My personal discovery of Jainism came while teaching world religions at Oakton College in suburban Chicago. This non-theistic (no “god” per se) religion arose in India around 500 BCE, based on the insights of the spiritual teacher Mahavira. While I am not a Jain, the teachings have a positive impact on my life.
The symbol shown above presents the main tenets of Jainism. The word in the center, ahimsa, literally means “stop”, referring to cycles of reincarnation as represented by the wheel. The answer to how this cycle of birth and death may be stopped or transcended comes in the practice of ahimsa, which can provide the basis for a renewal of the world, through the healing of a single life.
The Jain teaching of ahimsa asserts that by doing no harm to any living thing, we heal ourselves and create healing energy that moves beyond us. We are counseled to also avoid angry thoughts and actions. According to Gandhi, a Hindu who valued Jain teachings, ahimsa additionally precludes evil thoughts and hatred, and unkind behavior such as harsh words, dishonesty, and lying, all of which he saw as manifestations of violence.
No violence, no harm, no unkindness. What a world we could create while seeking to renew and free ourselves!
A few years ago I was invited to teach a series of classes on religious traditions at a synagogue in suburban Minneapolis. For those unable to attend, a friend recorded a video of each session and posted them to YouTube. Amazingly, the video on Jainism has received more than 15,000 views.
I am more intrigued by commonalities than by differences. Walk around a neighborhood anywhere in the world and you will see green plants, intentional and unintentional. Some plants arrive wind or animal-borne. These we often call weeds, but what is a weed besides a perception of desirability? Other plants we intentionally introduce to our yards and homes as sources of beauty or nutrition.
Yesterday my mom and I visited Bergeson’s Nursery in rural Norman County, Minnesota, where we always purchase our plants. Now an urbanite, each spring I make a pilgrimage to Bergeson’s. They sell vibrant stock and offer free homemade donuts of the highest quality. Both body and soul receive a treat.
A home without intentional outdoor greenery causes me to imagine trouble indoors. Can one equate enjoyment of plants with health? You may say that there are people who are physically unable to garden. Fair enough. On a walk this afternoon, an unscientific survey of 60 nearby homes showed that 90% have outdoor plantings.
The pleasure I take in gardening feels deep and old. I remember being out in the vegetable garden with my step-grandpa. I tasted my first radish and the burning taste made me cry. I remember the lush pink peonies grown by one grandma, and the fragrant sweet peas grown by the other. I remember my mom and dad planting a vegetable garden in the spring and each year adding new plants to the backyard flower garden. Both of my grown children enjoy gardening, and my 2-1/2 year old granddaughter has her own set of garden tools and pair of gardening gloves.
There can also be great pleasure found in observing the plants which happen to grow in a patch of bare soil. Leave a corner of your garden unplanted and “unweeded”. Over the course of a season see what appears. Explore an empty lot and note the variety of life inhabiting the space. Or go rogue! Plow up your lawn and let it grow wild. Your neighbors may come after you with hoes and pitchforks, but you will doing doing a favor to creatures of many sorts.
People can be bound together by hatred or love, by ugliness or beauty, by death or life. In an increasingly dark world, let’s acknowledge and celebrate the universal healing power of plants.