ExtractsThese extracts on the Jaina philosophy are taken from a keynote address delivered by His Excellency Dr. L.M. Singhvi, High Commissioner for India to the United Kingdom, at the Summit on Religions and Conservation held in Atami, Japan, on 7 April 1995.
The premise of the Jain religion is that the goal of human life is liberation, which is defined as perfect knowledge, perfect intuition and eternal bliss. The path to liberation is paved by enlightened world-view, enlightened knowledge and enlightened conduct.
The Jaina theory of knowledge, known as anekantavada or the doctrine of manifold aspects, describes the world as a multi-faceted, ever-changing reality with an infinity of viewpoints, depending on the time, place, nature and state of the one who is the viewer and that which is viewed. It is this doctrine and the discipline of non-violence which lead to the doctrine of syadvada or relativity, which states that truth is relative to different viewpoints ( nayas ). What is true from one point of view is open to question from another. Absolute Truth cannot be grasped from any particular viewpoint alone because absolute Truth is the sum total of all the different viewpoints that make up the universe.
Because it is rooted in the doctrines of anekantavada and syadvada, Jainism does not look upon the universe from an anthropocentric, ethnocentric or egocentric viewpoint. It takes into account the viewpoints of other species, other communities and nations and other human beings.
According to the Jaina tradition, maximum abstinence from violence is of pivotal value and is the foundation of all virtues. Self-restraint is the hallmark of non-violence. Compassion and reverence for life are the sheet-anchor of the Jain quest for Peace, Harmony and Rectitude, based on spiritual and physical symbiosis and a sense of responsibility and restraint arising out of the ethical principle of cause and effect.
Although the term "ahimsa' is stated in the negative ( a = non, himsa = violence), it is rooted in a host of positive aims and actions which have great relevance to contemporary environmental concerns. Ahimsa is an aspect of daya (compassion, empathy and charity), described by a great Jain teacher as "the beneficent mother of all beings" and "the elixir for those who wander in suffering through the ocean of successive rebirths." Jiva-daya means caring for and sharing with all living beings, tending, protecting and serving them. It entails universal friendliness ( maitri ), universal forgiveness ( kshama ) and universal fearlessness ( abhaya/ ). Jains, whether monks, nuns or householders, therefore affirm, prayerfully and sincerely, that their hearts are filled with forgiveness for all living beings, that they crave the friendship of all beings, that all beings give them their friendship and that there is not the slightest feeling of alienation or enmity in their hearts for anyone or anything. They also pray that forgiveness and friendliness may reign throughout the world and that all living beings may cherish each other.
It is remarkable that the Jaina tradition, as indeed the Vedic and Buddhist traditions, established the principles of ecological harmony centuries ago, not because the world was perceived as heading for an imminent environmental disaster or destruction, nor because of any immediate utilitarian exigency, but because of its quest for spiritual and physical symbiosis, synthesised in a system of ethical awareness and moral responsibility.
Jaina ecological philosophy is virtually synonymous with the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) which runs through the Jaina tradition like a golden thread. Non-violence is the supreme religion and is the keynote of the Jaina tradition. Lord Mahavira threw new light on the perennial quest of the soul with the truth and discipline of ahimsa and said:
"There is nothing so small and subtle as the atom, nor any element so vast as space. Similarly, there is no quality of soul more subtle than non-violence and no virtue of spirit greater than reverence for life."
Ahimsa is a principle of compassion and responsibility. It should be practised not only towards human beings, but towards all animals and nature. The Jaina scriptures tell us:
"The Arhats (Venerable Ones) of the past, present and future discourse, counsel, proclaim, propound and prescribe thus in unison: Do not injure, abuse or press, enslave, insult, torment, torture and kill any creature or any living being."
Suffused with the theory of karma and transmigration of souls, Mahavira sums up the rationale of his philosophy of compassion and non-violence when he says:
"You are that which you intend to hit, injure, insult, torment, persecute, torture, enslave or kill."
It is the same sense of compassion and non-violence which is the basis of the ancient Jaina scriptural aphorism Parasparopagraho Jivanam (all life is bound together by mutual support of interdependence). Lord Mahavira proclaimed a profound ecological truth for all times to come when he said:
"One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them."
Jainas do not acknowledge an intelligent first cause as the creator of the universe. The Jaina theory is that the universe has no beginning or end. It is traced to jiva and ajiva, the two everlasting, uncreated, independent and co-existing categories. Consciousness is jiva. That which has no consciousness is ajiva. There are five substances of ajiva: Dharma (the medium of motion), Adharma (the medium of rest), Akasha (space), Pudgala (matter) and Kala (time).
Pudgala (matter) has form and consists of individual atoms ( paramanu ) and conglomerates of atoms ( skandha ) which can be seen, heard, smelt, tasted and/or touched. According to Jains, energy, or the phenomena of sound, darkness, shade, heat, light and the like, is produced by conglomerates of atoms.
The jiva (soul) has no form but, during its worldly career, it is vested with a body and becomes subject to an inflow of karmic 'dust' ( asravas ). These are the subtle material particles that are drawn to a soul because of its worldly activities. The asravas bind the soul to the physical world until they have brought about the karmic result, when they fall away 'like ripe fruit' by which time other actions have drawn more asravas to the soul.
With the exception of the Arihantas (the Ever-Perfect) and the Siddhas (the Liberated), who have dispelled the passions which provide the 'glue' for the asravas, all souls are in karmic bondage to the universe. They go through a continuous cycle of death and rebirth in a personal evolution that can lead at last to moksha (eternal release). In this cycle, there are countless souls at different stages of their personal evolution: earth-bodies, water-bodies, fire-bodies, air- bodies, vegetable-bodies, and mobile bodies ranging from bacteria, insects, worms, birds and larger animals to human beings, infernal beings and celestial beings.
The Jain evolutionary theory is based on a grading of the physical bodies containing souls according to the degree of sensory perception. All souls are equal but are bound by varying amounts of asravas (karmic particles) which are reflected in the type of body they inhabit. The lowest form of physical body has only the sense of touch. Trees and vegetation have the sense of touch and are, therefore, able to experience pleasure and pain, and have souls. Mahavira taught that only the one who understood the grave demerit and detriment caused by the destruction of plants and trees understood the meaning and merit of reverence for nature. Even metals and stones might have life in them and should not be dealt with recklessly.
Above the single-sense jivas are micro-organisms and small animals with two, three or four senses. Higher in the order are the jivas with five senses. The highest grade of animals and human beings also possess rationality and intuition (manas). As a highly evolved form of life, human beings have a great moral responsibility in their mutual dealings and in their relationship with the rest of the universe. It is this conception of life and its eternal coherence, in which human beings have an inescapable ethical responsibility, that made the Jaina tradition a cradle for the creed of environmental protection and harmony.
The Jaina tradition lays great emphasis on an integrated code of conduct, austere and exacting for the monks (Mahavratas) but comparatively moderate and flexible for the householders (Anuvratas). The five vratas (vows) in the Jaina code of conduct are:
- non-violence in thought, word and deed,
- to seek and speak the truth,
- to behave honestly and never to take anything by force or theft,
- to practise restraint and chastity in thought, word and deed,
- to practise non-acquisitiveness.
The vow of ahimsa is the first and pivotal vow. The other vows may be viewed as aspects of the larger concept of ahimsa which together form an integrated code of conduct in the individual's quest for equanimity and the three jewels ( ratnatraya ) of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.
Underlying the Jain code of conduct is the emphatic assertion of individual responsibility towards one and all. Indeed, the entire universe is the forum of one's own conscience. The code is profoundly ecological in its secular thrust and its practical consequences.
The transgressions against the vow of non-violence include all forms of cruelty to animals and human beings. Many centuries ago, Jains condemned as evil the common practice of animal sacrifice to the gods. It is generally forbidden to keep animals in captivity, to whip, mutilate or overload them or to deprive them of adequate food and drink. The injunction is modified in respect of domestic animals to the extent that they may be roped or even whipped occasionally but always mercifully with due consideration and without anger.
Except for allowing themselves a judicious use of one-sensed life in the form of vegetables, Jains would not consciously take any life for food or sport. As a community, they are strict lacto-vegetarians, consuming neither meat, nor fish nor eggs.
By taking the basic vows, the Jain laity endeavour to live a life of moderation and restraint and to practise a measure of abstinence and austerity. They must not procreate indiscriminately lest they overburden the universe and its resources. Regular periods of fasting for self-purification are encouraged.
In their use of the earth's resources, Jains take their cue from "the bee that sucks honey in the blossoms of a tree without hurting the blossom and strengthens itself." Wants should be reduced, desires curbed and consumption levels kept within reasonable limits. Using any resource beyond one's needs and misuse of any part of nature is considered a form of theft. Indeed, the Jaina faith goes one radical step further and declares unequivocally that waste and creating pollution are acts of violence.
Accumulation of possessions and enjoyment for personal ends should be minimised. Wealth creation must have a philanthropic goal. Giving charitable donations and one's time for community projects generously is a part of a Jain householder's obligations. That explains why the Jain temples and pilgrimage centres are well-endowed and well-managed. It is this sense of social obligation born out of religious teachings that has led the Jains to found and maintain innumerable schools, colleges, hospitals, clinics, lodging houses, hostels, orphanages, relief and rehabilitation camps for the handicapped, old, sick and disadvantaged, as well as hospitals for ailing birds and animals. Wealthy individuals are advised to recognise that beyond a certain point their wealth is superfluous to their needs and that they should manage the surplus as trustees for social benefit. The five fundamental teachings of Jainism and the five-fold Jaina code of conduct are deeply rooted in its living ethos in unbroken continuity across the centuries. They offer the world today a time-tested anchor of moral imperatives and a viable route plan for humanity's common pilgrimage for holistic environmental protection, peace and harmony in the universe.