Category Archives: Jain Philosophy

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.

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.

Vegan Jain profiles: Pravin uncle, JAINA education committee speaks in the UK

Pravin uncle of the JAINA education committee in the US gave compelling talks in the UK this Paryushan about the hinsa involved in dairy production, among many other topics. See the audio and video files put together by Rajesh and Jyoti, of the Kanji Swami Jain community in their encyclopedic site here 

There are also YouTube videos:

1.  Gujarati – http://youtu.be/4ZJHbtgkIj0
2. Profile (English): http://youtu.be/sEgBMc9-9QM

Following Sagar and the Jain Vegans Working Group Vegan for Paryushan Campaign, there seems to be a growing awareness of veganism among Jains in the UK and the Jain Vegans blog  chronicles encouraging recent developments!

Video

Vegan Jain Profiles: Pravin Shah, JAINA Education committee chair

JAINA Education Leader Pravin Shah was recorded this week while in London, where he was invited to give talks for Paryushan. Here we have two talks in English and one in Gujarati on his personal decision to become vegan after visiting a dairy farm and discusses the decrease in his cholesterol that resulted. He also sicusses the philosophical basis for veganism in Jain philosophy and practice. One is “parapagraho jivanam“, all life is interdependent, and the other enjoins the practitioner to consume only those items known to him or her to be ahimsak. Thanks to Minal, Mahersh, Nishma, and Sagar from the JAIN vegans UK for producing these recordings!
1. Profile  (Gujarati) – http://youtu.be/4ZJHbtgkIj0
2. Profile (English): http://youtu.be/sEgBMc9-9QM
3. Interview (English): http://youtu.be/UcyVVJAByio
Video

Sanjay’s JCNC presentation on Ahimsak Diet and Lifestyles

Based on the combined work of 15 Jain Center of Greater Boston volunteers and his own personal stories, Sanjay provides a compelling case for Jains to become vegan as the true expression of vegetarianism based on ahimsa.

Presentations on Ahimsak Diet and Lifestyles at JCNC, Aug 4,2013

Sudhanshu and Sanjay gave two excellent powerpoint presentations at JCNC this weekend as part of the 13th Anniversary celebrations.

Indirect_Violence_and_Global_Warming

Ahimsak Life Style

Veganism addresses the root of hinsa: Panjrapoles are a stop-gap

A Perspective on Panjrapoles (Animal Shelters) of India

panjarapole_3


Brett Evans  (bevans8@elon.edu) , Elon University, North Carolina, USA

During my undergraduate education, I researched Jainism as part of the Elon College Fellows and Lumen Scholars programs at Elon University in North Carolina (www.elon.edu).  As a vegan, I became interested in Jainism primarily due to its impressive and longstanding commitments to nonviolence, vegetarianism, and panjrapoles (animal homes).[Ed note: the panjrapol pictured above is from http://tharad.in/mahajanpura_panjarapole.html, taken from a website and not necessarily of that Mr. Evans visited, but meant to be illustratative).

 

With the assistance of Pravin K. Shah, I involved myself in 2010 with the Jain Study Center of North Carolina, where I attended monthly meetings and conducted interviews with its members.  My culminating paper on this research focused on North American Jain involvement with environmental and animal rights movements and has since been published in The Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography (Volume 2 – Issue 2 – June 2012)  (http://tinyurl.com/cpx2lnc).

Later, I studied abroad twice in India: the first time in 2011 with the International Summer School for Jain Studies (ISSJS) in North India run by Dr. Shugan Jain, and the second in 2012 with the anthropology-oriented South India Term Abroad (SITA) in Tamil Nadu.

Collectively, and especially living with a Jain family for four months, these experiences taught me a great deal about Jainism.  Following the second study abroad program, I undertook two months of independent research in Gujarat and Mumbai focused on Jain animal activists, with particular emphasis on the supporters ofpanjrapoles.

In the context of this project, I visited 27 Jain panjrapoles and a number of goshalas (cow homes).    I had the opportunity to tour these institutions and interview their managers, trustees, and donors.  In total, I discussed panjrapoles with more than 100 Jains who were closely connected to these organizations.

In between my two trips to India, a number of respected Jains living in the US raised concerns to me about the conditions present in panjrapoles today.  Many of them noted that while they donate to panjrapoles in India, they are uncertain if these charitable organizations are well-run or truly worthy of their support.  These individuals had heard many negative reports about panjrapoles, and they hoped that I might be able to shed some light on the situation.

Although assessing the value of these institutions was not the aim of my research project, I agreed to give my honest perspective on panjrapoles when I returned.  I agreed because, like you, I am passionate about animal welfare and helping to create a less violent world.

In this spirit, and based upon the experiences of my research field work, I offer you my perspective here.  It is my hope that this essay may start a conversation about panjrapoles and how our personal choices may lead to animals being abandoned and slaughtered.  If my perspective is incomplete or causes unintentional harm, micchami dukkadam.

As you are likely aware, there is much that is admirable about panjrapoles and the individuals who are involved with them.  Historians can trace the presence of animal homes in India for thousands of years, while westerners have had similar sanctuaries for mere decades.

This longevity exhibits the relevance and importance of these institutions in a time of unprecedented slaughter and mistreatment of animals.  Such a rich tradition, then, has much to teach those around the world who are involved with contemporary animal rights and welfare movements.  Over its long history, many Jains have devoted their human lives to saving and improving animal lives, and even today I did not meet a single panjrapole trustee who was not undoubtedly committed to the cause of protecting life.  Indeed, many spent significant amounts of time away from their families and businesses to ensure their charitable work was done.

During my time in India, I was continually impressed and humbled by these individuals.  These supporters are faced with a very challenging situation, however, and many, including me, would argue that panjrapoles need improvement and cannot be the only solution to animal suffering.

I would like to pose a broad but crucial question: what is the purpose of a panjrapole?  While this query may seem elementary, I believe it is essential that we take a step back in order to chart a way forward.  The most common answer I heard to this question is that a panjrapole’s purpose is to protect animals who would otherwise be abandoned or slaughtered.

However, if this is the purpose of the panjrapole, we must ask why animals are being abandoned and slaughtered in the first place.  There is a clear answer to this question, and it is readily apparent upon visiting most panjrapoles.

Overwhelmingly, animals living in these institutions are older female cows who are no longer able to produce milk and male calves (who obviously do not have the capacity to produce milk).  These animals have been deemed “useless” because they are not profitable to the dairy industry.  Neither the dairy industry nor the independent farmer can afford to maintain these unprofitable animals and, as a result, they are abandoned or shipped illegally for slaughter in Maharashtra.

Given this situation, the panjrapole serves as one important solution.  However, it is only a temporary, stop-gap solution.  If we regard panjrapoles as a permanent solution, then they (and we) are simply enabling a system that produces the injustice of abandoned and slaughtered animals, and the milk producers continue to profit at the expense of the panjrapoles, who bear the burden of taking in the old females and young males. 

This “solution,” which effectively redistributes rather than reduces dairy’s violent outcomes to panjrapoles, is neither sustainable nor equitable.  Moreover, it is widely acknowledged by panjrapole supporters that these institutions are only able to take in a tiny percentage of the animals in need.  This lack of housing capacity is obvious when you consider the amount of milk products consumed in India.  It would be impossible for panjrapoles to house the hundreds of millions of cattle and buffaloes who produce milk across the country.

We must remember that half of this number, the male population, is cast aside immediately and that young, lactating females naturally would be outnumbered by their older, “unproductive” counterparts.  And, these figures do not even include goats, sheep, birds, dogs, cats, and the rest of animals in need who are not used for mainstream dairy but are currently minority residents of panjrapoles.

As it is, most of the panjrapoles I visited were incredibly overcrowded.  Many of these panjrapoles were originally built on grazing grounds outside of cities, but, as these metropolises developed, the animal homes were eventually swallowed by them. Urban expansion means that panjrapoles are now located in confined, polluted environments that are not well-suited to animals. 

While many managers and trustees admit this is a problem, most stated it is not financially feasible to relocate.  Few panjrapoles can afford to provide any space for animals to roam or graze, which means that the animals in these shelters typically have an unnatural and poor quality of life—one which is better than starvation or slaughter but not one which we would find an acceptable, systemic outcome for countless individuals.

It is with the circumstances that I have outlined above in mind that I advocate for a permanent solution that strikes at the root of the problem are intended to address.

This solution is surely familiar to many of you:It is to adopt a Vegan (or pure vegetarian) lifestyle.

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