The core value of Jainism is to be of service to one another expressed through the phrase Parasapagraho Jivanam. Jainism classifies living beings into various categories from having one to five senses. Categories of living beings include plants and trees (vanaspatikaya), air (vayukaya), water (apkaya), fire (teukaya), and soil-earth (prithvikaya), and are the lowest category of living beings. Humans and mammals with five senses are a part of the highest category of living beings.
The care for the soil-based micro-organisms is critical to the quality of nutrients in the soil. This in turn leads to a healthy ecosystem underground, which is responsible for the nutrients in the food that we eat. Jainism is very protective of the environment through its prescribed way of living.
Some of the day-to-day Jain value highlights include the following:
Avoiding Root Vegetables:
By not consuming root vegetables, Jainism protects the micro-organisms, which are crucial for the right soil nutrients and plant growth. On uprooting the root vegetables, these microorganisms would be destroyed. According to consciousplanet.org, the first 12-15% of the soil contains 87% of life. This observation is highlighted in Jain scriptures concerning the consumption of root vegetables harming innumerable life content.
Consumption of Fruits:
By stressing on eating of ripe fruits on certain days of the month, it helps nature to sustain itself and trees to pollinate by seed spreading, as also observed in the actions of birds and animals. Covering the soil with trees and plants, protects the carbon from escaping, reducing the carbon content in the atmosphere.
Saying no to Meat:
Ahimsa or Non-Violence is at the core of Jain values. Insects and animals are considered more evolved than plants, vegetables, fruits, and grains. Hence, it encourages a vegetarian diet, leaving the food chain intact, for all other living beings. Besides, it saves crucial natural resources which would have been utilized in producing fodder for the animals raised for meat consumption.
Actively realizing that soil is alive:
As Jainism considers soil is alive with microorganisms, it prevents the use of harsh chemicals and pesticides that will accidentally harm the good nutrients and living microbes in the soil. Protecting all life (Ahimsa) is central to the Jain principles. That the soil is full of life and is the basis of all life, is highlighted by Dr Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University.
No wastage of Food:
Care is taken so that no food is wasted. Thus, one takes only so much on the plate, as one can consume. Such minute awareness in everyday living, respects nature’s growth process, by acknowledging the resources spent by the soil, water, and sun to produce the vegetable. As we know, it sometimes takes nine months to produce an Avocado, a common thing of consumption in today’s diet and Mexican dishes.
Aparigraha (Non-Hoarding and Non-Possession):
A critical component of the fundamental values of Jainism includes Aparigraha. This means limiting one’s possessions. Applying this principle to everyday living encourages limiting the number of things one owns, uses, and discards. Discarded things are also reused and recycled, supporting the three-pronged approach of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. It promotes the conservation of precious natural resources for future generations and reduces our carbon footprint.
As all life is crucial, Jainism encourages the careful chopping of vegetables and fruits by removing the seeds aside. It also ensures that accidental worms in vegetables and fruits are spared before cooking. Dormant seeds regerminate when transferred back into the soil through composting. Transferring the food scraps to the soil and leaving the yard waste, encourages improving the soil nutrients as they break down.
In conclusion, by considering water, fire, air, and earth(soil) as important elements of the universe which need to be conserved and their usage minimized, Jainism ensures that the present and future generations are fed with balanced nutrients. Marine life and vegetation are protected, and humans interact with these elements with an awareness of the symbiotic relationship that exists among all the different categories of living beings as understood from the Jain scriptures. This also resonates with the current need of society in terms of taking steps to have cleaner air, water, food, and soil.
Events such as World Soil Day on December 5th, supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation and the movement of savesoil.org highlight soil as one of the basic building blocks of life, which has been considered worthy of respect by Jains for centuries and is incorporated in the Jain philosophy. Soil is the base of all food, and a healthy body and mind are essential for the collective health of humanity. It brings to the fore the realization that many aspects of the Jain way of living are purposeful, scientifically supported and environmentally beneficial, not just for humans but for the world. As Jains, we should take pride in a religion that has always believed in co-existence with one another in mutually interdependent relations with all aspects of the environment.