Indian society has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the world in a powerful fist clenched tight with fear, misinformation, and uncertainty about the future. One of the core tenets of Jainism relies on our ability to remain strong in the face of adversity. Ahimsa describes our capacity to live non-violent lives even as forces far out of our control repeatedly strike us. COVID-19 is just one such force.
How we respond to this crisis is what makes us who we are.
Will Jains react by abandoning our beliefs? No. Defying the teachinings? Absolutely not. We will continue to live in peace with all creatures, big and small, the best we can. Many people do not know that Jain monks already wear face coverings on a routine basis to prevent themselves from inhaling microorganisms that cannot be seen by the naked eye. In that way, we prevent ourselves from infecting others with the novel coronavirus — or at the very least reduce the risk to the extent that is possible.
Many have questioned whether or not the Jains consider coronavirus to be just another living thing with which to live in harmony. The answer is complicated. Science usually categorizes a virus as something that is not alive. But Jains are free to choose. Usually we prefer to err on the side of caution.
Also, we must consider the weight with which we consider life’s obstacles. Should we place more weight on coronavirus than, say, global climate change? The former affects humans, but it won’t wipe out our species. The latter will affect all living beings on this planet, which could lead to the destruction of many. Humanity has other obstacles. We hope that the current pandemic will not turn attention away from those that carry greater urgency.
We ask everyone who reads about Jainism to continue living together, in harmony — and avoid the urge to live in fear or swallow misinformation during this time.