The commitment to doing no harm extends beyond the domain of physical harm and beyond one’s own actions. Those devoted to the Jain perspective believe that one should neither kill another living being, nor cause another to kill, nor consent to any killing directly or indirectly. Furthermore, Jains strongly advocate non-violence against all beings—one must in all ways be harmless. Non-violence for Jains comes not just in the form of action but also in speech and in thought. Instead of hate or violence against anyone, we must respect and protect the life of all creatures. Jains specifically believe that violence, in all forms, chips away at one’s soul. This is particularly the case when the violence is done with intent, hate or carelessness, or when one indirectly causes or consents to the killing of a human or non-human living being.
Are We Harmless?
While the Jains set the “gold standard” for engaging in a harmless life, we must ask whether a similar commitment to harmlessness is practical – or even possible – for anyone living in a contemporary society. Do we never swat at a mosquito, let alone ban any broad-based program to eradicate any insect? Do we adopt the challenging Christian principle of turning the other check and loving your enemies as much as your friends—is such a policy and practice feasible in a world of polarization and injustice? And what of the harm we unwittingly, unconsciously, and unknowingly cause?
Harm and Leadership
We would suggest that there is an even more fundamental question concerning a commitment to leading a harmless life. Can we truly be harmless if we accept a leadership role in a contemporary society? As a leader will we automatically tread a bit hard on the world around us—creating conditions that hopefully are helpful and healing, but inevitably create some damage or at least disappointment in the people with whom we interact and, in particular, those who we in some sense “lead.” Parker Palmer (1990, p. 11) puts it this way:
Download Article 1K Club
Many of us know the violence of active life, a violence we sometimes inflict on ourselves and sometimes inflict on our world. In action, we project our spirits outside ourselves. Sometimes we project shadows which do damage to others, and sometimes we project light that others want to extinguish. Action poses some of our deepest spiritual crises as well as some of our most heartfelt joys.