Category Archives: Musings

Lower Your Himsa Footprint

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.

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Thanksgiving Reflections

Last year, I posted a Vegan Thanksgiving Prayer. This year, I came across a post on another blog, Happy Healthy Long Life, which is all about gratitude for the wonderful things and people in our lives. In Jainism we are very careful not to harm and our rituals seem to emphasize beneficial regret and asking forgiveness.  My Thanksgiving prayer typifies our Jain sensibility. In a complementary way, gratitude can bring a positive aspect to our care for other beings.

Incidentally, the writer of Happy Healthy Long Life has a scientific and health focus, but recently she wrote about how it felt to learn about the way that dairy cows were treated. I found it refreshing that she discussed the compassion aspect of a diet that she found initially for health reasons.

Farm Sanctuary has a live stream on Thanksgiving of rescued turkeys at their New York Sanctuary (go to from 9am to 4pm). Turkeys are surprisingly cute and friendly as we found out last week when we visited Harvest Home Sanctuary.

I am grateful, dear readers, that you chose to read this blog and that i have a venue for expressing these thoughts. May your holiday be full of joy and compassion.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving.

On the Plight of Cows in India- our fond memories of the Indian family cow are outdated

My friend Dr. Tushar, a family doctor in Canada,  organizes a wonderful volunteer opportunity to teach school children about health issues in rural Gujarat, as part of the Bidada health camp. He recently reached out with an email regarding the plight of Indian cows.
I volunteered with him in 2008 and remember visiting a panjra-pol at that time, and talked with the caretaker who informed me sadly that the capacity of the panjra-pol was limited, and that ultimately many of the cows had to be sold to slaughter.
Dr. Tushar’s post  follows:
 India has the highest population of cows in the world, over 280 million (or 28 crores).  This is a massive number.  Now here are a few facts.  A cow in India can live for around 23 years.  She starts producing milk at the age of around 4, and milk production lowers down at the age of around 12.  Each year, as our slave, she must be forced to become pregnant and have a baby, which is taken away by force.  Most cows are now brought up in very crowded conditions, and the percentage in humane conditions is becoming the exception rather than the norm.  These cramped places are out of the public eye, because businesses do not want people to see what goes on there.

Confusing Vegan and Environmental Messages at JAINA 2011

Despite the support of many Jain leaders and JAINA convention attendees, there was no clear response to our call for on all vegan menu. At one point, we heard there would be one all vegan day, then a few all vegan meals. An email came out to all attendees prior to the convention regarding the need to sign up for vegan meals, and letting them know to register. I emailed back to suggest that since they had invited vegan speakers, and people may be convinced to try vegan items, to have some excess capacity. But there was no reply, and at the actual event, several people who were persuaded by talks such as Prof Gary Francione’s, and Dr. Neal Barnard’s were turned away from the vegan line. Unfortunately, for those of us who did sign up before the convention, it was difficult  to ascertain what was vegan even in the vegan lines.The volunteers had a lot to handle at this convention and this is not intended to downplay their efforts, but it was very disappointing that they didn’t know what was vegan, and I think the the convention leaders could have been more clear,so that the meals and the message of the talks could have been consistent.
Another disappointing vision was the ubiquity of plastic water bottles, which, even if recycled, create unnecessary environmental resource use, and in many cases were not recycled. Also, as seems to be the norm for JAIN events, there was  egregious use of styrofoam plates with a milk compartment used to serve meals(as pictured on a previous post here about the Jain Center of GA). If we as a community are doing so well financially and hold ahimsa so dear to our ideals, why can’t we figure out a way to replace styrofoam with washable or at least compostable or biodegradable alternatives?

We did appreciate the efforts of Asha Jain to make the meals healthier and all the volunteers’ work. We certainly did not leave hungry or thirsty. Bringing our own water bottles and food containers to the conventions, we participated in the events, without generating so much waste (washing our plates with Dr. Bronner’s soap in the hotel room and reused them for each meal). We met friends and family and had a nice time at the convention.
We will post some of the talks on this site this week to inspire or reinspire our readers! Great resource from Dr. Greger!

Just after I posted the links to my talk at JCNC yesterday, I listened again to the lecture. I noticed a few areas that were less than crystal clear. And then today someone posted information about a new website with searchable posts on nutritional topics by Dr. Michael Greger. He is knowledgable and entertaining in person, and the website is a great resource for all kinds of topics, especially related to vegan nutrition, based on scientific evidence. Search on vegan vs. omnivore nutritional deficiencies and you’ll see how omnivores have 7 deficiencies, while vegans tend to have 3. Which 3– B12, iodine and calcium. And then you can look up each of these topics.  You’ll see info on good, bad and killer fats, which sweeteners have nutritional value, and many other topics. Continue reading

Vegan for Das Laxan

For the Digambar Jain festival of Das Laxan, my parents have been going to the temple and listening to lectures on the qualities of forgiveness, humility, straighforwardness, contentment, truth, self-restraint, penance, renunciation, non-attachment and brahmacharya.  How wonderful, that in keeping with the spirit of Das Laxan, my dad has gone vegan! How wonderful to allow the cows some peace of mind and freedom from artifical insemination and how wonderful that he practiced self-restraint, straightforwardness, non-attachment,  and renunciation in keeping away from some of the foods he habitually eats. He had already been avoiding many fatty dairy containing foods such as butter, ghee and buttermilk, and the traditional Gujarati food that my parents enjoy at home is largely vegan. Continue reading

Is going vegan enough? What can we do?

In response to Bob Linden’s showing of the Conklin Dairy video from YouTube at JCNC, some audience members were outraged. “Is this legal?” they asked. Bob responded by saying there had been legal charges brought against the owner, however, similar abuses are widespread. The audience continued to express agitation “What can we do?” “Going vegan does not solve the problem”, they said. They did not seem entirely satisfied by the speaker response that going vegan is the first thing we should do. I think we have to have the integrity to give up the product for which this violence is committted. Bob mentioned that activism in which others engage- videotaping, protesting, etc. I don’t think members of an immigrant community are likely to participate in this kind of protest, focused as they are on making a life in a new place and fitting into mainstream society. (Though my and succeeding generations might….) I brought up the example of Jains in Indian history influencing kings to have slaughter-free days. And some contend that vegetarianism was not as consistent in non-Jain traditions as in Jainism, so that the vegetarianism we see in India is largely the result of Jain influence. I can’t imagine exactly how we could exert this kind of influence in American society. But maybe there are ways that our collective imaginations can develop. I hope people don’t use the excuse that we can’t change what happens to dairy cows to justify their continued consumption. Jains have refrained from eating meat even though they can’t stop slaughter everywhere.

Review of Dr. Tuttle’s talk and related musings

As a long time Jain vegan who first heard Will Tuttle talk last year at JAINA in LA and then this year at JCNC, followed by the talk at the Berkeley Unitarian Universalist Church (that is posted here), I have lots of appreciation for his style and content.  The music and pictures help the audience to get in touch with feelings of joy and natural compassion. From there, he talks about very concrete facts on meat and dairy production, weaving in personal stories and insights. One of the unique connections he makes is between the violence that we commit to animals and our consequent suffering of diseases (mental and physical) , a kind of karmic connection. Many years ago, I remember hearing Gurudev Chitrabhanu also talking about the consequences to our natures from ingesting the fear of dying animals.  The only potential contortion that could be made– which neither Dr. Tuttle or Gurudev ever made–  is that being vegan will make us completely free of disease and automatically kind and compassionate in other ways. Being as compassionate as possible, striving on the path towards spiritual perfection, is never one-dimensional,  cannot be limited to going vegan. But to know what happens to animals in meat and dairy production and choose to ignore it or rationalize it certainly cannot lead us in the right direction.