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Jain Compassion

 The values of Jain religion are based on five vows viz.- non-violence, devotion to truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possession. The entire life style of the Jain Shravak and the Jain Sadhu emanates from these vows and the foremost is non-violence.

Ahimsa, non-violence, has been the sheet-anchor of Jainism. Ahimsa is one of the basic virtues. No where else in the other religious traditions has this basic virtue been so scientifically, scrupulously and thoroughly integrated with the main doctrine. Jainism is the only tradition which has consistently allowed this tenet soak into the very essentials of its teachings and practices. This singular uncompromising emphasis on Ahimsa is the special and exclusive feature of Jainism. In Jainism, Ahimsa is not mere human sympathy; it is empathy, the urge to identify oneself completely with other persons, other living beings, with the whole universe.

Bhagwan Mahavir said,

"If you kill someone, it is yourself you kill. If you overpower someone, it is yourself you overpower. If you torment some one, it is yourself you torment. If you harm someone, it is yourself you harm."

A wise man knows this and so he does not kill, nor does he overpower or torment anyone.

The heart of Jainism is non-violence. Positively stated, Jainism is a religion of compassion, universal love and friendliness. It aims at the welfare of all living beings, and not of man alone. It maintains that living beings are infinite, all so called empty spaces in the universe are filled with minute living beings. According to it, there are countless single-sense organisms that take the subtlest possible units of material elements -earth, water, fire and air - as their bodies. Fresh earth is alive but when it is baked it becomes dead. Fresh water from a well, etc. is alive but when it is boiled or influenced by mixing some other substance it becomes dead. Vegetables, trees, plants, fruits, etc. do have life but when they are dried, cut or cooked they die. To avoid injury to them as far as possible, man is advised to use them discreetly. He should resist from polluting water, air, etc. and thereby perpetrating violence to them. Worms, insects, animals, etc. help in keeping ecological balance thus they help man. And domestic animals have for ages been a constant and faithful aid to man in civilizing himself. From the ultimate standpoint of their original pure pristine state, all living beings are uniform in their nature. Jainism teaches to look upon them as upon one's ownself. Inflicting injury to them is inflicting injury to one's ownself.

The Jain dictum parasparopagraho jivanam, that is 'living beings render service to one another' offers an endearing alternative to the modern Darwinian formula of 'survival of the fittest.' The life of a living being is a life of mutual cooperation andassistance. Industry, labour, service and sacrifice of innumerable living beings are there behind the sustenance and growth of an individual. Thus every individual is indebted to the universal society of all beings. Even virtues and meritorious qualities can never be cultivated and fostered in isolation.

This concept of Ahimsa, non-violence, has evolved from logical thinking and from experience. It has an almost empirical basis. It has emerged from the doctrine of the equality of all souls. Everyone wants to live, nobody likes to die. Violence enters first in thought, it then manifests itself in speech and then in deeds. That is why they say that war is born in the minds of men. The quest for ahimsa is centred in Anekantavada, the philosophy which accomodates a multiplicity of points-of-view and of perspectives.

In Jain philosophy Ahimsa is said to be the supreme religion and himsa is considered to be source of all evil and of all miseries. Ahimsa is not limited to not harming the human beings, it extends to all living beings. This philosophy believes in the unity of life and regards all living beings as equal. He who can be cruel to animals can be cruel to human beings too. Further, cruelty is not only an aspect of external behaviour, but it is also an inner evil tendency. He who is cruel at heart will behave cruelly towards animals as well as human beings. He who is compassionate at heart, will behave compassionately towards all. Moreover, the jain religion believes in the cycle of birth and rebirth. The soul is in one Yoni (existence) today; it may be in another Yoni tomorrow. It may be a fly today and a human tomorrow. This being so, man has no right to harm other living creations. One should behave sympathetically towards all, friends as well as foes. In fact there should be no enemy. Such is the importance of Ahimsa in Jain philosophy.

(Nothing is higher than the Meru mountain; nothing is vaster than the sky. Similarly, there is no better religion than Ahimsa).

It is one of the tenets of Jainism that all living beings desire life and not death. No one has the right to take away the life of any other being; to kill a living being is the greatest of sins. Life is dear to everyone, and we must have respect for life. Not only "Love and Let Live" but "Live and Help Others Live" should be our principle. Just as the head of a family looks after the welfare of the members of the family, a human being, who enjoys the highest place in the evolution of life, should look after the welfare of other lower orders of creations.

The universe is full of living creations, big and small, and, therefore, it is impossible to exist without killing or injuring some of the smallest of the living beings. Even in the process of breathing, or drinking or eating, we almost unconsciously kill many sentient beings ? Therefore, according to Jainism the minimum of killing should be our ideal. Moreover, it is more serious where killing is done intentionally or through indifference. Therefore, great care should be taken in all our daily activities to see that the minimum of violence is committed by our deeds, speech and mind.

In the universe, there are different forms, different orders, of life, such as human beings, animals, insects, trees and plants, bacteria and even still smaller lives which perhaps be seen only through the most powerful of microscopes. Jainism has classified all the living beings according to their sense organs.

Jainism firmly believes that life is sacred, irrespective of caste, colour, creed or nationality and therefore not only physical or mental injury to life should be avoided, but all possible kindness should be shown towards all the living things. This should be the true spirit of Ahimsa. Jainism believes that more weapons are in no way an effectiveanswer to weapons. Lord Mahavir has emphatically declared in "Acharanga Sutra" that one weapon may be stronger or superior to another, but the path of Ahimsa or peace remains unsurpassed. Fire cannot be put out by fire. It is our duty to stop adding fuel to the fire. Jaina scriptures say that a piece of blood-stained cloth cannot be washed with blood, we need water to do it. To achieve peace, world peace, we have to stop the race of armaments and we have to have an unshakeable faith in Samyag Darshana in the effective validity of Ahimsa. For who can claim final and absolute victory in the race for armaments? Like Arjuna the nations believing in violent means shall have to declare, "Nor do we know which for us is better whether we conquer them or they conquer us." Ahimsa teaches us that recourse to armed force is an infallible sign of the brute in man, that war neither profits the victor nor the vanquished.


Part 2

1. Ahimsa (non-violence)

The Jain ecological philosophy is virtually synonymous with the principle of ahimsa, which runs through the Jain tradition like a golden thread.

"Ahimsa parmo dharmah" (Non-violence is the supreme religion)

Mahavira, the 24th and the last Tirthankara (Path-finder) of this era, who lived 2500 years ago in North India consolidated the basic Jain teachings of peace, harmony and renunciation taught two centuries earlier by the Tirthankara Parshvanath, and for thousands of years previously by the 22 other Tirthankaras of this era, begining with Adinatha Rishabha. Mahavira threw new light on the perennial quest of the soul with the truth and discipline of ahimsa. He said:

"There is nothing so small and subtle as the atom nor any element so vast as space. Similarly, there is no quality of soul more subtle than non-violence and no virtue of spirit greater than reverence for life."

Ahimsa is a principle that Jains teach and practice not only towards human beings but towards all nature. It is an unequivocal teaching that is at once ancient and contemporary. The scriptures tell us:

"All the Arhats (Venerable Ones) of the past, present and future discourse, consuel, proclaim, propound and prescribe thus in unison: Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being."

In this strife torn world of hatred and hostilities, aggression and aggrandisement, and of unscrupulous and unbridled exploitaion and consumerism, the Jain perspective finds the evil of violence writ large. The teaching of ahimsa refers not only to wars and visible physical acts of violence but also to the violence in the hearts and minds of human beings, their lack of concern and compassion for their fellow humans and for the natural world. Ancient Jain texts explain that violence is not defined by actual harm, for this may be unintentional. It is the intention to harm, the absence of compassion, that makes action violent. Without violent thought there could be no violent actions.

When violence enters our thoughts, we remember Tirthankara Mahavira's words:

"You are which you intend to hit, injure, insult, torment, persecute, torture, enslave or kill."


2. Parasparopagraho jivanam (interdependence)

Mahavira proclaimed a profound truth for all times to come when he said:

"One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them."

Jain cosmology recognizes the fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis or mutual dependence, which forms the basis of modern day science of ecology. It is relevant to recall that the term ecology was coined in the later half of the nineteenth century from the Greek word oikos, meaning home, a place to which one returns. Ecology is the branch of biology which deals with the relationships of organisms to their surroundings and to other organisms.

The ancient Jain scriptural aphorism parasparopagraho jivanam (All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence) is refreshingly contemporary in its premise and perspective. It defines the scope of modern ecology while extending it further to a more spacious home. It means that all aspects of nature belong together and are bound in a physical as well as a metaphysical relationship. Life is viewed as a gift of togetherness, accommodation and assistance in a universe teeming with interdependent constituents.


3. Anekantavada (the doctrine of manifold aspects)

The concept of universal interdependence underpins the Jain theory of knowledge, known as anekantavada or the doctrine of manifold aspects. Anekantavada describes the world as a multifaceted, ever- changing reality with an infinity of viewpoints depending on the time, place, nature and state of one who is the viewer and that which is viewed.

This leads to the doctrine of syadvada or relativity, which states that truth is relative to different viewpoints (nayas). What is true from one point of view is open to question from another. Absolute truth cannot be grasped from any particular viewpoint alone because absolute truth is the sum total of all different viewpoints that make up the universe.

Because it is rooted in the doctrines of anekantavada and syadvada, Jainism does not look upon the universe from an anthropocentric, ethnocentric or egocentric viewpoint. It takes into account the viewpoints of other species, other communities and nations and other human beings.


4. Samyaktva (equanimity)

The discipline of non-violence, the recognition of universal interdependence and the logic of the doctrine of manifold aspects, leads inexorably to the avoidance of dogmatic, intolerant, inflexible, aggressive, harmful and unilateral attitudes towards the world around. It inspires the personal quest of every Jain for samyaktva (equanimity) towards both jiva (animate beings) and ajiva (inanimate substances and objects). It encourages an attitude of give and take and of live and let live. It offers a pragmatic peace plan based, not on the domination of nature, nations or other people, but on an equanimity of mind devoted to the preservation of the balance of the universe.


5. Jiva-daya (compassion, empathy and charity)

Although the term 'ahimsa' is stated in the negative (a = non, himsa = violence), it is rooted in a host of positive aims and actions which have great relevance to contemporary environmental concerns.

Ahimsa is an aspect of daya (compassion, empathy, and charity), described by a great Jain teacher as the "beneficent mother of all beings" and "the elixir for those who wander in suffering through the ocean of successive rebirths."

Jiva-daya means caring for and sharing with all living beings, tending, protecting and serving them. It entails universal friendliness (maitri), universal forgiveness (kshama) and universal fearlessness (abhaya).

Jains, whether monks, nuns, or householders, therefore, affirm prayerfully and sincerely, that their heart is filled with forgiveness for all living beings and that they have sought and received the forgiveness of all beings, that they crave the friendship of all beings, that all beings give them their friendship and that there is not the slightest feeling of alienation or enmity in their heart for anyone or anything. They also pray that forgiveness and friendliness may reign throughout the world and that all living beings may cherish each other.