Jainism & Environment

By Mr. Pravin K. Shah


Lord Mahävir preached a universal truth for all times to come when he said, “One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation, disregards his own existence which is entwined with them”. Not only did he preach on environmental and ecological issues, but his entire life was also an example of how to live in perfect harmony with the environment.

The following ancient Jain aphorism is refreshingly contemporary in its promise and forms the basis of the modern day science of ecology.

“Parasparopagraho Jivänäm.”
All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence
Environment is imbued (saturated) with living beings therefore if we harm “ONE” we harm “ALL” living beings.

The Main Tenets of Jainism Are :
Ahimsa (Non-violence)
Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness / Self restraints)
Anekäntaväda (Pluralism of view points / Open Mindedness)
Of which Ahimsa and Aparigraha relate to Environment
Ahimsa (Non-violence)
Jainism believes that the five basic elements (earth, water, fire, air, and vegetation) of the universe make our environment possess life. They have their own physical body. They possess only one sense (touch) while insects, birds, fish, animals and humans possess two to five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing). Also human beings alone are blessed with the sixth sense of advanced developed thinking. Therefore, they are responsible for achieving oneness and harmony with all life by being careful, compassionate, loving and nonviolent.

Survival of any life is not possible with absolute non-violence. Every living being needs organic food for its existence and organic food contains life. Hence the destruction of one or the other form of life is essential for food. However Jain belief states that a living being with higher number of senses feels more pain. Therefore, the destruction of higher sense living beings (exploiting or killing of animals, birds, and fish) for food is considered more cruel act because it inflicts more pain in them. It also causes a greater destruction to environment. Hence Jainism advocates vegetarianism compared to non-vegetarian food.

Raising animals for food not only involves significant cruelty towards animals but also consume significantly higher natural resources than vegetarian food and it creates significant environmental unbalance. The following information explains the magnitude of cruelty and the impact on the environment.

Dairy Industry : Over the past 50 to 70 years, more than 95% milk has been produced by the commercial dairy. The dairy cow now produces 5 times more milk then it did about 70 years ago (Ref - The National Dairy Farm Magazine Dec 2004). To increase the milk yield and to reduce the cost of maintaining less productive cows, the following practices have been used by the dairy industries:

To Increase Milk Yield
Cows are kept pregnant continually. 
Hormones or drugs are injected to cows.
To Reduce Operating Cost 
The mother cows are slaughtered after four years of their fertile life (life expectancy of cow is 15 to 20 years) because milk yield drops significantly.

70% to 80% of baby calves are slaughtered within six months by Veal industry or within two to four years by beef industry because the dairy industry can not absorb 100% growth rate every year (every cow delivers one baby calf every year).

In old times, the dairy cows were raised as a part of the family and the cows were living their natural life. After feeding the baby calf, the excess milk was consumed by humans and the consumption of this milk was considered a gift of nature. Today the magnitude of cruelty in the production of milk is significant throughout a cow's life and is similar to the production of meat. Besides, the killing of these animals, results in polluting our land, air, and water systems.

Slaughter House Waste : According to article published in New York Times dated May 12, 1996 reports that more than 150,000 cows and calves, 350,000 hogs, and 24,000,000 chickens are killed per day in USA. The current number is significantly higher. About 30% of the animal body parts are not consumed by humans. The waste released in the environment by the United States meat and dairy industry is about 230,000 pounds per second, polluting our land, air and water systems (Source: USDA 2001). Both dairy and meat industry economically support each other. One can not exist without the other.

Greenhouse Effect : World population of 1.3 billion cows that is inflated due to raising them for food, annually produce 100 million tons of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas which traps 25 times as much solar heat as carbon dioxide.

Water Consumption : Livestock (cattle, calves, hogs, and pigs) production accounts for more than half of all the water consumed in USA. To produce 1 lb. of meat, an average of 2500 gallons of water is used as compared to 1 lb. of wheat requires 108 gallons of water, 1 lb. of rice needs 229 gallons of water, and 1 lb. of potatoes require just 60 gallons of water.

Land Usage : Considering the consumption of food by live stock, an average 40 lbs of vegetation is used to produce 1 lb of meat. Hence to support meat and dairy industries, half of American croplands grow livestock feed. A third of the land of North America is devoted to grazing. Also 220 million acres of land in the USA have been deforested for livestock production and 25 million acres in Brazil, and half the forests in Central America.

Impact on Health: Vegetarian food does not contain any cholesterol. Cholesterol exists in animal base foods (Milk, Meat etc.) because it is produced by liver. The people who consume high amount of dairy and meat products have high cholesterol level which in turn results in serious health problem such as heart attack. Some of the vegetarians have high cholesterol because their vegetarian diet contains high degree of saturated fat - fried foods and oils. Other health problems such as prostate cancer are also now strongly linked with dairy products.

Aparigraha (Non-Possessiveness / Self Restraints) : Lord Mahävir states “Aparigraha seve attai karanti prananam behanam” which means that we destroy other lives because of our greed and possessiveness. This is the primary cause of all violence as well as imbalance in the environment.

Non-possessiveness / self-restraint is the second most important Jain tenet. Jainism advocates that we should reduce our needs and wants as far as possible. Nature provides enough for our NEED not enough for our GREED. We need to use our resources wisely and reuse / recycle products. By reusing and recycling products we are not wasting the gifts of nature. Also by minimizing consumption, we provide respect for other's life and environment. The tenet non-possessiveness advocates putting a limit on our possession and using our excess wealth for the welfare of the society at large.

Summary : In summary the teaching of Jainism advocate the following practices in daily life: 
Respect the lives of others and the environment we live in. 
Be compassionate, practice non-violence, and do not inflict any pains to movable (higher sensed) living beings. Minimize harm to air, water, earth, fire, and vegetations. 
Be vegetarian and avoid the use of animal based products in all walks of life. 
Practice self-restraint. Reduce needs and wants as far as possible. Use excess for the welfare of the society. 
Eliminate waste, reuse / recycle products, share resources, and do not waste the gifts of nature.
Jainism in Action is an eco-friendly religion which preserves and protects the Earth and Environment, respects the lives of animals, birds, fish, and other beings, and promotes the welfare of the society through the application of its primary tenets of non-violence and Non-possessiveness.

Quote from Shri Arun Gandhi : "I was walking home from school with my notebook and pencil. It was only a little butt of a pencil and I thought I deserved a better one. I threw it away on the ground thinking of course grandfather (Mahatma Gandhiji) will give me a new one. When I asked him he started asking me loads of questions. How did it get so small? Why did I throw it away? He made me look for it in the dark with a flashlight. I spent three or four hours searching! Then he said to me he wanted me to learn two lessons.

The first lesson was that in making such a simple pencil many important resources had been used; throwing it away was violence against nature.

The second lesson was that we over consume and waste natural resources depriving others of those resources; this was violence against humanity."



Author Details : Mr. Pravin K. Shah
Chairperson Jaina Education Committee
 Federation of Jain Associations in North America
509, Carriage Woods Circle Raleigh, NC 27607-3969, USA
E-Mail : education@jaina.org


Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation