Why Animals Matter: A Religious and Philosophical Perspective Introduction
Page One Introduction and Brief History of Jainism
Page One Page Two Page Three Page Four Jainism Quotations
The Arhats and Bhagavats of the past, present, and future, all say thus, speak thus, declare thus, explain thus: all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away.
Akaranga Sutra, Book 1, Fourth Lecture, Called Righteousness, First Lesson
To preach animal rights to a Jain practitioner would, as the saying goes, be preaching to the converted. Of all the world's religions Jainism has to be foremost with regards to its compassionate and non violent approach to other living beings. The Jain Ãgamas - canonical texts based on the teachings of Mahavira who, although he was the last of 24 Tirthankaras, (enlightened beings), is recognised as the founder of Jainism, - teach great reverence for all life forms and practice strict vegetarianism, asceticism and nonviolence, Ahimsa.
From the tiniest insect unseen by the human eye to an elephant all life is sacred including the lives of plants, and all beings should be respected. The environmental awareness that we have today was long known to those who practice Jainism, as is also our rightful place in the universe, not as having dominion over the earth and its creatures but as part of an interconnected network with all beings, all of whom according to Jain belief are equal and have as much right to life as you or I or any human being. Human beings are merely a part of the natural world and are neither separate from it, above or beyond it. Jainism is a religion of love and compassion, the principle of ahimsa - non violence - is central to its philosophy and codes of conduct.
There is no place in Jainism for factory farming, for animal experimentation, or the use of animals for labour or indeed any abusive and cruel behaviour towards any living being. If the whole world followed the principles of Jainism the world would in every sense of the word be a better place to live with no violence perpetrated towards either man or other animals. Indeed if humanity trod the path of Jainism the impending calamity of global warming, the extinction of species and the atrocities of factory farming and other abuse would never have come about.
Before we go further lets look briefly at the history and beliefs of Jainism
Jainism is a very ancient religion although in the context of Jain belief it has no beginning, and indeed its beginnings are obscure, its exact origins untraceable. In real terms in Jainism there is no one founder, the truth having been revealed by 24 Tirthankaras at different times throughout what Jains refer to as the "present age". It is however generally considered that Jainism as it is recognised today was founded in the 6th century in north India by Mahavira, "the Great Hero." referred to as, Lord Mahavira, all the Tirthankaras have the title Lord. Tirthankara, means a teacher who 'makes a ford', in other words he shows the way. A Tirthankar in Jainism is a human being who achieves spiritual enlightenment or perfect knowledge through asceticism and meditation who then becomes an exemplar, a teacher for those seeking spiritual guidance towards enlightenment. The teachings of the Jain Tirthankara's form the Jain canon. A Tirthankar has overcome negative emotions such as anger, deceit, greed, jealousy and the like. At the end of his human life-span, he achieves liberation 'moksha, similar to the concept of Nirvana in Buddhism, he is no longer reborn into the infinite cycle of death and rebirth (reincarnation). Present day Jainism is primarily centred on the teachings of Lord Mahavira, and Jainism did not take its roots until the time of this the last Tirthankar.
Mahavira was a contemporary of Buddha and the twenty-fourth Tirthankaraor saint ; with the exception of the twenty-third and twenty-fourth the Tirthankara's were legendary figures, the first having lived about eight and half million years ago. It is important to keep in mind that the Jain religion existed before Lord Mahavira therefore it is perhaps more appropriate to consider Mahavira as a reformer of an already established religion rather than a founder as was the case with Buddha. Mahavira followed the doctrine of his predecessor Tirthankara Parshvanath but reorganised the philosophical teaching and beliefs of Jainism in a more contemporary way.
Rather like Buddha Mahavira, born in Bihar India in the 6th century, was of noble birth and also like Buddha he at about the age of twenty eight renounced his royal birthright, left his family and his opulent former life to live a life of extreme ascetissm. For the next twelve years as a begging monk he travelled the roads of India dressed only in a loin cloth seeking enlightenment and escape from the cycle of birth and rebirth through asceticism to cleanse his body, deep silence to improve his speech and mediation to clear and prepare his mind. He abstained from eating food for long periods and kept the vow of ahimsa avoiding causing harm to any living being - including humans of course - from the tiniest animal to plants. At the age of forty he reached complete enlightenment, at which time knowledge and bliss, known as Kevala or realisation, filled his soul, his spiritual quest was over. After his enlightenment Mahavira preached his doctrines for the rest of his life and organised the community of adherents. In 527 BC Lord Mahavira died at 72 years of age, he had achieved complete liberation to became a Siddha; a liberated soul of pure consciousness who has freed himself from the cycle of rebirths by the practice of right faith, right conduct and right knowledge and who no longer needs a physical body and lives forever in a state of bliss.
There are two sects of Jainism the Digambaras and the Svetambaras which developed after the death of Mahavira. This schism resulted from a difference of opinion when some disciples considered that all possesions should be renounced including clothing , while others would not accept the practice of nudity and the Shvetambaras believe that monks and nuns may wear simple un-stitched white clothes as long as they are not attached to them. Svetambaras believe that the Tirthankaras may either be male or female and that Mallinath the 19th Tirthankara began her life as a princess, the Digambaras however believe that Mallinath was a man and that only men can be Tirthankaras
Today there are between 6 to 12 million Jains, 10 million Jains in India alone although Jainism has spread world wide. Here in the UK there is a Jain Temple in Leicester and one at Potters Bar London. There are no monks or nuns outside India however as monastics are not permitted to travel by means of transport and must go everywhere by foot, you can read more about the vows and codes of the practice of Jainism later on.
Jainism is one of the oldest religions and a more detailed history would therefore be very long indeed and perhaps for our purposes not necessary. If you would like more detailed information please visit the website below:
Next : Page Two Basic Teachings
Important please note:
I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.
Copyright, accreditations and other matters, please read