Jainism is a religion so dedicated to non-violence that some Jains cover their mouths and sweep the path they walk to avoid killing smaller creatures. An extremist Jain literally wouldn’t hurt a fly…
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.