Crumbling Ecosystem and Humanity
Though ahimsa, the basic tenet of Jainism, has been in vogue since the Age of Lord Rsabhadeva, the first Jain Tirthankara (Jina or pathfinder) of this cycle of time, who it is believed, was born thousands of years ago, it shot into prominence with the advent of Gandhi in the twentieth century who used it successfully as a weapon to compel the Britishers to quit India and give her freedom ultimately.
The crumbling ecosystem of the planet earth and its rapid environmental degradation have once again attracted the attention of the concerned citizens all over the world recently towards the nonviolent Jain tradition and its principle of ahimsa. I would define, analyse and elucidate the Jain principle of ahimsa vis-a-vis the present crisis that threatens the extinction of life in the foregoing paragraphs, but it will be in fitness of things if I first give my own perception and assessment of the precarious situation precipitated by man’s callous attitude and cruelty towards nature and his unrestrained lifestyle rooted in sheer pomposity, ugly exhibitionism and in his desire to monopolize all resources of the planet and use them for amassing wealth and make his life most comfortable. This human tendency is responsible for this unprecedented scientific, industrial and technological advancement which may have brought prosperity to a few people but have pushed billions of people to near starvation and abject conditions following the destruction of nature which sustains all life forms. It has also resulted in the wiping out of many species vitally important for human survival.
The biologically diverse forms of life on this planet are exposed to the risk of annihilation. All life-forms are interdependent and interconnected. Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of the Jain tradition stated two thousand five hundred years ago ‘parasparopagraha jivanam’—all life is bound together by mutual cooperation and support. But man who is the most intelligent creature among all the species has exceeded his limits to the disadvantage of animals, birds, forests, mountains and streams?
Civilizations evolved in similar technological stages do seek to improve well-being, they often bring an illusory sense of power and separation from nature and erode basic values that encoded sustainable practice. Moreover, the oldest styles of human culture are still with us like nomadic pastoralist and peasant farmer who persist alongside the megacities of modern life. Though great civilizations have repeatedly failed, these simple technologies survive. ‘Only’ when war, famine, and environmental collapse strike, do we understand, too late, our dependence on nature and on peace—the ecological imperative. According to James Lovelock, the celebrated scientist who thinks that planet earth is gravely ill regards the planetary life as a whole self-regulating organism living amid the web of interdependent species and the traces of past lives. We cannot conquer nature without defeating ourselves. Recognition of this truth is fundamental to survival of life on this planet. James Lovelock has named this entity of self-regulating organism Gaia after the ancient Greek Goddess of the Earth. Another eminent scientist of the modern age Fritj of Capra says in his recent book—The Turning Point:
We have lost touch with our biological and ecological base more than any other civilization in the past. This separation manifests itself in a striking disparity between the development of intellectual power, scientific knowledge, and technological skills, on the one hand, and of wisdom, spirituality and ethics on the other hand.
The ecological and environmental crisis that grips us today is of our own making. We have ignored the principle of ahimsa in our day-today dealings. The web of relationship between humans and non-humans has been disrupted only because our behaviour towards non-humans is excessively violent.
The Jain principle of ahimsa is an ecological ethic. Though equally important are the other four principles of Jainism viz. non-stealing, truth, aparigrah (non-possession) and brahmcharya (abstinence from sexual lust), they are more or less there to strengthen the principle of ahimsa only.
Ahimsa is the highest point of the development of human civilization and culture. Himsa (violence) is inextricably intertwined with human life, but it is not considered a part of its development. More and more people in the world now realize the importance of ahimsa for human survival in the wake of the two nuclear holocausts that took the toll of two million lives in the forties of this century and the phenomenal rise of violence in the form of ethnic, religious, and political wars and conflicts dotting the length and breadth of the globe today. Humanity seems to be heading fast for disaster as we see it plunged into chaos and anarchy.
Violence: Definition and Causes
Before we analyse the causes of violence, let us first try to understand as to what we actually mean by violence. Examples of physical violence need not to be explained as they are universally known forms of violence since these examples describe just one aspect of violence. The noted Jain scholar Umasvati has defined violence in Tattvartha Sutra in the following words:
‘pramattayogat pranauyaparopanam himsa’
(Taking life away out of passion is violence)
Passion includes the powerful emotions of anger, pride, deceipt and greed or we can say that an injury to life motivated by passion is violence. If an injury is caused without deliberate intention, it does not of itself constitute an evil act since it is not accompanied by any feeling of attachment or hatred. As social beings we cannot escape violence in its totality, so the Jain scriptures advise the shravaks or votaries to at least refrain from unnecessary violence and follow ANUVRAT (basic vows). The acts of violence that we see in society today are being committed out of intense feelings of hatred, possessiveness, jealousy, carnality. Violence first arises in thought and is poured out verbally i.e., in words. When the passion grows uncontrollable, it leads to ghastly physical violence. Hence, whether it is the unrestrained use of water, air, plants, vegetables, or the unrestrained destruction of forests to satisfy one’s limitless greed, the origin is the mind of man. Deeply concerned about the tide of violence closing in on humankind, Robert Muller—the then former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and the Chancellor Emeritus of the University for Peace Costa Rica suggested that a commission consisting of Heads of State should be appointed by the UN to deal with all forms of violence in the world today: physical violence, verbal, visual and mental violence. It should deal with violence against children, in families, in communities, in the streets, among religions, in international relations, among all groups of this planet including violence against our brothers and sisters, animals and violence which prevail at this moment in the world. Late His Holiness Acharya Mahapragya, a noted Jain thinker and head of Swetamber Terapanth Jain sect says:
Both violence and nonviolence inhere in us. Our mind also works in two ways: one dictates anger; the other counsel’s patience, puts the brakes on anger. Both the instigating and the restraining tendencies are there. Good and evil are both present in us. The real question is which of the two we shall develop. Which one shall we awaken, and which one shall we put to sleep?
He further opines that the violence prevalent in society cannot be put an end to without developing spiritual nonviolence. It is based on the unity and equality of all souls—souls of all sentient beings on this globe.