So, does being a Jain mean that you have to be a vegetarian? If we look at Jainism through the lens of Ahimsa, then, perhaps, yes.
Ahimsa and Jainism are two sides of one coin – the whole essence of Jainism is in Ahimsa. However, it should not be treated as solely a spiritual or religious concept – it is the very foundation of Humanity.
All religion advocates ‘compassion to all beings’, it’s just that Jainism has made it a central tenet, through ahimsa and vegetarianism.
The 5 Vrats
Lord Mahavira gave five vrats:
- Non-violence (Ahimsa)
But, he said, ‘Ahimsa Parmo Dharma’(Ahimsa is the supreme religion). Why did he say so? Because ahimsa is the only medicine which can cure all problems of any society and nation.
As human beings, it is ideal that we possess virtues or good sanskar like love, patience, calmness, honesty, generosity, etc –but without Ahimsa, all these virtues will not have their desired impact on society and maintain peace and harmony for all.
What is Ahimsa?
It is a very exhaustive term and difficult to define it in a few words. It is defined as the principle of live and let live. Or, to follow the principle of minimal harm and principle of ‘inter-dependence’. However, it can simply be described as:
‘ We all need to accept the fact that there are other humans and other living beings who also want to live, who also feel pain and who also want happiness’.
In a nutshell, Ahimsa = live and let live. Or, to follow the principle of minimal harm and principle of ‘inter-dependence’.
Jainism And Vegetarianism
Jains believe that all living things contain a soul and should not be harmed.
The Jain philosophy, therefore, aims to cause as little harm a possible to living things – so the diet restricts food items like meat, fish, poultry and eggs. However, plants do not have a sensory nervous system like other living beings – which is why plant life does not feel pain and can be consumed.
Dairy products are permissible in the Jain diet, provided they are procured and prepared as per religious guidelines. A cow can be milked only after her calf has suckled.
But Is It Enough?
The philosophy of Ahimsa must extend to what is on the plate as well.
Today, in the Jain community, Ahimsa is misunderstood as only "Jivdaya,” or compassion towards animals. Even this is restricted to mainly ‘helping animal shelter houses’ (Panjrapole) or saving some animals from going to the slaughterhouse.
When India is one of the top exporters of beef in the world, Jains need to introspect and change the way they think about Jivdaya. They need to analyse the reasons for the increase in the number of animals slaughtered in India and around the world.
Ahimsa is the core philosophy of Jainism
Facing The Reality
Gone are the days when animals were limited in numbers, milk was not a business and animals were family members. Today, animals are treated as ‘machines’ and animal breeding is an ‘industry’. There is no doubt that meat, milk and leather are three businesses which are growing on each other’s support, and that of the consumer. Jains need to pause, understand the harsh reality and drastically cut down on their consumption of dairy products and stop the use of leather.
Getting To The Root Of The Problem
Why are some people in the Jain community not able to accept or see the reality? There are a few possible reasons behind this:
- Excessively relying on ancient Jain texts and scriptures which do not depict the current scenario
- Blindly following the habits of Jain tirthankars at that point in time.
- Too much importance on ‘rituals’ without a willingness to travel within and listen to the inner self.
- Blindly following Jain Munis
- The pursuit of ‘moksh/swarg/next birth’ and ignoring life in its current form
How To Get Back To An Ahimsak Lifestyle
What should be done to educate Jains on true meaning of Ahimsa ?
- Create awareness by holding seminars/presentations and giving people a true picture of what is happening around the world
- Meet Jain Munis and explain to them the current scenario so they can see the truth and take it to people.
- Meet and interact with the younger generation of Jains. It will be easy for them to understand and accept the truth, and, this will encourage them to live an Ahimsak lifestyle.
Jains need to wake up and once again be the torch-bearers to spread the light of Ahimsa in this world.
Article and image source: veganfirst.com