Dilip Shah is a past president of JAINA, the federation of Jain organizations in North America. Because he is a generation older than me, in keeping with Indian culture, I call him Dilip uncle. Among his many other Jain activities, he has organized several trips to India to visit temples and historical sites, as modern day pilgrimages for Jains in North America.
In 1998, fresh out of my family medicine residency with a couple of months off from work, I took a JAINA organized trip to the famous temple complex Sammet Shikar. I was accompanied by my parents, my friends Hema and Manda who teach Nonviolent Communication, our family friend Pravin uncle, who heads the JAINA Education committee, and a large group of people a generation older than me. I learned a lot about traditional ways of worship and travelling in India from them all. I and Pravin uncle were the only vegans on the trip.
Since then, there has been more interest in veganism. The largest change has been among the Jains in their 20s, as evidenced by the demand for vegan food at conventions of Young Jains of America (YJA), and also, to some extent in their 30s and 40s and older. Incidentally, the Young Jains convention in the UK had all Jain vegan food in 1998 — the Brits were way ahead of us, as I don’t think we’ve yet had one JAINA convention with all vegan food.
Pravin uncle has incorporated more and more about veganism in his writings, in addition to his initial article about his visit to a dairy farm and how much of a difference going vegan has made in his cholesterol levels. But the older the Jain, it seems, the less receptive s/he has been to change. It is in this context that Dilip uncle has written this excellect piece on Jainism and veganism.
This article provides a bridge to the generation of Jains in North America to which my parents belong, linking the traditional ideal of ahimsa to the adoption of a vegan diet. It details that violence that cows endure and the benefits of going vegan, karmically, environmentally and for our health.
The piece that I question is the historical reference to why small amount of dairy may have been eaten in the past, because there was not enough grain to feed people. That doesn’t quite make sense to me, however, I certainly see the need to explain why dairy is mentioned in the traditional stories about Jain tirthankaras. As Jains do not believe in transmission of facts in any book as absolute truth, I’m not sure that we need to justify what has been passed down to us in history. I question the view of women as inferior to men in traditional Jain books for just this reason. I believe we have to use our clear minded rational judgment to decide on the appropriate course of action for our lives. While I respect the traditions and teachings, no Jain teacher has ever advocated blind adherence to tradition .
My congratulations to Dilip uncle on a fine article and I hope that it will spur a renewed interest in veganism throughout the community!