Is the Jaina Way of Living Inherently Eco-friendly?

February, 2022 by Sejal Zaveri
Human well being is closely linked to the health of the environment. Earth is a home to numerous different living species which all are dependent on the environment for air, water, food and other needs. People need clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, and places to live that are free of toxic substances and hazards. It is thus very important that the right balance is maintained among various components of the environment. On observing the practices followed by Jains, we can clearly see that a lot of them such as vegetarianism, minimalism, conscious consumption etc are environmentally responsible. However, here a question arises-are these practices designed with the intention of being eco friendly, or are they simply a by product of the primary goal of Jainism i.e., attaining ‘Moksha’?

While on the surface it may feel like the latter is the case, a closer examination reveals that the basic manner in which life and the world are defined and viewed in Jainism coupled with Jaina principle of Non-violence indicate that eco friendliness is inherently embedded in Jaina practices. The two statements are not contradictory, but in fact they are complementary to each other. Let me illustrate.

The principle of non-violence is based on the simplest observation “No one likes to suffer ” as proclaimed in Jaina scripture Acharang Sutra. Abiding to Ahinsa is recognizing that all forms of life should be respected and all living beings have the right to exist and live. The living beings in Jainism are classified on the basis of the number of senses. The higher forms of life have increased capacity to sense the world and experience greater pain and pleasure due to more senses that they possess. Humans with five senses constitute the highest biologically developed life forms. Plants, air, water, earth, and fire constitute the lowest kind of life forms with just one sense i.e., sense of touch. Hence, by considering all the elements of nature as ‘life’, there is an intrinsic care and responsibility towards all of our surroundings that forms the core value of Jainism.

It is clearly mentioned in Achrang Sutra, “One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence” i.e., the pursuit of “Moksha” cannot be achieved without being mindful of every element of our environment and being compassionate towards each and every living form.

The fact is even asserted in Tatvartha Sutra aphorism [5.21], “Parasparopagraho Jivanam” which is translated as “Souls render service to one another” or “All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence”. We are not remote from nature but are interconnected with it; we are part of a big whole. Everything is connected to every other thing for mutual benefit and sustenance. The environment and all its components are a part of the whole, each having their own intrinsic value. The primary duty of the souls is to live in harmony with each other and not to harm any living being, and their function is to help one another. It recognizes the fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis or mutual dependence, which forms the basis of the modern-day science of ecology.

So how does a Jaina decide and choose practices to follow?

Jains get their guidelines from Shravakachar, the Jaina code of conduct for householders designed based on the same principle of respect, equality and mutual support for each and every life form (including all parts of the environment).

“Shravakachara” consists of twelve vows or promises that need to be made by a Jaina practitioner. It includes:

  • 5 Partial Vows (Anu Vrata) which helps in abiding to fundamental principles of non-violence,
  • 3 Virtues fostering vows (Guna Vrata) that help in strengthening the fundamental principle of Ahinsa by following it more rigorously and
  • 4 Educative vows (Siksha Vrata) that prepare one for a higher monastic path.

Practices that are derived from 2 out of 5 of the partial vows (partial vow of non-violence and limiting possessions), and all 3 Virtue fostering vows are inherently environment friendly. Virtue fostering vows include limiting travel (Dik Parimana), limiting usage of material things (Bhogopabhoga Virmana Vrata) and limiting unnecessary activities (Anarthadanda Virmana vrata).

How do practices that are derived using these vows become eco friendly?

Through the partial vow of non-violence (Ahinsa), a promise is made to never intentionally harm any living being. Ideally violence of any form is prohibited, but complete abstinence from non-violence is impossible for a lay person as he cannot escape violence encountered while performing activities that are necessary for life to go on. Thus, limiting violence is the goal and there is no limit on minimization, one should minimize wherever possible and to one’s capacity.

For example, food is a basic necessity for any human being.  Here in a situation where violence is unavoidable for self sustenance, it is logically determined to consume only one sensed being which can sense lesser pain being at lower stages of biological development. This is the reason that the prescribed Jaina diet is a plant based vegetarian diet. Most researchers agree that a cutting down on meat or no-meat diet will surely help one to reduce the carbon footprint and be more environment friendly, because of the huge number of resources required to produce meat, deforestation to feed cattle and pollution caused due to by products, which is significantly more than in plants.

Similarly, Water and electricity need to be used cautiously too as reducing the energy and water usage reduces the demand for fossil fuels and, in turn, can lower the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Jains abide to both direct and indirect form of non-violence as well as principle of non-possession through practice of conservation of water

Jains are also asked to select travel options with utmost care in order to protect lower forms of life as far as possible to avoid committing violence. One should not fly if driving is possible and should not drive if walking is possible. From an environmental perspective, reducing travel distances reduces fuel consumption and in turn reduces greenhouse gas emission.

Partial vow of limited possession (Aparigrha) brings check on human greed and ambition. This vow requires one to limit necessities of life. Practitioner of this vow promises himself that he will never gather more than some fixed amount of material possessions like house, land, gold, clothes, vehicles, servants, etc. It is the best way to tackle consumerism and reduce unnecessary consumption. As said by Mahatma Gandhi, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs but not one’s greed”. The modern principle of reduce, reuse, and recycle is a perfect application of the principle of non-possession.

The Virtue fostering vows are special vows that put limits on one’s travel, food, and unnecessary activities. The vow to limit travel is the promise to go only certain distances in certain directions and fix the boundaries of movement. Vow to limit food and other material enjoyment is to promise to limit quantities of things we consume and use. Vow to limit activities puts restrictions on professions, businesses and industries that involve excessive violence and ecological imbalance to earn livelihood. Cutting forest is not allowed. Professions like mining, making charcoal, business of Ivory, business that involves fur and hair, drying lakes and ponds, burning forests, etc are prohibited.

Usually, most of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from food, housing, and transportation. All above discussed limitations and prohibitions will help one to reduce the carbon footprint if one chooses to practice them in day-to-day life.

Another important point that must be kept in mind is that the Jaina principles are the guiding principles which help in deriving the practices to be followed. It is very much possible for new practices to evolve and even older ones to be obsolete on account of changing time and location. These principles need to be pondered over again and again for checking its application in current times. For example, looking at immense violence in factory farms, certain Jainas now believe that consumption of milk and milk products should also be prohibited to abide by the principle of non-violence.

Conclusion

To sum up, many Jaina practices are eco-friendly and practicing the same would help one to be in harmony with nature along with following the path prescribed by Lord Mahavir. People sometimes argue that the objective or intent behind these practices is not the true concern for the environment, but it’s a somewhat selfish motive of moksha or self-realization. But this argument does not have enough grounding when one ponders over and understands the deep meaning of Ahinsa and its application as well as how everything in this world is interconnected as explained in Tattvartha Sutra. So, with this greater awareness let’s all work together to be in harmony with nature and be the true Jains.

About Author

Sejal Zaveri

sepaniz72@gmail.com

To strengthen my core values and satisfy the quest for knowledge, I did diploma in Jainism and later M.A. in philosophy from Mumbai University. Currently studying Prakrit. I also hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering and have worked in past as a software engineer.

Co-edited – Disha Zaveri

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Alka Jhaveri
Alka Jhaveri
2 years ago

Jaina eco friendly principles explained very nicely.

binance US-registrera
binance US-registrera
1 month ago

Can you be more specific about the content of your article? After reading it, I still have some doubts. Hope you can help me.