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Ecology and Vegetarianism in Jain Dharma

Article from Jain Lighthouse Centre Beacon Newsletter.

Ecology and Vegetarianism in Jain Dharma

Pramoda Chitrabhanu

Asian Vegetarian Congress, Bangcock, Thailand

New York City, November, 2007

Lord Mahavir the Prophet for 10 million Jains, an epitome of ahinsa, universal love and compassion was born in 599 - 527 B.C. a period of great intellectual and spiritual fervor. It was a period that gave birth to Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Heraclitus and many more in the West and Lao-tse, Zorathrustra, Mahavir and Gautam Buddha in the East. During this time Mahavir through his teachings emphasized that this world is nothing but an echo point.

Any thing said or done in this world is echoed back with the same intensity it was intended for. Echo means the recoil after impact - sudden movement or springing back in fear, horror or disgust of an event or a thing.

Today, the global ecological crisis that is threatening the entire human race is the consequence of echoing back our own negative thoughts, words and physical action.

This has become a matter of grave concern for all of us and especially for those who are conscientiously aware. For those who are yet slumbering forget one thing that when one life is threatened, all life is at risk. It is important to know that each of us is a vital thread in another's life tapestry and our lives are woven together for a reason -- to survive and to be happy.

Jain Dharma sees the whole universe as a great cosmic mechanism with its own self-propelling force, and we being part of that mechanism, must conduct ourselves in harmony and rhythm with that force.

In the manifestation of nature we see there is harmony and rhythm. Everything works according to its nature. But when we look at ourselves we do not see our lives in agreement with the cosmic mechanism. We are out of sync with nature and tend to go against our qualities of love, kindness and friendship for all living beings.

We do not realize that we are interrelated and bound together by mutual support and interdependence with all life force. Each living thing depends on another for insuring its survival. We cannot live a single day without the help of others.

Therefore, it is important to know that all life is a gift of togetherness, accommodation and assistance which lead to mutual peace and harmony. This fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis or mutual dependence forms the basis of modern day science of ecology.

It is relevant to know here that the term 'ecology' was coined from the Greek word 'oikos' meaning home, a place to which one returns. In 1866 Ernst Haeckel, a German biologist and a philosopher, defined it as a comprehensive science of relationship of organism to environment. This term covers the conditions, circumstances and influences surrounding and affecting the development of an organism or groups of organism, exclusive of their hereditary traits.

Today, the problem of global ecological crisis is because of the ecological balance that has been wildly disturbed by our present day lifestyle, particularly by the wanton destruction of the animal and plant life in the civilized societies.

Have we never wondered how so many invisible lives have made our single day livable and comfortable? How the microcosm is connected to the macrocosm and the macrocosm to the microcosm? How we are indebted to everything that assists us?

In the words of Nathaniel Altman, who depicts a better picture of interdependence says,

Grass, for example, provides nourishment for millions of tiny invertebrates, which in turn are food for insects. The insects are eaten by frogs and small snakes, which provide nourishment for birds. When the larger animals die, they provide food for other living things, and as they decompose, they fertilize the soil on which grass is grown. When this "food chain" is disrupted, the very fiber of life on this planet is affected. As with a house of cards, the removal of one card can bring about the collapse of the entire structure.

Being on the top of the ladder of evolution, we have learned to take things for granted and in the process have lost the sensibility and sense of appreciation and gratitude.

Many of us like to believe that our life is experienced in isolated, watertight compartments and that the way we conduct our daily affairs does not have a significant impact on the society and the world we live in. But we must not forget that just as a stone thrown into a pool will affect every molecule of water in the pool, in the same way our every thought, word and action will affect our inner and outer world. Therefore, it is important to know that what we do to the life around us and the environment becomes our fate.

Lord Mahavir experienced that the thoughts which govern our words and actions are the products of the food we eat. The food that feeds the system has a definite influence on the person physically as well as emotionally, psychologically and also spiritually. Healthy, whole and harmless foods give rise to healthy, whole and harmless thoughts. Once the thoughts are harmless and healthy, the actions also reflect the same qualities. Weakness in character develops in those who are in poor health, mentally or physically. So, it is rightly said that we are what we eat.

In the present day when there is the crisis of natural resources, accelerating rate of violence leading to killing of millions of animals it is time to consider adopting a vegetarian diet that will reduce environmental imbalance and save approximately 2400 animals in whole life time.

Believe it or not, if you take just the Americans, they consume 9 billion animals every year. If one wants to, one can change this every time one sits to eat.

The practitioner of Jain Dharma practices religion of awareness through its code of conduct. There are five basic vows in this code of conduct that strengthen our practice of environmental concern and protection of all life forms.

The five vows are:

_ Non violence in thought, word and deed,

_ To seek and speak the truth,

_ To behave honestly and never to take anything by force or theft,

_ To practice restraint and chastity in thought, word and deed,

_ To practice non possessiveness.

As in the words of Christopher Key Chapple:

The Jain vows can easily be reinterpreted in an ecological fashion. The practice of nonviolence in the Jain context fosters an attitude of respect for all life-forms. The observance of truthfulness prompts an investigation of the interrelatedness of things; a truthful person cannot easily dismiss the suffering caused by uncontrolled waste. The vow of not stealing can be used to reflect on the world's limited resources and prompt one to think of the needs of the future generations.

Sexual restraint might help minimize population growth.

The discipline of non-possession gives one pause to think twice before indulging in the acquisition of material goods, one of the root causes of current ecological concerns.

With this awareness one can live a non-violent life so that one may incur minimum of negative karmas by one's actions that are the cause of one's suffering. But often we live an unaware and unknowable life during which we become callous and insensitive to the surroundings, causing much destruction to the animal world and nature by our need to satiate our palate and purse.

The depletion of the natural resources, environmental crisis, global warming, ecological imbalance, and annihilation of innumerable life forms is our responsibility. They help us to live and we destroy them for our food, clothing, entertainment, medicine, and luxury and material possession. This way by abusing and exploiting the living lives and the environment, we abuse and destroy the gentleness of our soul.

Do You Know?

* To produce 1 lb of meat, an average of 40 lbs of vegetation is used.

* 12 lbs of wheat produce 12 loaves of bread and only 1hamburger.

* It takes 3.25 acres of land to produce food for a meat eater on a continuing basis, while it takes 1/3 of an acre for someone eating a diet of plants and dairy and 1/6 of an acre for a person eating totally plant based diet (vegan).

* A University of California Study shows that to produce 1 lb of meat it takes an average of 2,500 gallons of water, it takes 966 gallons of water to produce one gallon of cow's milk and on the other hand plant foods such as wheat, corn, apples etc. take 20 to 50 gallons of water to produce one pound of food.

* Eating food crops first hand produces a tremendous energy savings. To produce one pound of protein derived from beef requires 20 times as much fossil fuel energy as the same one pound of protein derived from corn or wheat. Protein from beef requires 40 times more fossil fuel energy than the same amount of protein derived from soybeans.

* The waste released in the atmosphere by the U.S. Meat and Dairy Industry is 230,000 pounds per second, thus polluting earth, air and water systems.

* It is estimated that it takes 75,000 trees to print a Sunday edition of The New York Times for the readers.

These staggering numbers are a wake up-call for us to make a difference now.

Human Welfare

* Twenty vegetarians can be fed on the amount of land needed to feed one person consuming a meat-based diet.

* If America reduced their intake of meat by 10 percent, 60 million people can be adequately fed by grain saved.

* A cow has to eat 7 lbs of grain and soy bean protein to produce 1 lb of meat protein. If the same land were to produce food for humans directly, 7 times more people could eat.

* More than half of all the water used in the United States is used in live stock production that can be used where there is water shortage.

When we become aware of these facts and change our lifestyle and go vegetarian we can increase the amount of grain available to feed people elsewhere, reduce pollution, save water and energy, cease contributing to the clearing of forests and the most important we can save thousands of living creatures from torture and pain.

The core teaching of Jain Dharma is Ahinsa and so all of its 10 million followers are vegetarians, consuming neither meat, fish, fowl, poultry nor eggs. Jains would not take any life for food or sport.

But today many have gone one step forward and have also given up all dairy products and call themselves Vegan -- who live on products of the plant kingdom, so exclude flesh, fish, fowl, dairy products such as animal milk, butter, cheese, yogurt (curd), eggs, honey, animal gelatin and all other items of animal origin.

Today the dairy cows have become milking machines for human beings. The cows are kept pregnant every year for a consecutive 9-10 year period by artificial insemination. As soon as the cows stop yielding milk, they are dragged to the slaughter house for beef meat. Poor calves are forcefully dragged away from their mothers, depriving them of their mother's milk that is rightfully theirs. If the calves are female they are raised as dairy cows and are exploited as their mothers and at the end face the same fate as them. If the calves are male they are fattened by hormone injections and kept in dark sheds away from sunlight in oppressed conditions, preparing them for veal meat. This ultimately ends the lives of the cows and calves prematurely and cruelly.

How can we be at peace if we are causing pain and suffering to innocent living beings? The quality of our relationship with each other and the world is primarily based on our level of self-understanding.

As we want to be happy, all life wants to be happy.

So if we make the right choices, life will result in right consequences.

In this way a non-violent approach to life through ecology and vegetarianism enables us to express our reverence for all life forms including ourselves -- from the minutest micro-beings to the macro- beings, from the lowest developed consciousness to the highest developed consciousness.

To sum up these thoughts let me quote Lord Mahavir who expressed it succinctly:

"One who neglects or disregards the existence

Of earth, water, fire, air, vegetation and all other lives

Disregards his own existence

Which is entwined with them."

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