Understanding how moral values and a sense of obligation can come from beliefs and experience;
Evaluating their own and others’ values in order to make informed, rational and imaginative choices.
The Tirthankaras (Prophets) laid down the path of liberation for future generations and it was based on core values, right living and conduct and right knowledge and faith.
These core values are:
– Ahimsa – non-violence in thought, word and deed
– Anekant – respect for different viewpoints and beliefs
– Aparigraha – non-materialism and simplicity of living
– Asteya – non-stealing and abidance of the law
– Satya – Truthful living with sincerity and integrity
– Brahmacharya – Restraint in sensual indulgence
The source of these values are the scriptures which have been derived from the wisdom of the founding prophets or Tirthankaras. Violence, Greed, Possessiveness, Ignorance, Lies and Deceit, Sensual Indulgence are considered to be wrong. Greed is seen as a type of violence and an exploitation of others right to live and be happy. Peaceful living and thinking, modest eating and simple living without greed or malice, honesty and sincerity in thought and action, tolerance and respect for different peoples and faiths are considered right.
Vegetarianism is a central tenet of the faith and diet and exercise are considered very important to spiritual progress. Jains have been strict vegetarians for thousands of years and have developed a vast and varied cuisine which is healthy, nourishing and balanced. Monks even wear a cloth over their mouths and brush the road before them when they walk in order not to harm any living thing, including insects. Jains have animal sanctuaries called panjrapoors and the principle of ahimsa, or non-violence, has inspired many great people in modern times, including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther-King Jr.
Sexual indulgence is discouraged, euthanasia is also seen as an escape from life and discouraged, abortion is also a form of violence and capital punishment is seen as harsh and unjust. War is to be avoided as far as possible, but defence is allowed. Wherever possible, problems should be solved through dialogue, tolerance and diplomacy.
Interdependence is the key wisdom of the Universe – parasparopagraho jivanam. Happiness cannot be built at the expense of pain on others. Nature is not separate but a core fabric of life and its protection is synonymous with the protection of human life. Truthful living with honesty and integrity is a vital principle. People should look at the mirror not to admire their own beauty but to see their own imperfections and rise beyond them. Lying, deceit or deception is to be avoided at any cost. Consciences should be clean and should not bear any scars or fears – people should love all, including their enemies.
Duties are given very high importance in the faith. A person has duties to his or her family, community, society and the universe at various levels without boundaries or borders. The individual merges into the family, society, country, planet and universe and there is a profound understanding of interdependence of all living beings. Hence citizenship obligations, environmental and social justice are critical, not just for the protection of the individual but for the protection of all living beings.
The greatest action is seen through personal example and conduct and this is given the highest importance. Political engagement and action is subsidiary to this and must always be exercised with great humility and responsibility and not as a seat to personal power or prestige. Being a Jain is to take responsibility and not abrogate it. Active citizenship, whether in the local community or school or in the national polity, is encouraged and observed.
The philosophy of non-violence influenced Mahatma Gandhi who used to free a whole society from colonialism and later came to influence people like Martin Luther King Jr. Jains have a beautiful psychoanalysis of the methods of ethical living with a pure mind and they believe this is much needed in the world today.
Jains avoid professions which involve harm to other living beings such as butchery, leather trade, even military and go for medicine, accountancy, education, dentistry and are widely recognized as highly skilled traders and businessmen. Their self-discipline and integrity often puts them in leadership positions in the trades and professions they pursue.
From the beginning, the faith had a universal outlook. The entire cosmology of the Universe is elaborated in the scriptures. Hence global concerns and issues have never been alien to the faith. They are more pertinent today as Jains have spread out geographically, live in different parts of the world and travel frequently – thus there is added exposure. Through education and the arts, different methods of communication and expression are used to share Jain wisdom and learn from other faith and wisdom traditions. Jains have media like newsletters and magazines, events like conferences at a national and international level, youth organizations like the Young Jains which are spread out globally and also use forums like the internet and the world wide web, where there are at least one hundred quality websites on Jain wisdom and Jain bulletin boards.
Jain values are often perceived by the followers to be very timely and prescient for the 21st century. Issues like the food and health crisis, animal cruelty and abuse, environmental catastrophe, business ethics, value-based education, personal and emotional development, family values and community cohesion, are all actively discussed and disseminated. Anup Shah, brought up a Jain, but saying that now he is ‘not really religious as such’, runs the Global Issues website: http://www.globalissues.org which ‘presents numerous global issues, aiming to show how they are inter-related’.
No difference is seen between the local and the global – one is seen to merge into another without boundaries or borders. Global issues such as climate change, poverty, animal abuse and calamity have resulted in many campaigns and practical actions of help and support. At the same time, it is recognized that living the faith with honesty and integrity manifests these wider concerns as a natural extension of everyday life.
Jains are one of the most highly educated communities in Britain so there is not a major problem to bring quality into these discussions – and often this quality comes not just from thought but through lived experience. As Jain Dharma is one of the oldest sciences of sustainable living and practice, Jains say they can bring huge insight to all the contemporary debates, and do so through lived experience and integrity, not just because the ideas are fashionable or timely.
Banks, M., 1992. Organising Jainism in India and England. Oxford, OUP.
Cort, J.E., 2001. Jains in the World – Ideology and Religious Values in India. n.l.: n.s.
Dundas, P., 2002. The Jains. London: Routledge.
Granoff, P., 1998. The Forest of Thieves – An anthology of medieval Jain stories.n.l.: n.s.
Jain, M., 2005. Jain Food – Compassionate and Healthy Eating. USA: n.s.
Jaini, P., 1998. The Jaina Path of Purification.New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Pal, P., 1994. Peaceful Liberators – Jain Art from India.Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Rankin, A., 2006. The Jain Path – Ancient Wisdom for the West.n.l.: O Books.
Sangave, V., 1980. Jaina Community.Bombay: n.s.
In Association with Amazon