The Jain religion is an ancient tradition rooted in the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence. This core belief extends not only to human beings but also to all forms of nature, making it an ecological philosophy that promotes reverence for life. Ahimsa is the central principle of Jainism, guiding adherents to avoid violence in thought, word, and deed. Jain teachings emphasize the interconnectedness of all living beings and recognize the importance of preserving and protecting the environment. In this article, we will explore the Jain perspective on nonviolence, the concept of universal interdependence, and the environmental practices and teachings of the Jain religion.
The Principle of Ahimsa
Ahimsa, or nonviolence, lies at the heart of the Jain religion. It is the avoidance of violence not only towards human beings but towards all living beings and nature itself. Jains believe that life pervades even the tiniest and most microscopic forms, extending beyond what may be considered living by others. Nonviolence is expressed positively through reverence for life, love, compassion, and empathy for all living beings in every aspect of daily life.
According to Jain tradition, Mahāvīra, who lived 2,500 years ago in north India, was the 24th and most recent of the Jinas, or “Victors.” The Jain religion is known for its teaching of nonviolence and the asceticism of its monks and nuns, who observe rigorous disciplines. The influence of Jainism on nonviolence is evident in the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Today, awareness of the Jain teaching of nonviolence and its implications for protecting nature is widespread.
Nonviolence in Thought, Word, and Deed
Jain texts explain that violence (himsa) is not solely defined by causing actual harm, as unintentional harm may occur. The intention to harm and the absence of compassion are what make an action violent. Without violent thoughts, there can be no violent actions. Jains recognize the interconnectedness of all aspects of nature and view life as a gift of togetherness, accommodation, and assistance in a universe where all constituents are interdependent.
Jain cosmology acknowledges the fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis or mutual dependence. This recognition leads Jains to extend nonviolence beyond physical acts to encompass thoughts, words, and deeds. Jains strive to cultivate compassion and empathy towards all living beings, acknowledging their love for life and the desire to live. Killing or causing harm is seen as a transgression, and a godly person refrains from consciously or unconsciously causing harm to any living organism.
Environmental Stewardship and Resource Conservation
The Jain religion promotes environmental stewardship and resource conservation as integral aspects of nonviolence. Jains draw inspiration from nature, observing the harmonious relationship between living beings and their environment. Just as a bee extracts honey from a blossom without harming it, Jains seek to use Earth’s resources without causing harm or waste.
Jains advocate for reducing wants, curbing desires, and keeping consumption levels within reasonable limits. Using resources beyond one’s needs or misusing any part of nature is considered a form of theft. Waste and pollution are unequivocally seen as acts of violence towards the environment. Jains emphasize the importance of mindful consumption and responsible use of resources to minimize ecological impact.
Universal Interdependence and Relativity
The Jain religion embraces the concept of universal interdependence, known as anekāntavāda. This doctrine recognizes the multifaceted, ever-changing nature of reality, with an infinite number of viewpoints depending on the observer’s perspective. Absolute truth cannot be grasped from any single viewpoint alone but is the sum total of all the different viewpoints that make up the universe.
Anekāntavāda leads to the doctrine of syādvāda, which emphasizes relativity and states that truth is relative to different viewpoints. Jainism does not adopt an anthropocentric or egocentric viewpoint but considers the perspectives of other species, communities, nations, and individuals. This inclusive approach allows Jains to understand and respect the interconnectedness of all beings and promotes harmony and empathy towards the natural world.
Nonviolence and Activism
For contemporary Jains, nonviolence extends beyond the absence of violence to include activism in various areas, including peace, the environment, animal welfare, and poverty alleviation. Jain ashrams play a crucial role in promoting international nonviolence, peace, and harmony, spreading the message of ahimsa and anekanta-vada (the belief that no one has a monopoly on the truth). These efforts aim to create awareness and inspire action for a more compassionate and sustainable world.
The Jain religion’s core principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, permeates every aspect of Jain philosophy, teachings, and practices. Jains extend nonviolence to include all living beings and nature itself, promoting reverence for life and the interconnectedness of all beings. Jainism emphasizes the need for environmental stewardship, responsible resource consumption, and the recognition of universal interdependence. By embracing nonviolence and actively working towards a harmonious relationship with the environment, Jains exemplify a path of compassion and ecological mindfulness.