According to our scriptures, not just humans, animals and plants but also air, water, fire and earth contain living souls. Each of these souls is considered of equal value and should be treated with respect and compassion. Compassion plays a major role for the progress of the soul toward liberation. In other words, one is expected to behave in a way that does not cause discomfort and to do what one can to alleviate the pain and sufferings of others.
Jain scriptures require practising Jains to not kill any living beings with two senses to five senses and minimize harm to earth, plants, water, air and fire (all the ekindriya jivas). Jains have gone to the extent of abandoning not just animal products but also any form of plant-based food which is considered ananthkay (root vegetables that have one body but contain many lives). Almost all our practices whether avoiding root vegetables or abstaining to eat after sunset are based on compassion towards other living beings. Eating at night is prohibited because germs that we cannot see spread rapidly at night so after sunset, proper food does not enter the stomach.
Compassionate living is not just restricted to food, it encompasses every element that makes up our world. How does one practice compassionate living? While Jainism teaches us the principles, the application is something that should change as our lifestyle changes. With the burgeoning population and industrialization, the need to make the practice of compassion and non-violence broader in our lives is more pertinent than ever. Without our knowledge, many of our actions in the current era are inflicting immense impact on the living beings as well as ekindriya jivas. It is possible to avoid or minimize such harm when we are informed about the impact of our action on other living beings.
I would like to present a few areas as examples of how the current practices are violating the core Jain principles.
While none of us will even remotely think about killing the animals for food or pleasure, the modern business practices involving animals, even when the animals are not killed outright, are usually full of cruelty – which is a violence as per Jainism principles. I’m specifically talking about the dairy animals here.
Now, we don’t usually associate obtaining milk products from animals the same as killing or harming them. Dairy products – milk and its derivatives – are a crucial part of our regular diet and over the years we have imbibed their nutritional values. In the olden days, life was based around farming, and it was easier to accommodate the dairy animals within this lifestyle. They were treated as part of the family and taken care of like a family member. They were fed, worshipped, cared for from their birth to their death irrespective of the quantity of milk they produced.
However, over time, bulk of the milk and milk products are being produced by commercial dairy farms. Often, or perhaps virtually all the time, these dairy ventures are created with the sole intent of producing milk (and milk products – for simplicity, I will mention only milk, although it will include all the milk products too). They don’t have associated farms that are central to the life of dairy animals, nor do they have the values of the older era that considered animals as part of the family. For the dairy farms, given their commercial objectives, these are just milk producing machines and often they are treated as such with little concern for their well-being. The care of such animals is often limited to only those factors that will otherwise impede the milk production. Allow me to explain the practices that are nothing short of exploitation and cruelty and as abhorrent as killing the animals.
Yes, our scriptures allow milk but only the surplus milk from dairy animals that are well cared for and after the calves (both male and female) get their due milk. Do our scriptures allow milk and ghee produced by the commercial dairy industry which sends calves, bulls and male buffaloes and low yielding cows/buffaloes to slaughterhouses? Do our scriptures allow artificial insemination of dairy animals? Just because we are not directly involved – it doesn’t reduce the impact of himsa associated for us as consumers who demand these products.
There are about 30 crore dairy animals in India. One can only imagine the kind of impact it will have on the life of these animals if we reduce or stop consuming milk.
Also, our compassionate practices should go beyond food. Many products used in our daily lives are derived from animals. These include leather, silk, and wool. The technology has developed enough these days to produce functional alternatives. Yes, some of these might be inferior in some respects – e.g., PU Leather often suggested as an alternative to natural leather may degrade faster, but we do need to keep it in the context of the harm we would inflict on animals if we continued using leather. Similarly for silk, where more than 6000 worms are killed in boiling water just to produce one silk saree – again an area where there are a lot of cruelty free alternatives available.
I strongly believe that if one has to follow the principles of Jainism, one should abandon the products of animal origin and allow them to live their natural lives.
Another revolution that is currently going in the world is about conservation of the environment. This is also closely related to the principles and practices that Jainism has incorporated since ages. We often thought of transport as crucial activity for our business, organizations – travelling from home to office, travel to meet customers, suppliers, fairs, etc. At all the times we travel, we usually use vehicles, airplanes, trains, etc all of which have a great impact on the environment. The production and use cause the excessive consumption of resources as well as pollution. While e-commuting has been an option for a long time, very few of us followed it. This was attributable to the common business practices; a lot of things were thought of being unable or un optimal to be conducted without face-to-face meetings. However, what COVID-19 has shown us is, indeed it is possible to use technology to avoid or reduce many of these commutes and travels. Work from home has become reality for many of us. Business is enabled by virtual meetings and phones. When we avoid unnecessary travel, we are helping not just the environment but also reducing our activities and interference with the nature around us, thus preventing the killing of many beings (micro-organisms) and as well as insects, worms that are killed under the tyres of the vehicles. .
I have just presented a couple of examples in this article. In fact, the whole movement of sustainability – buying and owning fewer material goods, reducing our needs, reusing where possible and recycling as a last resort, is also closely embedded in the Jain philosophy of compassion towards all living beings. In short, compassion requires us to lead simple lives and as part of our lives, we need to actively identify the activities which lead to surplus consumption and downscale or eliminate those.
Sangeetha is a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Financial Analyst. She is a trustee of Jain Academy Educational Research Centre and under the guidance of Dr. Bipin Doshi, she founded Applied Jainism in October 2020, a social platform to collaborate and discuss contemporary issues on sustainable co-existence where the principle of Jain philosophy can guide us.