Define Ahimsa (the vow of non jury to life). How does the teaching of ahimsa influence the daily life of the Jains? What does the article illustrate about the importance of ahimsa and the environment?
Although the final goal of Jainism transcends earthly concerns, 1 Jainism is, in essence, a religion of ecology, of a sustainable lifestyle, and of reverence for life. Their religion’s entire emphasis is on life consonant with ecology. 2
Jain people can use their experience of applying non-violent principles in meeting the present ecological needs. Their religion presents a worldview that stresses the interrelatedness of all forms of life (Jiva). Its attendant ethics, which is based on obligations, might easily be extended to embrace an earth ethics.
The Jiva is to be respected. As a highly evolved form of life, human beings have a great moral responsibility in their mutual dealings and relationships with the rest of the universe. It is this ethical responsibility that made the Jain tradition a cradle for the creed of environmental protection and harmony.
Jainism is a religion of compassion – it aims at the welfare of all living beings. An important principle of Jainism is expressed in Sutrakrta-anga (1.11.33) as follows: “A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.” 3 Inflicting an injury to other beings is inflicting injury to oneself. Ahimsa is the concept of non-violence, the injunction of not harming living beings. It is one of the foremost doctrines of Jainism. It has emerged from the doctrine of the equality of all souls. It grew from the belief in reincarnation: a person might come back in the form of an animal or insect, no living creature ought ever to be harmed.
As in Buddhism, and Hindusm, Jain ethics assert that any violence has harmful effects on those who commit it, with consequent ill effects in terms of karma.
“Ahimsa-paramo-dharmah,” non-injury to living beings, is one of the basic virtues. To kill a living being is the greatest of sins. Flowing from the Jain principle of non-violence is the tenet of reverence for all life — not just human life but extending to animal life and, in theory, even to the vegetable kingdom. Jains’ practice of non-violence fosters an attitude of respect for all life forms. 4 All living beings are regarded as equal. Jainism insists that there must be no destruction, at least no destruction that has not first been responsibly considered 2 There should be compassion for all living beings at every step of daily life. For the Jains, ahimsa has come to embody one’s willingness to separate oneself not merely from acts of injury or killing, but also from the entire mechanism of aggression, possession, and consumption that is so common in the world.
To prevent even accidental damage to creatures, Jains may wear nose masks to prevent inhalation of insects. They may sweep the ground clear ahead of them. Some do not wash for fear of killing body lice or other parasites. Although Jain laypeople might participate in tree planting projects, their nuns and monks likely would not. This is be-cause of the harm that may be caused to the earth, earth worms, and other forms of life during the digging process. 1
Jain lay persons are enjoined to engage in occupations that are not associated with violence and/or destruction of life, and follow a vegetarian diet. Animal sacrifice is forbidden: There is the story of Yashodara who went to hell because of his innately violent disposition: He offered to a goddess a cockerel, and it did not count that the bird was merely made of dough.
The doctrine of Ahimsa gives Jainism (as well as Buddhism and Hinduism) a strong pacifist streak. Among other characteristics of the Jain tradition are conservation, and particularly “Anckantavada”(non-onesidedness): This philosophy states that no single perspective on any issue contains the whole truth. It emphasizes the concept of universal independence.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Christopher Key Chapple, “Hinduism, Jainism, and Ecology,” at: http://environment.harvard.edu/
- Laxmi Mall Singhvi, “Jainism,” at: http://www.rsesymposia.org/
- Stephen Knapp, “Universal Brotherhood Includes Animals,” at: http://stephen-knapp.com/
- Rizvi Haider, “US Food Waste and Hunger Exist Side by Side,” Inter Press Service, 2004-SEP-04.