Nothing New Under the Sun

Jainism is one of the oldest continuously practiced religions in the world. It has three main pillars: ahiṃsā (non-violence), anekāntavāda (non-absolutism), and aparigraha (ascetism).

To practice ahiṃsā, orthodox Jains commit to vegetarianism (as well as a prohibition on root vegetables, to avoid killing plants). Many cover their mouths with cloth masks to avoid inhaling tiny insects as they breathe. Some sweep the ground in front of them as they walk, so they don’t crush anything crawling on the ground beneath their feet.

Anekāntavāda boils down to a kind of absolutist relativism, a firm belief in the inability to know or speak the truth. Of course, this is usually deployed against other people who claim to know the truth in order to defend Jainist doctrines.

Aparigraha is the belief that nobody truly possesses anything, and an avoidance of greediness or taking excessive pleasure in material things. This is complicated by a curious sociological fact:

Jains are more highly educated and wealthier than Indians overall, and few identify as lower caste. Roughly a third (34%) of Jain adults have at least a college degree, compared with 9% of the general public, according to India’s 2011 census. Moreover, the vast majority of Jains fall into India’s top wealth quintiles, according to India’s National Family and Health Survey.

A meeting at work today: coworkers (well-educated young people, all) wracked with roiling anxiety about the possibility of mask mandates coming to an end, the justification for their perpetual continuance constantly invoking “protection”: the need to protect others, the vulnerable, the immunocompromised, “our communities.” The request that mask policies continue until at least September—after that, “maybe” they could be lifted. Frustration expressed that the conversation was too “analytic,” and that we truly didn’t know anything. A refusal to accept that we are probably going to get sick, and will probably get others sick, and that a piece of fabric is unlikely to stop this. (But the ascetic wants to suffer, and wants others to see it.)

Later: introduced myself to a new coworker, who immediately asked me “my pronouns.” The sweep of the broom on the walkway.

One thought on “Nothing New Under the Sun

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