Q: In Jainism it is said that yagnas should not be performed because fire kills several living organisms. I have attended the yagnas (ritual offering and sacrifices to the sacred fire) here and they were very good, beyond words. How do I understand what the scriptures say in Jainism ?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: The main essence of Jainism is meditation. The second is ahimsa (non-violence). They both go together, ahimsa and meditation.
Religions have blossomed at different times and at different places. According to the time and place they have said these things. Like in the desert there are no trees, there is nothing with which one could make a fire. So in areas where there was not enough wood, the tradition (of not having yagnas) became congenial to that place at that time.
In Jainism it is said that you have to filter the water with a cloth before drinking it. It is a perfect science. But today what do people do? They tie a cloth around the mouth of the tap (to filter the water).
I remember once in Surat, I stayed with a Jain family and they had tied a cloth to all the taps in the house. And on the cloth there was so much dirt that had settled that when you open the tap, the water would come along with the dirt.
The purpose (of tying the cloth) was different, but we interpreted the scripture in a different way and made the good water even more polluted for drinking.
So sometimes we stretch ahimsa too much.
In the same way, people have stretched yagna too much. They spend too much and burn so many things which are not necessary. There is something in every tradition that is worth appreciating.
In Jainism also there is not just one tradition, there are many traditions. In one particular Jain tradition they also do some hawan (another term for yagna). Hawan is a part of some Jain traditions as well. In Buddhism also they do hawan.
In Jainism there are some differences like Sthanakvasi (a sect of Jainism that believes the soul to be formless and hence shuns idol worship), Moortipoojak (a sect of Jainism that practices idol worship), etc. Some people worship the form, some people do not. So there are many different notions.
In some particular Jain traditions, they do not keep any moortis (idols) and in other Jain traditions like Digambar, Shwetambar, Sthanakvasi, etc., their worship rituals are different. But the main essence is meditation.
Yagnas are done for creating a subtle vibration, a subtle energy, which has its own value. Of course in some Jain traditions you cannot even speak without a cover on your mouth. But this is not practical. Just imagine if all the people in the world are putting a cover on the mouth.
And there are particular sects in Jainism which say no to using electricity. You should not use a mike or light or anything. I would say these are all stretching it too much. We are going beyond the real meaning of what Tirthankaras (enlightened Self-realized souls) have said.
These are the things which need to be reformed. It is very good that some Jain munis have already started reforming; they have started moving in cars and planes. In ancient days it was said that you should not get on any vehicle because vehicles were driven by animals and it is torturing the animal. That is very true. But today vehicles are not driven by animals, it is driven by petrol. So this much Viveka (discretion) we must use.