Ecology, Jainism and the Human Imagination

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. This contains excerpts; you’ll find the full article here.

Vegetarianism and Veganism WebsiteReigning 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.

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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.

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Ahimsa, Anekanta and Jainism BookConditions for farm animals in India are dreadful, but no more so than in most nations of the world, where approximately 50 billion (in addition to another 30 billion or more fish) are slaughtered annually for human consumption. The Jain model of non-violence could not strike a more powerful and iconic antidote to this crisis which is sweeping the planet. Indeed, by scientific consensus as much as 60% of all life forms on earth may well go extinct by mid-century if current consumption trends continue. That’s 60% of as many as a 100 million species, each harboring millions of individuals. While the average American is consuming 125 kilograms of meat per year – with many of those animals reared on cleared rainforest – a vegetarian diet actually saves at least one acre of rain forest each year. Data from the Eastern Ecuadorian Amazon in the late 1990s showed that as many as 30,000 to 60,000 species may be native to any one acre of rain forest. A single South American termite nest has been shown to contain approximately 3million individuals and in Pennsylvania, one acre of land was found to host 425 million creatures.1 After all the math is computed, it turns out that one individual who refrains from eating other creatures and pursues a path of deliberate non-violence may actually save billions upon billions of life forms.