Jain teachings have much to offer us in light of the many challenges we face in contemporary society. Environmental degradation, social justice concerns, and animal rights comprise just a handful of these challenges that routinely amount to unnecessary and unjust suffering worldwide.
Looking for a philosophical and spiritual way of life that is aligned with your values and is capable of confronting the many challenges of contemporary life? Welcome to the Jain tradition.
Ancient Wisdom – Modern Living
While Jain teachings may be ancient, their application to life is as relevant as centuries ago. During his own time, Lord Mahāvīra (6th -5th c. BCE), the contemporary founder of the Jain tradition, taught and convinced the masses to stop animal cruelty, discrimination, hatred, intolerance, crimes against the environment, and other social evils to bring peace and harmony into their lives. He pronounced:
“Nothing which breaths, exists, lives, and has any essence or potential of life, should be destroyed, or ruled, or subjugated, or harmed, or denied of its essence or potential.”
In recent times, peaceful crusaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were inspired by Jain teachings and effectively deployed nonviolent means to achieve justice amidst their hostile adversaries. Currently, other movements like veganism, animal rights, and environmental sustainability are growing with inspiration from the teachings of nonviolence and compassion from the Jain tradition, while the Jain tradition has been equally inspired by the motivations in these movements.
Nonviolence, the bedrock of Jain philosophy
Ahiṁsā, or, nonviolence, is the bedrock of Jain philosophy. Every tenet of Jain philosophy emanates from the concepts of nonviolence and compassion (karuṇā) and recognizes that we are all parts of a vast interconnected web of life. Nature comprises an enormous number of known and unknown living and non-living entities that all support the existence of one another. The phenomenon of mutuality is most elegantly expressed by the ancient Jain scriptural aphorism parasparopagraho jīvānām, meaning that all life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence.
Any violent disruption to one part of this system could result in severe disturbances in other parts, sometimes massive, as scientists are discovering with oceanographic models. In this ecosystem, humans, supposedly the most intelligent species on earth, are the perpetrators of these disturbances through their acts of violence, hatred, animal cruelty, and other misadventures against the environment, ecology, and other living beings. Despite being aware of and appreciative of our planet’s fragility, we tend to forget parasparopagraho jīvānām. When we forget, nature has a way of warning us through ramifications such as natural disasters caused by climate change, pandemics like COVID-19, and so on.
We can change to confront modern life’s challenges
The Jain tradition teaches that the erosion of human conduct is related to their actions in mind, body, and speech caused by four destructive passions (kaṣāya-s) of anger (krodha), ego (māna), deceit (māyā), and greed (lobha). Aided by the tendencies of attachment (rāga) and malice (dveśa), the destructive passions cause human morality to decline. However, Jain tradition also teaches that it is in our hands to pacify our destructive passions and to stop our moral decline.
Indeed, Jain teachings provide methods to subdue the destructive passions. The explanations of Jain tradition’s intricate kārmic principles facilitate their learning and adoption in daily life. With practices such as reflective contemplation, venerated devotion, and other spiritual exercises, practitioners – whether they are Jain or not – can enhance their self-discipline, reinforce their belief in the self, and strengthen their inherent characteristics of nonviolence and compassion. In the process, one’s destructive traits dissipate away, and are replaced by healthy and moral ways of being in the world. At our best, we break out of the psychological cage created by our egos and are thus prepared to serve the collective, rather than merely our individual ourselves.
Where can I learn these Jain principles?
Arihanta Academy strives to democratize these inspirational teachings with a world-class online education platform for the benefit of all those interested in learning, whether a born Jain or not. Our renowned scholars from around the world facilitate studies in Jain philosophy, ethics, history, anthropology, art, and yoga to advance your understanding and your ability to think critically about what it means to live Jain principles in modern society. We also engage with other fields such as animal studies, environmental studies, and other allied fields of inquiry. By facilitating holistic and critical online education in Jain Studies, Arihanta Academy intends to help you learn how to play an important role for the betterment of society and our planet.
The profundity of Jain wisdom remains as pertinent to modern living as it did millennia ago. At Arihanta Academy, you will learn it, understand it, and know how to apply it in everyday life.