Jainism: Philosophy of Ecological Harmony and Non-Violence
Jainism is a faith that emphasizes on non-violence, respect for the environment and the power of meditation
Any one individual did not found the present form of Jainism. It is a religion, which developed over a long period of time and then acquired its own distinctive status within the broad Indian system
By Vimal Shah from Mumbai
JAINISM is an ancient and relatively little known faith in the world but still very living, dynamic and highly relevant. It is a faith system that emphasizes on non-violence, respect for the environment and the power of meditation – all while eschewing material possessions and encouraging the control over the self.
Jainism, a religion originating from India – with Hinduism and Buddhism – is an integral part of India. The Jain tradition, which enthroned the philosophy of ecological harmony and non-violence as its lodestar, flourished for centuries, side-by-side with other schools of thoughts in ancient India. It formed a vital part of the mainstream of ancient Indian life contributing greatly to its philosophical, artistic and cultural heritage. During certain periods of Indian history, many ruling elites as well as large sections of the population were Jains (The followers of Jainism are known as JAIN – plural JAINS).
Although about 4.5 million Jains estimated to live in India (census 2011) constitute a tiny fraction of its population, the message and motifs of the Jain perspective, its unconditional reverence for life in all forms its commitment to the progress of human civilization and the prevention of the natural environment, continues to have profound and pervasive influence on Indian life and outlook. Jainism, with its distinctive views on matters such as non-violence has relevance to the life and thought of not only this century but also for many centuries to come.
Jainism has succeeded in preserving to the present time its integrity as a separate system in the midst of preponderant Hinduism. Jainism is a complete system with all necessary branches such as ontology, metaphysics, philosophy, epistemology, ethics, ritual, art and architecture, etc. It has its own scriptures, temples (architecturally some of the most beautiful temples in India are the Jain temples) and deities, places of worship and pilgrimages, and its own festivals and fairs. The organized religious group “Sangh” (یونین) consists of ascetics and householders of both genders.
Any one individual did not found the present form of Jainism. It is a religion, which developed over a long period of time and then acquired its own distinctive status within the broad Indian system. Its latest “Tirthankar” (تھرتھنکر), Lord Mahavir was a contemporary of Lord Buddha more than 2600 years ago; he lived in the same Indian state of modern Bihar, as did Loar Buddha. Lord Mahavir was the 24th Tirthankar. The 23rd Tirthankar, Lord Parshvanath was 250 years ago before him and the 22nd Lord Neminath, a contemporary of Lord Krishna of the Hindus, was at least more than two thousand years before the 23rd Tirthankar.
The Sanskrit word “JAIN” (جین) means the followers of the “JIN” (جن), those who purified their self by conquering their inner enemies and passions such as anger greed, ego, deceit, attachment, aversion, hatred, etc. and attained complete perfection and omniscience.
Jainism is well known in India but because of its non-missionary nature, it is relatively much less known outside, although its principles of non-violence and intellectual relatively are quite well organized. In the 20th century, the most vibrant and illustrious example of Jain influence was that of Mahatma Gandhi, acclaimed as the Father of the Indian Nation. Gandhi’s spiritual friend and mentor, Shrimad Rajachandra was a Jain. The two great men corresponded until Shrimad Rajachandra’s death, on issues of faith and ethics. The central Jain teaching of “ahimsa” (احمسہ – non-violence) was the guiding principle of Gandhi’s civil disobedience in the cause of freedom and social equality. His ecological philosophy found apt expression in his observation that the greatest work of humanity could not match the smallest wonder of nature.
Effectively, as Jains, we remain absolute defenders of life, of the environment, of absolute non-attachment to material things, of self-control, of tolerance, of control of the ego and of non-violence. Our tenets are those of respect for human beings, for animals and nature, for life in general, for progress of humanity and for peace.
Jains have their long history, their sacred literature, their temples, their ways of living, their rites, customs and the influence we had and we have, as well as their settlements in numerous countries in the world now.
I wish all who will read this series of articles on JAINISM will know us better and share even just a little of our vision of the world today, so as to be more humane, more just and in harmony with the teachings we received from our great Tirthankars, those who, by their lives and their examples, have shown the right way, that of the “JIN” (جن) (of the Conquerors).
Based on the FOREWARD section contributed by Dr. Sulekha C. Jain (Past President of “JAINA” – Federation of Jain Associations in North America) for the book named “JAINS TODAY IN THE WORLD” by Pierre Paul AMIEL (a French researcher and author)
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