The Jains go so far back in the history of India that they have in their cultural memoirs alternative accounts of Hindu Avatars such as Shiva because they claim to have been an organized religion at that time and recorded their encounters. The Buddha studied under the Jains during his years of ascetic practice.
The Jains have many interesting insights from their holy books, the messages of their spiritual leaders the Tirthankaras, and vast numbers of insights from their monastic and lay communities.
One such insight concerns the topic of sentience. The Jains believe in an absolute adherence to Ahimsa or harmlessness and indeed are the contributing culture from where this concept was born. Indeed, so as not to harm a tree for paper, their Agamas, or scriptures, are written on tree bark that must first fall naturally from a tree without being removed from the tree by hand.
When I was at a Jain Temple, I asked about this practice and a very wise holy person explained to me the following account. He told me that various creatures on Earth have differing sense organs. Certain birds can see infer red frequencies, others like dolphins and bats have sonar. Some creatures have five senses, some more and some less. According to Jain tradition trees have only one sense, and that one sense is touch. Trees feel the touch of sunshine, rain, the birds and the wind.
Because of this belief, Jains do not touch trees. Because the tree cannot see whom is touching it, trees in general feel fear when they are touched. Unless one is willing to spend their entire life caring for a tree, watering it and showing it love while building a trusting relationship with that tree, it is better not to touch.
The Jain community avidly practices vegetarianism. They also honor the vegan life pathway. To the Jains these are honorable methods of purification which are keys, along with their Dharma to obtain Moksha or liberation and enlightenment.
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