Life Force: The World of Jainism, by Michael Tobias

Note: The following are notes from the above book. I found the book seminal, eye-opening, life-changing. I recommend that you buy and read the entire book. Only by reading the entire book will you get the whole picture. The following quotes, I hope, will whet your appetite. --Colby Glass


Tobias, Michael. Life Force: The World of Jainism. Berkeley, Cal.: Asian Humanities Press, 1991.

"...one soul is equal to all souls. The earth is comprised of this many-wedded soul... the life force...

"According to Jainism, animals will eventually be re-born as human animals, at which time they will have to choose: empathy, peace, compassion--ahimsa--or perpetual degrees of violence. Humanity is the launching site for this choice...

"Jainism... has been termed ethical realism. Jainism is the only religion that has no god, and yet is not atheistic... The Jains have replaced the notion of god with "the own nature of things (dharmah). Perhaps that is the secret to their idealism: god has never let them down... Jains are accountable to nature, and thus to themselves, to their families, their community, and to the vast menagerie of life forms... one organism being equal to all organisms, one square inch of land equal to all land, and all pain requiring serious consideration, any aspect of Jainism thereby reflects the whole...

"...World War I -- with its twenty million dead, fifty million injured, and nearly every other violent tantrum and disorder... unthinking, unfeeling behavior (13)...

"Jainism... is about... becoming adults, acting responsibly...

"Euripides had asked, "Why does war ever have to break out... Leave others in peace. Life is short"...

"..Rome, an empire with an unprecedented record of violence. Yet, along the Mysian coast in northwestern Asia Minor, lived a tribe of people opposed to all war... inspired Virgil in his Georgics, as well as Lucretius, both of whom celebrated restrained, rural life (19)...

"There is always a place for animals in the Jain temples (22)...

"In Jainism, there are two types of devotees -- lay votaries, who observe the small vows (anuvratas) and must live their lives in constant moderation, and the ascetics... Alteration of thinking and of behavior is what constituted true Jainism (27)...

"Following the doctrine of their twenty-four revered sages (Mahavira most prominently), the Jains are remarkable... Pre-dating both Hindus and Buddhists, the Jains today constitute one percent of the Indian population...

"...was to have a transforming effect on Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi's earliest mentor, and later, his closest friend, were both Jain masters... Gandhi would later effectively argue in a famous letter that it would be prefereable to be killed by a snake than to kill the snake. If you must fight, he argued, then fight with non-violence (29)...

"For the Jain, all animal life is inviolate. Every organism possesses a soul, known as jiva, from a minute amoeba virus, to the enormous redwood tree... That sould is independent, endowed with a strong personality and individual destiny. Every organism is capable of achieving salvation, happiness, and must be allowed to continue on its path (29)....

"... a people whose shyness and peacefulness are legendary. They do not proselytize... all Jains are strict vegetarians. The Jains long ago developed a distinctive science of botany that recognized a subtle and sophisticate web of sensation in the natural world. That translatees into a world which feels everything. Lettuce feels; elephants feel; people feel. Feelings, in turn, can be categorized according to their intensity. Lettuce, rhubarb, and other vegetables possess one sense organ, say the Jains. People, generally speaking, possess five sense organs. The Jains allow themselves to consume only those creatures with no more than one sense organ. And even this life-saving habit of minimalist consumption is undertaken with a degree of modesty and embarrassment...

"...the Jains worship no animal, no god, no divine being. Worship--say the Jains--is a form of interference... Ahimsa is about minimizing pain and thus minimizing the passions (31)...

"Jainism was the only large-scale force in Indian society that never accepted the caste system, and that provided equal status and equal rights to women...

"In every Jain village and major city throughout India, animal sanctuaries can be found... known as panjorapors... Stray animals--birds, camels, water buffalo, cows, etc.--are brought in, cared for, loved, and visited at least once a week by veterinarians...

"The Jains are aghast at such cruel twists of fate [that animals endure]. They percieve human beings as a collective island of faith, a bastion of conscience harboring the mechanisms for spreading comfort amonst all such living creatures... "...The Jains have built hospitals and schools all over India...

Jains practice austerity (tapas)...

"The Jains say that no individual should interfere with another's life; that absolute non-interference is the beginning of compassion...

"...as individuals, their greatest achievement has been to foster an orthodoxy with respect to all animal life. No one person is perceived as being responsible for the whole world, but rather for that one person's own soul. A soul nurtures itself through compassion... Jainism promotes a constant expansion of the limits of empathy... Jainism is not about miracles, or heroism, but practical solutions...

"In Jainist India that original nature, that sould, did everything in its power to avoid the hypnotic, to transform that yoke into a different kind of endeavor, namely, the absolute exercise of restraint...

"Among the Jains, soul (jiva) and life are synonymous terms... Violence towards others is automatically understood as vilence towards one self...

"...self-control is intended to "fence in" the otherwise unrestrainable passions that can act for better for for worse. Knowing the proclivity for violence... Jains have emphasized non-violence as the very core [of their religion]...

"Jain literary output is unprecedented. Like the Jews, Jains are people of the book... all written in the Magadhan vernacular of Ardha-Magadhi...

"Ahimsa has always been known as the appreciable god to Jainism... ahimsa's deeper associations pertained to lack of attachment and lack of passion (57)...

"What altogether distinguished Mahavira's insights from those of later Buddhism and Hinduism was his emphasis on the reality of this world. He never postulated the oppressive maya, or illusion, that has provided a way out of emotional dilemmas for most other spiritual traditions... a philosophy of the transient, by which all effort was deemed vain, all worldly accomplishment without substance, all goals delusory, Buddha succeeded in devaluing life and the miracle of earth...

"Mahavira bravely welcomed this earth, with its teeming obstacles and temptations. He understood that there was no "other," no promise of refuge, no escaping the blessed responsibility to all life with which we have been endowed, and with whom we are one.

"... all matter contains soul; sould which is in a state of permanent, living, breathing, feeling flux (67)... a psychic equality between all species...

"... the Jain realization that violence in nature, be it human or animal-provoked, is wrong. Because there is no Jain god, creator of the universe, Jaines have the religous freedom to chastise the workings of the world. Training one's dog not to bite, so to speak, Jains struggle to make evolution a safer, more benevolent system by which to live (72)...

"Unlike Buddhism, or any other religion, Jain nirvana is expressly human-related, centered on earth, not in heaven. And while their cosmographical studies indicate specific heavens... such places are considered to be as detrimental to enlightenment as hell. Jains recognize karma, but unlike the Hindu or Buddhist, who conceive the physical universe as mere passing ephemera, the Jains believe it to be totally galvanizing, here and now, absolute, real.

"...arranges grains of rice on the temple floor in a symbolic swastika (in reference to the four types of rebirth), plces three dots of sand (Right Faith, Right KNowledge and Right Conduct...) at the top of the little pictogram, then another dot with a crescent, representing the Jain version of nirvana, or absolute ahimsa, above that. The image is not worshipped. It is simply the focus for meditation. This is important: there is no idolatry, no worship of any kind in Jainism. Worship, they insist, invites the arrogance of power, tyranny, exploitation (81)...

"The layperson meditates.... the immediate cessation of any harmful thoughts and activities... a momentary ahimsa (90)...

"The vows stipulate care -- care in everything one does... Careful behavior is the first creed instilled in Jain children... The approach to liberation is a humane one, ever mindful of its reason for being: the protection of other life forms...

"... there is a conspicuous absence of any moral guardians in the community... This spiritualism is strictly a private, practical affair... there is no enforcement, no fear of damnation hanging over a compulsory life. Nor is there guilt, confession, or sin... Jains never proselytize. A religion free of god, they have only themselves to blame (93)...

"The Jains realize that their vows did not touch a Hitler. But Jainism has never stressed intervention. Instead, Jains rely upon the philosophy of individual modesty; of destinies... There is no philosophy of the masses in Jainism... (94)...

"... one of the most basic salutations in Jainism:

"I forgive all beings,
May all beings forgive me.
I have friendship toward all,
Malice toward none."


Colby Glass, MLIS