An Ahimsa Crisis: You Decide ► Himsa In Making A Living (Aarambhi Himsa) ► Destruction Of The Environment (Paryaavaran), A Sin Against Humanity - Environment, Ecology, Pollution, Himsa & The Jain Community

Posted: 24.08.2016

All living things are connected in nature, dependent on each other for continued survival. For each of us, life includes birth, reproduction and death - with each group of living organisms having its own unique life cycle. Some living things have a short life span. While several other species have life cycles lasting hundreds of years. In order tsurvive and grow, all organisms need tadapt ttheir habitat, have their basic needs met and overcome many obstacles. If environment changes occur more quickly than some organisms can adjust, such as sudden changes in climate, the survival and reproduction of certain living things may be impacted.

These days the survival of the planet, and in fact of the entire human and non-human race, depends on the planet we live on (Jains call it Jambu Dweep). There is much discussion about greenhouse gases, ozone layer, shortage of water, the warming up of the environment, pollution, and ecology. As a result a new movement called environmentalism is in vogue. We Jains rightly believe that several thousand years ag, we talked, preached, practiced, and developed the whole concept of environmentalism. Yet the fact is that I find little actual environmentalism in the Jain community. Yes, there are several pockets of environmentalism that dexist. For example, the lifestyle of our monks and nuns, and alsof some shravaks and shravikas are good and model examples of environmentalism. Outside this, in general, I have not seen or known of any talk, activism, movement, practice or Jain leaders tinspire the community and draw their attention tthis essential issue. Environmentalism has a direct connection with ahimsa. If we pollute, we create suffering and most probably the death and extinction of many species. Beyond that we endanger our own survival.

I have seen Jains wasting food, water, electricity, using and discarding paper plates, polythene bags, and many other resources as if there is ntomorrow. Jains are as much polluters (maybe sometimes more due ttheir affluence) as anybody else. One Indian Central Cabinet Minister recently remarked that if there is a Nobel Prize for filth and dirt, surely India will win that every year. Just garound India and see the filth everywhere. Jain surroundings are ncleaner than other surroundings. There is very little consideration or observance of cleanliness. Because Jains are in small, medium, and large businesses, they contribute tthe pollution, to. Let me share a few examples.

  • The City of Pali in Rajasthan has a significant and influential population of Jains. Jains own and operate a large number of small businesses that manufacture and trade in cotton yarn and clothing. In that business, they dthe color dying of yarns and cloth. The dyes that are used contain many carcinogenic and other poisonous chemicals. After the dye is spent, the colored water (still containing much poisonous materials) is openly discharged on the streets and alsintthe river there. About twenty-five years ag, I happened tdrive through that town and saw the condition of the river. The river at that time was dry and its dry bed floor showed all the colors in the sand. First, I thought it was some kind of wonderful natural scenery (like the Painted Desert National Monument in Arizona, USA) but quickly realized the true cause. These chemicals have not only polluted the river but the water table and the sub-surface water has become absolutely poisonous and unfit for human and non-human consumption. It is just full of poisonous chemicals, carcinogens, and other disease causing poisons. I was alstold that the mosquitoes and frogs have completely disappeared from the area. Can anyone imagine the colossus himsa that has been caused by the actions of these traders, some of them Jains?

  • In Old Delhi, there is one area called Wazirpur Industrial area. Here, many Jains run or operate small manufacturing businesses such as metal utensil fabrication, polishing, wire drawing, and other metal processing. In the manufacturing processes, they use many chemicals, acids, and caustic sodas for chemical milling and making the metal surfaces shiny and attractive. After these chemicals are spent but still have lots of acidic and other toxic materials left), they are openly dispersed/discharged on the streets outside. About ten years ag, I happened tvisit that area. The amount of open pollution, practically open sewers, pools, and small ponds of these chemicals was a site tbehold. The filth, the pungent smell, and the whole scenery were just disgusting. The pity is that none’s conscience is bothered and the same show goes on every day. I really wondered how people can come here, dtheir business, make money, return home and sleep day after day. Tme this is a horrible example of himsa. With some care, this can be avoided but whcares? I ask, is this the way tcare for and worship Jambu Dweep and Bharat Kshetra, which we revere?

  • In the same area and in many of the metalworking shops, the workers dlots of grinding and metal polishing without sufficient protection and hence they inhale metallic dust, which causes TB and other lung diseases that shorten their lives. Here again the show goes on without missing a beat.

  • The following particular account may not apply directly tJains but nonetheless is quite instructive. About fifteen years ag, I had a chance tmeet with the Minister of Health and Environment in the Delhi State Administration. He shared a story about how water in certain parts of Delhi has been made poisonous and unfit for human consumption for hundreds of years. In one suburb of Delhi (the Bahadar Garh area), there are a large number of small yarn factories that dcoloring of the yarns using color dyes. After the color is spent, (just like in the example of the City of Pali above), these shops used tthrow the spent water on the street in front of their shops thus not only causing mud, stagnant water puddles, mosquitoes, and unsafe walking conditions, but pollution, to. Seeing this, Delhi Government hired a tanker and asked all the shops tdeliver the impure water tthis tanker.

After collecting all this toxic water, the tanker was supposed ttake this water tthe Delhi Government Central water treatment facility. The shop owners had tpay a small fee tthe government based on the amount of the spent water tbe treated. The shop owners came up with a clever idea tavoid all this hassle. They did deliver some quantity of water tthe tanker but then instructed the driver of the tanker topen the water valve/tap of the tanker a little tmake it intentionally leak some water, and then drive the tanker all day long; thus, instead of the water being taken tthe central treatment facility, it was then sprayed and dumped on the streets of Delhi via this leaking valve.

The government realized this and threatened the shop owners with stiffer consequences. Now, many of the same shop owners, drilled holes intthe ground and put pipes inside their own shops, where they then freely discharged their spent waters this way instead of on the streets or tthe central water treatment facility. As a result, the Minister told me that the underground water is now spollutedand poisoned that by his account, it will be unsafe tdrink for several hundred years.

  • In November 1990, an international delegation of Jains went tBuckingham Palace in London, UK and under the leadership of the Late Dr. L.M. Singhvi, presented tH.H. Prince Philip a copy of the Jain Declaration on Nature. I was part of that delegation. This declaration clearly states Bhagwan Mahavir’s proclamation, “One whneglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them. Jain cosmology recognizes the fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis of mutual dependence, which forms the basis of modern day science of ecology.”

  • If the memory has not faded, some of us may remember the terrible toxic sludge spill in Hungary in October 2010 and the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexic. Both of these (as with smany others that happen every day in many parts of the world) caused untold damage and destruction tall forms of life, vegetation, and the environment and none of us can escape from their after effects. In Hungary, the toxic sludge, a byproduct of aluminum manufacturing, poured from a broken containment pond and flooded many villages, bursting inthomes and overturning vehicles. Even after a few days, in a mountain valley community about five miles from the source of the spill, the red sludge remained knee-deep in some places.

  • A few years ag, at one of the JAINA conventions, one Jain scholar and environmentalist came tattend and deliver a lecture at the convention. For three days, he observed and did not see any concern for environment. Instead what he saw was a lot of food being wasted along with nearly unlimited use of paper plates, napkins, and disposable glasses and utensils. During his lecture he commented that if JAINA plans tinvite him again, please dsnot for delivering a lecture but twash the dishes. I hope we learn from his remarks.

  • In November 2010, at the invitation of Mr. Sunil K. Jain, IPS and Additional Director General of Police of the State of Meghalaya (in India), I and a group of twelve additional Jains (from the US and India) went tShillong (Meghalaya) for sightseeing and for meeting with the Jain community in that part of India. When in Shillong, all of us expressed a desire tgand visit Chirapoonjee. This is an area in Meghalaya about which we had read in geography books that it is the wettest spot (more than 500 inches of rain in a year) on earth. Mr. S.K Jain arranged for the transport and alsprovided each one of us with an umbrella. When we got there, it was absolutely clear, sunny, and dry and there had been nrain for more than a month. We were shocked and surprised. Very quickly we realized that the dense forest cover in that area had been cut, and as a consequence there has been significant change in the climate there. This is tragic. Destruction of the world’s forest is destruction of the world’s lungs.

Clearing forests may enrich those whare doing it, but over the long run it impoverishes the planet as a whole. Reducing forests reduces rainfall all over with potentially dire consequences for farmers. Trees regulate water run-off and thus help guarantee the water supply and help prevent natural disasters, like landslides and floods. Additionally, tragically, losing the forest would mean losing millions of species.

In my opinion, individual Jains, Jain leaders, and Jain sadhus should begin emphasizing concern for the environment in everything we d. This starts with cutting down on waste, conserving resources, not dumping hazardous waste in water, air, and on earth, using water and other resources wisely and recycling whenever possible. The environment and its protection is everyone’s responsibility.

  • In the West, after creating smuch waste, consumerism, and destruction of the environment, there are strong movements towards green living and ecology. Unfortunately, in my opinion, as the environmental laws and regulations are getting stringent here, some individuals and corporations in the West have found avenues and places tdump their own hazardous waste and effluents in faraway places such as underdeveloped lands. This is a kind of criminal activity and ne-colonialism and should not be allowed thappen or be condoned.

I want tremind and plead with my fellow Jains that in the 21st century, there are nsmall manmade happenings or disasters; all are big and far-reaching and their consequences are most often global. When such things happen, geographical boundaries disappear and thus we all become part of it. It is a fact that due tpollution, many of India’s cities are choking. There are days when one does not see the sun (due tsmog) and the rate of many kinds of lung diseases and cancers are on the rise. India and its citizens are paying a very high price.

I sincerely hope that Jains will equate pollution of environment with acts of serious himsa and realize that all species, from one- tfive-sensed, including human beings, are hurt.

I must believe that care for the environment is practice of ahimsa.

Now you decide, is this behavior consistent with ahimsa?

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