Ratnatraya: Animals Through the Lens of Samyak Darshan, Gyan, and Charitrya

December, 2023 by Dr. Pratik Bhansali
Jai Jinendra, everyone. Our discussion around Jain principles often revolves around fundamental principles like Ahimsa and Ratnatraya, and rightly so. But how do the Ratnatraya guide us in the modern world with all its practicalities? While we often talk about animals in the context of Jainism, philosophically examining our views and actions regarding animals as an extension of these basic principles would be an interesting conversation. Staying true to these basic principles can help us navigate situations where scriptures, literature, or interpretations thereof seem contradictory. This discussion aims to explore the interconnections between the three Jewels of Jainism – the Ratnatraya, the foundational principle of ahimsa (non-violence), and our thoughts and actions concerning other animals. We’ll start by diving into each of the three Jewels individually, exploring their significance within Jain philosophy. From there, the discussion will transition towards the concept of ahimsa as a guiding light within Samyak Darshan (right vision), emphasizing its pivotal role in shaping our worldview. Subsequently, we’ll delve into Samyak Gyan (Right Knowledge), discussing how awareness and understanding extend beyond known facts, especially concerning the treatment of animals in various practices. Finally, we’ll explore Samyak Charitrya (Right Conduct), emphasizing the alignment of actions with the foundational principles of Jainism, particularly in the context of animals. This essay seeks to navigate these interconnected concepts, emphasizing their relevance and mutual alignment within the broader framework of ethical living.

Samyak Darshan: Expanding the Vision

Samyak Darshan is often translated as “right faith” or “belief.” These translations seem inadequate. Rather, the concept of “right vision” encompasses a broader understanding that extends beyond mere faith, that is the idea of liberation. It’s akin to viewing the world through various lenses, each offering distinct perspectives on reality. Consider our numerical system or the mathematical concepts we develop. While numbers and our mathematical concepts serve as invaluable tools to help structure our understanding of the world, they remain abstract constructs facilitating comprehension rather than inherent tangible physical components of the world itself. They may still be inadequate to understand the working of the world, and there’s always a possibility that a better system exists or major improvements, and we must be open towards that. In this example of the number systems and mathematical concepts, the vision is not the concepts themselves but a better conceptualization of the world around us. This parallels how Samyak Darshan guides us—utilizing belief systems and frameworks for understanding while remaining receptive to the potential for alternative or enhanced perspectives to reach the ultimate aim of liberation.

Embracing Samyak Darshan entails acknowledging the limitations of our current comprehension of reality. Much like our numerical system, which possesses its constraints and scope for improvement, reality might have inherent complexities beyond our present understanding. This recognition leads us to remain open to the evolution of our comprehension, the emergence of novel frameworks, or even the transcendence of our current cognitive boundaries. This resonates deeply with the ethos of Jainism, advocating for an open-minded approach to knowledge acquisition and understanding.

Moving forward, it’s crucial to integrate the essence of Samyak Darshan into our worldview. An essential component of the ultimate goal of liberation is the furtherance of Ahimsa (non-violence) in all aspects of life. This means our commitment must be towards the alignment of our intentions and actions to the vision of Ahimsa, and not to any actions themselves. Simply speaking, the darshan stays the same (furthering Ahimsa), while the actions must evolve with improvement in awareness to keep aligning with the foundational principles of Ahimsa.

Samyak Gyan: Illuminating Knowledge

Now that we have clarity that our vision or Darshan is furthering Ahimsa and that is Samyak Darshan, let us see what Samyak Gyan would mean, while keeping the vision in mind. Awareness is an essential component of knowledge. Samyak Gyan (Right Knowledge) encapsulates the knowledge of all the dravyas, or in modern terminology, all the components of the universe (all living and non-living components). This principle asks us to always be collecting this knowledge, while also staying true to the earlier discussed vision of Ahimsa. For instance, we have the knowledge that eating animals as meat harms them, but many of us are not aware of some practices in dairy. Like all mammals, cows, buffaloes, goats generate milk after pregnancy for their baby. The dairy industry therefore forcibly makes them pregnant as a standard practice, often through techniques like artificial insemination. I will not describe this painful technique considering the length of this overall discussion, but I would request the readers to read and watch videos about that and visit dairy farms. Male calves are often an unwanted byproduct for the industry and are slaughtered. I would also request the readers to learn more about practices like khalbaccha, attempts of sorting of semen to obtain only females (since males are not “profitable”), and tying mothers and babies away from each other and constraining them. The immense suffering of this separation between the mother and the baby, even after the forced pregnancy of the mother would be evident. But one may ask, “What if all these cruel practices are not present from where I obtain milk?”, “What if I have a buffalo, cow, etc. at home and don’t follow all these cruel practices evident around us”. To be clear, it is extremely impractical to avoid these practices, especially because these mother animals need to produce a baby every year. But let us still try to address this (unlikely) scenario of the so called “non-cruel” dairy by turning to the principal of Samyak Gyan. Our understanding of the world constantly evolves. When we talk of things like domestic violence and physical abuse, concepts like consent are now a central part of discussion, and the discussion is not limited to physical pain. Now we even talk about emotional pain and trauma. We talk about not looking at humans and their bodies as objects that we can benefit from. Why shouldn’t we also extend this consideration for non-humans? The question that I would pose is, irrespective of how more or less cruel someone may call some action, is it fair to look at someone’s pregnancy, and see an opportunity to get milk in it? If we would not tolerate that for humans, is it okay to look at other animals like that? Doesn’t it amount to looking at other animals as objects? Wouldn’t that be hinsa too, also including bhaav hinsa? I also want to point out to the readers that buffaloes are often left out of the conversation, though they are exploited the most for milk and don’t even have protection for the sake of optics. In addition, cows buffaloes and goats are not the only animals exploited for milk. Camels and other animals are being increasingly used too. The process of having Samyak Gyan, therefore, without a doubt insists that we make ourselves aware of such practices and facts, and the concepts of consent, objectification, etc. for all animals – human or others.

Samyak Charitrya: Enacting Righteous Conduct

Now I want to augment this discussion with Samyak Charitrya (Right Conduct). Samyak Charitrya stands as the logical continuum following Samyak Darshan and Samyak Gyan. While Samyak Darshan guides our perception of the world and Samyak Gyan enriches our understanding, both lack true meaning if not translated into actions. It’s in the application of these beliefs and knowledge that Samyak Charitrya finds its profound significance. Without aligning our actions with the insights gained through vision and knowledge, the transformative potential of these principles remains unrealized. It is through the tangible expression of ethical conduct, such as veganism in consonance with the values of Ahimsa, that these guiding philosophies manifest into meaningful and impactful ways of living. Samyak Charitrya, therefore, represents the natural evolution from vision and knowledge towards a conscientious and ethically driven way of life.

Now, if we hold our vision or Samyak Darshan (furthering Ahimsa) and knowledge or Samyak Gyan (increased knowledge and awareness about hinsa, including bhaav hinsa), it is logical that we tailor our conduct to be in alignment with them with all sincerity. Veganism includes not using and hurting animals and ignoring that use and other harm to animals violates the principles we discussed above. While this idea would resonate with a lot of us, some of us may go to great lengths to find some scriptures or subsequent literature and rely on some interpretation of it to justify using animals like consuming milk, etc. We often forget that what we should hold paramount is the Samyak Darshan that the principle of Ahimsa acts as. And literature or its interpretation written at some point of time was according to the understanding, awareness at that point of time. With evolving knowledge, we must make sure that our interpretations would take into consideration that Samyak Gyan, while staying true to the Darshan of Ahimsa. Failing this, we would be fighting for walls in a structure, while letting go of its very foundation.

What next: Simple actionable changes 

I recognize that while we may often agree with discussions, and think about them, we are left without a clear path forward on how exactly to realign our actions. So, I do want to close with some simple actions that readers may want to consider. I would urge the readers to begin by learning more about veganism and its alignment with our already accepted values. This includes looking at practices in the dairy, meat and egg industry, and other non food-related industries through widely available videos, and literature. Investigate resources such as those compiled by the Jain Vegan Initiative and other platforms promoting cruelty-free living. Some of these resources have been compiled at https://linktr.ee/globaljainvegans. These resources address the concerns about health, environment, and socio-economic aspects related to veganism. They help us embrace a vegan lifestyle congruent with Jain Principles in a budget-friendly manner, without increasing our cost of living. And simultaneously, eliminate all animal products – from dairy to silk with assistance from those resources.

Let our understanding guide us in making choices that respect all life forms and reflect these cherished values. We must remember that each choice we make contributes to creating a positive impact on the world around us. Please feel free to contact the author at bhansalipratiks@gmail.com for more resources, and local communities of vegans with Jain and other backgrounds.

About Author


Dr. Pratik Bhansali holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina State University and works in the field of thermal sciences. He has an evidence-based scientific perspective intertwined with a dedication to social justice, particularly centered around animal rights and ethical living. In his role as the outreach advisor of The Jain Vegan Initiative and the strategic lead for JAINA’s Ahimsak Eco Vegan Committee, Pratik ardently advocates for compassionate living and ethical treatment of animals.

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