Jainism And Its Belief Of Non-violence

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The ancient religion which has been around since the sixth century BC named Jainism is different from other popular religions distinct with its morals and values. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that was founded by Nataputta Mahavira during the same time Buddhism was becoming established. Jainism holds many similarities to Hinduism and Buddhism, but one of the biggest elements of the religion which separates it from the rest is its core belief of non-violence. It has been said that Jainism was formed due to a rebellion against the Hindu community specifically the Brahmans. Followers of Jainism implement the action of non-violence in their everyday lives and avoid harming any living creature. Jains firmly believe that everything has some aspect of life to it including rocks, stones, and even sand. Teachings of Jainism protect all living creatures especially animals which they value the most, promoting their advocacy for animal rights through many teachings and practices they take part in. Principles of Jainism advocate for animal rights by refraining from eating animal products through vegetarianism, practicing and adhering to ahimsa, and showing compassion towards all living creatures especially animals.

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Jainism is one of the first religions to have adopted and widely practice vegetarianism, which is refraining from eating any form of meat. The Jains formed this way of living in 800 BCE, which was way before other religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism integrated it into their everyday life. Most other religions that do partake in vegetarianism are not as strict and rigid as those who practice Jainism. Monks who practice Jainism are some of the strictest in adhering to vegetarianism and are known to set an example for other followers in doing the same. One of the primary reasons Jains do not consume meat is because they believe ‘the killing of any animal life and even some forms of plant life accumulates karma’. This karma affects how they will be rebirthed in the afterlife during reincarnation, so it is an important element in their religion. If they participate in an act of killing or harming a living creature, their Jiva which is a human’s soul endure endless cycles of rebirthing due to bad karma. On the other hand, good karma can result in the reincarnation of the Jiva that only endures a few cycles into what is seen as respected or valued creatures. The Jains ‘ practice of vegetarianism is in line with animal rights, as the fewer animals consumed the less they are killed or slaughtered. The Jains have also been known in India to argue with other religions that partake in consuming meat or using animals as sacrifices such as in Hinduism. Since these confrontations and arguments which occurred over many years, ‘the ancient practices of vegetarianism have continued to the present, and even expanded’. The Jains were able to ultimately influence vegetarianism on other religions, further promoting the decrease in killing animals for meat which has since shaped India.

In addition to vegetarianism, ahimsa was first established by the Jains and has since been adopted by many other religions. Ahimsa is a basis in the religion as it is the ‘refusal to cause harm to any living thing’. It is also one of the twelve vows created by Mahavira which all stand as core values within Jainism. Out of the twelve values, there are five which ‘form the basis of the main values of Jain life today’, and ahimsa is one of them. Ahimsa is implemented in a Jains everyday life such as vegetarianism and even refraining from certain practices like agriculture. Some followers such as Monks, take this vow to an extreme by being conscious all the time of whether they are even slightly causing harm to a living creature. Some Monks have taken to sweeping paths or walkways, to prevent them from stepping on or accidentally killing an insect or small creature. Another practice they have adopted to almost perfectly follow ahimsa is by wearing masks that prevent them from accidentally inhaling any small insect or organisms. Furthermore, certain agricultural practices are not practiced due to the labor incorporating animals when farming to grow crops. The use of these animals in agriculture is seen as harmful and therefore they are abandoned by some Jains. These mindful and tedious practices that some Jains have adopted display their awareness in refraining from harming or killing any living organism especially animals. Jains deeply value and respect all animals and living creatures because they see everything as equal. Ahimsa ultimately establishes the morals of protecting all lives which also includes humans or Jivas.

Along with ahimsa, Jains show compassion towards all living things especially animals of which they highly value. Jains are known for showing compassion to animals through many of their teachings by the 24 Tirthankara’s, or spiritual leaders. One of the most important spiritual leaders that specifically expressed compassion is the 22nd Tirthankara. The 22nd Tirthankara named Nemi shows his compassion through a story that is read and taught throughout Jainism. On Nemi’s way to get married, he sees animals that are to be slaughtered for his event, causing him to have an awakening. This awakening leads him to be ‘moved by compassion, he released the animals and renounced his marriage plans, becoming a mendicant'(Justice 2). This teaching deeply shows the compassion and respect for animals one leader had that led him to a life of being poor but was able to preach and convert others to the beliefs of Jainism. Along with Nemi, other leaders within Jainism have expressed their views on animal rights through organized meetings and congregations. Not every leader expresses their views in the same way, which allows for a variety of teachings to be taught. Another one of the spiritual leaders known as Tulsi ‘led a major revival of his sect of Jainism that…especially stressed animal rights as a return to traditional Jain values’. These traditional Jain values are increasingly becoming more practiced and influencing other religions to do the same and align values.

Across India, the main teachings and values of Jainism are practiced and have even influenced other religions. Within Jainism, vegetarianism is one of the most widely practiced lifestyles as it depends on a follower’s karma. One part of Jains’ karma which depends on their afterlife and how they are reincarnated is based on causing no harm to any animal or consuming any meat, which is shown under the teaching of ahimsa. Ahimsa is the teaching of non-violence which is the basis of Jainism, and many practices have been introduced by the Jains to maintain this action of causing no harm to live organisms or creatures. These traditional values influence Jains’ everyday life, even causing them to abandon certain practices such as agriculture. Many leaders show compassion towards animals through teachings or revivals which influence Jains to have the same mindset and values. Animals and any living creature contribute to a vast majority of teachings that are taught and practiced within Jainism, as they are looked upon as being equal. The teachings of animal rights, compassion, and non-violence within Jainism over centuries have become more and more influential on other religions, values, and morals in society today.  

16 December 2021

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