Ahimsa – the ultimate winner




[Major Workshop presentation at the 1999 Parliament of World’s Religions at Cape Town (South Africa)]

 Vegetarianism is a unique Jain experience since it is an integral element of the practice of active non-violence. Jains have been the primary exponents of vegetarianism in India. Inherent in it is “food for thought” which takes its inspiration and motivation from the principle of “AHIMSA” (Non-violence) – meaning in a comprehensive sense non-injury, non-hurting, non-killing. Renowned Jain holy text Acaranga Sutra says:

“…All breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure unchangeable eternal law.”

Far from being a mere food habit, vegetarianism is linked to human compassion and piety towards other living beings in the spirit of constructive life – sustaining and mutually supportive coexistence. Jain teachings stress that spiritually violence towards others is violence towards oneself.

In his book “A diet for a New America”, John Robinson rightly observes:

A non-violent world has roots in a non-violent diet”

Jains pursue the practice of non-violence in their day-to-day lives reinforcing it by the principles and practice of ‘non-possessiveness’ and ‘non-absolutism’. These three together chart out a way of living for the entire human community not only related to inter-human relations but also in terms of relating to other living species as well as the natural environment. The guiding factor shaping the Jain way of life is “do not kill others to survive and live”. Nature provides enough for all of us to share and prosper without hurting, exploiting or slaughtering animals and birds. They may be voiceless and defenseless, but have souls like the humans.

In principled terms, vegetarianism preached and practiced by the Jain community symbolizes the recognition as well as implementation of “the right to life”. It is not enough to talk about human life alone. It is equally important to talk about prevention of cruelty to birds and beasts, to heal their wounds or to cure their diseases. Far more important is not to wipe them out of existence, not to cut short their lift span prematurely and not to eat their dead flesh for one’s sustenance. Aren’t they entitled to their normal life span as much as humans are in the process of going through the cycle of birth and death in different incarnations?

In the Jain holy text “PURUSHARTHASIDDHYUPAI”, Acharya Amritchandra deals extensively with the spiritual rationale of vegetarianism as an integral part of the right and rational conduct (Samyak Charitra):

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Meat cannot be available without killing the animals. Hence for a meat-eater, violence becomes necessary. Although it is true that meat can be taken from naturally-dead buffaloes or bullocks, but in that meat of the dead body also there are innumerable livings elements – which when killed and eaten generate violence. Anyone who touches and eats any kind of raw or cooked meat causes violent injury to many living elements”.

Whenever human lives are brutally destroyed, annihilated, tortured or even discriminated against, hue and cry of human rights is raised. Horrible nazi atrocities on Jews, shocking killing fields in Cambodia, atom bomb disaster in Hiroshima, Gas tragedy in Bhopal (India), shooting to death of innocent school children in USA and such other violent incidents have been shocking to human conscience.

By that very token, are modern slaughterhouses slaughtering thousands of innocent animals day in and day out any the less in brutality and oppression than the extermination of Jews in Nazi concentration camps? Why is our conscience not revolting to using animals as mere food products to satisfy our recurring appetite?

Over a century ago the great Indian Chief Seattle sang:

Where is Man without the beasts?
If the beasts were gone, Man would die
From a great loneliness of Spirit
For whatever happens to the beasts
Soon happens to Man
All things are interconnected
Like the blood which unites our family
Man did not weave the web of life
He is merely a strand in it
Whatever he does to the web

He does to himself”

Jain concept of vegetarianism includes drinking boiled water. During fasting it is laid down as a must. When water is boiled it kills all bacteria or minute invisible beings in the water as well as polluting substances. In a sense this may be violence in itself, but in the non-boiled water countless minute beings are continuously born. Once boiled, water ceases to multiple bacteria and remains pure for a whole day.

Likewise Jain religion forbids eating after sunset because during darkness, number of invisible insects increase and may be accidentally consumed while eating at night.

Acharya Samant Bhadra has advocated giving up at night consumption of solid food (Ashan), liquid food (Pan), dry fruits (Khadim) and food taken entirely for taste (like betel levels) Root vegetables, vegetables with multiple seeds, alcoholic drinks, ice, old pickles are also forbidden as their consumption implies destruction of living elements which can be avoided.

It is believed in Jain and Hindu faiths that birth as human being is at the top of the birth-death life cycle and is earned by good deeds in earlier life as an animal or any other living being. Having secured this honour, human beings who are far superior to other living species in terms of ingenuity, intellect, feeling, rationality, perspective and expression ability, have morally and ethically no right to destroy life of other living beings. They can judiciously satisfy their appetite through an equally nourishing and in Jain experience more sober and yet delicious vegetarian diet of immense variety and freshness.

Human beings detest with revulsion at the very thought of eating human flesh. Cannibals are regarded barbaric and inhuman. Then how is it eating animal flesh does not raise the same emotional sensitivities? Let us face it. Non-vegetarianism reflects man’s vanity, greed, impertinence and exploitative complex towards the weaker beings whom he pretends to regard as dumb and emotion less creatures or simply commodities to be consumed.

The horrifying spectacle of corailed and anguish in modern slaughterhouses would pierce any sensitive heart. Some year back I read the brutal process described by an American lady:

Cows, calves, lamps were corailed down a narrow corridor. One by one they dropped through a trap door and were caught by a rope by one leg, after which they dangled next to one another fully conscious, in agony until a man with a long knife came and slit their throats. The blood gushed was in torrents.”

One needs to pause and think about the ordeal of the animal being slaughtered – the intense feeling of horror, anger, hurt, pain and suffering – which would go into his freshly dead meat. When eaten such meat would shape in the emotional fibers of meat eaters a psychology of callousness, anger, revenge, hate, disgust and intolerance.

Russian Magazine “Ogonyok” published a research paper highlighting the finding in Russia that -

Over 70% of a group of violent criminals had as children burnt, hanged or stabbed domestic animals”

Renowned Digambar Jain Acharya Vidyasagarji has been consistently championing the cause of compassion for all life forms by building a countrywide campaign in India for closing down slaughterhouses and banning export of meat. He has also urged giving up the use of leather shoes, purses, bag belts and such other items.

‘Jivadaya’ and ‘Jivaraksha movement is active in India particularly starting with the protection of cows.

Jain leaders inspired by Acharya Vidyasagarji in conjunction with All India Krishi Goseva Sangh and such other organizations of the Hindu Community have done a lot of research to point out serious economic loss to India’s agro-economy through export of meat which has risen from 60000 Metric tonnes in 1973-74 to almost 2,00,000 metric tones now. It has been estimated that a total of 6,70,000 buffalos are slaughtered for meat export earning worth Rs.20000 million. If buffalos had lived for say another 5 years more, the dung produced would be 190 million tones which when used as manure would produce additional food grains to the tune of 70 million tonnes worth almost Rs.2, 75000 million.

Another important element is that production of 1 Kg. of meat requires 30 liters of water. In a detailed research paper Mr. R K Joshi, Trustee of Viniyog Pariwar Trust has estimated that to produce meat from about 7 million buffalos and 4 million sheep, the water required would be 16000 million litres which could be sufficient for meeting annual drinking water needs of 9 million persons. All this is in addition to the cruelty of killing innocent animals.

Recently former French actress and the well-known animal rights crusader Brigitte Bardot urged British gourmets to boycott foil grass “because it is made from techniques that caused the suffering and death of million of geese and duck force-fed a poor diet until suffocation”. She called for a ban on all French farm products because “the animals are fed the carcasses of other animals and filthy water-all in the name of French Production”.

Ms. Shilpa Shah, a scholar of Jainism and a specialist on the philosophy and definition of “JIVA-DAYA”(Kindness to living beings) has this to say about how millions of animals are undergoing experiments, which are cruel and risk their life or longevity only for testing household products for human beings:

Every year, approximately 14 million animals suffer and die in painful tests in an attempt to determine the safety of cosmetics and household products. Nearly every major brand of cosmetic and household product, such as toothpaste, lipstick, dishwashing liquid, and furniture polish, are tested on animals such as rabbits and dogs. Additionally, every time a company changes its ingredients or advertises a “new” or “improved” product, the substance is then retested.

“Two of the most common methods of testing are the Draize Eye Irritancy Test and the Lethal Dose 50 (or D 50) test. The Draize test is used to test substances that might get into the human eye. During this test, a certain amount of a concentrated solution is placed into the eyes of conscious albino rabbits. Their eyes are held open with clips, and many rabbits break their necks or backs as they struggle to escape. The damage to the rabbits’ eyes is then recorded at intervals over a period of several days. Reactions to the irritants include swelling of the eyelid, inflammation of the iris, ulceration, bleeding and blindness. They usually receive no anesthesia or pain relieving drugs during the tests.

“The LD 50 test measures the amount of a toxic substance that will, in a single dose, kill half of the animals in a test group. Again, no painkillers are administered. During this test, the experimental substance is forced into the animals’ throats or pumped into their stomachs by tube sometimes causing death by stomach rupture or from the sheer bulk of the chemical dosage. Substances are also injected under the skin, into a vein or into the lining of the abdomen. They are also often applied to the eyes, rectum, or vagina or forcibly inhaled through a gas mask.”

A study of 17000 men and women conducted showed that in USA and Finland highest deaths were due to high consumption of meat products.

As if animals are commodities, hunters kill them for hunting pleasure. Bullfights are regarded as Sport Spectacles in which bulls are injured, hurt and killed in an unequal and unfair encounter with the bullfighter. Is it not a sign of degenerating values if “tormenting” animals provide to Man a seeming kind of pleasure and kick?

No wonder then if addiction to violence and criminality is flourishing all around particularly in societies consuming non-vegetarian food.

However, it needs to be taken into account that non-vegetarian food habits or for that matter any kind of violence is not sanctioned by any faith or religion. Meat eating has grown on the facetious assumptions of human exploitative complex and the need for so-called powerful nourishment to become physically strong. It is not related to the concerned religion of which meat eaters may be followers.

It is also somewhat quixotic that meat-eaters invariably eat the meat of vegetarian animals. Vegetarian animals like elephants and horses are by no means weak, but are strong. It is also interesting that vegetarian animals live in a community life, but invariably non-vegetarian animals like tigers live more as erratic and aggressive individuals.

As a species capable of profound introspection, humans need to outgrow such cruel mentality. After all human being have been around on the Earth for less than 100000 years. For most of the time, the majority of food was gathered by women and it was in the form of pulses, fruits and vegetables. Now that humanity has crossed over 6 billion mark growing population pressure should not lead to higher meat consumption since it would upset the nature’s balance of life systems.

It needs also to be realized that to produce non-vegetarian food, animal rearing has become a flourishing industry in the world. This industry has tragically ignored that animals have also souls, sensitivities and emotions. A study done in USA has concluded that this way there is much greater drain on natural resources because to produce a single pound of meat takes an average of 2500 gallons of water as much as a typical family uses in a month. Rice takes more water that any other grain, but even rice requires only 1/10th as much water per pound of production as meat.

Yet another example is one acre of land can grow 20000 pounds of potatoes, but if it were to be directed to produce cattle feeds, it can produce only about 165 pounds of beef.

Imagine the waste of resources through feeding animals and dead meat to provide food for humans, when more rationally humans and animals could all share nature’s bounty of fruits and vegetable to survive and grow – a lot of which is perishing daily unused.

A very harmful impact of consumption of meat products is the rapid extinction of many species at the rate of 1000 species a year. This is seriously disturbing the global life system pattern.

Another disastrous impact is environmental impoverishment. For instance, in USA alone since 1960 the rate of deforestation has been one acre every second. Disappearing forest cover all over the world has adversely affected the climate. Lots of beef for consumption in USA comes from Central and South America, where as a result rain forest have been destroyed and converted into pastures for raising cattle, Central America which had 1,30,000 Sq. miles of virgin rare forests in 1960 is now left with rapidly diminishing 80000 Sq. miles cover of rain forests.

It is a well-known fact that rain forests constitute world’s oldest eco-system on earth and have been sources of substantial percentage of Earth’s oxygen supplies. Aren’t we moving towards depriving the world including humans of adequate oxygen supplies in our desperate march towards materialism fed with violence against nature itself – our creator and sustainer?



Health Aspects

Research studies, particularly in the western would, have established that effects of meat products on physical health of human beings are immediate as witnessed in the increasing incidence of cancer and heart-attacks, osteoporosis, neurological disorders, birth defects and increasing aberrations of sexual development. It is said that -

There is not a single population in the world with a high meat intake which does not have a high rate of colon cancer?”

Cholesterol content is much higher in meat. By contrast, hardly any vegetarian food item has any appreciable amount of cholesterol. In vegetarian food, it is found only in foods of animal origin like milk, and milk products where it occurs dissolved in fat. The vegetarian diet has some subtle advantages as revealed by many epidemiological studies Mortality rates are similar, in fact a shade better amongst the vegetarians. Vegetarians are at lesser risk of obesity, constipation and less prone to alcoholism. Risk for hypertension, coronary artery diseases and diabetes are lower amongst the vegetarians. Vegetarian diet being free of cholesterol is safer for heart and heart-associated diseases. Avoidable deficiency of iron amongst vegetarians is not more serious than the high iron of red meat, which is a risk factor in coronary artery diseases. The following table is illustrative:


In Milligrams per 100 gram portion
In Milligrams per 100 gram portion
Egg 550 All grains 0
Kidney, Beef 375 All vegetables 0
Liver, Beef 300 All nuts 0
Oysters 200 All seeds 0
Butter 250 All fruits 0
Cream, Cheese 120 All legumes 0
Lard 95 All vegetable oils 0
Beefsteak 70
Lamb 70
Pork 70
Chicken 60
Ice cream 45

Source Pennington, J. Foods Values of Portion commonly used Hamper and Row, 14th ED, New York 1985

Risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, osteoporosis, dental erosion and dental cavities is lower amongst strict vegetarians. Magnesium deficiency, more common amongst non-vegetarians, is an important factor in the pathogenesis or atherosclerosis, which leads to coronary artery diseases and stroke. Vegetarian diet by and large is richer in its Magnesium contents.

Fiber rich vegetarian diets are conducive to free and rapid movement of fecal matter in the G.I. tract and hence non-constipational which in turn offers prevention against colorectal cancer. The incidence of Gallstones like that of colorectal cancer is far less amongst those who consume fiber rich diet.

Vegetarian diet is rich in carotene and other anti-oxidant vitamins C and E (all free radical scavengers), which makes it anti-cancer to a certain extent.

There exists a strong co-relation between the incidence of kidney stones and the level of consumption of animal proteins in the population. The higher the intake of animal proteins, the more likelihood of the individuals to have multiple kidney stones. Contrary to this, in the population where vegetable protein intake is high, the incidence of stones in the upper urinary tract is low.

The researchers have now established that there is nothing nutritionally wrong or inferior in being a pure vegetarian. Gone are the days when non-vegetarian diet was considered almost essential for perfect health and malnutrition was associated with pure vegetarianism. There is also the time tested experience of the Jain community and predominantly vegetarian Hindu community who have been all along taking only vegetarian diet and have maintained by and large good health and adequate nourishment together with a peaceful life style and have not been serious victim of fatal diseases as suffered by non-vegetarians.

Today it is felt that a judicious assemblage of cereals, pulses and beans, seasonal vegetables and fruits accompanied by a sprinkle of dairy products to an affordable extent could provide nutritious diet which could even be better that the one high in meat and eggs. Non-vegetarian adjuncts are no longer considered essential to formulate a complete meal.

Totally vegetarian food ensures an ample supply of all necessary vitamins and minerals in addition to plenty of carbohydrates, sufficient proteins and fats and also hitherto ignored dietary fiber missing in the non-vegetarian items.

Whereas one can stay healthy with purely vegetarian diet, it is not so for the non-vegetarians who necessarily need to have a vegetarian blend. This amply substantiates the indispensability of vegetarian diet. The question, which deserves consideration, is not as to which of the two modes is superior but whether the vegetarian diet, even if not supplemented with non-vegetarian stuff, makes a healthy diet.

Male Vegetarian had an average
Measurable time loss of: 3%
Male non-vegetarian: 7%
Female Vegetarian: 18%
Female non-vegetarian: 35%

Adequate protein-content in food is an important element from health and nutrition point of view. For daily minimum input of proteins, one needs to eat about 200 gms. of meat per day. Meat, eggs and fish are rich in protein (around 20%).

However, vegetarian diet if judiciously chosen offers adequate protein particularly in pulses, beans and nuts. Cereals like rice and wheat are poor in protein (not more than 10%). But since the cereals are consumed in bulk protein deficiency does not become serious.

An important fact is NPU (net protein utilization), which determines usefulness of any food as source of protein both from the angles of digestibility as well as completeness of amino acid make up. Eggs enjoy the high NPU value. But one cannot survive on eggs alone, since egg is the richest source of cholesterol. But if one were to take a glass of fresh milk, the low lysine content of bread would be compensated by that in the milk and one would get complete protein in an efficiently valuable form. Pulses are deficient in lysine but rich in methionine. A judicious combination and protein blend can make vegetarian food very nutritious.

Fats: Fats are another essential component of food. In addition to vegetable oils and hydrogenated oil, which provide 100% fat, all foods stuffs like cereals, pulses and other plant products do possess “invisible fat” component (bound to other food constituents) which approximates 20 gm/day in an average Indian diet. Even if vegetarian diet is not supplemented with additional so-called “visible fat”, it is only marginally below the desired recommended levels of dietary fat. In fact, lesser the fat in take, better it is for the user.

Slightly disadvantageous element of proteins in a vegetarian diet is amply compensated on the fat front. Vegetarian fat has no cholesterol – the culprit of many serious diseases, and is richer in essential unsaturated fatty acids. Cholesterol is found only in foods of animal origin including milk and milk products where it occurs dissolved in fat. Hardly any vegetarian food item has appreciable amount of cholesterol.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates (collective term for sugars, cellulose and starch) is the third main and the bulkiest component of the vegetarian food as much as it constitutes 50% – 60% of the total food eaten and supplies much of the energy needed by the body in terms of calories. Eating sufficient fiber prevents constipation and helps reduce the risk of cancer of the bowel. Fiber also makes us chew food longer and is filling, making meals more satisfying and thus preventing from overeating.

Nutritional value of vegetarian foods can be easily improved manifold. Seed sprouting is one such technique. Seeds, grain and even nuts can be sprouted. Sprouted seeds known as “sprout” are easy to digest, loaded with vitamins and hence invigorating. They provide wholesome, easily assimilable, and highly nutritious food.

As a professional diplomat in a career spanning four decades and with assignments covering all continents, I never felt odd man out as a vegetarian. As Ambassador of India to Mexico, once the Mayor of Acapulco hosted a dinner-reception in my honour on the occasion of Indian Embassy organizing an Indian cultural evening in that city. To my delight, the Mayor’s wife arranged a vegetarian buffet for all the 200 guests as a mark of respect for my vegetarianism. In fact, she observed that in an almost totally non-vegetarian Mexican society, it was nice that I inspired her to think of Mexican vegetarian dishes in view of abundance of fruits and vegetables in Mexico.

On yet another occasion when I was India’s Ambassador to Belgium, at a formal sit down dinner at the British Ambassador’s house, the wife of the N.A.T.O. Secretary General requested the British Ambassador to give her a seat next to me. The Ambassador consulted me because India had no diplomatic dealings with the multilateral military alliance of NATO. At the dinner when I asked the wife of NATO Secretary General about her desire to sit next to me, she said she was beginning to prefer vegetarian food as a natural wholesome and psychologically acceptable diet. By sitting next to me she wanted to ensure being served vegetarian food in the home of a non-vegetarian host.

At the UN Earth Summit 1992 at Buenos Aires in Brazil, a delegate asked me who the white robed person standing next to me was. The person was the well-known Jain Saint Acharya Sushil Muni. Before I could reply, a Christian Priest who was talking to us, replied that he is the representative of the most-peaceful religion of the world viz. Jainism whose followers are all vegetarians.


Pro-ve sentiment is growing in different parts of the world inspired by spiritual, emotional, ethical, environmental and nutritional perspectives. More and more non-vegetarians are voluntarily taking to vegetarian food. The change over is in tune with ‘humane instincts’ of compassion and coexistence with all other living species, as well as the growing gut feeling of responsibility of the human community to protect the Mother Earth and its natural environment.

With growing population pressure, realization has also dawned that it is possible to feed seven times as many people on crops consumed directly than on crops first consumed by livestock and then converted into meat, milk and eggs to be eaten by human beings.

Anthropologically also the human beings are destined to be vegetarians and non-vegetarianism is secondarily imposed on them. Meat eating animals have long canine teeth for tearing apart the flesh. Human dentition on the other hand, is designed to biting and chewing, Carnivores gulp down large pieces of food with little or no mastication Unlike in the humans, the digestive system of the meat eating animals secretes 10 times more hydrochloric acid as compared to the vegetarians in order to dissolve/digest raw flesh and bones in the stomach.

Thus vegetarian diet becomes an integral part of human intake (Aahar) of what is simultaneously nourishing for the body as well as a tonic for the soul. It becomes an element in the spiritual upliftment of human beings while serving to satisfy their appetite as well as taste buds. It is also cleaner, healthier, cheaper and full of wide variety of items.

Jain experience has been that vegetarianism strengthens moral and ethical fiber and reinforces qualities of tolerance, piety and kind-heartedness. Vegetarianism makes eating a pure delight and a celebration of communion with life.

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