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ROTW #4: Jainism, Golf and Ahisma

Last Monday, I spent the morning on the golf course with family and friends from church.  We were trying again to complete our annual Spring Fling tournament that had been rained out in late April.  This day was quite beautiful – most definitely ‘way mo better’ – it was sunny, warm and dry.  Sadly, my golf game was pretty awful, but we still tried to find the fun in it.


As I drove a golf cart around the course (cart path only? really?) and walked the grassy knolls, I used part of that the time to reflect upon reading I had done in preparation of that night’s Religion class.  We’d completed Hinduism, and would be talking about Jainism, something I don’t ever recall hearing about beforehand.  (I wonder if anyone I know knows anything about Jainism.)


The ‘Jains’, although they are a small populace of people in India, represent an influential faith tradition that may predate Hinduism itself.  The ascetic (contemplative, self-discipline, self-denial) path of the Jains has a dualistic view in its metaphysical belief: “two realities” which encompass both the spiritual and material realms.  Ahimsa is reverence for all life, believing all souls are equal and that all souls should be permitted to live as they do.  Jainism is the most rigorous form on non-violence in all the world religions.  Their tradition believes that injuring or killing another life, no matter how great or miniscule, brings injury or harm to your own soul in the form of karmic debt (“soot”). 


The Jains see life in any and all things, including “water”-beings, “air’-beings, and “ground’-beings.  Pretty much the same elements you find on the golf course.  I found myself thinking often of the injury I wrought upon these innocent beings as I tried to advance a little white ball through green pastures, around wooden groves, over streams and larger bodies of water, high and far through the air.  I don’t image I will ever hear of a practicing Jain competing on the PGA Tour. And a little sign I have at home in the little corner shrine to golf came to mind:




I considered the reverence and care required in all actions and tasks of life for the Jains to avoid accumulating karmic debt due to inadvertently harming or killing another soul.  A lady bug settles on my golf ball as I prepare to whack it up and over a hill down the fairway.  A gnat is flying along, minding its own business, when a flying white orb crashes through it.  As the result of another errant shot, I angrily slam my club into the ground, severing the unassuming earthworm that lazily moves through the soil.  Not to mention any toads, tadpoles, turtles and ‘skeeter-bugs’ I might bean with a shot that falls short of the green into a watery grave, never to be heard from again.  Also as I move in and out of the golf cart itself, any number of microscopic living things might be crushed on the seat when I sit, or stomped along side the cart when I step out.  I had never considered it before.  It’s all part of an unconscious cycle of life, death (and rebirth) everywhere.  I never intend to kill anything but the golf ball itself, but the Jains believe that rocks even aspire to have a soul.  Perhaps golf balls do too (though they’re man-made so it’s not very likely).


Often when I walk a gold course, especially on such a marvelous day, I treasure the gift of God’s Creation.  I see life everywhere in the cosmic tapestry.  But I had not given any thought about the essence of life I might be hurting or killing until I learned something about Jainism.  I do not plan to abandon my golf game (even as it often abandons me), but I will try to be a bit more sensitive to any and all living beings that co-exist with me in the earthly realm.  I’d hate to think that some lady bug, gnat, earthworm, toad, tadpole, turtle, ‘skeeter-bug’ or something I cannot even see that I might injure or kill on the golf course could lead to my undoing with the Almighty.