We recently considered the definition of the Jain vow, asteya, which means “non-stealing.” You might be surprised to know — after reading up on this — that the Jains have a reputation for being very heavily invested in business. And they’re good at it, too! One might ask whether or not venturing into business affairs might detract from the vow against stealing, or even contradict it entirely. Well, it depends on who you ask.
According to a New South Wales report from 2016, more than half of Jains who resided there labeled themselves business professionals. Most of these jobs included management. Only a measly 2.4 percent of New South Wales residents had jobs in the labor industry. You wouldn’t find a Jain in need of a waiter pay law firm, because they rarely work in service — and probably wouldn’t get angry when taken advantage of, anyway!
Other jobs with a large percentage of workers included official/administrative, sales, and machinery operators or drivers. Less surprising was the number of Jains who worked as community or personal service workers — which would seem more in line with a traditional way of Jain thinking.
Internationally, the Jain career makeup is similar. They work as jewelers, financiers, traders, merchants, textile sales, and in the healthcare or technology industries. Because of the strong skills of the Jain following, they have been quite prosperous. But how does one bridge the gap between prosperity and non-theft? Jains also take vows of non-possession!
The answer is simple: Jains live to serve and provide for others as part of their pacifist lifestyle. Business is technically a way to provide goods or services that other people require to live their own lives, and providing those goods or services is a chaste and just thing to do. Beyond that, the prosperity achieved through business allows Jains to give back to the community. They are known for their patronage and charity. They also spend profits on artistic endeavors to enrich the culture of Jainism.
Although it might seem ironic or unsensible to the layman, it’s the very practice of non-violence that leads Jains to these career paths in the first place! This is because Jains believe even the smallest organisms should be allowed to live in peace and harmony with larger ones. How can a person hold that type of belief and go into agriculture or farming, for example? Tilling the land would kill innumerable insects and microscopic lifeforms. Farming also results in the breeding and butchering of livestock, which is about as far away from a Jain’s beliefs as you can get (they are vegetarian, if you hadn’t heard).
Because Jains are typically well-educated and very successful in business, they also have a strong influence over other aspects of Indian society (even with their relatively small numbers; the population of Jains in India sits around 5 or 6 million out of a total Indian population nearing two billion). They are invested in politics, economic righteousness, and Indian culture in general.