Is it better to make our choices while remaining ignorant about subtle/overt violence or have knowledge about it and do the best we can by following the Jain principle of minimizing violence?
If our principle/value is nonviolence towards all living beings, then remaining ignorant is not an option. The core principle of Jainism is the path of Knowledge. Spiritual growth means continuous learning, seeking new information, and adapting-/changing our actions based on the newly discovered knowledge. If we conduct ourselves in a state of ignorance (in wrong belief or mithyatva) then we cannot make spiritual progress. Consider the following situations:
- We are aware of potential violence in the food we consume (cake or ice cream) or products we use (silk garment or leather purse) yet we choose to remain ignorant and not make the effort to gain or verify the information. We pretend to be ignorant.
- Impact of the taxes we pay by the government which we have not bothered to learn about or tried to influence through our obligation to participate in the civic affairs.
- The impact of our stock market investments which may be encouraging and enabling corporations to commit violence to improve our returns. Divesting is an option.
- When we seek recognition for donations we make, there is subtle ignorance at bhav /intention level. In stroking our Ego, we have increased our vices (Kashays) and we acquire more bad karma.
Proper knowledge and forethought are required before any action is required. Jain Agam scripture Das Vaikalik Sutra states that “Pratham Jnanam Tao Daya” (first knowledge then compassion). After a thoughtful inquiry and gaining of new knowledge, we must act on that information to reduce our karmic load.
Following Path of Minimum Violence for our Healthy survival
Human life cannot exist without violence. For our existence, we need food, clothing, and shelter. Hence Jain principle states that for our survival, we must follow the path of minimum violence. Muni Shree Nyayvijaji (the undisputed scholar of Jain Logic) explains how to practice minimum violence in his book Jain Darshan. Here are the links to his article on “The Principle of Minimum Violence for Human’s Survival” in Hindi, English, and Gujarati.
The Jain principle states that the degree of violence inflicted to any living being is proportional to the number of senses a living being possesses. A living being who possesses more senses equates to more development of its faculty of knowledge. Therefore, hurting or exploiting one five sense living being is worse than hurting many four sense living beings and three senses living beings, and so on. Please refer to this blog post for details about five senses and their role from Ahimsa point of view.
The Order of Degree of Violence (highest to lowest) as per soul classification defined in Jiv-vichar book:
- Human Beings.
- Five sensed Animals.
- Four sensed Movable Beings such as flies, bees.
- Three sensed Movable Beings such as ants, lice.
- Two sensed Living Beings such as insects.
- One sense Beings – vegetables, water, air, earth, and fire.
Violence can be in any form such as killing, exploiting, verbal abuse, physical violence, emotional or mental abuse etc.
Since human life can healthily survive by consuming only one sense beings (fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, water etc.) we should not kill, hurt, or exploit two to five senses living beings. Hence Jainism propagates consuming only one sense being for healthy survival and no wastage. Any food we waste or any clothing and shelter we do not use is also considered violence because we have killed more one sense beings than we need for our healthy survival.
In the past 100-200 years, our lifestyle has become part of a very complex and interconnected world of advanced technology, global economics, extreme specialization of labor, complex corporate and political dynamics, all of which led to a disconnectedness between our personal actions and the resulting effects on the rest of the humanity and on the planet’s ecosystem. Hence, as conscious individuals, we have an important moral obligation to become aware of these cause-and-effect dynamics, and to act in ways to reduce our role in it.
If our actions cause environmental degradation (such as using plastics plates, water bottles, bags, cups, and glasses, etc) it should be considered the highest form of violence as it affects all of us living beings on the planet, causing death, displacement, disease, and other types of suffering. Also, our non-biodegradable waste (plastic, Styrofoam etc.) destroys sea life significantly.
We must also make sure that we don’t micro-manage our approach of minimizing violence to one sense so much that we lose sight of the bigger picture of not hurting five sense living beings. We need to always keep the highest goals of non-violence towards humans, other five sensed living beings and strive to minimize violence towards other four, three, and two sense movable living beings.
What can we do?
It seems like in our consumerist society, there is increasing amount of violence for companies to succeed and make money, and for consumers to get what they want and when they want it. In such situation, we must ensure that our actions are in in-sync with our values and principles.
When we buy something, we have a responsibility to understand how that product was produced and what violence may have been committed for it to be acquired. Similarly, when we throw something in the trash, we should understand the complete chain of events and set of consequences of the action. With the awareness, we can consciously avoid / limit actions that cause harm and we have an opportunity to choose an option with less violence rather than being ignorant and choosing the one that is most convenient/pleasurable in worldly sense.
Since life cannot exist without violence, we must strive towards minimizing violence. We are our own judge and jury when it comes to making our choices and determining our acceptable level of violence while simultaneously nurturing our spiritual growth. Even in law, ignorance is not considered as valid excuse. How can any religion excuse it?
This article is edited from the Jainism blog published by JAINA Education Committee. To read on other topics, please visit https://jainism-says.blogspot.com