Author Archives: drjina

Please consider giving up dairy products this Paryushan

The Jain Vegans Working Group issue a compelling plea based on the suffering and death involved in dairy product consumption. Please give up dairy products during this time that Jains traditionally fast, introspect, repent for past misdeeds, and make vows for spiritual purification. 

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Paryushan, the Jain festival of penance and forgiveness will begin very soon. During the festival, followers of the Jain faith traditionally fastrepent, and forgive. For lay members, fasting often entails avoiding activities that are traditionally thought to cause more himsa than others, such as eating root vegetables or eating after sunset.

As someone who has come across the activities of the Jain Vegans Working Group, you will be aware of how our consumption of dairy (organic or conventional) leads to the immense suffering and murder of innocent cows.

  • Dairy cows are forcefully impregnated by means of artificial insemination to stimulate milk production. 
  • Calves are immediately separated from their mothers at birth.  
  • Male calves are slaughtered soon after birth or sold on to be reared for veal or beef (they are of no other value to a dairy farmer)
  • Dairy cows will normally get slaughtered before the age of 7, even though they could live up to 20 years if given the chance.  This is because at around that age her milk yield drops, and it does not make financial sense for a farmer to keep her alive when he is able to obtain milk from her younger (and more productive) daughters.

In light of all this, it seems reasonable that during Paryushan we as Jains should acknowledge and reflect on the suffering we have imposed on cows as a result of our consumption of dairy products.

Paryushan offers a perfect time to reflect on the actions we undertake in our daily lives and to make changes to our dietary habits.  So, in addition to the other activities you undertake, why not consider giving up dairy products this Paryushan

Jain Digambar Muni urges Jains to renounce milk

Jain Muni Ji Shri Vihar Sagarji Maharaj explains that jivdaya is not consistent with consuming milk. He shows photos of the situation of dairy cows in India and explains that by participating in this violence, we invite negative karmic consequences and suffering to ourselves. He urges us to quit taking milk and milk products. The video is in Hindi but English subtitles are displayed.
This is revolutionary! This muni has taken a courageous stand, in contrast to others that simply defer to tradition and refuse to see and speak truth.

 

The back story of this video is also interesting. Fauna Police is a rescue organization in New Delhi and Abhinav took the video below. It seems that Jain friend Gaurav had introduced Abhinav to the muni. Now that I follow Abhinav’s facebook page, I see that an increasing number of munis have been exposed to the truth behind dairy and some have agreed to abstain from dairy products.  Fauna police’s blog and YouTube Channel are impressive.  It is tremendously hopeful that change is occurring in India!

Jeevdaya Day in Toronto

by Professor Kirti Shah

Jain Society of Toronto celebrated Jeevdaya day on June 29. The event was organized by the Jeevdaya group an informal group set up to educate and involve Jain Community in compassion activities. There are several words to describe “compassion” in our tradition(Jeevdaya,Karuna,Pranatipat virman). This is fundamental to Jainism.

It was a whole day event. Dr. Tushar Mehta was the Master of Ceremonies for the event.It started with a presentation by Dr. Tushar Mehta on the health benefits of a plant based(vegan) diet.20140629_121004

Next, Sanjay Jain made an excellent presentation on Jeevdaya describing how his convictions grew over the years as he was confronted with choices. These choices led him to abstain from pearls, silk, leather, wool and eventually dairy. At every stage he was enthusiastically supported by his wife Prachi.Sanjay also arranged a display with ten posters and several models which described how current practices in food industry involve extreme cruelty. This was very well received.20140629_164045

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jain ascetics in the media, use of animals in medicines and veganism

UC Berkeley had a screening last week of a movie called “The Ship of Theseus” by Indian Filmmaker Anand Gandhi. Featuring 3 stories of people with donated organs, the 2nd story presented a monk named Maitreya, who by all implications (though not stated as such) was a Svetambara Jain. He was portrayed sympathetically, going to the Indian high court with a meat eating lawyer, arguing for better treatment of animals in research, and elimination of cosmetic and non essential testing. His adversaries are representatives of pharmaceutical companies.  There was footage of draize testing, with substances placed into the eyes of rabbits, clearly unnecessary and brutal. He was shown carefully placing a caterpillar on a leaf, out of the way of trampling human feet. The lifestyle of the monks was also shown quite poignantly, walking barefoot in pouring rain, searing sun, taking only small amounts of the food offered to them, but oddly that food included  milk or a milk product such as kadhi (yogurt soup) . And hence the disconnect. The movie actually portrayed him saying the word “vegan”, as in he didn’t expect the world to go vegan overnight, but it was unclear if the movie intended to show the contradiction that , traditionally, Jains eat dairy products or it was an oversight. But his ethical dilemma was not about eating dairy products; rather it came when he was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, likely from a parasite that was portrayed under a microscope. For a long time he refuses to take medicine as he knows it has been tested on animals. There is even speculation that he will undergo sallekhana the fast until death that Jains with terminal illness sometimes conduct. But (spoiler alert) at the end he decides he wants to live. He takes medicine, accepts a liver transplant and at the end of the movie is shown in laymen’s clothes. The movie leaves open to question how he has reconciled his previous stance with the compromise that he had to make to save his life and whether he decided to leave the monk’s life. As dissatisfying as some of the contradictions of this portrayal were, the movie brought to life the Jain emphasis on ahimsa and the severe discipline of the ascetic life. I asked the filmmaker, who was present at the screening, if there was any real  monk on whose story the character of Maitreya was based and he answered, along the lines of what you can find in the Wikepedia entry for the Ship of Theseus, that Maitreya is a composite of Satish Kumar, Mahatma Gandhi, Abhay Mehta, and Shrimad Rajchandra, none of whom (as far as I know) actually address/ed animal testing or veganism. I hope that I’ve simply not been informed, but I am not aware of any Jain monks that have taken an activist stand, engaging and trying to change the mainstream society’s ideas of animal abuse, apart from opposing animal slaughter for meat. And perhaps that’s why this, opposition to animal testing, is the aspect of activism that was chosen to be portrayed. It would not have been so easy to show inner conflict it the moral conflict was simply about stopping the eating of animals, because actually that does not pose such problems for Jains. if they had dared to explore the stopping of eating dairy, an activist Jain monk or nun that could have taken on the force of tradition, that, too, would have been an interesting story!

 

Another media portrayal of Jain nuns is not so complimentary. William Dalrymple in “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India” tells the story of a Mataji, a Digambara ascetic, who takes the nuns vows with a friend, only to watch the friend die of tuberculosis some years later because she refuses to take medicine, presumably  because the medicine involved violence to animals. The friend who dies eventually fasts until death. The protagonist nun cries at her loss and is berated by her guru. She eventually appears to decide to fast to death herself,though she has no disease. This portrayal, like the whole book, strikes me as spectacle, rather than of sympathy. Dalrymple seems to point to the nuns and say, look how odd, these Jains just starve themselves,  without distinguishing what is, at least to this medically trained reader, obvious depression in the protagonist nun leading her to lose interest in life. Her best friend is gone, her guru is un-supportive and she has previously renounced her ties to family and society. To me this rejection of life violates the reasons a Jain is to consider sallekhana. The moral question around the other nun not taking medicine for TB is not explored, written off as “tradition”.

Though both Nine Lives and The Ship of Theseus show Jain ascetics grappling with mortality and ahimsa in Indian society, the former is decidedly less sympathetic. I can only hope that a real activist Jain ascetic can address the public misperceptions around Jain practice and promote a meaningful  practice of ahimsa.The first sadhvi (Jain nun) to take the vows in the US was supportive of Prof Gary Francione’s message at JCNC in 2013. Will she or any other ascetic speak out for veganism? That will be a revolutionary moment in Jainism and possibly a media worthy one.

 

Jainism, the Moral Imperative of Veganism, and the disheartening forms of rationalization that allow violence to continue

Sanjay, co director of the Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committe,  in the skit he presented with pathshala students in Boston, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I6cFs5dHlg, provides a sequence of ethical questions for a Jain family to consider, with a “know-it-all” daughter providing the voice of conscience. The sequence goes from  use of leather  as in an expensive BMW, purse, shoes, and a jacket, [ to which the Jain center of Greater Boston audience claps, acknowledging that they agree with this in principle]  silk , in a silk sari, kurta and scarves, pearls in jewelry, violent video games and dairy in naan, rasmalai, cheese pizza.  While audience response seems less focused the further along the skit proceeds, there is no obvious objection from the audience.

Anticipating the unstated question, though, one of the sons in the family then asks, if dairy is so violent, why is it not prohibited in the scriptures… and the daughter answers, “Did the scriptures say  to drive BMWs?  Don’t ask if it is is said NOT to do something but rather to do something.”  The principle Ahimsa Paramo Dharma is the moral imperative driving abstinence from all these items.

Prof Gary Francione writes: “I recall visiting a Digambara temple once and there was a sign at the entrance of the main area of worship that read, ‘No leather allowed.’ I asked a Jain friend who was with me why leather was prohibited inside the temple. He said: ‘Because of himsa.’ I remarked to him that it was odd that Jains thought that it was morally acceptable to wear something outside the temple that was prohibited inside the temple. He had no answer.That is because there really is no good answer.”

In his essay Ahimsa in Jainism and the Moral Imperative of Veganism,  Prof. Francione details the reasons that veganism is a moral imperative given Jainism’s central emphasis on ahimsa and carefully addresses the four most common arguments used to resist this conclusion: tradition, the need to compromise, a false use of anekantvad and convenience.  Tradition does not hold weight against ahimsa. The other three excuses are the same as could be used to eat meat, and yet, with our uncompromising ethical stance on vegetarianism, we hold fast to the principle and practice of ahimsa.

An unusual argument was posed in a recent discussion among Northern California Jain center volunteers.  Someone stated that if we did not drink milk, the cows would be killed earlier, as they would be slaughtered for meat.  He did not recognize that while dairy cows are killed later than veal or beef cows, because they are exploited before they are killed, their lifespans are still cut substantially, from a natural of 15-20 years to 5 years. The odd argument also ignored the intentional breeding of animals  separately and specifically for meat and milk and also ignores the increase in meat exports from India directly linked to dairy consumption.  As Prof Francione says, “It is no coincidence that India now is the largest producer of dairy products in the world  at the same time that the Indian beef market is growing and India is exporting 44% more beef than four years ago” (Dairy Industry in India: 2013-2019,” Research and Markets) .

The context of the assertion that veganism would result in more killing of animals was of community members  was in expressing disapproval of a vegan cooking demonstration scheduled at JCNC for which a publicity email quoted the Acaranga sutra with its emphasis on non harming animals. Perhaps it hit a nerve in the reader and provoked this odd rationalization response. Whether related to this lack of support or other logistical reasons, the cooking demo had to be cancelled and the group that had mobilized in Northern California lost some momentum and enthusiasm.  The saddest aspect for me is that if we Jains who are the strongest voices for ahimsa rationalize, put up excuses, fight the truth and resist those who are trying to promote a more peaceful world, how will anyone take ahimsa seriously as a real principle worthy of living in the real world? If those of us that try to educate our communities are shut down, it is not only the Jain societies but our potential to improve the world that will suffer.
This blog, though written in Northern CA, has expanded its scope to highlight inspiring educational activities around the globe in order, as Pramodaben Chitrabhanu’s book states “to light one candle, rather than to curse the darkness”.

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Dallas teenagers articulate connections between veganism, reduction of methane and conservation of water

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Below are some articles written by the pathshala students on veganism and related topics

VEGANISM

Not only does the dairy industry cause immense pain to the tortured animals like cows and chickens, but it also leads to a large amount of water consumption, land degradation, climate alterations, and gas emissions. While it only takes one acre of land to produce 40,000 lbs of cherries, potatoes, and other fruits and veggies, one acre of land can only produce 250 lbs of beef. At the same time, there is more land necessary to maintains animals rather than planting fruits and vegetables. 70% of water is used on farming and of that, the water that is used to clean waste is dumped into the ocean which pollutes the water and kills many sea creatures. From a Jain standpoint, the cows and chickens which produce milk or eggs receive horrible treatment and are forced to live in confined areas where they can’t even move. Most of the time these animals are beaten by the farmers and the cows are continuously kept pregnant to maintain milk production. The calves are then sent to slaughter houses. While many Indians may question the health aspect of becoming a vegan, it is proven that dairy products are not necessary for the survival of a human after the stage of a baby. There are many alternatives to dairy such as soy and almond milk, soy cheese, and various other products from whole foods or central market. By converting to veganism, you would be saving the environment as well as  shedding the karma that each soul acquires by encouraging the dairy industry.
– Shivani Daftary

METHANE
Methane is an odorless and colorless gas made by anaerobic bacteria on land and deep in the ocean. It is the 2nd most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere second to CO2. Natural gas and petroleum systems are the largest source of CH4 emissions from industry in the United States. Domestic livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats produce large amounts of CH4 as part of their normal digestive process. Methane is generated in landfills as waste decomposes and in the treatment of wastewater. Upgrading the equipment used to produce, store, and transport oil and gas can reduce many of the leaks that contribute to CH4 emissions. Methane can be reduced and captured by altering manure management strategies at livestock operations or animal feeding practices. Not eating foods that promote this industry to grow will also help. Emission controls that capture landfill CH4 are an effective reduction strategy. Also, reducing the amount of waste that you produce can decrease the size of landfills over the years.

- Reena Maheshwari

WATER

Even though 75% of the earth’s surface is covered in water, only 2.5% of it is fresh and 2/3 of that it frozen. This makes water an extremely precious resource, something that many people fail to understand. A huge number of large rivers including the Colorado, Rio Grande, Ganges, and Nile are no so over tapped by humans that they discharge little to no water into the sea for months. In addition globally our water use has been growing at twice the rate of population growth in the last century and here in the United States, twice the global average is used. Over tapping also causes countless freshwater species to die and they are becoming extinct at twice the rate of saltwater species. Clearly, over using water is a huge crisis and measures must be taken in order conserve water. Vegetarianism is actually very beneficial in conserving water; livestock accounts for more than half of all the water consumed in the United States.

- Prachi Shah

Dallas Jain pathshala students shine a Jain lens on Veganism, Energy, Water and other Environmental Issues

Environmental Fair PosterThe Jain Society of North Texas’ (JSNT) high school  age youth (Pathshala Group 6), with the help of  Joseph R. Otterbine,an  M.S. Applied Environmental Anthropology Candidate  from the University of North Texas, recently held  the JSNT Environmental  Fair. The Fair  brought a Jain lens to bear on  energy and electricity, veganism,  transportation, water usage, and methane production. The youth decided on these topics and researched them thoroughly.  They split into five groups and prepared presentations, visuals, and takeaways (e.g. vegan brownies [yummy!] , pamphlets, fact  sheets, water usage calculator, etc.) for their booths at the fair.
The Fair started with time for the community to walk around and see the booths, followed by a  presentation from Dr. Pankaj Jain (University of North Texas) on the topic of Dharma and  Ecology.

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After his short lecture the community members were urged to visit the five different presentations at the booths set up around the hall. The community was extremely receptive to the
youth’s efforts and proud of all the work that they had done in putting together all the intricacies of the Fair. When it came to the scheduled end of the Fair, some community membewer asked for more time to explore all the work that the youth had done! 

This event was successful because the youth wanted to do it,  and OWNED it!
This enthusiasm was palpable in their presentations, their attitudes, and interactions with the  community. The Fair got the Jain Society of North Texas to look at environmental issues and  how they, as Jains, are poised as natural environmentalists.
For a slide show of the event please see http://www.dfwjains.org/
and  keep reading this post to hear more about about environmentalism and energy use in a state traditionally known for its economic dependence on oil from these amazing Jain students. And for more on veganism, methane and water use, see the next post… Continue reading

Toronto Seniors Enjoy Health and Compassion based event: Towards Ahimsa

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Madhu, Monty and Dr. Tushar write:

Working collaboratively with the help of the Jain Society of Toronto (JSOT), the non-profit group Towards Ahimsa Inc. (based out of Toronto, Canada) co-hosted a special event  last month to celebrate the health and wellbeing of a plant based diet.Through a series of interactive activities and thought-provoking discussions a group of 70 senior community members learnt first hand the philosophical definition of ahimsa in Jainism in its relationship to diet.

Presenters included medical doctors & professional educators who started by defining the nature of a Plant Based or Vegan diet. They presented medical evidence regarding benefits to vascular disease, cancers, diabetes, blood pressure, weight control, and overall benefits to quality-of-life and mortality.  They also discussed ways to optimize the vegan diet and how to easily obtain nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium and iron, and protein.

The talk was extremely well received with great questions and enthusiasm on the part of the seniors. One attendee even claimed she would become vegan from this point forward!

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Jivdaya Committee Series: Why Ahimsa is Paramount in Jainism

Why does Jainism strongly promote the principle of Ahimsa?

Jains believe in the existence of soul; and that each living being has a soul.  Jains also show logically that the nature of the soul is that of non-harming.  It is due to the soul being bound by Karmic particles that keep us humans in these material bodies that need to eat.

As a person lives a life that reduces the influence of the Karmic particles, the person’s non-harming character naturally will become stronger; and manifest itself in such activities as trying to watch out very carefully, and avoid doing even the slightest possible harm to any living being.  In other words, Jains maintain that if we want to experience the full potential of the nature of our soul, that is non-harmingness, we should try to duplicate it in all our actions.

Balabhadraji

 

In Jainism, Ahimsa means non‑hurting as described above.  Therefore, whenever our actions cause himsa (hurting), not only does our soul accumulate karmas but even the souls on the other side accumulate karma if they have minds (e.g., souls of animals, birds, fish, etc.).

Those karmas could be any of eight karmas, but we would discuss three of them over here which are Antaraya, Vedniya, and Ayushya Karmas.

When we deprive any living being of its livelihood, or its vital capabilities, it will come and hound us sometimes.  The story of Lord Rushabhdev is very well-known for this.  During his last life, while he was a king one day he advised his fellow farmer citizens to cover the mouths of the oxen so that they would not eat the grains they were working around.  But, he forgot to tell them that they should remove the mouth cover as soon as the work was over.  Those ignorant people kept on that mouth cover, and after some time they started wondering when to feed them.  So they went back and asked King Rushabh about when they were suppose to feed them.  The King realized his mistake and explained to those workers that they should have taken off the mouth cover as soon their work was over and feed them.  But because oxen suffered hunger due to King Rushabh’s oversight, he accumulated Antaraya Karma.  When this karma matured, it caused him to go without any food (starvation) for a little over eleven months when he became a monk in a later part of the same life.  So can you imagine if we starve or deprive someone of their vitality, through cruel means, what would happen to us?

The same way, when we cause suffering to others, we accumulate Ashata Vedniya karma and when that matures, it would bring us sufferings and unhappiness.  Look at the slaughterhouses, laboratories, cosmetic manufacturing, or any use of animals, and you will see nothing but tortures, and even death.  Why any sensible person of their right mind, and particularly a Jain, would do, or encourage, such activities even though he or she would have to suffer later on?  Therefore, Jains would not participate in any activity which would cause any harm to others and would not also ask, or encourage, anyone else to do it either.  Now, you should understand that suffering in this world is generated from own selves.  It is never late to turn back the clock to the right path by paying respect to other living beings as a whole rather than just to humans only.

Similarly, when we take away someone’s life, we must realize, what would be coming to us.  We would accumulate such an Ayushya karma, that it would make our life short, or end it  prematurely.  Why would we put ourselves in such a situation?  What happens if that life happens to be a human life, then we would miss an opportunity for spiritual pursuit. Therefore, we need to protect other lives, so that our lives are protected and we can be happy and without obstacles.

So in short by observing Ahimsa, not only we are protecting the vitality of other living beings, but in reality we are helping ourselves the most.  That is why Jains say “Ahimsa Parmo Dharma,” because by observing Ahimsa, everyone is able to stop his/her own decline and put him/herself forward to the higher spiritual pursuit.

Prem Gada

 

THe New Incarnation of Jivdaya: The Ahimsak Eco Vegan Committee of JAINA

In the late 1990s, the Jivdaya committee actively promoted veganism. It was clear that animal sanctuaries, the traditional institutions for Jains to give money in India to express their ahimsa, was not addressing the root of the problem of animal suffering and slaughter. I have posted some of the material from this era on this site.

This year was have a newly approved JAINA committee to represent these views and link them with our growing awareness of environmental choices that we make that can hurt or help animals and other living beings. Dubbed the Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committee, our objective and goals follow.

 

Objective

The Ahimsak Eco- Vegan committee, as an expression of ahimsa, support veganism which we understand to mean not eating, wearing, or using animal products, because we object to both animal suffering and animal killing. We do not support animal use that is supposedly “humane” and we do not support the marketing of animal products labeled as “humane”.

The  Ahimsak Eco- Vegan committee, as an expression of ahimsa,  supports the reduction and elimination of activities contributing to harm of all life, global climate change and destruction of the planet.

Goals:

  • Promote local education and implementation of initiatives in support of ahimsak diet (veganism) and lifestyles (eco-friendly and non-use of animal items in clothing or other use)
  • Move towards fully vegan and eco-friendly YJA and JAINA conventions  events
  • Publicize activities and provide global leadership for the Jain lay, scholar and ascetic community toward an ahimsak diet and lifestyle
  • Provide health related education to the community on a plant based diet and conduct research benefitting our community and contributing to scientific knowledge on benefits, risks and risk mitigation of the modern vegetarian and vegan diet as consumed by Jains in North America.