the practice of ahimsa is the true essence of jainism. jain doctrine teaches that the universe is filled with an abundance of life and that each being without exception is of importance and that any injury even accidental caused to any being effects the order of the entire world. jains should be non-violent toward all other living beings, including their own selves, this not only by deed but also in thought and word. jains take painstaking effort to preserve the life and wellbeing of all creatures. moreover one should love every living being with no discrimination because all creatures are considered to have the potential for divinity no matter in what form they exist and all have the same potential to be liberated from the cycle of rebirth and achieve enlightenment and eternal bliss. jains teach that we should love and protect any animal even if it is ill disposed to us. nonetheless a jain practitioner is allowed to protect himself from attack with intent to harm. in jainism even the smallest being is a jiva, a jiva is the immortal essence that survives the physical death of any living being be it a plant or animal, jivas should not be hurt and given protection. again rather like buddhism, jainism teaches that all beings wish to live, all desire happiness and wish to avoid misery and suffering and none wish to die. for all living beings the essence or soul if you like is the same whether it is a plant or an animal including a human being and moreover the soul may take any form, an elephant, a goat, an ant, a bee, a fish, a human.
life exists everywhere, in the earth, water, fire and air and vegetables. and it is because of the ubiquitous profusion of life that a follower of jainism will have to take extreme caution as mentioned earlier, such as for example whilst walking look where they tread and walk only barefoot to avoid killing tiny creatures and not walk out at night when it would be difficult to see insects and other small beings and also avoid nocturnal meals. some of the more strict rules though as already mentioned apply only to monks and nuns. jains are admonished to avoid negative states of being such as anger, pride, jealously, deceit, greed, attachment, aversion all of which are hindrances to spiritual advancement.
an eloquent description of the obligations of a jain monastic or lay person is expressed in the quotation below,
anger, pride, deceit, greed, attachment, aversion all these are our terrible foes. one should be away from them.
avoid nocturnal meals, look the ground you tread upon lest any injury may be done to any living being, filter water and other liquids and then use them.
do not speak ill of anybody, nor feel jealous. avoid strives and quarrels. maintain mutual good-will and do not do evil to anybody. be delighted at the, sight of virtuous. be desirous of allaying the sufferings of the unhappy. be friendly towards all living beings. by giving pain to others, one will have to experience bitter fruits. therefore, one desiring happiness should make others happy. inculcate the spirit of equanimity towards others. be charitable, try to uplift the poor and the afflicted, observe the best moral standards in your conduct i.e. make your character an ideal one, practice austerities to the best of your abilities and lead a life of the pure and noble thinking. this is the principal message of the jain religion.
it is extremely difficult to get this human existence. one should therefore shake off idleness and indolence, instill and practice religion and, thereby, enjoy the endless and unobstructed happiness of the final beatitude.
there are approximately 8.4 million species on earth. this defies credibility and it is difficult to envision so many beings . humans are only one species amongst many and according to jain belief humans have no more rights than any of the myriad creatures with whom we share this world. all beings both human and non human have an equal right to life, there is no discrimination. humans have no right to subdue other beings, and do not have dominion over any creature. however unlike other beings jains believe that human beings have an obligation to practice non violence and to care for other creatures.
this concept is well illustrated in a jain story concerning neminath bhagwan the twenty first tirthankara and his compassion for animals –
one story best expresses the jain attitude toward animals. once neminath, a young prince, arriving as a bridegroom with his marriage entourage to the house of his bride, saw near the house an enclosure of animals, tightly packed, waiting to be slaughtered. shocked by the cry of the animals, the prince enquired, “why are those animals being kept in such cruel conditions?” his aides replied, “they are for the feast of the wedding party.”
the young prince was overwhelmed with compassion. arriving at the wedding chamber, he spoke with the father of the princess. “immediately and unconditionally all those animals enclosed to be slaughtered for the marriage feast must be freed,” he said. “why?” responded the father. “the lives of animals are there for the pleasure of humans. animals are our slaves and our meat. how can there be any feast without the flesh?!”
prince neminath was puzzled. he could not believe what he had just heard. he exclaimed, “animals have souls, they have consciousness, they are our kith and kin, they are our ancestors. they wish to live as much as we do; they have feelings and emotions. they have love and passion; they fear death as much as we do. their instinct for life is no less than ours. their right to live is as fundamental as our own. i cannot marry, i cannot love and i cannot enjoy life if animals are enslaved and killed.” without further ado he rejected the plans for his marriage, he discarded the comfortable life of a prince, and he responded to his inner calling to go out and awaken the sleepy masses who had been conditioned to think selfishly and kill animals for their pleasure and comfort.
for jains all life is sacred every being has the right to life, no living being need have fear from anyone who has taken the vow of ahimsa. according to jainism, the protection of life, also known as abhayadānam, is the supreme charity that a person can make.
in keeping with the principle of ahimsa therefore jains care for animals in sanctuaries where even the sickest and most deformed creatures receive protection and care. in jainism there is no room for the virtually world wide assumption that man takes precedence over other beings.
jains subscribe to the sanctuary movement. although jains believe that animals should live their lives free from the detrimental interference of human beings, jains consider that they should help animals who are injured or ill or otherwise cannot care for themselves.
throughout india, jains run animal shelters; delhi has a bird hospital run by jains. every city and town in bundelkhand , a region in central india an ancient centre of jainism, has animal shelters run by jains where all manner of animals are sheltered even though the shelter is generally known as a gaushala (“sacred cow”). you will find that in every village and major city throughout india animal sanctuaries known as known as panjorapors care for stray, injured sick or old animals of all kinds such as birds, camels, water buffalo, cows, in a loving environment and visited at least once a week by veterinarians. when healed, wild animals are returned to their natural environment. jains though care also for chronically sick or old animals indefinitely if they are unable to care for themselves until they die a natural death, there is no place in jainism for the termination of the life of any creature for any reason and the euthanasia of any being is prohibited as it is an act of violence. naturally in jain belief hunting is banned, it is considered wrong to kill ferocious carnivores animals which kill other animals, a reason often given to justify hunting. another erroneous excuse put forward to justify the killing of carnivorous animals is that because they kill so many other creatures they accumulate negative karma and that killing them is an act of mercy. it is amazing the excuses people may find to kill or harm animals, but in jianism there can be found no excuse whatsoever. killing can never be an act of mercy in any guise and remains always an act of violence,
the goal of jainism is one of non interference with the rights of animals to live out their natural lives.
jains the world over practice active compassion towards animals and either run or fund animal sanctuaries
jainism believes in the equality of all souls and reverence for life in its totality. it accords significance to the minutest living organisms. animal welfare, vegetarianism and care of the environment are very much at the heart of jain beliefs. relative pluralism has made jains tolerant towards other faiths. jainism does not believe in active conversion, but accepts a person, irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender, as jain, who follows the jain way of life.