Sam Harris on Jainism

As one of his classic examples, Sam Harris’ views on Jainism have been widely espoused by the Neuroscientist, and used frequently as an example where religion is not necessarily the fundamental problem. Though it’s a brief passage, we thought it was nonetheless interesting to provide context to and discuss it’s relevance in the larger debate. Sam Harris views on Jainism from his own mouth:

Jainism actually is a religion of peace. The core principle of Jainism is non violence. Gandhi got  has non-violence from the Jains. The crazier you get as a Jain the less we have to worry about you. Jain extremists are actually they are they are paralyzed by their pacifism. Jain extremists just they can’t take their eyes off the ground when they walk less they step on an ant. They filter every sip of water through cheesecloth, lest they swallow and thereby kill a bug.

I mean needless to say they’re they’re vegetarian. Notice the problem is not religious extremism because extremism is not a problem if your core beliefs are truly nonviolent.”

Brief Background on Jainism

Jainism is a fairly small (4-5 million followers, mostly in India) eastern religion that shares quite a bit of overlap with buddhist religions on their line of influence as well as their general geographic positioning (not unimportant). That said, the pacifism often preached by and associated with Buddhism has often let advocates, including Sam down with their historical record. In the course of Sam Harris’ 2006 lecture at the now famous Beyond Belief conference, Sam’s use of Buddhism as an example of peace became a hostile talking point (one of many) with the audience.

Well prepared, Harris cited the widely influential book Zen at War by Brian Victoria which discussed the role that buddhism played in energizing Japanese suicide bombers in World War II. It seems reasonable to assume that Harris, in need of a better, less controversial example (paired with his education in easter religions) chose to switch his example to Jainism instead. Jainism, doesn’t just preach pacifism in action but also preaches the use of a lack of violence in thoughts and ideas. It’s this step that separates Jainism from the rest of the, relatively pacifist nature, of the other eastern religions.

Usage in the Religion Debate

The primary use of Jainism in the religion debate, especially as employed by Sam, is to illustrate that it’s not necessarily the institution of religion that is at the core of the disconnect between secular society and the rest of the world. Sam presses the Jainism religion into service here to serve this point which, though it serves it’s purpose, it’s unclear what impact such an observation has.

Jainism, though unique and intriguing in its doctrine, is nonetheless a very small and rare religion in the world with few examples that share their pacifist ideals. Sam’s one off point here is granted and understood, yet nonetheless leaves the door open for his tendency to anecdotal or extreme examples, such as in his position on free will. We’re just here to report (for the most part). We trust users will do their own research and delve into the issues deeper before pontificating in the public sphere. 

As always, should we become aware that Dr. Harris has changed his opinion or should new evidence be submitted that we have either misconstrued his opinion or failed to include important statements from him, we will 1) make the correction, 2) note the correction here, 3) issue a mea culpa that attempts to explain and improve on how we missed this. 


Scholar Fact Check Help Fix Fake News. Open RolesOperationOur grass roots...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This