Monday, June 20, 2011

The Jains

The Jains
by Scott Bradley


The Jains are a sect within Hinduism which takes the belief in ahimsa, non-violence toward (killing) other living beings, to extremes. At least some would say it is extreme. Others might ask how could not harming other creatures ever be too much of a good thing. Jains do not eat potatoes, or carrots, or any other vegetable that requires that the plant be killed to harvest it. There is also the problem of killing worms and whatnot when digging in the earth.

In India I once saw a score of Jain 'nuns' walking down the road. They were dressed in white and each one carried a puffball of yarn about 2 feet in diameter which they swung before their feet to sweep away any creatures they might otherwise inadvertently step on. Some especially devout men go about naked (for reasons I do not understand). Many only drink water through gauze lest they imbibe some living creature in the water. (And there are many, as my bowels frequently informed me!)

It requires a great deal of effort to avoid killing things and, as we know since the advent of the microscope, it is largely in vain. Life in some form or other literally covers every surface of the Earth. Make your morning chai, wash your face, have some yoghurt for breakfast, and you have already killed millions before the day has hardly begun.

None of what I've said here is meant to criticize the Jains. If they are extremists, well so am I at heart. At least they take their beliefs seriously. The point I am really trying to make is that life on Earth is a messy affair — life feeds on life and myriads of living beings suffer accidental deaths every nanosecond. We have to reconcile ourselves to the simple fact that our individual existence requires, both volitionally and accidentally, the death of untold millions.

The Jains' principle concern, of course, is the accumulation of bad karma. It is not primarily about the critters harmed, but about their own souls. Not believing in such things myself, I would have to say that my aversion to killing has more to do with fellow-feeling — it is the 'golden rule' ("Do unto others... ") extended to all of creation. But since the killing is unavoidable, no easy, self-satisfying formulas are possible. At best, I can only tread lightly and offer up my own life to the inevitability of death when I shall likewise feed others.

All of this is rooted, of course, in my present experience which I will share with you now in the form of a confession: I have been killing bugs in the garden. In cold blood. Or at least consciously and willfully. But not without regret.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. Jainism is not part of the vedic tradition as a sect within Hinduism and if anything appears to be pre-Hindu or pre-Buddhist.

    From Wikipedia: Relationship between Jainism and Hinduism – According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Article on Hinduism,"...With Jainism, which always remained an independent Indian religion. Hinduism has some common concepts and practices, that nowadays some Hindus tend to consider Jainism as Hindu sect.

    Jains are however very Indian, in the same way that Taoists are very Chinese. I suppose later on, historically, all these things become co-mingled o you have Jain-Vedic heritage; Taoist-Buddhist heritage and judeo-Christian heritage.

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