Address to the Global Peace Festival-UK: Forum on Interfaith and Intercultural Cooperation for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity in Europe, November 22, 2008
The Jain religion is an ancient religion which talks of the happiness and development of all living beings. In Jain philosophy, every soul has a potential to reach spiritual liberation. This is a very powerful philosophy because it means respect for human rights and dignity is intrinsic to our faith. In our fellow human beings, we see souls that are on the same evolutionary course of purification that we ourselves are on. By understanding the divinity that lies within each soul, the only way for a Jain to live is by respecting each and every human being. Therefore, a person should live with others on an equal basis. Jains believe that just as you and I feel pain when we are harmed, so would any other soul. One of our main principles is, therefore, nonviolence (ahimsa).
Ahimsa. We frequently talk about Human Rights, but all too often forget about Human Duties. The principles of Jainism ultimately form a guidebook for our duties as human beings. If every one performs his duty sincerely, then all other beings automatically get their rights as well. If every human being observes vows like nonviolence (even partially), then the other living beings automatically will not suffer and will get the opportunity and rights to exist and do the same. The vow of nonviolence in the Jain religion can be considered the first step to human rights.
Interconnectedness. While clarifying basic human values, the Tattvarathsutra, a Jain scripture, says "Paraspargraho Jivanam" — i.e., all living beings are interdependent on one another. With this understanding, love, compassion, and forgiveness extend to all living beings. We as humans, with our intellect, wield tremendous power in the world, which can be used for good or evil. It is our social responsibility to endeavor to be the best that we can, to avoid such harm, and to actively prevent it from happening. Indeed, such is the compassion promoted in Jainism that one could say the Jain maxim is: "Live in order to let others live."
Aparigraha. One of the other vows of Jainism is Aparigraha, which means restraint in relation to fellow human beings and material possessions. In short, this is Jainism’s ethical and green vision for the West. Nonpossessiveness begins with an attitude of mind, a conscious turning away from the material and a growing indifference to worldly considerations. If we look at some of the egregious infringements upon human rights in the world today — child labor, slave labor, and unfair wages — nearly all of these can be traced back to a sense of possessiveness, greed, and the desire to make an even bigger profit. The 2008 World Bank development indicators showed that 20% of the world consumes over 75% of the world’s resources. If we are able to control our wants and desires, there would be enough water, food, wealth, and land to be shared across the world.
Human Rights. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." Freedom is our birthright; however, there are many in society who do not hesitate to encroach upon other people’s freedom. The role of religion should include not allowing such encroachments — not allowing the rich to encroach upon the poor, not allowing those who are in power to encroach upon those who are without power.
Anekantvad. Another fundamental principle of Jainism teaches us to tolerate others' views or beliefs. One should not only try to discover the truth in one’s own views or beliefs, but also in others' views and beliefs. Viewed superficially, anekantvada resembles the doctrine of liberal pluralism on which Western political life is officially structured. This philosophy of anekantvad, if applied to world problems today, could bring great peace and success. By following the anekanta doctrine, we can free the world from terrorism, wars, intolerance, and violence.
Ideologues, be they of the left or the right, work under the illusion that they possess the whole truth, whereas at most they have only a fractional understanding. Jainism can influence political thought and action in a positive way. And, as Mahatma Gandhi recognized, if Jain principles were disseminated more widely, then millions of human lives individually and collectively would change in dramatic ways. It is not really the “Jain” way for us to stand here and prescribe a Jain solution to education, environment, health care, child labor, and all of these other problems in society. It is, rather, the Jain way for us to extend our support to the existing excellent work being conducted in these realms and with humility to invite suggestions and viewpoints from other parties. This collaboration, fully utilising anekantvad and embracing multiple viewpoints, many of which may be more informed than our own, will be more powerful.
Outro. On this note of collaboration, we would like to thank the organizers for this opportunity for interreligious and intercultural dialogue. We sincerely believe that the Jain philosophy and values manifested in individuals have contributed and will continue to contribute significantly towards the promotion and protection of human rights and beyond. Listening to our colleagues here today, it is evident to us that while religion has often been criticized for perpetuating faults within humankind, true religion inherently propagates the betterment and upliftment of humankind. One of the key lines in a famous Jain prayer is: "My friendship extends to all living beings, and my enmity lies with none." It is with this spirit of universal friendship that Jainism approaches our relationship with our fellow humans and the wider universe, and it is with this spirit that we look forward to a long collaboration with the UN and faith groups in tackling the problems of our world through the immortal widsom and inspiration of our faith philosophies.