Jain's Non-violent Perspective of Human Survival

Posted: 29.02.2012
Updated on: 02.07.2015



The continuing degradation of environment and depletion of life supporting natural resources by exploding population and its reckless consumerism are matter of serious concern. The most harmful impact of industrialization is that it is triggering consumerism more and more and to meet the increasing demands more and more industries are coming up, which further triggers consumerism and the vicious cycle is going on. Now it is double-edged sword i.e. of population increase and consumerism that is cutting ruthlessly the very fabric of environment safety. So long as environmental pollution is within the tolerable limits of nature, it had no perceptible negative effect on man. Nature has its own mechanism to clean pollution and distortions in it. Unfortunately, however, the pollution level crossed the limits long back. Now it has reached a stage where the survival of life on earth is no longer guaranteed. So the choice before mankind is self destruction or survival. In this state, the air we breathe the water we drink and the soil, which produces our food, are getting more and more polluted. The only way out of this vicious cycle of environment pollution lies in Jain's non-violent life-style which triggers mankind towards the non-violent perspective of eco-friendly human survival.


Non-violent Perspective of Human Survival

Today, we see our mother Earth is facing the problem of global warming, climate change, lacking resources due to over consumerism, ozone layer depletion, unethical science leading to experimental violence, decreasing earth planet, all these leading to environmental degradation are the sufficient facts highlighting the very human survival at stake. We increasingly realize that human alone cannot live on this planet. Humans have to live in the company of non-humans in complementary relationship. Non-violent Jain life style seems to be a ray of hope, which can prevent in a durable manner the current universal drift towards crisis of human survival. Teachings and practices as preached by Tirthankar Mahavira namely practice of vegetarian life style, limitation of desires, self-imposed limitation over one's consumption, moral injection prescribed for undertaking less violent livelihood, limitation over unnecessary violence etc. can act as a panacea in solving the problem of environmental crisis for human survival.


Vegetarian Life-style

The Jain life style is basically vegetarian life style. But when we look at present time of scenario, the percentage of meat-eaters are more than the vegetarians. Innocent animals are assaulted for the sake of pleasing the palate. But by reading the first chapter, titled, "Milk, Meat and Animal Violence" by Maneka, our notion regarding the dairy products and meat that it gives a lot of protein and iron completely changes. She says vegetables are the best source of iron. She further says that the meat industries are responsible for huge amount of desertification. Research declares that four lakh people in India die out of meat eating every year through heart disease, colon cancer or by kidney failures.[1] Now-a-days vegetarianism is gaining ground among intellectuals who appreciate alcohol and meat consumption. Francois Peroux, Director of the Institute of Mathematics and Economics in Paris, has suggested that "if meat and alcohol consumption in the west were reduced by 50%, the grain that would become available would be enough to solve all hunger and mal-nutrition problems in the third world war. Vegetarian life style, if adopted will not only solve the present problem of deforestation which has disturbed the stable climate that world has enjoyed for the last 10,000 years but it will lead nation towards development without destruction.

Jainism emphasizes on the promotion of the concept of vegetarianism. Except for allowing themselves a judicious use of one-sensed life in the form of vegetables, Jains would not consciously take any life for food or sport. As a community they are strict vegetarians, consuming neither meat, fish nor eggs. They confine themselves to vegetable and milk products.[2] The so called modern world considers that animals are made for human, so there is no harm in killing them for human use. This conviction has led to the killing of millions of animals every year for food. About 20% of the world population or 1.4% billion people could be fed with grain or soya beans that are fed to the US cattle alone. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. More than 260 million acres of US forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farm animals.[3] These facts are pertaining to just one country. Think about the whole world how much cruelty has been done to animals. Cutting out meat helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to water and land conservations. Nitrous oxide is almost 300 times as damaging to the climate as carbon dioxide and 65% of the quantity generated by human activity comes from livestock. Cow farms produce millions of tons of Co2 and methane per year, the two major greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Moreover it takes far less water to grow vegetarian food than it does to produce meat. Eating animals simultaneously contributes to a multitude of tragedies: the animals suffering and death, the ill health and early death of people the unsustainable overuse of oil, water, land, grain, labour and other vital resources, environmental destruction including deforestation, species extinction, more-cropping and global warming, the misallocation of capital, skill and other assets, tremendous waste, massive inequalities in the world, mass world hunger, the transmission of dangerous diseases and moral failure in so called civilized societies. Research declares that four lakh people in India die out of meat-eating every year through heart disease, colon-cancer or by kidney failures.[4]

Vegetarianism is an antidote to all of these unnecessary tragedies.[5] A vegetarian diet can feed significantly more people than meat centered diets.[6] The dominance of humanity over nature and cosmos is threatening issue. The way that we breed animals for food is a threat to our planet. Lives of animals and plants, which inhabit on this planet with us deserve protection, preservation and care. Dr. Hans Kung drafted four essential commitments in the Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago in 1993 to be shared by human as a common ground for global ethics. They are as follows:

  1. Commitment to a culture of Non-violence and respect for life.
  2. Commitment to a culture of Solidarity and just Economic order.
  3. Commitment to a culture of Tolerance and life of Truthfulness.
  4. Commitment to a culture of Equal Rights and partnership between men and women.

On the basis of personal experience and the burdensome history of our planet, we have learned that a better global order can't be created or enforced with laws, prescriptions, and conventions alone. Internal commitment for self-restrain is the only way out. Moreover Jain ācāryās prohibited seven evil habits, among them one is non-vegetarian food intake. If one takes the vow of vegetarian food intake, he not only stops the inflow of karmas leading towards the hell[7] but also protects himself from various physical ailments and leads a healthy life until death because diet is a powerful factor in moulding temper and thinking. A well-selected balanced vegetarian diet is in harmony with the laws of nature and helps to assure a healthy, vital and strong body, which serves as the temple for our thoughts, feelings and spiritual essence. Vegetarian diet is favourable to purity of thoughts and chastity and leads to refinement of character and ecological balance.

Limitation of Desires and Consumption: Mahāvīra's Concept of Limitation

Iccāparimāṇa doesn't mean to possess nothing but it restricts the desire to hoard more and more. It aims at developing non-possessive consciousness. During the period of Lord Mahāvīra "Anand", who was a great business man, first of all limited the amount of gold and silver to be kept throughout his life. Then voluntarily limited the possession of tillable land and buildings, livestock, legend animals and the vehicles to be used for transportation and renounced the rest of the worldly possession. A question may be raised that laity may earn more than the amount he limits for himself but he cannot hoard it, to observe the vow. He shares with others the excess of money acquired. Daśvaikālika Sūtra rightly comments on the essence of sharing to such an extent that it aids in uplifting ones detached attitude and thereby helps in the attainment of emancipation. The person who doesn't share the excess with others can't achieve the value of social good, social upliftment and ultimately liberation.[8] This concept of renouncement of the excess of Lord Mahavira can be compared with the concept of renunciation of Mahatma Gandhi ji. Similarly the concept of visarjan propounded by Ācārya Tulsi can also establish a culture of detachment towards the possession.[9] This sort of concepts can help one in restricting ones possession and thereby assist in over-coming the economic gap between the haves and have not's and it will be bridged instead of becoming wide which can support us in establishing economic welfare and harmony to the great extent.

Over Consumerism and Self-imposed Limitation

"The greater the wealth, the thicker will be the dirt", these lines throw light on the economics of wastage. It has to be understood that the culture of wastage is a consequence of the economic thought which favours more and more product. This is not only ethically wrong but also economically wrong. The emphasis on production acts as the panacea for all economic imbalances. Maximization of wants leads to maximization of goods by production; the spiral has to go on undisturbed. Production then is not for real needs but for nurturing created wants, since the goal lies only in production and more and more production. This made economics completely divorced from its normative aspect.

The self-ego-centric attitude and desire to enjoy the utmost sophisticated technological comforts has led to the problem of environmental pollution. Each family member has his own independent conveyance this has led to the tremendous air pollution and vehicle exhaust has led to the several road accident. According to the world watch Institute Report, there all over 500 million automobiles on earth and about 19 million more is added each year and by 2010 it is likely to be doubled. The global vehicle population growth is causing major greenhouse gas and the toxic emissions like 60% of carbon monoxide emissions, 42% of nitrogen oxides, 40% of the hydro carbon, etc. are responsible for over half the global warming problem.[10] Emissions of these pollutants depends on the number of vehicle in use and their emissions rates. The IPCC scientist conclude that in the absence of efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions through restrain (bhogopabhogo parimāṇa), sea levels will rise by between 10 and 30 cm by the year 2030, and by 30 to 100 cm by the end of the next century.[11] Not only control over production and consumption i.e. use ratio of vehicles to be minimized, all sorts of unnecessary increasing artificial needs of over hoarding of wearing clothes, leather shoes and bags, cosmetics and machines of comforts like fridge, T.V., washing machine, cooler, heater in each room should be curtailed to protect increasing global warming.

A balance is necessary between what the society produces and what it consumes. Our common sense tells us that many of our demands are complementary. It is because of massive publicity, high-tech advertising and day-to-day changes in fashion design, which is a wasteful exploitation. Salesmanship is the method used by such producers to sustain themselves, but none of these ways of sales promotion have any relation with independently determined primary desires. An increase in consumption of one product creates a requirement for another. If we use more automobiles we need more petrol, we need broader roads to operate them and so on. We cannot have consumption of single isolated products. This is the logical conclusion of increased consumption. The vow of limitation of desires is the only way.


Limitation Over Unnecessary Violence in Prescribed Livelihood

The increasing use of consumer goods fans the fire of ever growing desires. Desires leads to demand, demand leads to increase in production, which further leads to increase in consumption. This vicious circle can be overcome by the principle of restrain preached by Tīrthankar Mahāvīra which can act as a solution to all sources of problems. That's why Jain householders never indulge in such occupations which involve high violence namely Vana karma (livelihood from destroying forests), Bhātaka karma (livelihood from transport), Danta vānijya (trade in animal by-products), Rasa vānijya (trade in alcohol etc.), Keśa vānijya (trade in animal hair), Davagni Dāna karma (work involving setting fire to forests and fields), visa vānijya (trade in making poisons for medical use and for pesticides etc.). Although at present these professions yield heavy amount of profit and helps in attaining status in society but at the same time above mentioned professions are really anti-eco-friendly leading nation towards the development with destruction. Let us discuss the outcome of above mentioned trades.

The artificial show of furniture at shops and homes has increased to a large extent and to meet the demands of the wooden raw material, cutting of forests is increasing day by day leading to climate change. Climate change in turn may have an impact on several major categories of diseases, including cardio-vascular, cerebro-vascular, and respiratory diseases and skin cancer.[12]

Although ivory selling has been stopped all over the world, but trade of ivory continues at global level inspite of the ban. Ivory collector can take the tusks of a dead elephant but he intentionally kills by various methods and declares it as dead because people want ivory made materials. According to one estimate everyday nearly three species of life permanently disappear from earth. So danta vānijya is prohibited as it takes out the life of elephants. Lord Mahavira prohibited the supply of lethal weapons under the trade of visa because Jainism asserts that the killer and the instrument given for killing, both are equally guilty of violence. In this modern age, for the maximum agriculture production, chemical fertilizers are used relentlessly which worked like a brown sugar and slow poisoning for our life supporting systems food, air, water etc. According to the WHO estimate, about 7,50,000 people are poisoned by pesticides every year. Moreover visa vānijya trade in creatures that have hair amounts to huge violence. Maneka writes in her book "Head and Tails" Jacket with fur lining bags, caps etc. are made by killing beautiful hair holder animals. For example, for the preparation of self-curly Kalakul hat from the lamb hair, the mother and the ewe, is hit over a hundred times with an iron rod to induce premature birth. The lamb is then skinned alive in front of her eyes so that its fur remains soft and curly[13] That's why Maneka talks of "Beauty without destruction". None of the items above are essential. That's why Lord Mahavira possessed high level of intuition power in the restriction of violent professions like Danta, Kesh, Visha Vañijya which initiates terrible harm to the animal species and at the same time violates the Jain concept of interdependence i.e. our very survival is basically dependent upon the survival of the immobile and mobile beings.


The Concept of Interdependence

The right perspective of ecology is enshrined in the Jain motto of "parasparopagraho jlvânâm"[14] as quoted in the Tattvārtha Sūtra which highlights that all living organisms, however big or small, irrespective of the degree of their sensory perceptions, are bound together by mutual support and inter-dependence. They are and should remain in a harmonious and judicious balance with nature.

Man is a social animal, so man and nature are so inter-woven with each other into the social fabric that there is a common thread, which binds us all. Many examples can be cited in this regard, which highlights mutual supportive relationship between all life forms and nature. Wherever you look in nature, you seem to see evidence of 'balance', carnivores eat herbivores, herbivores eat plant; all of them die, rot and feed the plants again. If the plants increase, the herbivores will multiply too, but if they multiply too much, they over-stretch the plants and their numbers fall again.[15] If any one component of a food chain is disrupted, then all the other creatures that are part of it must adjust. Some will suffer, though others may flourish, at-least temporarily. It has also been proved scientifically that there is the cosmic bond, which had tied each living being in one chain.[16] Even genetic fact approves this thought of inter-relation and as well as of inter-dependence as seen in 'Journey of Man' in National Geographic channel telecast of November, 2006.

In this context Jain's first canonical text draws our attention towards the ecological perspective of the exposition of the equality of all souls. The very concept of inter-relatedness and inter-dependence of living beings as cited in Ācārāṇga Sūtra paves us towards the truth that one cannot safeguard one's own existence by obliterating the existence of others.[17] The denial of six classes of living beings namely earth bodied, water bodied, fire bodied, air bodied and plant bodied beings and mobile beings is tantamount to the denial of self. This non-violent approach is the basis of practical Jain Environmental Ethics. So it is crystal clear that Environmental Ethics and Jain Ethics are so inter-related with each other that we cannot discuss of one without the reference to the other. It is tantamount to the concept of Rousseau's, back to nature.[18] Perhaps the seeds of new world order are already sown, through the Ahimsa March undertaken by Ācārya Mahapragya the sprouting has begun but the soil with appropriate nutrients is absent. The soil is a new philosophy of Jain life and the basic nutrient is the environmental ethics. So adoption of jain non-violent way of life style is the need of the hour for global environmental preservation, ecological balance and for the very human survival.



In nutshell, human must develop a kind of universal obligation and respect for all other levels of beings for the protection of his own survival. Co­existence is the law of nature. An outstanding aphorism of Ācārāṇga Sūtra, which depicts the equality and oneness of the soul. The maxim given is 'Jaṁ hanttavaṁ ti mannasi'[19] i.e. to whom you intend to kill is no one other than you yourself. Therefore, it asks to see the same consciousness flowing in all. If oneness of soul is recognized and experienced by all, then sympathy and compassion towards all life forms can be achieved which in turn can make the life better and worth living for present and future generation. So a minimum ethical code i.e. self-limitation of desires, limitation over consumption, limitation over violent professions and limitation over unnecessary violence is essential for good environment at national level and also a global code of environmental ethics, to guide the behaviour of the global society.[20] Perhaps the seeds of new world order are already sown, through the Ahimsa March undertaken by Ācārya Mahapragya, the sprouting has begun but the soil with appropriate nutrients is absent. The soil is a new philosophy of Jain life and the basic nutrient is the environmental ethics. So adoption of non-violent way of life style is the need of the hour for global environmental preservation, ecological balance and for the very human survival.



Original Books


Ācārāṇga Bhashyam-(ed.) by Acharya Mahaprajna. with text, Sanskrit commentary, Hindi translation, comparative notes, topics in text and commentary and various appendices. Jain Vishva Bharati Institute. Ladnun. 1994.

Tattvārthasūtra of Umaswati/Umasvami, English translation by Nathmal Tatia under the title 'That which is' with the combined commentaries of Umaswati/Umasvami, pujyapada and siddhasena gani, collins publications, America, 1994

Daśvaikālika Sūtra,.Ed. Mishrimalji Maharaj.Beawar: Agam Prakashan Samiti.1991.

Thāṇaṁ.Ed. Muni Nathmal.With Prakrit text, Sanskrit Rendering and Hindi version with notes.Ladnun: Jain Vishva Bharati.1976.


Secondary Sources


Jain, S.M. - Environmental Ethics, Prakrit Bharati Academy, Jaipur, 2006.

Colin Tudge-Global Ecology, Natural History Museum Publication, London, 1991. Heidmaun, Jean-Cosmic Odyssy, Cambridge University Press, Britain, 1989. Maneka Gandhi- Head and Tails, The Other India Press, Mapusa Goa, 1994.

Thich Nhat Hanh-Inter being: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism, ed. by Fred Eppsteever, Delhi, 1997.

Leggett, Jeremy (ed.),Global Warming:The Green-peace Report, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990.

Rajiv K. Sinha-Development without Destruction, Environmentalist Publisher, Jaipur, 1994.

Dr. Hangkung. Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration.Quoted from Role of Jainism in Evolving A New Paradigm of Philosophy Ladnun: Jain Vishva Bharati.2008.

Radhey Shyam Chaurasia,History of Western Political Thought, Atlintic Publishers And Distributors,Vol.ii,Deihi,2001.