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Home>  Ahimsa>>   Ahimsa is not a religion but a way of life
  
                                         Clare Rosenfield and Linda Segall 
    

 

      

 Introduction
 
We live in a spendthrift universe of continuous giving. Everywhere the sun is radiating its warmth and light. The very breath of life is carried to us upon the air and wind.  Clouds and oceans follow the same law to shower upon us their precious waters. Earth cultivates all manner of vegetation from which grain and fruit sprout forth.  Our bodies are molded of all these gifts.
 What are we giving back to this all providing universe?  Where there is abundance in our lives, are we sharing it or taking more than our share? Though we are receiving of its bounty, are we allowing ignorance, fear, apathy, or ego to blind us to the generous heart of our earth?  Are we saturating the atmosphere, the seas, and the land with deadly wastes and pollutant?  How long will mother nature continue to bear with our ingratitude?
  When blood soaks the land, we label it enemy blood or friend blood, locking up or letting loose our emotions accordingly. In the same way, when the throats of helpless creatures are cut, human minds categorize, rationalize, and explain, cutting hearts off from natural compassion. Where has our human capacity for feeling and empathy gone?
 Short though it is, our time on this planet can be valuable and meaningful, if we choose to discover and live by the laws of life. War, butchering, and all kinds of killing are abominations, antithetical to life.  When we live in the cocoon of possessiveness, resentment, or cold heartened intellect, we support, whether we mean to or not, the machines of power and domination, exploitation and killing.  We become accomplices in the large‑scale destruction of billions of other human and non human lives who, like us, are equally eager to grow, fulfill their needs, and bring their lives to fruition. 
  What we need is a new dimension of thinking, a new directive for living. We need to perceive all planetary life as one interdependent family from which no living being is excluded.  We need to experience the plight and pain of all living beings as if it were our own. Indeed, the pain of others is our own, for the consequences of neglect and apathy cannot be long in coming our way.
  Such a philosophy and practice does exist.  Known as Jainism, it originated thousands of years ago in prehistoric India and was transmitted by twenty‑four exemplary individuals who left the well‑worn ruts of thinking to discover the causes and cures of violence, greed, dogmatism, and war in the human psyche and in the world.  Beginning with Adinatha (or Rushabhadeva) and ending with Mahavira (or Vardhamana) who lived from 599‑527 B.C., each enlightened master or Jina rediscovered the immortal laws of life, placing Ahimsa or nonviolence first and foremost among them.
  Mahavira matured his consciousness during twelve and a half years of silence, meditation, and fasting practices.  The insights he shared during the next thirty years were gathered into forty‑five books known as Agamas.  Thanks to them, the heart of Jainism has been preserved. In one of the sutras, he spoke of Ahimsa in this way:
  Unless we live with non‑violence and reverence for all living beings in our hearts, all our humaneness and acts of goodness, all our vows, virtues, and knowledge, all our practices to give up greed and acquisitiveness are meaningless end useless.
  Jains come from all faiths and all ethnic groups. What they have in common is the guiding of their lives my Reverence for All Life, a principle which includes pacifism and vegetarianism. Jains have been unique in the history of mankind in never having condoned war, the caste system, animal sacrifice, and the killing of animals for food, clothing, or any reason.  As conscientious objectors, Jains relieve that anyone who would not harm an animal would be equally unwilling to shoot his fellow man.  The Indian government respects this, and the four million Jains living in India today and thousands more living abroad are exempted from the draft. 
  Attesting to this rare heritage, American scientist Carl Sagan said in a Time Magazine, October.  2O, 198O interview: There is no right to life in any society on earth today, nor his there been it any former time with a few rare exceptions, such us among the Jains of India.  We raise form animals for slaughter, destroy forests, pollute rivers and lakes until no fish can live there, hunt deer and elk for sport. 
   Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged the powerful impact the Jain philosophy of Ahimsa had upon his personal and political decisions.  His example inspired pacifists around the world, including the Reverend Martin Luther King,Jr. 

 
For generations, Jain teachings have teen transmitted from master to disciple. Present day philosopher, teacher, and spiritual leader, Pujya Shree Chitrabhanu, is now making this ancient philosophy available to a large number of people in countries beyond the borders of India. In his youth, after working with Gandhi for the freedom of India, he decided to become a Jain monk. Under the guidance of his master, he used the first five year for silence, meditation, and study.  Leading the itinerant life, he covered thousands of miles on his bare feet, and in twenty eight years as a monk, became a beloved figure to his countrymen.  Through talks in villages and towns, he inspired people to experience the miracle of their life and to lift their vision to a global purpose. 
   A contemplative who believes in translating humanitarian dreams into action, Shree Chitrabhanu founded (in 1964,) the Divine Knowledge Society in Bombay where he initiated social welfare projects, disaster relief work, animal shelters, and children's homes.  He and his colleagues brought about an agreement with the legislators and butchers of Bombay to close the slaughterhouses each year on eight holy days celebrated my people of all faiths. In visits to Kenya, he has inspired the Indian community to raise funds to help fellow Africans who are handicapped and crippled, and those suffering from eye ailments.  They opened free clinics and eye camps where volunteer Indian doctors removed cataracts from people who had relieved themselves incurably blind.
  Through talks, books, and meditation centers, Shree Chitrabhanu is helping people worldwide to appreciate the sanctity of all life and to uproot the causes of war. For the sake of our children and all of planetary life, we seek to create a new dawn in human consciousness. We want to bequeath to all not only a planet and ecosystem free from man made suffering, bloodshed, and war, rut also the positive legacy of Reverence for All Life.  It is our hope that this series of questions and answers will add to the momentum for peace in the world and contribute to it the clarity and harmony of the Jain approach.
  

 WHAT IS THE PHILOSOPHY AND PRACTICE OF REVERENCE FOR ALL LIFE? 
More than twenty-five hundred years ago, Mahavira made a simple yet profound statement, based on the absorption of Non‑violence into the fabric of his consciousness.  He realized, "All of life is just like me.  I want to live.  So do all souls, all living beings. The instinct of self preservation is universal.  Every animate being clings to life and fears death. Each of us wants to be free from pain.  So let me carry out all of my activities with great care not to be harmful to any living being." 
 The philosophy of Non‑violence is a living practice. More than refraining from violence, it is a deep Reverence for All Life.  It starts by cultivating a genuine respect for oneself; one's consciousness or life force, and for each of its supportive elements the body, mind and emotions.  We come to realize that our life force is precious and that we are here to respect and reveal its innate wisdom.  It is a process of taking care of both our inner being and the material envelope in which it dwells.  Like a mother nurturing the development of her child, we do what is healthful and helpful for our spiritual growth.
 Most of us are not used to treating ourselves with gentleness and love.  It requires a conscious decision.  The practice of Reverence for All Life begins with a decision not to take any hurtful influence into our body or mind.  This is called samvara, stoppage, or stepping apart from the rat race, discontinuing Pain creating habits, and re‑evaluating one's life. 
 The automatic and mechanical aspects of living cease to rule us when we activate our faculty of observation and self inquiry.  We take time to notice the universal law of cause and effect and how it is functioning as a precise computer in our lives. There is a real connection between the vibration we send out and the pain or pleasure we receive. When we radiate loving, kindness, joy, and friendliness, that multiplies and comes back to us. Violent thoughts are as real as the tangible world. They, too, return to us. 
 When anger, jealousy, or unfulfilled ambitions goad us, the one whom we damage first is our own self.  This is equally true of harsh, slanderous, or critical speech.  It works like a match stick; before it ignites something else, it burns its own mouth. 
 Through the practice of self‑respect, we recognize that our peace is the most precious thing in the world.  Before hating, judging, or treating anyone as an inferior, we check ourselves.  Before buying or using any product, we ask, "By my action, am I causing any living being to pay a price in pain?  Directly or indirectly, am I causing a life to be lost?" 

 We take the help of meditation to know and remember what we really are.  In our natural state, our soul is nothing but love, energy, peace, and bliss.  Gradually we glide to a peak of realization and joy, exclaiming, "I am life!  I am a living conscious energy!  I feel my life force moving in all my limps and awakening all my cells with awareness!" 
 At the heart of the experience of self reverence, we realize that the same energy which is pulsating in us is also vibrating in all living beings.  When this awareness dawns, we see through a new set of eyes. We feel an uninterrupted connection from our innermost being to the soul force alive in all. 
 This experience enables us to recognize, in Shree Chitrabhanu's words, "that the universe is not for man alone.  It is a field of evolution for all of life's forms.  Jainism teaches that life is life, not only in people of all lands, colors, and beliefs, but is of the same sacred quality in all creatures, right down to the tiny ant and humble worm. Consciousness exists in everything which grows, regardless of the size of its form.  Though different forms are not the same in mental capacity and sensory apparatus, the life force is equally worthy in all." 
 From the moment this awareness becomes a par of our daily life, we find that traits and habits which used to limit us fall away naturally.  We are no longer able to invite pain and disease to our bodies through uninformed eating habits.  The vegetarian way of life becomes a natural outcome of inner understanding. 
 At the same time, it becomes imperative for our well being and continued evolution to forgive, drop and forget those painful vibrations we may still be carrying in our mind.  With courage and compassion, we can remove them.  It is a gradual process.  If we realize that the hurts and scars from the past came to us my our own invitation, we can stop focusing on blaming and retribution.  once we take responsibility for our own pain, we can transcend it.  We can see its purpose to act as compost, breaking open the harsh outer shell of our heart and helping the soft flower of compassion and kindness to blossom. 
 In this way, the trials of life become fuel for our growth, and we come closer to our goal, Self Realization.  As an instrument tuning itself to the right key, we tune ourselves to Reverence for All Life. By doing everything we can to minimize violence and pain to life, we enjoy living with a cleansed consciousness and a light heart.
 

 WHAT IS THE JAIN APPROACH TO LIFE'S ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION?
 
 
 
Jain masters hold that in each living being there is a partnership between the energy of matter which has no consciousness and that of soul, which is conscious. Without the latter, the former would be inanimate.  Because of the dynamic impact of soul force in the body, it grows and evolves.  Both energies, attam (atom) and atma (soul) are considered to be the permanent constituents of the universe, without beginning or end in the sense that matter continually changes, regroups its molecules, and decomposes but never disappears, and soul keeps on evolving until it reveals its true identity and becomes fully liberated from the gravitational pull of matter and mind.  The idea of creation is not a question here.  Matter is, was, and will be, in one form or another, and soul is, was, and will be, dwelling in a body until its ultimate release.  
 When Jains speak of evolution, it is primarily of consciousness, an unfolding of the divine potential through loving, kindness and awareness.  It is experienced as an ascension to merge with those who have already reached the pinnacle and whose fragrance of universality perfumes the entire cosmos everlastingly. 

 Our physical evolution follows according to this inner refinement. Just as milk and water becomes indistinguishable in a mixed form, so soul and matter seem to be inseparable while they are participating mutually in a continuous process.  When we become aware that we have been journeying from beginning less time from one form of life to another, from one lifetime to another, our life's purpose becomes clearer.  Also, our compassion for less developed life forms is increased.  We realize that we too, had to pass through those stages. Once we were among them; one day they will be among us. 
 When we discover that as humans, we are now at the highest rung of the evolutionary ladder, a new gratitude overwhelms us.  We are no longer helpless.  We can take charge of our lives and take the last step of evolution consciously.  For that, we work toward freeing ourselves from remnants of previous instinctive stages; ignorance, anger, greed, fear, competitiveness.  We stop generating pain and start regarding each other with reverence and respect.  Prosperity consciousness replaces emotional aridity, and an appreciation of the universe's bounty erases the feeling of poverty and lack.
 
HOW CAN WE LIVE IN THIS WORLD WITH OUT TAKING LIFE AND CAUSING VIOLENCE? 

 
In Jain philosophy, the answer lies in taking care to minimize the harm one does and to direct one's actions with the intention to revere live.  This requires vigilance, awareness of motives, and fearlessness to live in tune with nature's laws.  The underlying feeling is not to inspire fear in any living being; it is opening one's heart to life. Intention is what counts.  Living in reverence means not condoning or consenting to any form of violence, even if someone else is willing to be the active perpetrator.  It also means trying to prevent it before it happens, and trying to stop it once it has begun.  Throughout history, Jain monks have tried to stop priests from other religions from dragging animals to altars to be sacrificed. Under Mahavira's gentle influence, many kings abolished in their lands slavery, the caste system, degradation of women, hunting, butchering, and sacrificing of animals, and many people were inspired to live in Ahimsa and Non-violence. 
 It is true that just my breathing, using water, treading on earth, and taking plants as wood, we ore causing lives to be lost.  The emphasis lies in reducing to a minimum the harm we do in order to survive. 
 We have to make a choice.  Rather than take the flesh and blood of animals who have already evolved all five senses and a highly developed brain, whose nervous system and emotional life are so similar to ours, and in whose veins blood runs, as in our own, we sustain our bodies with the help of the bloodless plant kingdom, which has not yet developed any of the senses of taste, smell, seeing, or hearing. 
 The more sensory apparatus, the more a life form can be sensitive to pain.  Since fish, birds, and animals are equipped in this way, we refuse to be a cause to their agony and pain.  Also, when we observe how dearly animals cling to life and struggle to survive, how much they are dominated my fear, we drop any notions of using or exploiting them.  We feel for their helplessness in the face of man's gluttony, greed, and callousness; we want to see them live unmolested. 
 Most vegetables are harvested at the end of their natural life cycle. Many of them, such as berries, melons, beans, peas, squash, okra, pumpkins, nuts, and fruit from trees can be picked without uprooting the whole plant.  Nevertheless, we realize with humility that every fruit, leaf, grain that we end on our plate had to lose its life in order to give us life.  Without the plants to whom we are helplessly bound, we would not be able to survive, and therefore, to evolve. That is why Jain Monks recite this blessing before the daily meals:  
 
Aho Jinehim asavvajja vittisahuna desiya 
Mukkha Sahara heoosa sahu dehassa dharana. 
 
O Jinas!  What a wonderful teaching you have given us!  You have taught us to take only that food which is innocent, benign, and healthy, because it has not been procured through causing bloodshed. 
 You have taught us to know why we eat, to sustain the body, end to do so for one main reason, to unfold our life and reach ultimate liberation. 
 With this sense of appreciation, we eat with respect and restraint, without taking more than we need.  And we say, as the native Americans did, "Dear plants, some day our bodies will return to you, to become food for the nourishment of your roots."
 

 

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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