Q28. The method explained in ancient literature to dispose religious books, photos of Tirthankaras or temples damage our environment. In fact, these methods are illegal in USA, Europe, and even in India. Yet, in general the Jain community continues to use these methods. What can we do about it?
This is a situation that almost every single Jain household encounter in their lifetime. We all have Jain books, literature, murtis, photos, and other religious items. And the question inevitably comes up what can we do about it when they are no longer used?
To address this question, we will first talk about the old methods described in ancient literature and their impact in the current times.
Old Methods for Disposing
In old times, there were three main methods used for disposing religious manuscript books and other items:
1. Dry well - dispose the religious literature, photos, and other items in a dry well
2. Landfill – dig a hole in a dry land, put the items in the hole and cover it up
3. Water - dispose in flowing water like river or dispose them in sea
These methods might have been suitable in the past, because in the old times no chemicals were used for manuscripts, paintings, and scriptures. The number of such items in circulations were also limited since they had to be hand made one by one.
But in the current environment, when we use any of these methods then we are either polluting the ground or water because the ink and papers contain chemicals. And polluting the ground or water means that we are harming living beings on land and in water. And such actions directly and indirectly contribute towards climate crisis.
Please refer to the following articles to further understand the climate crisis, how various human activities is causing it, why we should care about it and what actions can we take to limit the adverse effects of climate change.
Additionally, these methods are illegal to use in USA, Canada, UK, and India. And as a religious person, we must follow the law of the land.
Before we talk what can we do in today’s environment, let’s take some time to think about our perspectives and beliefs.
Investigating our perspectives and belief systems
There are many practices in place today that are rooted from generations of history, and they are performed with the mindset that “this is how it’s always been done” or “we can’t do this because of paap karma (aashatna)”.
And we continue to carry those practices out of ignorance, lack of desire to gain right information, blind following, wrong belief systems, fear of challenging status quo, or lack of knowledge about direct and indirect implications of the actions, and/or the laws of the land.
Whenever we are crossroads with our old ways of doing things in current environment, we need to do some research, deep thinking, and inner work to truly understand what we are doing, why and at what cost. We can’t continue doing things out of ignorance.
Our intent is to create awareness and provide options for those do not wish to continue with practices that are not aligned with our Jain values and principles. It will cause a little discomfort as we are stepping out of our comfort zone and traditional ways.
What should we do in the current times?
To determine our approach in current times, we can think in terms of four R’s, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, the basic tenets of sustainability.
As we talk about four R’s in this context, we want to encourage everyone to keep an open mind and re-think the traditional ways of doing things.
We want to talk about refuse first because it can help stop this problem in the inception phase. This approach reminds us to refuse anything we don’t really need, whether we are buying it, or it is being offered to us. Mindful approach to not impulsively buy or refuse any religious items that are not essential to us, can reduce the production of those items. A simple “No, thank you” can help nip this problem in the bud.
If you think, what harm am I really causing by just accepting one more religious item? Then we need to think deeply and think broadly. By accepting it, we are promoting the culture, supporting the cycle of production at large because it is all about demand and supply, and we are being part of problem.
We understand when someone approaches you at a Jain event and hands you a “Prabhavna”, consisting of an item that you know you have no use for, refusing is not always easy. In our culture, it is considered paap or aashatna to refuse prabhavna and it is common for gift givers to be insistent that you accept their gift and not accept no for an answer. And of course, none of us wish to appear rude. At the same time, you don't want the item to be wasted, and you know that if you take it, it will sit on your shelf unused for years to come. So here are some ideas of things you can say.
· If it's an item you have, "That's very thoughtful of you, but I already have a katasanu that is quite good and will last me for many years to come." They may respond by suggesting that you give it to someone else, in which case you can say, "I really don't have anyone else to give it to. Everyone in my family already has one."
· If it's a book in a language that you are not as fluent in, "I'm sorry but I can't accept this because I don't read Hindi well enough, and I would hate for this to sit on my shelf unused. I would rather it go to someone who can make use of it."
· If someone gives you an idol, you can say, "Thank you, this is very nice. But I am trying to keep a minimalist look in my home derasar to represent aparigraha and I already have an idol of Mahavir (or whomever)."
· Another idea would be to take a badha (vow) to not accept any gifts that you know you can't use. Since badhas are taken quite seriously in our culture, you can then say, "I'm sorry, but I will not be able to use this, and I have a badha to not accepts gifts that I cannot use." Bear in mind, if you take such a badha, you will need to practice this in all situations where you may receive gifts, not just religious gifts, but that is probably a good idea anyway.
If it is not truly essential, then we can respectfully say no. Also, if we are the ones giving prabhavna then we don't want to be insistent of other person taking it if they have no use for it. Think about the possibilities if enough of us start making this choice. We can create a new culture and become part of the solution.
Next, we would like to focus on Reduce. This is probably the most fundamental tenet of sustainability, as the more we reduce our production and consumption of material goods in the first place, the less we need to find ways to reuse or recycle them.
So how does this apply to our Jain books, murtis, photos, and other items? When we purchase these items ourselves, we believe that in general we tend to be conscientious about it and only purchase what we will realistically use. However, quite often, we receive these items as gifts or “prabhavana”.
There are a variety of occasions in which people give such prabhavana. Sometimes it is given to tapasvis for having done atthais or other tapascharayas. Other times it is given to the whole community, particularly during special events such as Paryushan, Mahavir Jayanti, or a temple pratistha. Quite often, multiple members of one household will end up receiving separate prabhavana, as it can be hard to keep track otherwise, and so then there is even more duplication. While the people who order and give out such items do so as a nice gesture to the community, people often end up with more items than they can use. These items then end up stored away in a closet and forgotten.
Here is a list of religious items that are often given as prabhavana that can often end up unused:
1. Murtis and photos of idols – While most Jains probably have an altar in their homes where they keep these, there is a limit as to how many they have room for or how many they want to keep. And when people receive additional murtis or photos year after year, sometimes more than one per household, it becomes excessive.
2. Pratikraman items, such as katasanu, muhapatti, charavalo – Just about everyone who does pratikraman already has these items. These items don’t tend to wear out readily, so for most of us, one set can last pretty much a lifetime.
3. Incense holders and divo holders – While incense gets used up, the holders last a long time. Furthermore, most people who burn incense or light divos, already have holders that they use.
4. Books – The gift of knowledge can be wonderful. But so many of these books go unread. When a person purchases a book of their own choosing that they are interested in reading, chances are that they will read it. But when books are given out in-mass to a whole community, the number of people who are actually interested in reading the book is quite limited. Not only because the subject matter may not be of everyone’s interest, but also because the language may not be suitable for many. While most of us who live outside of India speak English in addition to either Gujarati or Hindi, not everyone has enough command over all three languages to be able to adequately read and fully understand material that is in a particular language.
So, then there is the question of what to give. Before addressing this, we first need to think about why give prabhavana in the first place. Is it really necessary? Is there some level of ego involved? Can we not just give our good wishes and leave it at that? These may be points to think about. As we give out Prabhavna, we need to understand that we are becoming part (nimitt) of initiating the life cycle of these religious items and how they get disposed.
To move on here, let’s say we have determined that we still want to give some sort of prabhavana to our fellow community members. So, then what are some items we can give that does not produce unnecessary waste or at least minimizes such waste? Here are some ideas:
1. Food items such as dry fruits – You can give as much or as little per person as per your budget, and none will get wasted.
2. Dollars or coins – This is another option where you can give as much or as little as per your budget, and of course, none will get wasted. If giving standard dollar bills seems too ordinary, you could give special edition coins.
3. Incense without stand – This is an item that easily gets used up. And if someone does not make use of incense, it is typically easy for them to find someone else to pass it on to, Jain or otherwise.
4. Digital gifts, such as a subscription to a digital media or an app such as a meditation app – Although not everyone will use this, there is no physical waste.
Another point to consider is instead of giving prabhavana to the whole community, just give something useful to the children.
Reuse & Recycle
As we shared earlier, our first focus should always be on,
1. Refuse (respectfully) to accept any non-essential or non-required religious artifacts, objects.
2. Reduce the need for excess production / consumption of physical religious artifacts, objects.
In this section, we want to discuss various ideas/ ways we can implement to optimally reuse religious artifacts/objects within our community space.
Create a Reuse Library section in your local religious centers, for all gently used religious books, manuscripts, and other literature artifacts. Local Jain community can contribute to this Reuse Library by:
· donating their used religious books and other literature artifacts and/or
· borrowing / buying gently used religious literature artifacts from the Reuse Library instead of buying a new one.
Real Life Example: Jain center of Raleigh, North Carolina have created this Reuse Library for their local center for many years now. During every religious ceremony, event and/or gathering, they set up a stall for used books for anyone interested to take it free of cost. This practice has been very effective in Raleigh. We highly recommend all the centers to set up a similar practice to efficiently reuse and eventually recycle books.
Consider reusing other religious objects, such as, Katasanu, Navkarvali, Sapdo for Guru Sthapan, Tirthankar murti, wall frames etc., within family and friends. Be open to share any excess religious objects you have within your household and equally be open to accept such new or gently used religious objects from your family and friends, before deciding to buy a new one.
Optimal Reuse will help Reduce the need for unnecessary production and potential wastage of religious artifacts.
Recycle and Proper Disposal of Religious Objects
Once any religious object comes it its end of life and can not be further reused, it should be recycled and/or disposed in environment friendly way. This subject has been discussed with Jain Acharyas and several other Jain monks as well. Many agree with the right choice of environment friendly ways to recycle and/or dispose religious artifacts / objects.
Real Life Examples:
· Hutheesing Temple, Ahmedabad, Gujarat have a library for all reused books and other artifacts for decades. The temple center actively distributes these artifacts to anyone in need and make it accessible to many less privileged Jain families.
· Jain center in Koba, Gujarat has established a library for all used Jain literature as well. Once these artifacts/objects reach its end of life, then center has established an environment friendly way to recycle/dispose of.
· At Jaina Education Committee of North America, we constantly receive inquiries from our patrons about proper disposal of their excess Jain literature artifacts, which they no longer need. To provide a proper Reuse, Recycle and Disposal Avenue, Jain Education Committee launched a pilot program, “Jain Books Recycle”.
Under this program, team collected any surplus gently used or new Jain books, literatures, magazines etc. from all over USA and gathered in one central location. These collected literature is now being cataloged and the list will be published on www.jainelibrary.org in coming months. This list will make all collected books/literature accessible at no cost (except shipping charges) to all organizations (Jain centers, Universities) and/or individuals. Finally, any remaining books, CDs, DVDs, will be shipped to India and will be offered there in universities, libraries, pathshalas, swadhyay groups etc. Information from “Jain Books Recycle” pilot program and any future activities will be communicated by the Jaina Education Committee and on the jainelibrary website.
Remember, proper Recycle and Disposal aligns with our Jain core values of not promoting parigraha of anything that is not required and also not creating any harm to environment and earthly living beings by improper disposal of religious objects.
Jain Agam Das-vaikalik sutra states the following:
“Padhamum Jnanm Tao Daya.“
First knowledge (Jnan) / understanding and then conduct or action. This one line provides the essence of Jainism and how our Tirthankars envisioned us to conduct.
With the knowledge and awareness, we need to use our wisdom to determine the best approach for disposing religious books, literature, photos etc. We must examine and shed our belief systems or practices that are not aligned with our values. Disposing religious material in old ways certainly has an impact on the environment and it is against the law. Also, we can’t just pass the problem onto the next person by leaving books behind at a derasar or our local Jain centers.
As we can see there are several options available for us to fix the current situation. However, along with addressing the current situation, we also need change the way we think and act to avoid same problem in the future. For example, respectfully refuse things that we don’t need or want, and rethink our mindset about gifting religious items. We need to take responsibility and accountability of the complete lifecycle of our actions.