Although the final goal of Jainism transcends earthly concerns, 1 Jainism is,
in essence, a religion of ecology,
of a sustainable lifestyle, and of reverence for life. Their religion's entire emphasis is on life consonant with ecology.
Jain people can use their experience of applying non-violent principles in
meeting the present ecological needs. Their religion presents a worldview that
stresses the interrelatedness of all forms of life (Jiva). Its attendant ethics,
which is based on obligations, might easily be extended to embrace an earth
The Jiva is to be respected. As a highly evolved form of life, human
beings have a great moral responsibility in their mutual dealings and relationships with the rest of the universe. It is this ethical
responsibility that made the Jain tradition a cradle for the creed of
environmental protection and harmony.
Jainism is a religion of compassion – it aims at the welfare of all living
beings. An important principle of Jainism is expressed in Sutrakrta-anga
(1.11.33) as follows: "A man should wander about treating all creatures as he
himself would be treated." 3 Inflicting an injury to other beings is inflicting
injury to oneself. Ahimsa is the concept of non-violence, the injunction of not harming
living beings. It is one of the foremost doctrines of Jainism. It has
emerged from the doctrine of the equality of all souls. It grew from
the belief in reincarnation: a person might come back in the form of
an animal or insect, no living creature ought ever to be harmed.
As in Buddhism, and Hindusm, Jain ethics assert that any violence has harmful effects on those who commit it, with consequent ill
effects in terms of karma.
"Ahimsa-paramo-dharmah," non-injury to living beings, is one of the basic virtues. To kill a living being is the greatest
of sins. Flowing from the Jain principle of non-violence is the tenet of
reverence for all life -- not just human life but extending to animal life and, in theory, even to the vegetable kingdom.
Jains' practice of non-violence fosters an attitude of respect for all life
All living beings are regarded as equal. Jainism insists that there
must be no destruction, at least no destruction that has not first been
responsibly considered 2 There should be compassion for all living
beings at every step of daily life. For the Jains, ahimsa has come to embody
one’s willingness to separate oneself not merely from acts of injury or killing,
but also from the entire mechanism of aggression, possession, and consumption
that is so common in the world.
To prevent even accidental damage to creatures, Jains may wear nose masks to
prevent inhalation of insects. They may sweep the ground clear ahead of them. Some do
not wash for fear of killing body lice or other parasites. Although Jain
laypeople might participate in tree planting projects, their nuns and monks likely would
not. This is be-cause of the harm that may be caused to the earth, earth worms,
and other forms of life during the
digging process. 1
Jain lay persons are enjoined to engage in occupations that are not associated
with violence and/or destruction of life, and follow a vegetarian diet. Animal
sacrifice is forbidden: There is the story of Yashodara who went to hell because
of his innately violent disposition: He offered to a goddess a cockerel, and it
did not count that the bird was merely made of dough.
The doctrine of Ahimsa gives Jainism (as well as Buddhism and Hinduism) a strong
pacifist streak. Among other characteristics of the Jain tradition are
conservation, and particularly "Anckantavada"(non-onesidedness): This philosophy
states that no single perspective on any issue contains the whole truth. It
emphasizes the concept of universal independence.
A search of the Amazon.com data base shows the following books on Jain responses to the environment:
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The following information sources were used to
prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still
Christopher Key Chapple, "Hinduism, Jainism, and Ecology," at:
Laxmi Mall Singhvi, "Jainism," at:
Stephen Knapp, "Universal Brotherhood Includes Animals," at:
Rizvi Haider, "US Food Waste and Hunger Exist Side by Side," Inter
Press Service, 2004-SEP-04.