Jain Way Of Lifestyle - An Eco-Ethical Practice Leading To Sustainable Development

Posted: 19.05.2010
Updated on: 05.07.2015

Acharya Mahapragya, in an explanation to Anekant view, pronounces that Whole is the sum total of two opposites[1]. And so is the definition of development. Development is the harmonically existence of co-opposites - material and moral, quantity and quality, production and consumption, stability and mobility, today and tomorrow.

Sustainability refers to racing with time at nearly same pace without much crest and trough.

So Sustainable Development (SD) is the sustainability of co-opposites in balanced manner in the race with time.

World’s economies have always been busy in planning the strategy for wealth maximization to hold the supreme status. This industrial globalization war deviate the life style from cosmic sense to individual luxury. In the cut throat competition of development - production, utilization and consumption pattern has been changed so drastically that man has forgotten the universal law of co-existence focusing on his self-centered desires. This fear of uncertain-unsafe future is forcing the ‘Me & Mine’ attitude to start the brain storming in direction of “We & Ours”.

Today World’s intelligent brains are wrestling to find out the rational solution to this known but ignored blunder, which has put the big question on the peaceful and holistic survival of man and his descendents.  Term SD comes into existence when materialistic glared man felt the pinch of nature as an alarming bell for being the cause of natural and material disequilibrium. This small term goes into the heart of tackling a number of inter-related global issues such as poverty, inequality, injustice, hunger and environmental degradation.

Individuals are the working unit of SD and constitute the higher hierarchies with different permutation-combinations. Being the nucleus, his life style plays an imperative role in forming, adopting and executing the action for sustainability. Life of individual is drive by notions of utility and by social vestiges. The beliefs he learn, experienced and see around himself constitute his life style which in turn reflects in the behavior and day to day action. Hence a constructive, responsible and a visionary life style pattern is indeed a mandatory requirement for maintaining the sustainability of material as well as virtue development.

SD is based on the following 5 major factors whose success and failure determines the sustainability of SD. These factors are

  1. Economic Development
  2. Ecological Balance
  3. Equality feeling
  4. Emotional Maturity
  5. Educational Elevation

These 5 factors have very tough challenges to convert the discussion dream into realistic renaissance. Jainism’s life style can serve as a feasible solution package to convert the roadblocks of sustainability into the steeping stones by nurturing the confidence and atmosphere for peaceful survival.

Jainism is a life style of values, which is alternative to the ideology of consumer society. It is characterised by the virtues of non-violence, non-possession, non-absolutism and equality of each soul, which balances the internal happiness along with socio-eco harmony. Its philosophy educates, trains and motivate the life style to limit the strive for power and desires within the circumscribe of availability.

Let’s discuss the utility of Jain way of life in context to its role of nourishing the roots of above discussed major factors sensibly. As all these factors are closely interrelated to each other, application of many practises can be common and can affect many of these factors together.

1. Economic Development

Economic development refers to the over all progress of an economy. It includes adoption of new technologies, development of industrialization, and general improvement in the living standards. Today it’s meaning has been restricted to the number game and the heights of graph bars. In the economic section, the few of the most crucial problem challenging peaceful survival are as below -

  • Wealth and income distribution - It is well said that over-consumption of the rich is as dangerous as under-consumption of the poor. The increasing interconnectedness promised by globalization has indirectly watering the capitalistic bureaucracy only.  Global decisions, policies, and practices are formulated by the lobby of few rich and powerful and majority struggles to get the basic requirements. Under the mask of import liberalisation, these countries have started dumping their goods to the developing & underdeveloped countries resulting in the displacement of existing domestic production directly and indirectly. Numerical figures are screaming the biased behaviour of world’s power. In 2004, about 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s financial assets. The world’s billionaires - just 497 people (approximately 0.000008% of the world’s population) - were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP). The GDP of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined. As per Human development report, 1999, the distance between the richest and poorest countries is increasing year by year.

  • Living standard - If light is flashed on the consumption patterns and living standard, sketches of naked skinny structures struggling hard to survive will come out from the so-called word development. As per the World Bank Development Indicator 2008, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption and the poorest 20% just 1.5% in 2005. A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses the 85 % of its water. Almost two in three people lacking access to clean water. 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre consume around 20 litres per day. Counter to this, in the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day for flushing toilets and average daily water usage is about 150 litres. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 litres a day. 1.6 billion people, a quarter of humanity, live without electricity. 1 billion children live in poverty i.e.1 in 2 children in the world. [2] In 2003, the death rate of children before they reached the age of 5 is roughly 29,000 children per day. In spite of being continue pampering for development, the actual fact sheet reflects the existence of hunger, crime, exploitation, injustice in the deep roots of the society.
  • Military expenditure - Another major threat, which is swallowing the humanity, is increasing military expenditure. In the name of globalisation, for getting access to trade and resources, powerful countries are subjugating the poor and keeping them dependent.  For attaining the geopolitical supremacy, subject to real or perceived threats, they are spending blindly on their militaries. As per GDP 2008, USA leads the world, followed by Dragon China, Sumo Japan, Democratic India and Techno king Germany. And in counter list of military spending, USA alone is responsible for 41.5% of the world total expenditure followed by the emerging nuclear power China with 5.8%. Indeed according to the Global Peace Index, some $2.4 trillion or 4.4%, of the global economy “is dependent on violence” referring to “industries that create or manage violence” - or the defence industry. World military expenditure in 2008 is estimated to have reached $1.464 trillion in current dollars. This corresponds to 2.4 per cent of world gross domestic product (GDP), or $217 for each person in the world.  This expenditure of $ 217 per person occurs where almost half the world - over three billion people - live on less than $2.50 a day and where less than 1% of this is required to put every child into school. Violence industries are enjoying the increasing business and profits even during the times of economic hardship while on other hand UN is trembling hard with financial difficulties for its humanity projects. UN has been forced to cut back on important programs in all areas. As of May 31, 2009, member’s arrears to the regular budget topped $1282 million, of which military commander US alone owed $857 million (67% of the regular budget arrears). [3]   It is surprising to know that the world can spend so much on their military but contribute so little to the goals of global security, international cooperation and peace. Even as per the global peace index, massive military spending has not led to a much global peace and it is also noted that more powerful countries have also pursued the policies that have contributed to more poverty. The institute for economics and Peace released the insightful study, which says that the impact of lost peace on the world economy is $ 7.2 trillion [4], which confirms the necessity of peace for 360° development.

If goes deep to analyse the causes of economic problems, the primary reasons that pop up straight away are the uncontrolled desires and increasing attachment to materialistic thing.

The solution for the causes of these disorders can be traced out from the preaching & practises of Mahavira. Mahavira is still living in the eternal wisdom of non-violence and non-possession.  He was not only the spiritual icon but was also a great psychologist of economics. He never said his disciple not to earn but said not to being attached. If Forbes list of richest would had made during his time, definitely his disciples like Anand shravak would be there at prominent rank.
Acharanga Bhasyam para 1.11 quotes, “All these worldly violent activities are to be comprehended and given up”. Violence has been defined minutely with scientific psychological basis and includes physical, verbal & emotional violence. Jain philosophy considers all earth-bodied, water-bodied, air-bodied, fire-bodied, plant-bodied and the moveable creatures as a living being and any harm to these is considered as violence. This definition alone has the power to solve most of the problems of violence & consumerism driven economy.

Jain’s follower whether ascetics or householders are restrained of committing any type of severe, wilful and unnecessary violence to any of the living creature. Resources are scared but means to put them are unlimited.” Jain philosophy captures this pulse of reality and frames the life style to restrict the means of utilization. Excess utilization of water, food, clothes and other resources is considered as causing or indulging in violence. In Acharanga Bhasyam 113 & 116, it is explained that the monk should know the quantity of food needed by him and he should not lay up on getting excess if it is available. This concept of proper utilization plays a very significant role in the avoidance of wastage & misuse of resources in the occasions like marriages or gatherings where lots of foods have been thrown in food plates. Hence if this style of utility consumption pattern is inculcated in global life style, it can be a good solution to the shortage and uneven consumption pattern.

Jain ascetic follow the principle of equal distribution of resources very religiously. Any resources including food, cloth even water that comes to a Jain ascetic is equally distributed among its group without looking at the seniority or influential status. It is said that if any monk doesn’t share the resources, he/she is failed to be a monk. The process of “Gochari” is also a pattern of sharing resources with compassion involving both monks and householders. Proper application of this equal distribution code can effectively put bar on the bureaucratic behaviour of powerful segments and give equal status to weaker sections.

The one of the great psycho-economic principal contributed by Jain philosophy is the principal of non-possession. It can also be termed as principal of economic humanity as it teaches disassociation of attachment with the available resources and to act like a custodian for the same. This principal includes avoiding hoarding of things in excess of requirement and hence can serve an effective measure to handle the current crucial problems of profiteering and high inflation.

Resources are distributed unevenly on earth. Today country, which has the resources in its geographical boundaries, becomes its negotiating owner. This type of encroaching ownership is enhancing the monopoly situation and hence resources are not available to all the needy around the globe. This increases the tension and probability of struggle and war. Its very good example is the negotiation by OPEC countries on their monopoly oil resources.

The application of Mahavira’s economy based on the self-restraint coincide the moral spirituality with utility economics to give the solutions for the emerging global problems.

2. Ecological Balance

Ecological crisis is a consequence of consumer’s society. In order to perceive the high status and satisfying the limitless wants, man has brutally used the nature assuming his personal property. The threatening consequences of global warming become the eye opener to realise the imbalance effect on his life, livelihood and survival. Man has pushed himself to the edge of blasting volcanoes by extracting the nature blind fold for fulfilling his utilities and luxuries. By and then this imbalance is appearing in form of earth quake, tsunami, cyclones, floods and drought, green house effects, epidemics & diseases like bird flue, swine flue etc. Extinct of many species of animals and plants and increasing human population has disturbed the ecological cycle of nature.

Jain philosophy, based on non-violence, is a vigilant security guard of ecological balance. Don't kill any living beings, don't try to rule them is the core preaching and practice of Mahavira[5]. He believes in the virtue of fearlessness. For the awareness towards the conduct part, he emphasized that each action should be combined with a thought of what will have in result. Jain monk is refraining of doing any kind of violence in any of the manner. From the day of initiation itself, he has been under pledge not to causes harm to any birds, animals, flora and fauna and allows them to grow in the fearless environment. They used mouth cover and woolen broom to avoid the possibility of violence during speaking or walking. Jains are prohibited to cut the green trees, nor kill even tiny living beings. As per the Jain code of conduct, eating and drinking are not allowed after sunset and before sun rise which is followed by the monks very strictly and householders with some exceptions. A Jain should be a strict vegetarian and also fasting has also been widely practiced by them. This life style leads to automatic conservation of nature, limits the consumption and accepts the respectful survival of each living creature. Jain monk’s travels on foot through out the life thus avoid pollution problem. For householders smaller vow of limiting the distance & direction to be traveled and the number of mode to be use has been prescribed. Walking on foot is the symbol of using eco-transportation. It is imperative application as transportation is responsible for fuelling up the pollution level to a great extent. More adaptability to eco-transportation and even modes like video/tele-conferencing, mailing etc to avoid the transportation will reward the sustainable development. Jain code of environment ethics of not harming anybody unnecessarily is a solution able approach for making the globe greener.

Population explosion is the prominent cause of global issues. Increasing number of mouths on limited resources is the basic reason for increasing poverty, unemployment, poor health, violence, injustice and tension. Jainism considers the purity of character as the utmost necessity for good life.  Acharya Bikshus Sheel Ke Nav Baad is one of the prominent literatures to emphasize on this. Jain monk practises celibacy throughout his life and some limitations of self-restraint have also been prescribed for householders. This self-awareness can contribute in controlling the population numbers, decreasing the sexual abuse cases and avoiding the spreading of killer diseases like AIDS. The message is to have the self-control over the unwanted desire.

3. Equality feeling

“Divide and rule” was very effective weapon used by the British to rule over India. This policy of discrimination is very old and still banging hard on trust and peace in every corner of world. Discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, power, gender, money is finding its ground of survival in modern techno world also. Gandhi started his journey of freedom by fighting first against the racial discrimination in South Africa. And today, this campaign is required to tackle the internal and external struggles of inequality at every corner of world. Burning examples are attacks on foreign students, exploitation of females & unprivileged section of the society. In a recent survey by freedom house, it is revealed that civil freedom around the world lost the ground for the fourth straight year in 2009[6]. This in-equal treatment sparks social conflicts, creates psychological distress and depression, increases crime & violence, destroys self-confidence, promotes social injustice which all results in the fearful distrust environment and a less productive economy.

Jainism is a religion of socio-religious equality. Acharanga Bhasyam 2.49 connotes that all souls are equal. Soul of ant is equally powerful as of elephant. This is not the ideal philosophy. Jainism gives equal right to women for religious practices. Mahavira freed Chandanbala from slavery sparking the social revolution for the right of freedom and equality to women. This practise of equality and freedom can definitely prove a boon for eradicating an odd social evil of murders of female foetus. He initiated the people of all communities who had quest for truth. He himself was Kshatriya, his 11 prominent Ganadharas were Brahmins, and other monks are from different communities of societies. This diversified group were treated at par proving that Unity in Diversity.  Jainism believes that one, who cultivates an attitude of equality towards all living beings, can attain equanimity. [7] This equality virtue nurtures the borderless thinking with universal peaceful survival of all irrespective of the individual survival of fittest. Through its philosophy, its ascetic & householder’s practices, and in its narrative arts and architecture, Jainism and its leaders have made efforts to create the society dedicated to equality and love for all creatures.

4. Emotional Maturity

Emotional Maturity implies controlling emotions willingly, Flexibility in attitude and to understand the sense of responsibility. Uncontrolled emotions are often responsible for conflicts at personal & social level. The latest case of irresponsible immature thinking is the failure of Copenhagen Summit, Dec 2009. World was looking anxiously to global COP summit in hope and expectation to get some remedy for saving the earth from the global warming consequences. But Danish capital evidences the blind selfishness of a privileged wealthy minority who tries to bring the burden of the necessary sacrifices heavily on the majority of the residents of the planet. The capitalistic nation’s inflexible attitude to accept the responsibility has failed the summit to arrive on any commitment. Similarly accountability at individual level towards the environmental, social, economic and behavioural issue plays a key role in sustainability. We can come across the cases of young students committing suicides due to examination fear, higher expectations, and future uncertainties without understanding the real purpose of life. The major cause behind each violence act is uncontrolled emotions. Anger, fear, feeling of revenge, disgraced etc. can easily divert the individual from the healthy thinking and push him towards the violent behaviour. Emotional conflicts results into the bitterness of relationship. An emotionally matured person will contribute towards the eradication of social evils; prohibit him from indulging in intoxicants & anti-social activities creating a healthy peaceful environment for development.

Jain philosophy is based on the nature of reality hence accepted the existence of opposites.  Its core code of conduct includes non-absolutism, which nurtures the flexible approach to accept the different thoughts with compassion. This flexibility works towards pacifying the clashes of adverse pairs through co- existence on socialistic pattern of society. It provides the bigger platform of healthy thinking by uniting the similar and opposite mindset to reinforce each other. Practising tolerance, developing sense of responsibility, using non-absolutism in dealing with the different minds can act as a catalyst in promoting the peaceful and healthy family and society.

5. Educational Elevation

Education is considered to be the most important tool to establish and maintain the sustainability of humanity. UNO has declared the decade of 2005-2014 as the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development[8]. It aims to help people to develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge to make informed decisions for the benefit of themselves and others, now and in the future, and to act upon these decisions. Inadequate knowledge and ignorance has caused sever losses to economic, environmental, health and peace status of globe. Hence efforts required for continuous educational elevation to search out the new means, modes and model in all fields which can lift the living standard of man along with the preservation & renewal of the resources.

In Uttaradhyayana Sutra, it is said that no conduct is possible without knowledge.[9] Further, defining knowledge, Mahavira said that with the help of which we can know the truth, control the restless mind, and purify the soul is called knowledge.[10] In Jainism, importance is laid on first gaining knowledge and then its practical application towards the practice of non-violence, non-absolutism and non-possession in daily routine.  It teaches how to limit the desires, emotions and consumption by controlling the demands of senses. It prescribed the various modes with flexibility for self-restraints as per requirement. For example -a most commonly practised mode - Pachkhan which can take for a moment of time or till last breath, can be for one item or many, can be practised in day or night, in active or sleeping state. Hence it can be concluded that these types of small, simple and flexible codes can be easily brought into practise by a common layperson, which is not associated with Jainism. The outcome of these practises will contribute towards the enhancing human and nature’s values.

Attaining salvation is the ultimate aim of Jainism. The criteria for salvation is to have Keval Gyan i.e. attainment of complete knowledge. Hence knowledge is the integral part of Jain philosophy and continues application of the same for making the deed to the purest level is the primary task. Jainism lays less emphasis on the formal knowledge in comparison to the practical application, which trains the person to behave in harmony with nature and other living creatures.


The most prosperous nations in the world are not necessarily those with a high GDP, but those with happy, healthy, and free citizens. In dealing with the basic problems of sustainable development and establishing the peaceful society of equality, the Jain way of life is a unique code of ethical - scientific virtues in the frame of universal & individual responsibility. The most important aspect of its application is that it can be practised by persons of any religion without deviating from their religious practises. Concluding the discussion, Jain way of lifestyle having non-violence, non-possession & non-absolutism with flexible application as per the time, place and circumstances is an effective approach to steer sustainable development.

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