Ancient principles for a modern world
Ancient principles for a modern world
Brianne Donaldson is co-author of the first comprehensive review of bioethics in Jainism
By Lilibeth Garcia
Since Brianne Donaldson arrived at UCI in fall 2019, Professor of Religious Studies and Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies has pioneered a subject not found on many other campuses. academics: applied ethics and South Asian philosophies. In her classes, she brings this emphasis, including on Jainism, to discussions of medical, animal and agricultural ethics. Such topics are particularly relevant today as debates over abortion rights and compulsory vaccination flood social media platforms and climate change calls into question the sustainability of animal agriculture. Now, an open source book co-authored by Donaldson – the first of its kind – aims to bring Jainism into these contemporary bioethical conversations.
Donaldson and Ana BajÅ¾elj, professor of religion and Shrimad Rajchandra Chair in Jain Studies at UC Riverside, recently co-authored the book Insistent Life: Principles of Bioethics in the Jain Tradition (UC Press, 2021), the first comprehensive interdisciplinary review of Jainism in relation to contemporary bioethics.
Jainism is an indigenous Indian tradition well known for its practice of “ahimsa” or non-violence. According to his philosophy, the universe is teeming with vibrant and conscious life, and every living being, down to the most microscopic organism, is worthy of existence. Until now, its systematic bioethical applications had not been formalized for a wide audience.
By analyzing ancient Jain texts, some of which date back to the 6th century BC. of birth, life and death. According to Jain principles, each being is on his own autonomous journey, imbued with consciousness and energy and an aversion to pain. Because of this, there are complex karmic consequences for hurting living entities.
“It is not enough to say that Jainism is a tradition of non-violence,” says Donaldson. “It is a very sophisticated philosophical and religious system, and we want to help readers understand that the ethics of non-violence emerges from the multifaceted internal logic of tradition.”
Although its foundations are ancient, Jainism has surprising applications in contemporary bioethics, particularly in reproductive technologies, end-of-life care, organ donation, and animal research. A first step comes from the Jain claim that one must be aware that life is all around them and that every action of mind, word and body has an effect.
While the book explores the sources and answers within the Jain tradition – including its monks, nuns, and members of the lay community – it also highlights ethical implications beyond just Jains. What would the world be like if we valued a plurality of points of view from a universe populated by living beings, or recognized that all flora and fauna on earth have a desire to live and avoid pain and suffering? destruction that is no less important than ours?
“Some people present Jainism as a very idealized belief system that is impossible to practice, but in reality it presents an ethical perspective that only comes through practice,” says Donaldson. “Jain philosophy suggests that only by recognizing the pervasive cost to ourselves and to other beings in everything we do, can we actually understand the universe correctly, and then imagine and try practices that reduce these harms. “
Jain bioethics in medicine today
During their research, Donaldson and BajÅ¾elj conducted an international survey of Jain health professionals in India and diaspora communities in North America, Europe and Africa. The book includes their answers to crucial questions regarding dissection, animal research, the use of antibiotics, and physician-assisted dying. Their ideas offer new perspectives on how to approach bioethical decisions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made bioethics part of everyday discussions. As the public assesses masks, vaccines, lockdowns and personal accountability, the Jain tradition offers a new way of looking at our current situation. In his conversation with School of Humanities Dean Tyrus Miller as part of the “COVID-19: The Humanities Respond” video series, Donaldson shared his thoughts on the dangers of our current food system.
“COVID has shown us that our view of a narrowly human-centered world, where humans can exist independently of all other beings, is not true,” she says. “This belief, whether secular, scientific or religious, is pervasive and we must examine it. Jainism presents a view that life is everywhere; it is responsive, it contributes and it goes its own way, and we are involved in it. If we don’t even have a way to engage [life at this level], so how do we deal with this health crisis in which we find ourselves? ”
Learn Jainism at the UCI
Students can deepen their understanding of Jainism through one of Donaldson’s courses in medical ethics, animal ethics, and religions, as well as Asian philosophies and ethics. This year, she will be a speaker on the current theme of Humanities, Animals, People and Power, which will introduce more than 900 incoming students to animal ethics in Western philosophy, Jain and Indian philosophy, as well as perspectives. of gender and race theory. . In the spring of 2022, she will offer a graduate course in sex, genus and species.
For the public, Donaldson is hosting an ongoing ‘Ethical Innovations Conference’, which invites a leader from the public or private sector to describe their work to advance a risk-reducing innovation, such as human organs on chips, or based plants or cells. cultured meat, milk and eggs. An upcoming conference on November 3 will feature Miyoko Schinner, CEO of Miyoko’s Creamery, as she discusses her recent historic legal victory for using the terms “butter” and “dairy” on its plant-based products. And on December 1, Anne Vallely from the University of Ottawa will present “Non-Ordinary States of Conscience and Religion: Reflections on the Jain Tradition”.
Donaldson says anyone can start practicing the Jain ethics today. Two ways include eating only plants, which reduces damage, according to Jain texts and practices. And restricting the purchase of material goods can help focus on self-esteem and reduce damage to living things involved in production.
From captivating courses and events to a groundbreaking book, Donaldson brings Jainism and its contemporary applications to today’s most complex problems.