Jainism is one of the worlds oldest, if not the oldest religion. The guru of Gandhi was a Jain monk and this beautiful religion has greatly influenced many other world leaders and influential people. It teaches that all living beings, from microbes and insects to humans and animals, have equal right to thrive in complete peace free of violence and suffering. The concept of ‘ahimsa’, meaning non-violence, is well known in the world of yoga. It is one of the 8 main principles and teaches that we should be mindful with our thoughts, words and actions to not cause any pain to other living beings. To yogis this means taking a diet and lifestyle free of animal product and working to avoid speaking or thinking poorly of others. To followers of Jainism this is only the beginning!
Jain monks take very extreme measures to ensure that their existence does not cause any suffering whatsoever to other beings. Some refuse to shower or brush their teeth for fear of killing the living bacteria and germs in their mouths and on their bodies. They wear a mask at all times to avoid inhaling any small insects. Walking at night is forbidden as they may step on bugs or other small creatures. In the daytime they carry an “ogho”, a soft broom used to gently sweep the ground in front of them clearing any living things which may not be visible to the naked eye. Often they will not wear any clothes so they are fully aware of anything crawling on their bodies or in their bed, and if they find any beings they gently move them somewhere safe. Even root vegetables are not allowed as picking them is thought to disturb the homes of underground creatures.
Non violence is just one aspect of the extremely devout spiritual quest of these people. In India you may find them walking by the side of the road, sometimes completely naked, roaming their entire lives from one village to the next. They never stay in one place for longer than a couple of months so that they do not develop any attachments to their surroundings. Over a lifetime a roaming Jain monk will walk tens of thousands of miles, spreading their teachings and philosophies of love and compassion. Jains also preserve all resources they need to use, recycling water whenever possible and only setting fires when absolutely necessary. They strongly advocate the respect and preservation of our planet itself in addition to all beings.
The teachings of Jainism obviously can not be practiced by everyone. But by simply seeing how they live and what they live for, surely in our own lives we can be inspired to be a little more compassionate, and a little less attached.
Written by Jordan Dore