Ahimsa – the ultimate winner
U.N. Millennium Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual leaders, New York, August 2000
Life Ethics and Jain Religion
[Major Presentation at the Millennium Peace Summit of Religions & Spiritual Leaders, United Nations, New York, August 28-31, 2000]
The Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders taking place at the United Nations symbolizes a historic opportunity for ushering in a vibrant culture of peace and justice for all living beings as well as the natural environment.
It is time for the input of spiritual vision and respect for ecological equilibrium to permeate our lives and deeds in order to stem the rot created by violent, reckless and exploitative mismanagement of earth’s resources for human greed. Mahatma Gandhi the 20th Century apostle of Non-violence, ecological harmony and protection of environment once observed:
“The greatest work of humanity could not match
The smallest wonder of nature.”
The human community needs to take a collective initiative through the fellowship of world’s religions and with the support of United Nations to forge an alliance between Science, Development, Preservation of environment and Spiritualism. Human ingenuity must be reinforced by revitalized culture of life-ethics & morality.
Total earth environment has to be changed for the better to promote “Socially beneficial, peace-fostering and nature-friendly way of life”.
Spiritual ecological thinking alone can revitalize the divine web of symbiosis not only in relations among human beings of different color, caste, creed and social moorings pursuing different faiths, ideologies and religions, but also in relations of humanity with its ecological co-partners viz., all other living species and the natural environment of air, water, land and space.
In his book “Life force – the world of Jainism,” Michael Tobias has very aptly observed:
“We have one thing to accomplish in this generation: not our pleasure, but the pleasure of the world. We will not sleep until every creature can sleep peacefully. We will not eat before all creatures partake of the same nourishment. We will not abide a single instance of cruelty, we can not vouch safe the lunacy, under any name or any guise which hails the abuse of this earth and all her goodness; This life force within us: this frenzy to be born and reborn; to live and to die; to love and to understand. Short of these freedoms, our life is nothing.Without extending that hand of freedom to every other organism, there is no solace, there can be no moment’s respite”.
The aim should be to change the inner orientation, value-system and the whole mentality of the people at individual as well as community levels through a commonly agreed inter-faith plan of action inspired by what Jain Philosophy aptly describes as “PARASPAROPGRAHO JEEVANAM” meaning mutually supportive coexistence among all living species.
In an increasingly environment conscious, tension-ridden and harmony-hungry world, humanity is beginning to realize the significance of adopting as a way of life the three fundamental tenets of Jainism viz., AHIMSA (Non-violence), ANEKANT (Non-absolutism) and APARIGRAHA (Non-possession). In essence, Jainism is Ecology inspired by and totally environment-oriented.
1. Non-violence (Ahimsa) :
There is increasing awareness of the relevance of the Jain concept of “Active Non-violence” for universal sustainability. In Jain scripture, active Non-violence implies that:
“A person should not act
Sinfully towards other living beings,
Nor cause others to act so,
Nor allow others to act so”.
Non-violence is not limited to the stoppage of war and bloodshed. It must also stop human arrogance towards nature. In no other religion have thought action and expression covered together for non-violent behavior in such a comprehensive yet precise manner.
Non-violence is synonymous with practice of compassion, generosity, tolerance, forgiveness, courage and friendliness. It seeks to get rid of self-centric egoistic mode of thought and behaviour.
Following observation of Lord Mahavir inspire the whole world even today:
“I have friendship with all the living beings. I have no revenge nor enmity with anybody “(Dasavaikalika 4/9)
Avasyaka Sutra says at 4.5:
“Keep friendship with every human being. All the creatures are my friends. I have no enmity with anyone. Such love can win even a deadly enemy”.
The foregoing Jain principle sets the highest ethical standard for human behaviour. It may at times appear too lofty to achieve. is replete with instances when the ethics of non-violence and compassion was set aside. But then look at the disastrous consequences; I recall when I was India’s Ambassador in Mexico, I read about cruelty perpetrated by Aztecs when they used to slaughter 55 young boys and girls every day to appease their Gods. And what happened to them. Mexicans preferred Spanish Colonialists to them and Aztecs were wiped-out unsung, unheard.
Similar cases can be quoted from many other countries. And today terrorism is causing harm to innocent persons. But all such deviations from compassionate life ethics make the ugly face of violence even uglier, murkier and more detestable. The sad lessons of violent history eventually lead one to the teachings of the enlightened leaders of humanity that there can be no substitute for love and tolerance for building happier surroundings and tranquil atmosphere.
2. Non-Absolutism (Anekant) :
The culture of relativity in thinking brings about appreciation of multidimensional reality and sympathetic understanding of other related interpretations of facts, situations and events. Anekant stimulates synthesis, open-minded, unbiased under-standing and harmonization of different points of view. It strengthens in individuals and societies the fiber of tolerance, accommodation, reconciliation and peace.
3. Non-Possession (Aparigraha) :
Aparigraha inculcates the culture of need in place of greed, of avoiding wasteful consumption and unbridled pursuit of materialistic pleasures, and of voluntary self-restraint and discipline in utilizing nature’s resources. Non-violence is incomplete without voluntary curb on human extravagance.
In his sermons, Mahavir repeatedly observed, “It is owing to attachment that a person commits violence, speaks utter lies, theft, indulges in sex and develops yearning for unlimited hoardings. Possessiveness and greed are the main causes creating tensions in the life of individuals and societies”.
The three tenets analyzed above form an integrated whole with non-absolutism and non-possession reinforcing non-violence. Non-violence strengthens the autonomy of life of every being, non-absolutism strengthens the autonomy of thoughts of every individual and non-possession strengthens the interdependence of all the existence. The three together go to fortify the foundation of peace and equanimity.
Earth is the only live planet endowed with marvelous variety of forms of live and with an atmosphere, soils, forests, rivers and oceans. This splendid heritage can be preserved only through global commitment to the culture of non-violence. Wanton destruction and reckless exploitation of natural resources must cease. Jain scripture “Acharanga” describes: “Non-violence is a thing for universal benefit”.
In inter-faith cooperation for better environment, common ground can and should be identified for initiating practical programmes to increase the practice of non-violence in day-to-day life of human beings at individual, collective, national and global levels. Here are some illustrative steps that need to be taken and multiplied:
1. The Millennium Peace Summit should call for the preamble of U.N. Charter to be amended to include as basic objective “Promotion of a Global Culture of Non-violence among all living species and nature”. Such a commitment could also be incorporated in the constitutions/policy documents of different countries or special resolutions of their parliaments. This step would make for a stimulating start.
2. Worldwide education in the culture of non-violence and training for peace should be organized. All major Universities should include it in their syllabi. Education in non-research at Universities with particular attention paid for educating women, the youth would develop a yearning, and a mental make up for reverence of life based on equanimity, tolerance, sobriety and compassion. Inspired by Late Ganadhipati Jain Vishwa Bharti Institute (deemed University) at Ladnu near Jaipur (India) is running a two years degree course in Non-violence and frequently organizes special short term workshops concentrating upon-
(a) Change of heart,
(b) Change of attitude,
(c) Change of life style,
(d) Change of system and
(e) Meditation and yoga (Preksha Dhyan)
International Seminars are also being organized inviting prominent educationists, exponents of non-violence, environment and social reforms. Special training courses on life Science Culture have been organized for schoolteachers for all age groups of students. These are becoming very popular and educative for Jain & Non-Jains alike. The courses are secular, spiritual and ethical and there is no religious connotation given to them.
Such programmes deserve international encouragement. It would be a good idea if under U.N. auspices an International Conference/Seminar is organized on education and training for Non-violence. Institutions like the U.N. University for peace at Costa Rica could also usefully include non-violence in their training and teaching programmes.
Unesco could take a lead in publishing series of books in all major languages of the world on folklores and folktales of different countries and mythological stories from different religions depicting love for peace and dedication to the concept of “live and let live”.
1. Promotion of vegetarianism can be a very visible and effective form of practicing active non-violence. For Jains it is an integral element of the practice of active non-violence. Trend towards vegetarianism is already visible, but deserves further encouragement. Vegetarianism has distinct spiritual, ethical and environmental connotation. Renowned experts have also testified to the nutritious and health energizing content of vegetarian diet. Unrestrained Non-vegetarianism is anti-environment as it involves merciless killing of innocent, voiceless and defenseless animals and birds at slaughterhouses and rearing of animals exclusively to provide food for human consumption as if they are a food crop without any soul, emotions or sentiments. Already it is feared that 25% of earth’s total biological diversity is at serious risk of extinction. If this continues, it would lead to a dangerous disturbance for the worse in the ecological balance. We are killing the masterpieces of life on the planet and destroying life support system.
Jain Gurudev Chitrabhanu has converted many Americans to vegetarianism over a period of three decades. Jain Acharya Chandanaji at Veerayatan (birth place of Lord Mahavir) in Bihar State of India has persuaded a large number of tribals to give up eating meat and take to a vegetarian diet. Entire State of Gujarat became vegetarian since 1133 A D when the then King Kumarpal developed vegetarian culture under the influence of Jain religion. Such programmes can be very usefully multiplied in all the continents.
Let us remember that among animal lovers and vegetarians have been great philosophers, artists, statesman and mathematicians like Pythagoras, Plutarch, Plato, Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Annie Besant, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave.
2. Measures needed to gain momentum to control violence towards nature. Earth is rapidly being plundered and forest cover is rapidly disappearing. In USA alone since 1960, the rate of deforestation as been one acre every second. Air and water is getting heavily polluted, March of desert continues; global warning is affecting agriculture. If we do not judicious conserve and develop our water resources, 21st Century may well face a global water crisis. dynamic sustainable development complementary to preservation of environment. At the same time, environmental movement should not become anti-development particularly in developing countries. Worldwide joint community and inter-faith programmes are required to promote reforestation of denuded lands on hill tops, plateaus and plains.
The culture of unrestrained and wasteful consumption in affluent societies is a sinful violence and must be halted.
For encouraging “Ahara-Vivek” i.e., ethics in food consumption, Jain scripture Uttaradhyayan Sutra has much to say and advise against excessive, wasteful consumption. At one place it observes at 32.11
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As in a dense forest, a fire fanned by strong winds cannot be extinguished, so also the sensual fire of the person who eats food in excessive quantity can never be extinguished. Therefore, excessive food is not beneficial.
According to Dasavaikalika Sutra ‘Dharma’ is of prime importance in human life and the constituents of the practice of ‘Dharma’ (righteousness) are non-violence, self-restraint and austerity.
Jain Religion offers the comprehensive concept of righteousness becoming a life force for promoting ethical, aesthetic and biological harmony and ecological equilibrium. This approach and attitude is of immense and urgent relevance to the world at large – a world dominated by over 6 billion human species that are rapidly sapping the earth’s biological and environmental vitality and resource strength.
Robert Muller, a dear friend and a former Assistant Secretary General of United Nation (U.N) wrote a beautiful poem which is worth quoting:
“Know this planet
Love this planet
Care for this planet
For you come from
You are made of her elements
You are the earth become conscious of herself
Her mind and heart”
“When a man wants to murder a tiger, he calls it sport; when the tiger wants to murder him, he call it ferocity”.
(George Bernard Shaw)
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