Philosophy of Jainsim, part 1

By Michael Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison

In this essay Tobias and Morrison provide a very brief overview of the Jain environmental orientation in terms of its relevancy to current global ecological issues.

Ahimsa, Anekanta and Jainism BookThe complex pantheon of Jain art, ethics and spiritual tradition describes a paradise, not in some remote “heaven” but in the very heaven that is Earth. For thousands of years, Jain traditions and temperament have consistently addressed the possibility for ecological reconciliation and ultimate redemption. These impulses are more relevant today than ever before. The reason is clear: we find ourselves caught out in the very middle of the worst extinction spasm in 65 million years. What makes the Jain contribution to ecological crises so imperative is that it stems expressly from human intention and the responsibility that intention implies.

Reigning doctrines of Jain tradition focus upon that which is most ecological of all: a light human footprint in the guise of the all-encompassing ahimsa, non-intervention or non-violence; aparigraha, non-possession; moksha marg, the path of purification to enlightenment; anekant, tolerance and non-absolutism; and satya, truth in all dealings.The collective energies of these callings have harbored stunning revelations, evident not only in Jain art and architecture but – most importantly – in the driving forces of an ancient vegetarian community that is global, vibrant and dedicated to peace. Peace itself might well be equated with non-violence and, hence, ecological integrity.

But Jain doctrine and practice go well beyond the integrity that many nations might consider acceptable according to environmental indicators. While GDP (Gross Domestic Product) figures as a conventional benchmark for progress among nations, the Columbia University/World Economic Forum Environmental Performance Index (EPI), produced by the Yale University Center for Environmental Law and Policy, establishes benchmarks for protection of major biomes within each country. At least 10% of a country must be protected under these benchmarks and these protected areas are part of a sanctuary movement worldwide that, to date, has protected 12% of the terrestrial earth, though a mere 1% of the marine environment. Protection itself – which conservationists have been advocating since the days of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant (with the safeguarding of California sequoias and the creation of the first national park at Yellowstone) – comports magnificently with the ancient Jain traditions of panjorapors (animal sanctuaries), of interdependency and personal responsibility.

In 2008, India ranked 13th on the aforementioned Environmental Protection Index, the U.S. 7th. Sweden ranked number one. These rankings are ambiguous, to be sure. But were an equivalent index of environmental impact to examine communities specifically, I suspect the Jain aggregate might well be number one in the world, given their traditional aversions to industries that destroy nature and their refusal to engage in practices of animal agriculture or personal consumption of animal products. Even Mahayana Buddhist Bhutan, with its population of 630,000, is only 15% vegetarian, according to recent data, although that country’s Gross National Happiness Index has injected a fantastic ingredient of environmental conservation, personal satisfaction, ethical jurisprudence, good governance and indigenous spirituality into the formulas for extrapolating what a successful country really means in the modern world.

Next Part: Philosophy of Jainism, part 2

Copyright Michael Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison/Dancing Star Foundation 2009