International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Jainism and Ecology: Nonviolence in the Web of Life

edited by Christopher Key Chapple

Introductory Essay by Anindita Balslev

Jainism is commonly known for its agenda of self-purification and its asceticism with a view to attaining ultimate Freedom (kaivalya). Its rigorous ethics, intensely focusing on the notion of non-violence (ahimsa) have drawn the attention of many.  However, there is not much general knowledge about the many-sided view of reality (anekanta-vada) that Jaina metaphysics stands for, along with its logic of syadvada entailing the sevenfold viewpoints (saptabhangi nyayas). And even less is widely known about how all these are actually related to the ideology of non-violence. In other words, there has been a gap in the popular imagination with regard to how Jaina metaphysics, epistemology, logic and ethics are interconnected. This lacuna has been, to a significant extent, filled by this book edited by Christopher Key Chapple.

The central theme around which this collection of essays has been compiled is ecology from the Jaina standpoint. The book will arouse the curiosity of those readers who wonder about the extent to which the Jaina world view may be said to be supportive of the ecological project, a project which is a crucial contemporary concern. Those who are deeply interested in the notion of non-violence, not exclusively with reference to human interaction and exchanges but also for all that is living and non-living, will find Jaina philosophical thought to be rewarding. The Jaina attitude makes room for ecological harmony while emphasizing reverence for all life–forms. Those who wish to create an open space within a multi-religious discourse that frees one from narrow anthropocentrism may find the Jaina world-view illuminating. This is a stance that can extend the moral concern in a manner so as to include both the animate (jiva) and the inanimate (ajiva).

This collection of essays is timely and is easy to read. Besides a preface by the general editor, Lawrence E. Sullivan, a series foreword by Mary Evelyn Tucker, and an introduction by Chapple himself, the book has an appendix containing The Jaina Declaration of Nature written by L.M. Singhvi.

These essays are organized under four main sections devoted to the following sub-themes: Jaina theories about the Nature of the Universe , Challenges to the Possibility of a Jaina Environmental Ethic, Voices within the Tradition: Jainism Is Ecological, and Tradition and Modernity: Can Jainism Meet the Environmental Challenge?

The different authors cover such issues as to what extent religious traditions in general and Jainism in particular can provide us with insights for meeting the challenges of the present-day environmental crisis. Some of the essays, especially the statement made by L.M. Singhvi, forcefully claim that the Jaina worldview does have environmental concerns built into it and that the ancient Jaina texts are a resource from which we can draw much benefit today.  

Indeed, Jainism, as old as Buddhism, has been alive for more that two and a half millenia providing support to its adherents in many ways. It equally includes engagement in ecological programs and environmental activism.

The merit of this book is that it has brought before the reader an assortment of essays, each of which deals with a special perspective throwing light on Jainism as an ethico-religious movement. Some of the authors do this based on a study of the original sources. All of these essays are worth reading both for demonstrating and critically questioning the Jaina contributions regarding environmental concerns.