Ahimsa in Jainism

Jainism is built upon a foundation of non-violence — ahimsa — which is one of the guiding principles by which Jains live. Everything else that Jains believe is directly connected to this pacifist way of life, from how the interact with those of different faiths right down to what they eat. In fact, Jains might find it impossible to act in any way at all were it not for how living through ahimsa is regulated.

Many of us live peacefully. But how many of us extend the notion of “peace” to everything we do on a day to day basis? You might have friends or family members who are vegetarian or vegan — or perhaps you choose this diet for yourself. But even these dietary restrictions are chosen for certain reasons that differ from person to person. Jains are vegetarian because this diet does the least amount of harm to living beings.

However, nothing is quite so simple.

For Jains, “macro” forms of life and “micro” forms of life bear no discernable distinction. In other words, you can cause just as much chaos by killing small forms of life as you can by killing larger ones. But it’s completely impossible to live without killing microorganisms! Think about it: every step you take might demolish entire communities of tiny organisms that can’t be seen with the naked eye! 

Therefore, the Jains take specific actions (or avoid them) in order to avoid hurting all forms of life. Certains types of foods are also avoided simply because they are more likely to be filled with microorganisms. 

In order to live through ahimsa, it is important to study the opposite: violence. Jains use “violence” as sort of an umbrella term for which they have many categories. For example, there is intentional violence, violence through self-defense, domestic violence, or violence while working. Knowing what the main categories of violence are, and how enacting one could result in the personal injury of another, are important to Jain believers.

Jains also distinguish between the how and why. Violence can be perpetuated in three basic ways, for example: body, speech, and mind. Even motivation for violence matters in Jain philosophy. These potential motivations include anger, greed, price, and deception.

Why put such stock in a completely nonviolent way of life? It’s not because Jains believe in a supremely omniscient or omnipotent god like other religions. It’s not even for the betterment or wellbeing of the communities in which Jains live! The entire point of philosophical ahimsa is that harm to others directly equates to harming oneself. You cannot hurt another without also causing harm to yourself!

Ironically, Jain philosophy is all about “self.” But in order to eventually liberate what other faiths call the “soul,” it it necessary to put oneself above all others. Then again, by doing so — you would also be doing what is right for everyone else!

The Jain Philosophy On COVID-19: Let Us Come Together Even As We Remain Apart

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.

Ethics of Jainism: Everything You Should Know

How much do you really know about the Jain religion? Few systems of belief are as practical (depending on your point of view) in real-world values as Jainism. The world’s two most prominent religions — Christianity and Islam — have histories steeped in violence. But not Jainism. Although Jainism is much less popular and lesser known than the aforementioned, the religion’s teachings are ancient, and its believers firmly devout in their practices and traditions. 

Jainism is built on a foundation of careful ethics and strong morals.

There are two basic paths for a Jain to follow: Ascetic and Sravaka. The former describes the path for those who wish to devote themselves entirely to Jain philosophy by disregarding typical human indulgences. The latter describes the path for those who wish to build and maintain a successful Jain household. But what is the core principle of both paths? Jains must inflict no injury; not to the people with whom they interact on a daily basis or to the very microorganisms underneath each footfall. 

In order to achieve such a passive lifestyle, the ethics of Jainism demand that each ascetic follower take and uphold five strict vows: ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha. Taken together, these vows ask Jains to adhere to a peaceful, truthful life without giving into the need for material possession.

The Purusarthasiddhyupaya (yes, a real Jain tex) reads: “All these subdivisions (injury, falsehood, stealing, unchastity, and attachment) are himsa as indulgence in these sullies the pure nature of the soul. Falsehood etc. have been mentioned separately only to make the disciple understand through illustrations.”

In addition to the five major vows, ascetic Jains are expected to uphold two lesser vows as well: guna vratas and siksa vratas. Sravaka Jains are expected to uphold minor versions of the aforementioned five vows and the minor vows as well. Guna vratas means vows for merit while sinksa vratas means vows for discipline.

The guna vratas are vows that limit a believer’s limits, mostly physical. They allow a follower to break or bend several of the major vows in order to keep the lifestyle of a householder, which, for example, could include inadvertently slaughtering those pesky microorganisms that cannot be seen with the naked eye. This minor vow also limits a follower’s vulgarity and material possession at home.

Siksa vratas is all about one’s resolve. For example, a person might transgress by placing consumable food on a surface inhabited by microorganisms when it was not necessary (i.e. such as placing that food on a leaf before consumption).

By now, you can probably ascertain that Jainism is strict. Non-Jains fail to uphold typical Jain practice and tradition simply by enjoying a meal in the wrong way or made up of the wrong foods! (You also may have guessed that the Jain diet is indeed vegetarian!)

What Would A Jainist Say About The Novel Coronavirus Pandemic?

Jains are an interesting group of believers. They represent one of the most peace-loving groups of people who are living on the planet today, and what’s more — their words are backed up by their actions. You won’t see Jains arguing over which religion’s beliefs are more valid than another’s or starting a war or telling someone they don’t belong. It’s not in their fundamental disposition to do any of that.

But because they are so pacifist, they don’t believe that any life form should be harmed — no matter how small. That means that Jain diets are sometimes dictated by the type of microorganisms that could be harmed during the cultivation or consumption of certain kinds of vegetables or fruits. Sounds complicated, right?

You wouldn’t be wrong.

But those beliefs have led to questions about how Jains view the current novel coronavirus outbreak, the end result of which is a disease called COVID-19. Do Jains believe even a virus should be spared from medical onslaught? Not quite. First of all, the jury is still out on whether viruses should be classified as “life” at all. Second, Jains will still put human suffering high on the totem pole.

The Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington wrote to its Jain following recently: “During these challenging times of Coronavirus, I hope we all give the utmost priority to the health and safety of ourselves and the community. JAINA is happy to know how our Jain Centers are supporting the community during this difficult time.”

Brianne Donaldson was recently named the Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair of Jain Studies at the University of Irvine in California (UCI), but her career is mostly on hold due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. One case has been reported on campus so far, and students and faculty are mostly locked down.

When the outbreak begins to subside, Donaldson expects to continue her work regarding Jain views on applied ethics through a philosophical approach, which will include a focus on animal studies

Donaldson said, “I look forward to bringing Jain studies — and South Asian religious and philosophical traditions more broadly — into campus conversations and courses at UCI. I am also exploring opportunities where the rich textual history, metaphysical insights and ethical commitments of South Asian traditions, including Jainism, can contribute to other disciplines and discussions, such as medical humanities, animal ethics, anthropology, agricultural ethics, plant-based food initiatives, and nonviolent advocacy, among others.”

Trivia: How Much Do You Know About The Jain Religion? Part II

One of India’s most popular religions is also one of the least known elsewhere in the world. We strive to change that. We want everyone to know a little bit more about those who practice Jainism — because we feel that they represent some of the kindest, most peaceful people in this chaotic world of ours. Do you know all there is to know about Jains? This is how you put your knowledge to the test! Today we look at the traditional Jain diet.

Do Jains Eat Meat?

No! Traditionally, the Jain diet is vegetarian. However, the Jains believe in peace between all living organisms, down to the smallest insect. That might require believers to give up certain vegetarian foods that cause harm to those lifeforms. That’s why Jains don’t eat any vegetables that grow underground. These foods include potatoes, garlic, and onions. Harvesting these vegetables requires a farmer to uproot the entire plant, thus damaging or killing it in the process.

Do Jains Support Veganism?

Some activists do support veganism, but it is not required so long as the vegetarian does not harm other living organisms. The reason Jains support veganism is also based on the important religious principle of non-violence: dairy products often come at the price of animal products. That’s why Jains traditionally avoid products such as milk and cheese in the modern age. Long ago, animals that provided these foods were treated humanely. The foods were therefore included in the overall diet.

Do Jains Drink Alcohol?

Ancient Jain texts ban the consumption of alcohol by a Jain householder. In addition, the texts specifically ban food items such as butter, flesh, honey, and wine because of the damage they do to animals or insects. Many fruits are also off-limits: Gular, Anjeera, Banyan, Peepal, and Pakar. 

Are Jains Allowed To Drink Unfiltered Water?

No! There could be small microorganisms living in that water. But the rule is much more relaxed these days because avoiding contaminated water is so difficult in parts of India. Some Jains will routinely filter water on their own or simply use bottled water.

Are Jains Allowed To Eat Fungi?

Nope! Mushrooms, fungi, and yeasts are all forbidden. These foods not only grow in unclean places but might also contain smaller microorganisms that should not be needlessly harmed.

When Can A Jain Cook Meals?

Jain texts dictate that followers should always eat in the light of the sun, which means cooking at night goes against the teachings. This rule can be taken even further: some Jains won’t eat foods that were stored overnight, especially because they are more likely to have grown bacteria.

Are Jain Followers Allowed To Take Legal Action?

The Jain faith is a strange one, especially to those who have never heard of it. Jains work to foster care and understanding of the world around us — and they place that core value on top of everything else. To them, abusing nature is perverse. They strive to care for and protect all living things from the microorganisms we cannot see to human beings and everything else. They wish only to live in peace. Which is why it makes sense to ask the question: Are Jains allowed to pursue lawsuits or take other legal actions?

First and foremost, Jain beliefs do not even allow for self-defense — in the physical sense. Depending on the circumstances Jains might be allowed to defend themselves legally should they be sued. If there is any question as to whether or not a legal defense might be needed or justified based on the Jain code of conduct, a Jain priest might be contacted for advice. Keep in mind that Jains do not provide their priests with the authoritative status that other religions do. They are only there to help.

Whether or not a Jain has the option to build a case against another human being is a bigger question — and again, we would recommend seeking help from the Jain community or a Jain priest, who may have answered similar questions already.

Firms like Nikolaus & Hohenadel are different. Instead of suing individuals, they fight to protect individuals from being taken advantage of by larger corporations by ensuring compensation for job-related injuries. It might be argued that employing these types of services provides an even greater service to the greater good, in part by holding those with power accountable for their actions and reducing the opportunity for them to do the same to anyone else. 

There are other examples of the Jain community filing lawsuits to prevent governments from destroying or diminishing the influence of Jain religious sites. One such lawsuit filed “on behalf of Jain deity Tirthankar” noted that a temple inside Qutub Minar in Mehrauli might be religiously important. More than two dozen Jain temples were destroyed, but the materials were then reused to build the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. The lawsuit proposed only that the deities have “the right to be restored and worshipped.” The intended goal of the lawsuit is to protect — which is in line with typical Jain philosophy.

To truly understand the pacifist nature of the Jain lifestyle, one must first understand how far they are willing to go in order to protect the world around them. For example, one Jain explains why they will not consume even unfertilized eggs because it is a commercial by-product: “Over 90% of all egg factories have inhumane ways of treating these living and feeling animals. Female hens’ lives are terrible. Her entire life is restricted to a small cage with 4 or 5 other hens. They can hardly stand and stretch their wings. The hens are severely smashed against the cages.”

Read additional insight into ahimsa here.

Jains Get Along With Other Religions

Those who observe the practices of Jainism often praise its followers for their boundless pacifist attitudes. They do not believe in harming other living creatures, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Perhaps that is why it should come as little surprise that Jains get along with those who follow far different religious practices. But they spend a lot of their time making good with those who are most similar, as well. 

Sikhism is another religion with a minority population of followers in India. It is also one of the youngest in the world. Still, Jains and Sikhs are often seen working together when practicing religious rituals or observing holidays important to their religions.

But more notably, the two religions have always accepted one another. Neither has ever sought to harm the other. None of the followers of either religion have fought. Jains and Sikhs cooperate on more profound levels than members of other religions.

For example, Punjabi colleges that are Sikh-owned will often accept Jain students and vice versa. When traveling afar, members of one religion will often seek members of the other religion out for hospitality.

Why are the two religions such a good match for one another?

Simple: the core practices of one perfectly complement the other. Jains have a strict principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence. It is the reason Jains are so peaceful. Sikhs have a strict principle of seva, or service. They regularly tend to those who are in greatest need. For at least five centuries, Sikhs have also provided free langars — or community kitchen — all over the world. 

For the most part, Jain and Sikh followers believe in equal rights and frown upon the more traditional caste systems of other religions. In an era of intolerance, terrorism, murder, corruption, and where foreign bribes are running rampant at their home in India, Jains and Sikhs serve as beacons of light for those who need their help the most. Sometimes, of course, they focus on serving one another as part of their daily routines and ritual practices.

Sadly, sometimes westerners subject them to hate crimes based in large part on ignorance and misunderstanding.

It does not help that academics have not poured the same focus into studying either religion as they have in studying larger ones, like Christianity or Islam. Until they do, it is likely that Jains and Sikhs will continue to be targeted because of this lack of awareness by others. A new book will be published to shed light on Jainism and Sikhism as they relate to one another. Perhaps this book is the first step in the right direction.

Watch the video below to learn more about Sikhism! 

Are Jains Responsible for Climate Change – This One Cult Thinks So.

Scientifically speaking, climate change is real and we should be teaching about it. But is the ancient religion of Jainism to blame? Seems illogical. However, one group of extremists in North India is claiming that Jains are the cause.

While we are all for advocating for climate change, blaming it on a religion seems to be quite outlandish. The group known as Anoop Mandal wants to protect against climate change for the welfare of the world, however, only for a certain groups of people within that world.

The group blames climate change on two different minority religions in India – baniyas and Jains. Baniyas are hated in India in a similar way that Jews are hated all over the world. They control the banks and finances and are therefore sinister. Anoop Mandal states on their website that the baniyas orchestrated a famine so they can have all the wealth in India. And the Jains – who are known to be a peaceful group – apparently are responsible for the excessive carbon emissions that lead to global warming.

While the group that knows the carbon emissions lead to global warming, how this is done by a religious group of people and not the industrial boom of technology still remains questionable.

Not all member of Anoop Mandal feels this way as a group of them broke off and formed their own environmental activism group because they believe in science and not science that marginalizes. The new group is called World Pablic [sic] Awareness Foundation.

India, which is one of the world’s most populated countries has a history of racism and discrimination. Not too long ago a new law regarding citizenship was passed that didn’t include Islam as a religion for citizenship. This is outrageous because out of the 1.3 billion people who live in India, over 200 million of them are Muslims. Not allowing religious asylum for Muslims seems like a huge oversight or a targetted act of discrimination depending on who you ask.

While Anoop Mandal is raising awareness of climate change, people should be wary of the other information the group is spreading. Just because they believe in one good thing doesn’t mean that all their ideas are good. In fact, a member was quoted that he would die for the organization. If a group you join asks you to kill yourself for the create good – that is no longer an organization; it’s a cult.

Trivia: How Much Do You Know About The Jain Religion? Part I

Jainism is most pervasive throughout India, but followers have spread throughout the world. Many people have probably never even heard of Jainism — and we think that should change. How many Jain philosophers and spiritual believers do you know? How many have you heard of? Although many Indian celebrities and politicians have Jain beliefs, they don’t necessarily promote them. That’s okay, because that’s not what the religion is all about.

Here are a few trivia questions. See if you can answer them!

How many Jains are there?

There are around five million Jain followers currently living all around the world. Most Jains who don’t reside in India live in countries like Canada, Europe, Kenya, the UK, the US, Hong Kong, Suriname, and Fiji.

What are the five main vows of Jainism?

The five main vows parallel the ten commandments somewhat. They’re all about doing what’s right. They are ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha. Respectively, those vows reflect one’s commitment to peace, truth, celibacy, non-attachment, and not stealing. These vows are the reason that Jains are some of the most passive people on this planet. They follow a vegetarian diet and believe even the smallest single-celled organisms are important and should be protected.

What are the two major “sects” of Jainism?

Like most major religions, the Jains have divided into smaller groups based on beliefs and interpretation of ancient texts. The two major sub-traditions are Digambaras and Svetambaras. The primary difference between them is their views on gender roles in the religion. 

What does it mean to be ascetic?

Asceticism is based on non-possession. Most major religions grew popular based on their acceptance of — or even promotion of — those living in poverty, but the Jains have held true to their beliefs to this day. An ascetic Jain might go so far as to live without owning any clothes! This is also the reason why the Jains spend time fasting.

What are the goals of Jain meditation?

The purpose of Jain meditation isn’t self-realization, which is the primary goal of other similar religions like Buddhism or Hinduism. It’s not about earthly transformation. It’s more about learning earthly restraint and staying on the right path by thinking the right way. It’s about ending the karmic attachments before a life ends.

Do the Jains worship any gods or goddesses?

Yes, they worship gods and goddesses — but those gods and goddesses are hardly the focal point of the religion, and they don’t believe in or worship an all-knowing, all-powerful creator like other religions. Jain worship is more about rituals, especially during the many festivals celebrated by believers.

Courts Rule Not To Interfere In Jain Traditions

The Madhya Pradesh High Court ruled that the judicial forces at work in New Delhi have no jurisdiction over traditional religious practices. This ruling means that men will continue to be the sole performers of the jal abhishek ritual, barring women who believe they should have a chance to do the same work in equal standing. 

According to the court ruling, “Men are allowed to perform jalabhishek of idol Bawangajaji after taking bath and after wearing dhoti and dupatta. It is an essential religious practice and in no way can be termed as discrimination [to women].”

Further justification of the ruling was that women in general are not barred from entering Jain temples and sanctuaries. It was strictly a matter of determining whether constitutionally derived laws protected the rights of women in cases of religious practice. The court determined that no laws have been broken in barring women from this practice.

The high court explained, “The practice is integral to the temple and it is ‘essential religious practice’ of the temple and in no way amounts to discrimination keeping in view Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India, which guarantees protection of the cherished liberties of faith, belief and worship to persons belonging to all religious in a secular polity.”

Other notes suggested that of course the court systems had no right to write or reform traditional religious texts passed down for centuries, and even that “they are under an obligation to follow the religious text” when disputes regarding religious customs and traditions arise. When cases involve religious transformation, the court system should therefore disregard new practices in favor of those passed down for longer periods of time. 

These, according to the courts, have no bearing on the constitutional rights of Indian citizens.

In fact, the court deemed it unnecessary — and even unjust — to review religious practices because religious morality and judicial morality are often construed much differently, especially when it comes to worship.

The court said that “doing so would negate the freedom to practice one’s religious according to one’s faith and beliefs. It would amount to rationalising religion, faith and beliefs, which is outside the ken of courts.”

The case was brought to the court’s attention when a female Jain asked for the right to perform the aforementioned religious rituals.

“The court is not a theological wizard and shall be transgressing its role as a constitutional authority by interfering with the essential religious practice,” the court wrote. “Which is certainly not at all opposed to public order, morality, health or any other fundamental right. Resultantly, no case for interference is made out in the matter and the writ petition is accordingly dismissed.”