Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Andrea Diem-Lane is a tenured Professor of Philosophy at Mt. San Antonio College, where she has been teaching since 1991. Professor Diem has published several scholarly books and articles, including The Gnostic Mystery and When Gods Decay. She is married to Dr. David Lane, with whom she has two children, Shaun-Michael and Kelly-Joseph.

The Two Minute Warning

Jainism and the Practice of Ahimsa

Andrea Diem-Lane

Jainism arose as a systematic response to human and animal violence by positing a radical alternative—the path of ahimsa or non-violence.

Much of the violence that we as humans inflict on others happens in less than two minutes. Whether it is rage against a driver who abruptly turns into our freeway lane or anger from a surfer who takes off a wave we believed was ours alone. Michael Tobias in his book Life Force, writes at length about the ancient Jain practice of ahimsa, or non-violence, and how becoming acutely aware of the suffering of others can be mitigated if we just stopped and deeply thought about how much unnecessary pain and suffering we cause to a variety of life forms surrounding us.

As Tobias explains,

“To temper that killer in man, and the subsequent killing fields, is to grope with those few moments where conflict begins. Two minutes of unthinking, unfeeling behavior: Whether in the eating of a hamburger, the casting of a fishing line, or, more subtly, the habit of taking one?s children to a circus to view animals who in fact have been reduced to insanity and pain. Two minutes of our own insanity, in the breeding of captive animals who were meant to be free, or worse—the abandoning of those pets to certain death; in the reining , or worse, the racing of horses; the killing of bugs in a frenzy of vindictiveness, as opposed to more patiently removing them without injury. The litany of transgressions cascades with numbing ubiquity. And it all comes down to the collaborations—mindful of not—with atrocity carried out by, or on behalf of humans, and committed against other living creatures—whether around the dinner table, on the job, on the farm, the ranch, in the street, at the grocery store?”

Jainism arose as a systematic response to human and animal violence by positing a radical alternative—the path of ahimsa or non-violence.

Sculpture depicting Ahimsa, the fundamental tenet of Jainism (Wikipedia)

Their argument is a simple but profound one. If we can lessen the pain and suffering of those around us why not choose that option instead of needlessly perpetuating the never ending cycle of violent retribution. Jainism raises a most pregnant question for all of us: how big is our circle of compassion? Can we extend its circumference beyond our selves and ken to include other human beings not of our tribe and even further to include animals and other living beings?

In those brief moments where we almost instinctively lash out others, can we instead pause and change our responses? The Jains believe that we can and have of demonstrated over hundreds of years of how it can be ecologically and ethically successful. It is a very telling fact, indeed, that Jainism is the only major world religion that has never engaged in war.

(part 1 of a 10 part series on books
concerning Jainism and Ahimsa)

Michael Tobias, Life Force: The World of Jainism
While teaching World Religions every semester I take a week or two of the 15 week term and cover the tradition of Jainism, always making sure to include in the lesson plan one of my favorite world religions films entitled Ahimsa-Non-Violence, narrated by Lindsey Wagner and written and directed by Michael Tobias. Over the years I have watched this fabulous movie so many times I have essentially memorized the script. When reading Life Force: The World of Jainism by Michael Tobias I was pleasantly surprised that so many of the passages in the book were part of the film?s script. As such, the book and the film are a perfect complimentary duo.
The title of the book, Life Force, refers to “many wedded souls” that make up all of nature and thus invoke a sense of reverence for life. Though Jains do not worship nature per se, they honor it and see violence towards it as hurting oneself. To “live harmoniously” with love and compassion in a world inherently embedded with pain is one of the main principles of Jainism. Other religions may speak of love and compassion but Jainism stands apart from these. Unlike many world religions which have often engaged in war and various atrocities, this religion does not deviate from its position of compassion. It embraces the earth and all its constituents as equals and as such makes an “ecological contract” to respect even the smallest insect. This “hylozoistic” view of nature, that all life teems with souls of ontologically equivalent value, whether it is a mosquito, a bird or a human, permeates Jain thinking for millennia and can even breathe fresh air into our modern environmentalist thinking. Tobias goes as far as to suggest that Jainism?s ahimsa approach is “the solution” to the global environmental problems we face.
This prescriptive message is not lost when the author makes his “two minute argument.” For the two minutes that we may enjoy eating the hamburger patty, the hooking a fish on a line or unnecessarily shooting an animal in the wilderness there was so much pain and death that occurs. For such a small moment of two minute pleasure one may garner from such acts, another being had to suffer and die. Jainism repositions the ethical mirror back to ourselves so that we make look ourselves squarely in the eye and ask was that two minutes really worth it.
“Live deliberately” is the moto of Jainism. With each action one must tread lightly and be aware of the consequences of each step, each brush of one?s skin, each bite one takes. One is expected to not just live the ahimsa life but, as the oldest text of Jainism, the Acaranga Sutra, attests, “not to let others cause himsa (violence).” This promotes an activist role, as the many Jain animal shelters throughout India confirm. However, if our own actions result in himsa of some kind, such as accidentally breathing in a gnat or stepping on a seed that is germinating, with an optimistic attitude one can “start fresh” the next day and refocus. Certainly, from Jain philosophy the karma of our actions, like a sticky residue, marks our soul but the waking up to a new slate and working toward a better world is a theme that regenerates hope.
The author?s enthusiasm for this tradition is obvious in his statement that to all who study Jainism “conversion is unavoidable.” In his passion for this tradition, Tobias even argues that Jainism is the oldest living world religion today, having roots back to the Indus Valley Civilization of India. “The cult of ahimsa” as espoused by Jainism, he asserts, was alive almost 5000 years ago in the Bronze Age, despite many scholars arguing that Jain roots go back historically to the last two Jinas, Mahavira of the 6th century BCE and Parshva in the 9th century BCE. Its pre-Aryan/pre-Vedic roots are obvious, he explains, in the naked yogi images found in Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. Moreover, he points to the Indus Valley Civilization image of the bull, an animal also connected to the first Jina or Tirthankara, Rishabha, as evidence. Tobias eagerly adds in his appreciation of Jainism that Jains can be credited with recognizing atoms (called anu) even long before the Greek thinker Democritus and for offering an in depth Jain biology which recognized thousands of species much earlier than Aristotle.
What is most notable about Tobias? monograph is the personal encounter he shares with the reader about his trip to India and his research of the Jain community there. As he describes the magnificent Jain temples of white marble he introduces to the reader the Digambara monks he encounters and the thoughtful conversations they had. Since there are only 65 Digambara ascetics alive at the time he wrote this book, meeting two of them was a very special event. Quite touching was the blessing the monks conferred to him upon departing, a salutation in Jainism that reads: “I forgive all beings, may all beings forgive me. I have friendship toward all, malice toward none.” This announcement captures what Jainism is all about.

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