The Jain ecological philosophy is virtually synonymous with the principle of ahimsa (nonviolence) which runs through the tradition like a golden thread. 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 Jain religion is the path of the Jinas or “Victors,” who showed the way to liberation from suffering and repeated rebirth determined by karma. According to Jain tradition, Mahāvīra, who lived in north India 2,500 years ago, was the 24th and most recent of the Jinas. The Jain religion is known not only for its teaching of nonviolence, but also for the asceticism of its monks and nuns, who observe rigorous disciplines. It was a strong influence on Gandhi, and today awareness of the Jain teaching of nonviolence and its implications for protecting nature is widespread.
The teaching of ahimsa refers not only to physical acts of violence but also to 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 (himsa) is not defined by actual harm, for this may be unintentional. It is the intention to harm, the absence of compassion, that makes an action violent. Without violent thought there could be no violent actions.
Jain cosmology recognizes the fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis or mutual dependence. All aspects of nature belong together and are bound in a physical as well as metaphysical relationship. Life is viewed as a gift of togetherness, accommodation, and assistance in a universe teeming with interdependent constituents. —The Jain Declaration on Nature: Dr. L. M. Singhvi, prepared for the Institute on Jainology and presented on the occasion of the entry of the Jain faith into the Network on Conservation and Religion, London 1990. (See Palmer and Findlay, Faith in Conservation).
The heart of the Jain religion: nonviolence
ahimsa Parmo dharma – nonviolence is the supreme dharma
All the Venerable Ones of the past, present, and future discourse,
counsel, proclaim, propound, and prescribe thus in
unison: do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment,
torture, or kill any creature or living being. — Ācārānga Sūtra, 1.4.2, Jaina Sutras, p. 36.
Know other creatures’ love for life, for they are like you.
Kill them not; save their life from fear and enmity.
All creatures desire to live, not to die.
Hence to kill is to sin.
A godly man does not kill.
Therefore, do not yourself kill, consciously or unconsciously,
living organisms which move or move not, nor cause slaughter
He who looks on the creatures of the earth, big and small, as his
own self, comprehends this immense world.
Among the careless, he who restrains is enlightened.
One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire,
water and vegetation disregards his own existence, which is
entwined with them. — Mahāvīra, as quoted by L. M. Singhvi, “The Jain Declaration on Nature” in Jainism and Ecology: Nonviolence in the Web of Life.
May I always have a friendly feeling toward all living beings of
the world and may the stream of compassion always flow from
my heart toward distressed and afflicted living beings. — A Jain prayer, in Source Book for the Community of Earth’s Religions, p. 64.
Nature should not be seen in terms of human use and consumption should be restrained
A monk or nun, seeing big trees in parks, on hills, or in woods, should not speak about them in this way: “These trees are fit for palaces, gates, houses, beeches, bolts, buckets, stools, trays, ploughs, machines, poles, the nave of a wheel, seat, beds, cars, sheds…
A monk or nun, seeing big trees in parks, on hills, or in woods, should speak about them in this way: These trees are noble, high and round, big, they have many branches, they are very magnificent, very beautiful, very fine, very handsome… — Ācāranga Sūtra II.4.2.
In their use of Earth’s resources Jains take their cues from “the bee that sucks honey in the blossoms of a tree without hurting the blossom, and strengthens itself.” Wants should be reduced, desires curbed, and consumption levels kept within reasonable limits. Using any resource beyond one’s needs and misuse of any part of nature is considered a form of theft. Indeed, the Jain faith goes one radical step further and declares unequivocally that waste and creating pollution are acts of violence. —L. M. Singhvi, “The Jain Declaration on Nature”
The Jain Religion is not human centred or “anthropocentric”
The concept of universal interdependence underpins the Jain theory of knowledge, known as anekāntavāda or the doctrine of manifold aspects. Anekāntavāda describes the world as a multifaceted, everchanging reality with an infinity of viewpoints depending on the time, place, nature, and state of the one who is the viewer and that which is viewed. This leads to the doctrine of syādvāda 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 the different viewpoints that make up the universe. Because it is rooted in the doctrines of anekāntavāda and syādvāda, 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. — L. M. Singhvi, from “The Jain Declaration on Nature”
Non-violence is the highest religious duty
We are connected consciously and unconsciously with all living beings – angels, bugs, grass, birds, etc. We all come from the same source and just as one has to soften the land before planting seeds, we must soften our hearts and minds completely before feelings of friendship can grow within ourselves. —Acharya Sushil Kumar
More than “the absence of violence,” for contemporary Jains, ahimsā includes activism in matters such as peace, the environment, animal welfare, and the alleviation of poverty. Jain ashrams promote international non-violence, peace, and harmony, spreading the message of ahimsā and anekanta-vada (the belief that no one has a monopoly on the truth), both in the East and West. —Jainpedia (https://jainpedia.org/)