This thoughtful post is contributed by Mahersh Shah and the Jain Vegans Team, which moderates a web forum that is separate and complementary to this blog. I (drJina) was struck by the appropriateness of the term himsa footprint when I saw this term discussed in the web forum, and Mahersh graciously agreed to write more about it for our blog. Here’s his piece:
Most of us are familiar with the current-day concepts of “eco-footprint” and “carbon footprint” – these terms and concepts have become part of our everyday vocabulary and thought processes.Today, we are being encouraged to reduce our carbon footprints (to help slow down, if not reverse, human-induced global warming and climate change), and to minimise our eco-footprints in a bid to reduce our destructive impact on the environment.
At a Young Jains UK event in Feb 2008 that started as a conversation about why a vegan rather than vegetarian diet would be consistent with Jain values with keynote speaker and longtime US based vegan Saurabh Dalal, the term himsa footprint spontaneously emerged. The group that was to become the Jain Vegans team discussed ahimsa and eco-footprints as a reason for going vegan. Very soon, Kewal Shah shouted out the phrase himsa footprint as it simply appeared in his mind, and the Jain vegans have been using it extensively since.
So how does the term himsa footprint help us? Well, the beauty of this neat and powerful expression is that it speaks volumes. To me, when we talk about “lowering our himsa footprints”, we are speaking in a holistic sense, covering the direct and indirect himsa inflicted, by our actions, on all life around us. And by extension, this includes himsa on the environment, since harming or destroying life damages the environment, and damaging the environment harms or destroys life. Thus, to me, the general concept of himsa footprint covers the more specific concepts of eco-footprint and carbon-footprint, for example, as well as many others.
Jains have a long and prominent tradition of embracing ahimsa (non-violence, compassion, peace). In fact, the concept of ahimsa is at the very core of the Jain lifestyle. For Jains, and others who believe in karma, practicing ahimsa is also a way of developing spiritually and purifying one’s atma (soul). Therefore, lowering one’s himsa footprint would be an important activity for a Jain from a karmic standpoint too. But even if one doesn’t believe in karma, leading life so as to consciously reduce one’s himsa footprint would surely bring about positive inner development, as well as benefiting all life and the environment around us.
Perhaps if we all begin to think in holistic terms of consciously and actively reducing our himsa footprints, then we’ll see many of the global issues facing us today being addressed in one go (e.g. human-induced climate change and other environmental issues). Indeed, if most human societies, policy-makers and governments around the world started thinking in terms of himsa footprints, then we might even see a dramatic reduction in human-human conflict, bloodshed, war, abuses of human rights and animal rights, poverty, starvation and so on.
Ahimsa is a universal concept which would fit in well with all cultures and religions. So concepts like ahimsa and himsa footprint can be promoted widely without causing upset. After all, fundamentally, humans are supposed to be a compassionate, sociable and peace-loving species! When we’re not, we’ve simply lost our way and need to find the right path again.
The Jain Vegans Team often urges readers and visitors to further reduce our himsa footprints by making the transition to a vegan lifestyle (i.e. a lifestyle that avoids all animal substances, including dairy). Note, by this, we do not mean to say that one should necessarily forego one’s own beliefs and traditions. For example, for the Jain community, adopting a vegan basis (over a lacto-vegetarian one) is simply a practical way of enhancing one’s own Jain way of life.
We believe that in today’s world, going vegan is a simple and practical step, yet a profound and powerful one, towards bringing about a more compassionate world. Not only does a vegan approach provide much-needed value and compassion to non-human multi-sensed living beings (who we humans unnecessarily abuse and slaughter by the billions each year, and this includes cows for milk), but it also indirectly has the effect of addressing other seemingly unrelated issues, such as human starvation, environmental destruction, biodiversity, water scarcity, global food security, etc. Learn more by visiting this link:
To join the international Jain Vegans forum (set up to support vegetarian Jains who wish to learn more about or seek support in making the transition to a vegan lifestyle), visit: