Dr Aidan Rankin is an independent scholar and property consultant, with a PhD in Political Science from the London School of Economics. He has written four books on Jainism: The Jain Path: Ancient Wisdom for the West; Many-Sided Wisdom: A New Politics of the Spirit; Living Jainism: An Ethical Science, with Professor Kanti V. Mardia (all published by John Hunt Books) and most recently Jainism and Ethical Finance, with Atul K. Shah (published by Routledge). His fifth book, Jainism and Environmental Philosophy: Karma and the Web of Life, will be published by Routledge in 2018. Aidan is also the author of Shinto: A Celebration of Life (John Hunt Books) after studying the indigenous religion of Japan with Paul de Leeuw of the Japanese Dutch Shinzen Foundation. He is a member of the Theosophical Society in England and has served on the National Council. Aidan lives with his partner Brian in south-west London.
Dr Aidan Rankin
In the West, the most popular image of the Jain is the white-clad ascetic sweeping the ground before him with a small broom in order to avoid damage to even the most infinitesimal forms of life. This is widely interpreted as evidence that Jainism is a ‘green religion’, the primary purpose of which is to protect the environment. However the ascetic’s actions have little, if anything, to do with the environment and more to do with the ultimate goal of liberation (Moksha), which involves the transcendence of worldly and physical constraints.|
For Jains, the environment is part of Dharma, the working of the universe. The concept of Dharma encompasses spiritual practice, science, art, ethics and practical rules for daily life including professional and business activity. It is in these guidelines for lay men and women, rather than the extreme behaviour of ascetics, that we find a scientific understanding of nature and the interconnectedness of all life. Careful action, limits to growth and living as lightly as possible are all concepts familiar to western environmentalists. However, in exploring the apparent contradictions between the ‘other-worldly’ and the ‘nature-centred’ aspects of Jainism, we should avoid superimposing western assumptions on a distinctively Indian tradition.