IntroductionAho Jinehim asavvajja
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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."