The Jain path of ahimsa is non-violence in thought, word and deed. My Guruji, His Holiness Acharya Sushil Kumarji Maharaj, said, “Non-violence is the key to global survival.” In 1975, breaking a centuries- old taboo against travel abroad, he became the first Jain monk to go outside of India. His primary purpose was to bring the teachings of Lord Mahavir to the wider world. In 1991 Siddhacalam* was consecrated as the first Jain tirth, or place of pilgrimage, outside India. The principles of non-violence are more relevant now than ever before. As we come to the close of what may be the bloodiest century in human history, if we as a people are to survive we must embrace the dharma of non-violence.
The exemplary lives of Mahatma Gandhi and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. are celebrated throughout the world because of their commitment to non-violence. It is well known that Gandhi was a great influence on Martin Luther King. What is not so generally known, especially in the West, is that Jain principles were the greatest influence on Gandhi, who came from a part of India which is the heartland of Jainism. Some say that Gandhi’s mother was of Jain ancestry. One of Gandhi’s closest friends and advisors was a Jain by the name of Shrimad Rajchandra. Gandhi would seek his counsel at critical moments as he spearheaded the movement for a free India, and he turned to him throughout his life. The influence of Jain values through Gandhian methods in movements for peace and justice not only in India but in many countries -including the United States, the Philippines and South Africa-is indeed the historic achievement of Jainism.
We believe that the United Nations was created to achieve peace in all its dimensions. The work of Jainism at the United Nations, as initiated by His Holiness Acharya Sushil Kumarji Maharaj, is to create awareness of Jainism in the international community and of ahimsa as a way of achieving peace. In 1992 the International Mahavir Jain Mission became the first Jain organisation to be affiliated with the United Nations. My own lifework is to continue the legacy of my Guruji Acharya Sushil Kumar. We feel that the principle of non-violence means that we do not want “peace at any cost” nor can we use violent means to attain peace; rather, as Guruji said, we must evolve to a global culture of non-violence.
– Bawa Preminder Jain
United Nations Representative
and Director for International and UN Affairs
The Interfaith Center of New York
and The Temple of Understanding
* The Jain community founded by H.H. Acharya Sushil Kumarji Maharaj in Blairstown, New Jersey, in 1983.