cit. DJW, pp. 174-5).

Professor Basham has noted, that "despite its nonviolence,
Jainism never strongly opposed militarism; several great Jain
kings were conquerors, and the ideal Jain king, Kumarapala, who
is said to have enforced vegetarianism throughout his realm, is
nowhere said to have given up warfare. No Jain monarch had the
enlightened sentiments of Ashoka in this respect, and nowhere in
the whole body of Jain literature is a plea for peace between
states to be found such as that in the  Buddhist _Excellent
Golden Light Sutra_. Yet, in normal personal relations, ahimsa is
repeatedly stated to be the greatest virtue" (_Sources of Indian
Tradition_ (=SIT), ed. by de Bary, 1958, pp. 89-90).

In fact, several works on Jaina polity, the most famous of them
being Somadeva's _Nitivakyamritam_, accord the same rights and
duties to Jaina kings in defending their kingdoms and subjects as
do other Indian texts on polity. But still Jaina view of the
warrior is not of a knight with a shining armour on a white
horse, or a soldier engulfed in a battlefield but that of an
ascetic soldier fighting to conquer his passions (see, for
example, Nemi's reply to Indra in _Uttardhyayana Sutra_, 9).

Here lies a small but special difference between a Jain hero and
other heroes. Though born as princes (all the Jain _tirthankaras_
were kshatriyas), destined to be rulers, the Jain heroes renounce
the idea of power over others to achieve victory over themselves.
The Jain hero does not conquer territories but conquers himself;
hence the term 'jina' (conquerer of self) from which the word
Jain comes. However, when duty calls, a Jain ruler, king, general
or soldier must defend his kingdom and subjects as required by
his dharma. _Virodhi-himsa_ for lay professionals, like soldiers,
is permissible in Jainism. 

Sushil Jain
Institute of Asian Cultures
@ University of Windsor

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