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.”