Volume 33, Issue 1, Spring 2019
Kalpita Bhar Paul
The Ecology of Ahiṃsā
Deconstructing the Transition of Ahiṃsā from being a Religious Vow to an Environmental Ethos
In this age of environmental crisis, Jainism is regarded worldwide as one of the first religions to have developed an environmental ethic, based on its practice of ahiṃsā (nonviolence). This article attempts to critically engage with the concept of ahiṃsā in its recently evolving forms—from a religious concept to its current portrayal as an environmental ethic. By explaining how ahiṃsā becomes the central concept of Jainism, tying together its ethics, theology, and ecology, this article establishes that the current global portrayal of ahiṃsā by Jains, more than being driven by environmental concerns, is directed toward attaining liberation through reducing karmic impressions on souls. The article discerns the differences between Jain practice of ahiṃsā and ahiṃsā as an environmental ethos; it argues that to recognize ahiṃsā as an environmental ethic a broader reconceptualization is required beyond the way it is currently conceptualized in Jainism.