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Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 6.2 ► Animal Welfare

Published: 24.12.2015

Jains respect all life in the universe and believe that their souls are equal in their pristine form, and occupy the body of a human, animal, plant, celestial or infernal being depending upon their karmic bondage. In the world of transmigration, the soul creates its own body from the fine particles of matter, which might have been left when a living being dies or discards its body. The body whether cremated, buried or left alone, ultimately disintegrates into fine particles of matter such as earth, water, fire and air, and the space. Jainism believes that thus it is possible that individuals might have acquired the matter particles to build their bodies from one of the beings, human or animal, whom they know (Shah N. 1988: pp. 138-139). Conversely, other beings that they harm might have acquired particles from their previous bodies or the bodies of their relations or friends. Jains believe that there is hardly any particle of matter in this universe, which could not have utilised to form a body at some point in the cycle of transmigration, and Lord Krishna elaborates this fact in the Gita.

Jainism teaches that all living beings want to live and avoid suffering and death, and the more senses that a living being has, the more it is able to feel and experience suffering or pleasure. At the pinnacle of the hierarchy is the human being that is able to experience a spiritual life and is capable of verbal communication. Some living beings, such as humans or animals or trees harbour many parasitic beings. Harming or killing these beings not only leads to their suffering, but also harms the parasitic beings living on them, which, in turn causes a still greater influx of karma to the soul of the one doing harm. The human beings can speak for themselves, but animals cannot; they require compassion, hence Jainism has made animal welfare as one of the major principles of the Jain way of life.

Jains argue that it is important to realise that although humans are animals, they have a unique characteristic not found in other animals, that is humanity. Human beings have a unique nature, cultures and societies; they have free will and can exercise restraint from evil actions; and they can help other living beings to exist. Conversely, their inhuman actions can harm other beings, even kill them. According to the book of Genesis, humans are created in the image of God and given dominion over the natural world including the animals, and made them their stewards. This stewardship and the dominion mean taking care and ruling wisely with compassion, and not exploiting, misusing or destroying for personal benefit, therefore, harming animals is against the principle of stewardship advocated by the book of Genesis. Jain ascetics take the major vow of non-violence (ahimsaa) at the time of initiation; they will not harm any living being, including one-sensed beings, as far as it is humanly possible. The laity observe the minor vow of non-violence and reverence towards mobile beings, those with two to five senses; it is impossible for them to avoid harm to one-sensed beings, because of worldly commitments, but they are vigilant to minimise this harm.

The daily duties of the ascetics include atonement and penance for transgression of the vow of ahimsaa. Ascetics will be vigilant even while walking or performing any movement in order to avoid harm to minute creatures, including life in the plant kingdom, thus they will not walk on grass. Laypeople are vigilant in avoiding violence, especially harm to mobile beings, for e.g. animals, birds, fish and insects; they also try to minimise harm to one-sensed creatures and many will avoid certain activities, such as walking on grass, using flowers, cutting trees, where there is likelihood of injury to one sensed creatures.

For Jains the maltreatment of animals encourages the passions and cruelty; hence it is against all the norms of a civilised society. There are many motives for the maltreatment of animals: on the social level the reason is mainly economic such as factory farming, medical experiments and research; on the individual level, it is killing directly or indirectly for food, furs and cosmetics, and also the use of animals for riding, keeping them as pets, watching them perform tricks; and in sports, shooting or hunting, and putting them behind bars in zoos.

For Jains, most of these practices are without justification and unnecessary for our survival. The pain and harm done to animals, their sufferings and the increase in our passions are unimaginable. Some people will argue that it is necessary to use animals for reasons of health or for earning a livelihood. But health grounds, vanity, economic reasons, or pleasure do not justify the violence to animals. Animals possess consciousness and are aware of their surroundings, of pain and emotions, but cannot speak for themselves. They do not have the potential to become language users, but they have perception, memory, desire, belief, self-consciousness, intention, and a sense of future. They also possess emotions such as fear and hatred, and the capacity to experience pleasure and pain, including a sense of time. Animals become frustrated if they are not allowed to satisfy their instincts and desires. Mammals of one or two years of age possess all the above attributes.

Mammals have biological, social and psychological interests; they have family interests and, like humans, animals live well and get their satisfaction if they pursue and obtain what they prefer, or what is in their interests. Deprivation of biological, social or psychological interests (e.g. the desire for food) cause harm and suffering. Changes of environment are also harmful to their interests, whether these cause suffering or not. Death is the ultimate deprivation of life and is irreversible. It is an irretrievable loss, foreclosing every opportunity to find any satisfaction, and this is true whether the death is slow and agonising or quick and painless.

Although similar to young children, animals lack any conception of their long term welfare, any formulation of categorical desires, or sense of their own mortality, yet the untimely death is harmful. Death is harmful independently of the pain involved in dying, whether in slaughterhouses or scientific experiments. Putting down animals, or euthanasia, in their own interest is also harmful, because it is as involuntary as it would be for humans. Most animals that suffer euthanasia are psychologically alive. Paternalistic acts bringing death to animals are not in their interest, whether they are painful or not. Hence, Jains allow only a natural death even for animals, and treat them as they would treat humankind. Jainism believes that animals have the same right as humans to live peacefully in this world and, in a civilised society, the interests of all are counted equally, irrespective of race, gender or species. It is immoral to raise animals intensively for the utilisation of human beings and treat these species differently, and hence, speciesism is to be condemned as are racism or sexism.

Since earliest times, human beings have exploited animals for many different reasons. They may be for meat and other animal products, sport, and hunting or animal experiments. There have been many occasions when even domesticated animals and pets have been the victims of cruelty. As they cannot speak for themselves it is the duty of human beings to encourage animal welfare. Animals too have a right to live on our planet peacefully, without any fear of exploitation. It is impossible in this work to examine all the ways in which human acts and institutions affect animals, but we will mention somewhere harm can be avoided.


Many people consume animal flesh on the grounds that it is tasty, nutritious, or part of one's habits and culture, and that abstaining from it would be to forgo certain pleasures of the palate, convenience, and ruin one's health. All these reasons are misguided, Jainism argues, as balanced vegetarian diet has been proved to be as tasty and nutritious, it also decreases morbidity and mortality and increases morality and spiritual health. Of course, it is slightly inconvenient to obtain only vegetarian food in the West at present, but if more people would consume it, consumers will force the food industry and restaurants to make it more widely available.

The Meat and Farm Animal Industry

Farmers, butchers, meat packers and wholesalers have strong economic interests in raising animals, and the quality of their lives depends upon the market in farm animals. The nation also has an economic interest in the maintenance and growth of the farm animal industry. Farm animals are considered the legal property of the farmers, and farmers have the right to treat their livestock as they wish, even if it means harming them. Farmers argue that they will be ruined economically if consumers do not patronise them and become vegetarians, and that this would adversely affect the health of the nation. For Jains, animal agriculture is wrong on all counts, as the animal's lives are routinely brought to an untimely end due to human avarice, and those who support it have a moral obligation to stop buying meat. The meat and animal farming industry are immoral trades, and those affected by the demise of these trades could find alternative employment.

There is nothing like 'humane' farming, when the goal of the food industry is to deprive these unfortunate creatures of their lives, and inflict pain and suffering in the name of profit. Animals, which are kept in barren cages and crates, are unable to continue their natural behaviour and suffer greatly from stress. Hens like to peck the earth for food, to perch, to lay eggs in their nests, live in flocks, take dust baths and preen themselves, but factory farming denies the behaviour patterns of hens, chickens and other birds, including naturally laying eggs. Due to profit-based production, the birds have to lay more eggs, but each time bird lays eggs it creates suffering and harm; hence the behaviour of the modern egg industry is unjustifiable.

Domestic Animals and Pets

Jains do not domesticate animals or keep them as pets as they believe such actions take away their liberty. However, Jains do encourage the belief that pets and domestic animals should be treated with care and kindness, and unnecessary suffering or their untimely death should be avoided.

Hunting and Trapping Animals

Jains claim that hunting or trapping animals for sport or commercial reasons are to be condemned. It is immoral to take pleasure in pursuing someone else to the death, and the pleasures derived from a sport can be secured without killing animals. The commercial exploitation of wildlife assumes these animals are commodities to be utilised for human pleasure. It should be condemned, as the avoidable interests of human beings deprive these unfortunate creatures of their lives and, due to senseless acts some wildlife has become extinct or is near extinction. Sportsman and commercial hunters do not do wild animals any favours, and their argument that they are the friends of wild animals is untenable as they kill for pleasure, not for maximising the sustainable optimum of wildlife. Wildlife should be protected by the abolition of legalised hunting and trapping, and prohibiting the commerce in wild animals and their products. The fur trade, the ivory trade, commercial whaling, seal hunting, the skin and feather trade are some of the commercial reasons why humans destroy life for their own avoidable interests. One can live without any difficulty if one does not utilise animal products and one can use herbal cosmetics without being cruel to living creatures. Jains avoid buying such articles where there is a likelihood of depriving unfortunate animals of their lives. Some nations have banned hunting of the endangered species but place less importance on the value of abundant animals. All animals are equal, both the rare and the abundant and, like humans, they have a desire to live hence, Jains believe, the rights of these animals should be protected.

Animal Experiments

Animals are used in research contexts, in testing new drugs, and in toxicity testing; they are also used as teaching aids in schools and colleges, where they are dissected to understand their anatomy or physiology, but many have condemned these uses of animals as unnecessary. These practices can be avoided, and the relevant knowledge can be acquired or taught by other methods, such as with computer simulation. Jains believe that to cause the untimely death of any creature is immoral.

It is estimated that, in 1988, 3.5 million animals were killed in Britain in processes, such as, food testing, alcohol, cosmetics and other products. Some of these products being tested, especially cosmetics, are hardly necessary for human life and many of the tests are repetitions of earlier experiments. The tests cause suffering and death to species such as mice, rats, guinea-pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, cats, dogs, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, monkeys, birds, reptiles and fish used in laboratory trials. Jains believe these tests should be abandoned; recently more tests are being abandoned, as they cannot be justified on any rational grounds of need. Only in the case of certain types of medical research, e.g. to find a cure for cancer, there is public support for these practices. Even in genuine medical research, the results of animal experiments may not be applicable to humankind as animal experiments are unreliable as differing species react to drugs in different ways, hence animal tests cannot be applied to humans with any certainty. We have seen wonder drugs being withdrawn after successful testing on animals, as animal experiments not only fail to warn of the dangers of some drugs, but can prevent the development of useful remedies when tests produce side effects which would not have occurred in humans. With a careful and cautious approach, drugs can be tested on human volunteers, and their effects simulated by computers.

Millions of animals have died in cancer research but very little progress has been made, and instead of harming animals, the scientists and governments should concentrate on reducing and eliminating the cause of cancer, which is mainly due to factors like smoking, some industrial chemicals and a harmful diet. Jains are not against medical and other research, which can be carried out by other methods without the routine use of laboratory animals, and modern technology may perhaps offer better information for testing new drugs on humankind than the traditional use of animals. Cruelty to animals and the deprivation of their life can be avoided if scientists abandon tests of unnecessary and doubtful value. The achievement of scientific research is laudable and has brought many benefits for both humans and animals, but it does not justify all the means to secure them, as animals have a value and their lives are of the same importance to them as ours are to us.

The Jain Way of Animal Welfare

Jains have compassion and care for all living creatures. Their concern can be seen in their daily practices, their eating habits and their compassionate and philanthropic activities. Ascetics do not take food, medication or any other product where violence is involved in obtaining and producing them. They will travel on foot, keeping their gaze to within a distance of four feet, to avoid harm to mobile beings, and if there is no alternative path, they will clear the path with their soft woollen brush and gently remove the tiny creatures to avoid harming them. They will methodically check their clothes and other possessions before use, to see that small creatures are not harmed inadvertently, and they will clear the ground with their soft brush before sitting or lying down. They will not walk or sit on a carpet, thus avoiding inadvertent harm to small living beings, instead they sit on a small woollen mat, and keep a piece of cloth in front of their mouths, so as to avoid harm to airborne creatures with their warm breath. They motivate laypeople to show compassion and be philanthropic, and help the cause of animal welfare. Lay Jains also have a non-violent way of life: They are vegetarians, are taught to minimise violence even to the one-sensed plants by avoiding root vegetables (which contain multiple souls in one body) and green vegetables between five and ten days every month. They do not eat eggs, fish or chicken, and some lay Jains will avoid even medicines where violence may be involved. They prefer non-violent professions and businesses and avoid all intentional violence, such as in sport. If as part of their duty, they are involved in unintentional violence, such as doctors giving antibiotics, or soldiers fighting in legitimate self-defence, they will express regret for the violence and ask for forgiveness from the unfortunate victims. They also will be very careful and vigilant not to even harm insects in their daily activities, such as in bathing, walking or cleaning. Normally, they will not keep any pets, as they feel it is taking away the animals' liberty, and they will not exploit domesticated animals.

Philanthropic Activities for Animal Welfare

Every temple and practically all Jain institutions and organisations accept donations for animal welfare (jiva dayaa), and during each mass ritual, the devotees are reminded to donate to the animal welfare fund. These funds are maintained in separate accounts and are apportioned to deserving animal welfare institutions. Most villages in India, inhabited by Jains, have an animal sanctuary (panjaraa pola) where old, infirm and disabled animals are cared for and given all the opportunities to live a complete natural life, and they are not killed, but are allowed to die a natural death. In cases of drought or famine, Jains raise funds to feed the animals: in the Gujarat drought of the early 1990s, Jains donated millions of rupees and personally organised drought relief work. As a result, millions of animals were saved. In such severe conditions, the Government and the public look to Jains for help in saving animals. Jains are known to save animals by paying compensation to butchers and helping them to start alternative non-violent businesses. Jains have a tradition of feeding birds every morning and they donate generously to bird feeding sites (parabadis) and for animal drinking water facilities (havaadaas). Many veterinary hospitals and dispensaries have been established with Jain aid, and some Jains make arrangements to feed wild animals, insects or ants, which shows their compassion for all living creatures. Material filtered out of drinking water is returned to the well, river or waterway, to allow the minute creatures to continue living in their natural environment. Jains are very generous in helping animal welfare institutions through publications and training Thus animal welfare is part and parcel of the daily life of Jains. They have been successful in maintaining high standards in life, good health and above average longevity, without indulging in animal products or harming animals.


Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
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  1. Body
  2. Consciousness
  3. Environment
  4. Fear
  5. Gita
  6. Gujarat
  7. Jainism
  8. Jiva
  9. Karma
  10. Krishna
  11. Non-violence
  12. Soul
  13. Space
  14. Violence
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