Ecological Insight in Jainism

July, 2022 by Dr. Geeta Mehta


Ecology is nothing but the art and science of seeing things as a whole. Our body is a good example of entity, which can be seen as an organic whole. We know that a nail driven into a finger affects every part of the body, for they are all parts of an interconnected whole. Though we are most of the time totally unaware of it, a deep interconnection exists between everything; every man is connected by invisible bonds to every other fellow-being dead or alive, to every creature in the non-human realms and even to the non-living aspects of the universe. This invisible web of interconnections is the basis of all ecology.


For centuries, there was co-existence between nature and living creatures, but with the advent of civilization, man’s mastery over science and technology, consumerism and unprecedented and unbridled growth of population, there arose a disturbance in the harmonious relationship between the living creature and nature.

The environment has been polluted. Environment affects all aspects of human life- physical, biological, social, and cultural. Our survival depends on our interaction with the environment. As the quality of environment improves, so does the quality of human life.


Jainism has been described as ecological religion or religious ecology. The three principles of Jainism come to our rescue namely Ahimsa, Aparigraha and Anekantvada. If Jain teachings of non-violence, non attachment and non possession are followed with personal commitment and effort, much of the discord in society and nature would be reduced. The three basic Jaina concepts can play a key role in establishing ecological balance.

  1. Non-Violence-Ahimsa.
  2. Non-Attachment to possession or Aparigraha.
  3. Non –Absolutism or the doctrine of multiple vision.


The basic teaching of Mahavir is Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the supreme religion.

In the wider sense non-violence implies ‘Right to life for all’ coming from ‘Respect for life’.Thus it is ethically oriented principle of conduct which can promote the  spirit of universal brotherhood and peaceful coexistence. In Achanranga Sutra it has been said, ‘Every human being wants to live, nobody likes suffering .Therefore do not inflict suffering on anybody. This is non-violence.’4

Nature is treated reverentially in Jainism. It asks us to shape our actions with a more care for their environmental consequences.

In Jainism, non-violence is not merely a ritual but discipline for all at all times. It provides us with environmental ethics. It would help humanity to live in harmony with nature. Jainism teaches not to exploit nature in our greed for wealth and power. If we practice non-violence and be a little cautious perhaps, we can prevent disturbing ecology. All our selfish pursuits amount to violence. Non-violence implies restricted consumption of natural resources. In social context it implies practices of restraint in all activities. Do not harm others, consume energy only to the extent that is minimally essential. No extravagance or waste should be there due to neglect and carelessness. Lord Mahavira rightly observed that non-violence is wholesome for all living beings. Positively, it implies the universal friendliness. It is abundantly clear that non-violent lifestyle is imperative to save mankind. A careful study of Jain scriptures reveals evidence for the concern of Jainism for environment.

Ecological sensitivity of Jain seers is reflected in the concept of non-violence as the supreme religion. It is more than a moral precept. It is equated with deity and is described as protector of the whole universe. Practically it is the  observance of mindfulness and self control in our behavior to others.

Mahavira has spoken of two kinds of violence:


What does Jainism have to say about environmental concern?

Six travelers are lost in the central part of the forest, seeing a fruit laden tree. They think of eating the fruit.
The first person actuated by black thought- point (Krishna Leshya), wanted to uproot the whole tree.
The second person actuated by blue thought-point (Nil Leshya),wanted to preserve the roots but cut down the trunk.
The third person actuated by grey thought-point (Kapot Leshya),wanted to cut only larger branches.
The fourth person actuated by yellow thought-point (Tejo-leshya),wanted to cut only the minor branches with fruits to avoid unncecssary damage.
The fifth person actuated by pink thought point (Padma –Leshya),wanted to pluck only the fruits.
The sixth one actuated by white thought-point (Shukla Leshya), suggested to pick up the fallen fruits on  the ground.

One must avoid the first three thoughts absolutely. The fourth and the fifth are respectful towards the tree but the best among them all is the sixth person’s thoughts.

This story indicates the care a Jain must take in his behavior. The non-violence towards all the creatures, the friendship towards all beings shows the concern and care Jains take towards each species of the universe and towards environment.

There is no exaggeration to say that the Jain ecological philosophy is virtually synonymous with the principle of non-violence which runs through the Jain tradition like a golden thread. It is the concept which is at once ancient and refreshingly modern.


Many scholars point out that these current problems of pollution were not existent during earlier ages. Jain Acharyas say that if we disregard the existence of earth, fire, water and vegetation, then our own existence will be destroyed. Jains point out that environmental concerns require a specific non violent lifestyle that has an aesthetic dimension and a practical concept of spiritual concord. Changing our lifestyle to spiritual ecology and environmental concern is not very difficult if we bear the following aims in mind:

Cultivation of helping attitude, detachment and universal friendship.
Cultivation of an attitude of restraint and minimal use of natural resources and consumables.
Cultivation of the habit of carefulness in all activities.
Daily penitential retreat and prayer for the welfare of all living beings and for universal peace.
Cultivation of satisfaction and tolerance.
Cultivation of non-violent lifestyle.


Mahavira declared that all beings of the natural world have equal potential for progress in the cycle of transmigration and all are dependant upon one another for their mutual survival. The Jain conviction of “Parsparopgrahojivanam” teaches that all forms of life are bound together in mutuality and interdependence.

All souls are bound together by mutual support. It is the principle of interdependence and interconnectedness which is also the principle of modern ecology. It is the hall mark of Jainism. There is inevitable bond of interraltionship. This principle says ‘Live and Let Live’ understanding the rules of entire ecological system. Reverence for all living organism on earth is the basic principle. Human life depends upon other living beings and other living beings too live on others. There is a network of interdependent relationship, the air, water, men, animals, plants are all invisibly linked in a life-sustaining system called the environment. The man must show reverence for all living organisms and thus achieve harmonious co-existence. Each organism depends on another and this is the way the survival of each can be ensured and existence of each be respected. The stress is upon the indisputable principle of mutual harmony i.e symbiosis-mutualism which emphasized the basic unity of nature.

By practice of Jain ethos, psycho-spiritual change can be affected which lead to eco-friendly behavior. Lord Mahavir proclaimed a preformed truth for all times to come where he said “ one who disregards existence of earth, water, fire, air  and vegetarian life disregards his own existence which is entwined with them”14

Doctrine of Mutualism is important as it is equivalent to environmental basics that the environment matrix is an integrated composite whole in which all its constituents are interdependent and interact for mutual benefit. This implies that no harm to environment is done. All things are interlinked.


Jainism in the end tends towards Deep Ecology. There is need of environmental ethics. Nature is intrinsically valuable. It is abundantly clear from the above discussion that nature is treated reverentially in Jain tradition. Jainism deals with permanent values of life which are of enduring benefit to mankind. Ecological sensitivity of Jain seer is reflected in the concept of non-violence as the supreme religion. It is more than a moral precept. It is equated with deity and is described as protector of the whole universe. Practically it is the observance of mindfulness and self control in our behavior to others.

Curtesy :

About Author

Dr.Geeta Mehta

Dr. Geeta Mehta, retired head of the Dept. of Philosophy, Director, Somaiya Centre for Studies in Jainism. Recognized Research Guide Ph.D. Mumbai University. Books (i) Philosophy of Vinoba Bhave (ii) Aba Apne Sabdonme iii) Ahimsa: From Mahavir to Mahatma (Awarded), 35 Research Papers in International Journals, 107 articles in News Papers and Magazines.

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