Ahimsa is the most important tenet of Indian Philosophy. Ahimsa is practiced more deeply in Jainism. The Jains usually avoid harming the smallest insects in their daily routine. What one understands about Ahimsa is simply not to kill, harm, or abuse any living creature including plants. But that does not make the true meaning of Ahimsa. The principle of Ahimsa explained by Lord Mahavir and the previous Tirthankars is deeper and has been forgotten by most of the Jains in recent times.
Lord Mahavir has said, “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma”. That means Non-Violence is the Supreme Religion. One would think that why Lord Mahavir has given such importance to Ahimsa? Does that mean to prevent all living beings from killing is the supreme religion? If yes, then what about self realization and liberation? It is clear that just by preventing killing and hurting other living beings we cannot attain liberation. Liberation can be attained by knowing the true self, being engrossed in the true self. It is important to note that Jainism is relative philosophy. Every principle should be known from all aspects. In Jainism every principle are explained in various aspects. What looks to be true from one viewpoint may not be true from another viewpoint. Religion or Dharma in Jainism has multiple meanings from different viewpoints. But from the Absolute Viewpoint religion has only one meaning and that is Basic Attribute of a substance or Gunadharma. There are Five Great Vows to be practiced for those who want to attain salvation. These are Non- violence, Non-Possession, Truthfulness, Non-stealing and Celibacy. These wows seem to be different from each other. But all has only one meaning when we look from the Absolute Standpoint and that is self realization. The main goal of a human birth is to destroy the old karma and prevent our soul from binding fresh karma. The person who is engrossed in the self-soul is practicing all the five vows in a same time.
Dharma means the basic attribute of a substance. So, practicing Ahimsa means to stay tuned with our own real attribute. That means to act against our own nature (soul) becomes himsa or violence. To think the body as our self is violence. To take any other soul as our relative is violence. In short, every physical, mental or verbal action whether good or bad is violence. This will create a paradox because the people think that saving a living being is ahimsa. That is not true because in saving a living being from dying we bind virtuous karma and that is also violence. Ahimsa means to meditate on the true nature of the soul by which we prevent entering any new karma.
To see our body as our self is violence, to see our mother as our mother is violence, to see our father as our father is violence. To move any object from its place is violence. To act opposite to our own nature is violence; to act according to our own nature is Non-Violence. Thinking this way deeply we realize the true meaning of ahimsa. Any action that is responsible for karma bondage is violence. From absolute perspective we can say that from any action of mind, body and speech we cause karma bondage and that is violence to our self. It has been said that the bondage of both virtuous and non-virtuous karma is violence to our soul and that’s true. Anybody will see the non-virtuous karma as sin but only rare people who have right knowledge will see the virtuous karma also as sin. That’s why Lord Mahavir once said that, “"If you kill someone, it is yourself you kill. If you overpower someone, it is yourself you overpower. If you torment someone, it is yourself you torment. If you harm someone, it is yourself you harm."
Knowing this fact we can now realize why Lord Mahavir has given utmost importance to Ahimsa. All the Jain Tirthankars were the torch bearers of ahimsa. Without practicing ahimsa no one can attain liberation. The supreme ahimsa can be practiced in the higher stages of Gunasthanas (spiritual purity) where there is no affection towards the external objects. When the feeling like, “I am the doer of other things” has ceased completely then one has achieved the highest stage of ahimsa where there is nothing but only the experience of the pure soul.