Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Michael Tobias Presents His Film: Ahimsa-Nonviolence

Michael Tobias, the renowned ecologist, author and film-maker, will moderate a discussion about non-violence, after a viewing of his memorable film, Ahimsa-Nonviolence, at the RUBIN MUSEUM OF ART in New York City, on Saturday afternoon, November 7. The presentation begins at 4:00 p.m.; the cost is $12 for non-members, and $10.80 for members of the Rubin Museum.

Another viewing of the film can be seen on Sunday, November 8, at 10:45 a.m., at Siddachalam, the Jain 120-acre animal sanctuary in New Jersey, two hours from New York City. There is no admission fee, but noone will be admitted after the film begins.

Michael Tobias' PBS film Ahimsa-Nonviolence premiered nationwide in the United States on Christmas Day in 1987 and was described by Southeast Asian Religions Professor Chris Chapple as a film “which elegantly portrays several Jain leaders and extols the religion as the great champion of animal rights and nonviolent living.”

Ahimsa in Jainism is a fundamental principle forming the cornerstone of its ethics and doctrine. The term means "nonviolence," "non-injury," or absence of desire to harm any life forms. Vegetarianism and other nonviolent practices and rituals of Jains flow from the principle of Ahimsa. According to Adian Rankin the concept of Ahimsa is so much intertwined with Jainism that it conjures up images of ascetics who cover their mouths and sweep the ground before them with small brushes to avoid injuring the most minuscule forms of life and Jain-owned animal sanctuaries where even the sickest, most deformed birds and beasts are protected and cherished. These overt manifestations of an ancient faith challenge the comfortable and near-universal assumption of human precedence over other creatures.

The Jain concept of Ahimsa is quite different from the concept of nonviolence found in other philosophies. In other religious traditions, violence is usually associated with causing harm to others. In Jainism violence refers primarily to injuring one's own self — behavior which inhibits the soul's own ability to attain liberation.

The film, which took three years of preparations and was filmed in nearly 100 locations across India, was one of the first to explore in depth the Jain religion, as well as portraying the life of Digambara, Shvetambara, and Sthanakavasi mendicants. In an essay on Jain conscience in 1997, Tobias described "the goal of absolute nonviolence" as an ideal that activists worldwide must take seriously at "every waking moment." Elsewhere he has argued that evolution does not condemn us; only our choices can do that, adding, "We have the capacity throughout our lives to give unstinting, unconditional love."

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