Jains, exterminators and bad karma


If you were a serious follower of Jainism, the topic of insecticide would be much more serious than whether you use Bayer or BASF pesticides. Jains would be discussing the murder of insects.

Jains do their very best to avoid bad karma, which requires avoidance of harm to all beings, large and small. According to Jain ethics, hurting living organisms negatively impacts ones own ability to pass to a better state of existence in this world or their next reincarnation. Jain monks are famous for the unusual behavior of sweeping away insects from their path so as not to hurt them. Jain laity may not go to the extremes of their priesthood, but they very much believe that harming nature affects their cosmic relationship to this world and even the future migration of their souls. Whether intentional or not, it produces bad karma that must be avoided.

What are we to think of the Jains? Are they a weird sect in a strange corner of the world with little to tell westerners? Or do they have something special to communicate to us? Thinking about our western pop culture and popular movie themes that have entertained us, it is clear that we have come to the same conclusion that we do infinite harm to ourselves as we destroy the natural world around us.

Consider the modern newly found respect for Native Americans and their close connection to nature, captured handily in one of the best films of all times, Dancing with Wolves. Dunbar, a lone soldier, is observed closely by the Sioux medicine man. He finds something unique about this white man who is more than a hunter of men and wildlife. He is a person who seeks to understand the life around him, evidenced by his relationship with a lone wolf. Eventually, Dunbar receives the Sioux name, “Dancing with Wolves.” As “Dancing with Wolves” learns the ways of a Sioux tribe, he is told, “I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life… there is one that matters most. It is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on this trail, and it is good to see.”

While our modern existence almost compels us to do many things that produce long term harm to nature and to us, we know that a healthy relationship with nature is imperative for living a good life. Each of us, in our own way, understand that we are a part of nature, that we are bound to it, regardless that our western faiths tell us we are at the top of the food chain and that nature is ours to subdue.

Recently, millions of movie goers revisited this theme of our western culture as spiritually degenerate, devoid of any connection to nature. I am speaking about the movie sensation Avatar. We know that after the film, we will go back to our ways of destroying just about everything we come into contact with, but we wish we could be Na’vi, mentally, spiritually, even physically connected to nature.

If we didn’t know it already, the film “An Inconvenient Truth,” by Al Gore, laid to rest for millions of movie goers any doubts that we are destroying our environment.



As Jainism understands it, we have created enormous bad karma in our destruction of the natural world that supports life. We didn’t intentionally do it, but nevertheless, we have done it. We have destroyed much of the natural world that supports us.

It’s childish to argue that we should all live like the Jains. Anti-environmentalists would have us think that we are perhaps silly, sentimental fools. We are not. We simply know that bad karma is accumulating and that we all must contribute in our own way, to the best of our ability to right the wrongs that are done to our natural world, so that we can go on living here on earth for a long time.

As pest control professionals, we don’t mean to cause harm. We are simply trying to please customers who need a semblance of peace from the pests that surround them. So we use various pesticides to solve that immediate need. The profession has evolved tremendously, from one of exterminators forced to accept environmental oversight to one of integrated pest management professionals determined to find a package of solutions that minimize environmental impact. It is incombant upon us as good environmental stewards to remember the lesson of the Jains, that the small harms that we do, even to insects, can add up in ways that we do not foresee or understand, causing substantial downstream harm. Perhaps the new mantra of pest control should be to avoid bad karma at all cost.

2 Responses to Jains, exterminators and bad karma

  1. Gerry Weitz says:

    One of our readers agreed to share the following emailed content:
    “Hi Gerry! This is so interesting, especially the one about Jains. I relate to it – I try to catch bugs (spiders) and throw them outside rather than kill them. However, when the ants come in that’s pretty impossible, so I just grit my teeth and ask for forgiveness while I vacuum or wipe them up :)”

  2. David says:

    A little to deep for me but I enjoy reading your blogs Gerry. Keep it up.

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