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jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir

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CHAPTER  – 15

VEGETARIANISM – THE JAIN TRADITION

Vegetarianism is a unique Jain tradition since it is regarded as a very vital element of the practice of active non-violence and an integral part of Jain ethics. It has become a way of life and basic culture for Jains. Jains have been the leading exponents of vegetarianism in India. Jain communities settled abroad now are also actively propagating it.

In the last 50 years or so, the cult of vegetarianism is gaining ground in the growingly ecologically conscious western world both on grounds of health and nutrition as well as on grounds of compassion for other living beings. A study made in the Cornell University has revealed that there are 7 million vegetarians in U.S.A.

Jain holy scripture 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 pure unchangeable eternal law.”

Far from being a food habit, vegetarianism is linked to human compassion and kindness towards other living beings in the spirit of mutual supportiveness. Jain teachings stress that spiritually violence towards others is violence towards oneself. Do not kill or hurt others to survive and live.  Nature provides enough for all of us to share and prosper without hurting, exploiting, abusing or slaughtering animals, birds and other living beings- big or small. They may be voiceless and defenseless, but have souls and sensitivities flowing from it like the humans.

Lord Mahavir observed more than 2500 years ago:

“He who looks upon
The creatures of the earth, big and small
As his own self
Comprehends this immense world
Among the careless, he who restrains his self
Is enlightened.”

“The instinct of self preservation is universal. Every animate being wants to live and avoid untimely death. Nobody likes suffering. Therefore, do not inflict suffering on anybody. This is non-violence. This is equality.”

In principled terms, vegetarianism preached and practiced by the Jain community symbolizes the recognition of “the right to life for all living beings’ It is not enough to talk about human life or human rights alone. It is equally important to talk about prevention of cruelty to birds and beasts, to heal their wounds and to cure their diseases . Far more important is not to wipe them out of existence, not to cut short their life span prematurely, and not to eat their dead flesh for one’s sustenance. Famous playwright George Bernard Shaw, a vegetarian himself has put it in memorable words:

“I am a human being and not a graveyard for dead animals”

Charles Darwin observed :

“Sympathy for the lowest animals is one of the noblest virtues with which a man is endowed”

Leo Tolstoy has written:

“Thou shall not kill’ does not apply to murder of one’s own kind only, but to all living beings and the commandment was inscribed in the human breast long before it was proclaimed from Sinai.”

Jain holy text Purushartha Siddhupai written by Acharya Amritchandra says:

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

An American lady converted to vegetarianism under Jain inspiration writes, :

“I have come to realize that for me and my family, the vegetarian way of life is not only removing ourselves from supporting the machines of violence and the mentality of callousness towards helpless creatures, but it has also been able to give us a new and fresh outlook on life. I feel one with creation. I feel a deep kinship with the beings with whom I share this planet. I see them as energies, conscious, living, growing evolving energies in a myriad of different forms. They are as much my brothers and sisters as the downtrodden, persecuted, suffering humans.”

Jain concept of vegetarianism also prohibits eating of even root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic or honey sucked from bees There is constant emphasis also on eating fresh food as well as properly filtered and/or boiled water. Jains also do not eat after sunset. The spread of vegetarianism in the western world in recent years has also witness the emergence of a strong VEGAN MOVEMENT, which prohibits consumption of milk and milk products both on grounds of avoiding cruelty to cows  as well as on health grounds.

It has been established now by Vegan movement protagonists that for producing more milk, cows are kept pregnant continually. 70 to 80 per cent of baby calves are slaughtered within six months by Veal industry or within five years by beef industry. Mother cows are being slaughtered after only five years of their fertile life as against their average life expectancy of 15 years.Nearly 130,000 cattle and 7000 calves are being slaughtered every day.

The practice of vegetarianism by Jains is also an integral part of highly disciplined restraint (Ahar achar and ahar shuddhi) in food consumption. Jain scriptures lay down clear guidelines for avoiding over-consumption as well as eating below one’s appetite, observing periodic fasts, giving up or restricting consumption of certain food items,  eating food cooked in a healthy and clean ambiance, eating fresh food items and avoiding junk food, stale food and fat-rich food.

On nutritional grounds also, vegetarian food is gaining popularity. Cornell University studies have shown that wisely chosen vegetarian diet is fully nutritional. Those who ate the most protein from animals were found to have the highest rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Jain religion puts considerable emphasis on the emotional and ethical perspective. Human beings detest with revulsion at the very thought of eating human flesh. Cannibals are regarded barbaric and inhuman. Then how it is that eating animal flesh does not raise the same sensitivities. It only reflects exploitative, distorted and illogical greed and vanity of human beings. It is also the subtle desensitization that consumerism, taste buds, and not wanting to know is covering the non-vegetarian world.

One also needs to pause and think about the ordeal of the animals being slaughtered in  slaughter houses, howsoever modern and equipped,. The intense feeling of horror, anger, hurt, pain and suffering which goes into the freshly dead meat goes to shape the emotional fibers of meat eaters, and develops in them the psychology of callousness, anger, revenge, hate, disgust and intolerance. “Ogonyok”, a Russian magazine published a research paper highlighting that over 70 per cent of a group of violent and hardened criminals had as children burnt, hanged or stabbed domestic animals. A study of 17000 men and women conducted showed that in U.S.A. and Finland highest deaths were due to high consumption of meat products.

Jain community in India has mounted a big campaign for the closure of slaughter hauses and banning of the export of meat. Renowned Digambar Jain Acharya Vidyasagarji has been a strong advocate and has urged Jains and others ton give up use of leather items like shoes, purses, belts, suitcases etc. He has emphasized that Jeev Daya (compassion for animals) also includes ‘Jeeva Raksha” ( protection of animals from being killed).

What lends greater urgency to propagate vegetarianism is the fact that in western countries, animal are being bred and brought up only for being killed to provide food for the non-vegetarians. This flourishing industry of ‘animal farms’ has totally ignored that animals have also souls, sensitivities and emotions. A study done in U.S.A. has also shown that there is much greater drain on natural resources, because to produce a single pound of meat takes on an average 2500 gallons of water- as much as a typical family uses in a month. Rice takes more water than any other grain, but even rice requires only 0ne-tenth as much water per pound of production of meat. One acre of land can grow 20,000 pounds of potatoes, but if it were to be directed to produce cattle feeds, it can produce only about 165 pounds of beef. A cow takes in 16 kg of food grains to develop one kilogram of beef.

In this age of increasing pressure of population on limited food resources, it is  alarming that over 70 percent of the food grains produced in U.S.A. are consumed  by pigs and cows for producing meat for human consumption. In a very revealing article in Economic Times (India) in the month of May,2008, Mr. Arun Firodia has pointed out that an average american eats 125 kgs of meat every year and all Americans consume in all 35 million tones of meat annually. An average Chinese consumes 70 kgs of meat annually. All Chinese put together consume 100 million tones of meat annually

.In India, the per capita consumption of meat is presently around 3 kgs, and overall annually one million tones of meat is consumed. This figure is steadily rising with standard of living going up particularly in affluent classes of society. This calls for an imme3diate and well-sustained plan to ensure that vegetarianism does not get a sharp setback in  India. Indeed world meat consumption has surged five-fold in the last 50 years forcing diversion of food grains to feed the animals. Little wonder that the demand for food grains is racing ahead of supply of food grains and global prices are rising.

This critical situation underlines the need to strengthen the movement for vegetarianism. Not only in terms of ethics and piety, but on sound economic grounds, it is imperative to drastically reduce consumption of meat and take to increasingly vegetarian and fruit diet. If humans were to directly consume grains rather than  cycle them through animals to eat their meat, there would be enough to feed the world and there would be no food shortage.

Jain religion also highlights the environmental perspective of vegetarianism. Wiping out of a large number of species at the rate of over 1000 species a year now threatens the global life system pattern of interdependent and mutually supportive growth. Rapid and reckless deforestation all over the world has led to adverse climatic change. Jain philosophy recognizes that trees are also living elements and have souls-even with limited sensitivities. Protecting vibrant natural flora and fauna is an integral part of the Jain non-violence culture.

Jain experience has been that vegetarianism strengthens the moral and ethical fiber and reinforces qualities of tolerance, piety and kindheartedness. It is simultaneously nourishing for the body as well as 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.

Vegetarianism as the Jain perception recognizes that we need to avoid the misery we inflict on helpless sentient beings eventually slackens and distorts human evolution, as all life on this planet is closely intertwined and interdependent in a harmonious divine balance. Jains regard vegetarianism as a celebration of communion with all forms of life on our planet.

(end of Chapter 15)

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