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Jain Diet

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Jain Diet

Shugan Chand Jain
(Director - ISSJS,D-28,Panchsheel Enclave, New Delhi)

आहार का जैन परम्परा में बहुत महत्व है । आहार के विभिन्न प्रकारों, जैन भोजन के मूल तत्व जीव रक्षा, अहिंसा, उपवास, भोजन निर्माण के समय उपयोग में लाये जाने वाले विधि—निषेधों की विस्तार पूर्वक चर्चा प्रस्तुत आलेख में की गई है । आधुनिक जीवन शैली की आवश्यकताओं के सन्दर्भ में पारम्परिक आहार विज्ञान की विवेचना तथा उसके चिकित्सकीय आर्थिक, पर्यावरणीय प्रभावों का मूल्यांकन इस लेख का वैशिष्ट्य है ।

1.0 Introduction

The word diet brings to our mind thoughts of austerity, restriction and deprivation to lose weight and look better. However in Jainism, the world diet refers more to the harmonious relationship between food we take, our health (both physical and mental), environment we live in and enhancement of our abilities to perform and make our existence happy and blissful in this and future lives. Jaina term for food is ahara, Recent literature uses the term bhojana also. Ahara is taking in or absorption (and not just eating) of the matter fit for the different kinds of bodies (1. gross or physical body of human, animals and vegetation kingdom; 2. the transformable body of the celestial and internal beings and so on; and six kinds of completions (called paryapti; these being assimilation of molecules of matter, formation of body, the scenes, the respiratory organs, the organ of speech and the mind).

Food means taking external inputs (nutrients, energy and body building and functioning elements) taken by the living beings. It is the most important need of the living beings as without it they may not be able to survive for long time. It therefore becomes important to know Jaina views on food. Food and conduct, as per Jainas, have strong correlation. Here also ethical postulates, such as being healthy (to be able to perform right conduct for self purification), non violence, self control (samyama), attitude and our thinking have strong correlation to the type and quantity of food we take, Mahavira, during his penance of more than 12.5 years is said to have take small quantities of food and that too only 265 times.

However all living beings need external energy and nutrients to maintain their physical bodies healthy and use it effectively to utilize their facilities (mind, body and speech) to achieve their objectives. Thus food is the primary need of all living beings. Like cotton is the basic material of cloth, similarly to practice Moksa Marga with right vision-knowledge and conduct as main constituents, proper diet is very important. The eight basic virtues (mulaguna) or requirements to be a householder (sravaka) have at least three virtues consisting of abstinence from meat, honey and wine while other acaryas have all the eight associated with abstinence from eight types of food containing innumerable micro living organism. To conclude the underlying principle of Jaina diet can be summarized as `eat to live to be able exercise self control and not just maintain the body healthy' so as to able for perform optimally your duties to achieve your objectives and `not just live to eat'.

1.1 Types of food (ahara) that living beings (empirical souls) take :

According to Jaina literature, food is classified in the following categories, based on the manner they are absorbed by the living beings. (i) `Oza' or lifer span determination at the time of birth is the energy the living being takes at the time of birth and this energy stays until his/her death. We hear stories of some living beings buried under debris for days together alive due to the existence of this energy.

(ii)`Rama' or nutrient & energy absorbed from environment directly. Every pour of body (millions in number) is capable of absorbing nutrients from the air & solar energy (similar to the process called photo synthesis in plants where the leaves absorb all the food from air and sun light and convert them to plant and its brancher, leaves, fruits and flowers). Jaina texts and modern medical science emphasize and provide several means to enable us use this type of food and minimize the need of the third type i.e. Kavalashara.

(iii)`Kavala' of food taken as morsels by mouth or injected in the body by other means.Generally we mean this type of food to denote all types of food. Few people realize that solar energy and fresh air and water are also essential components of food (type ii indicated above).

(iv)`Mano' or mental food. All the necessary nutrients needed are available in the environment around us. However our spiritual capabilities are not so advanced to use this method. Monks do develop such capabilities theough their practice of Moksa Marga. Stories abound in Jiana texts of such developments (Generally Jaina texts have four types of stories namely women (stri), food (bhatta), Kingship (raja) and country (desa). It is also said that celestial beings. i.e. heavenly beings (gods and gooddesses) have such capabilities and their bodies are even termed as celestial body so that they do not need `kavalahara'.

(v)`Karmana' or the absorption of karmana particles by the empirical soul due to its various non-self activities. These act as insulation for soul's energy to enjoy its own nature of knowledge & bliss. These particles also reduce the efficiency of body parts to perform their function. All spiritual practices aim at stopping further accumulation of these particles on the soul and to dissociate the existing bonded karma particles with soul.

2. Basic of Jaina Diet :

The question now arises. what is the proper diet as per Jainas ? We know that one type of food makes us sick and the other type makes us healthy, calm and composed. Ayurveda divides food in three types namely `hita' or beneficial to the body, `mita' or eating less than needed and `rta' i..e which does not depend on exploitation of others and the consumer earns his food. Jainas talk primarily of the third type as the first two are conrollaries of this. Jainas talk of the kavalahara i.e. taken from the mouth or through other means introduced in the body as food. Perhaps Jaina ethical texts emphasize the importance of food most for a happy life now and to move forward on Moksa Marga i.e. path of spiritual benefication to attain salvation. Basis of Jaina diet can be enumerated as follows :

2.1 Non Violence (Ahimsa)

Non violence is the heart of Jaina philosophy. The entire ethical practices and the doctrine evolve around minutest details of this concept. `Live and let live' and Non violence is the supereme spiritual value' are the hallmarks of Jaina doctrine. Thus Jaina food also is based on the practice of this doctrine. This results in the following boundaries for what is good to eat and what is not good.

  • Total avoidance of killing of 2 to 5 sensed living beings for food. This proh- ibits condumption of meat, eggs etc. of any kind.
  • Minimal killing of one sensed i.e. living beings with air, water, fire and earth as body and plants for food. To live, we cannot avoid harming air water, fire and earth bodied living beings while we can exercise control and restraint in harmings the plant life. This perhaps prohibits consumption of root vegetables or plants and fruits where colonies of micro-living orhanism exist. Only fruits of the plants free from such considerations are prescribed for consumption.
  • The food taken should be such that it does not enhance the violent nature (like anger, aversion, hayred etc) in the person eoncuming the food. Exces - sive consumption of dry (i.e. non only) or spicy food ; consumption of animals or their products create violent feelings.
  • Exercise carefulness while preparing and taking food e.g. not eating after sunset as the subtle two-three sensed living being may not be visible and to prepare the food in a clean place after carefully cleaning the food articles by known and well intentioned persons.

2.2 Non-eating :

One of the pillars of three components of Jaina doctrine of Anekanta namely coexistence of opposites says that eating and non-eating should co-exist to practice Maksa Marga. Therefore Jainas lay equal importance on not eating also. The first three types of external penance `are ansana (fasting), unodari (eating less than what is normal food intake) and rasa parityaga (giving up one or more of the five types of tastes namely salty-sweet-oily-dry and bitter foods on specific dates and for specific periods.) Jainas (practicing spiritual vows) keep fasts or eat once a day on 8th and 14th day of each fortnight, do the same on almost on all festivals and special occasions, do not eat greens during rainy season and on specifies days etc. Non eating or practicing the three austerities does help the person in maintaining control over his sensual desires and perform spiritual and other worldly duties more rihorously. The community glorifies those individuals whoo bserve the maximum number of fasts during Paryusana Parva.

2.3 Minimization or annihilation of passions (anger, pride, deciet and greed) and maximize self control over sensual pleasures and enhance the capability to observe the vow of celibacy (brhmacarya). The five deterrents to salvation and causes for the karmika infulx and bondage are.

(i)Perverted views (mithyatva),

(ii)Disinterest in observing vows (avirati).

(iii)Laziness (Pramada),

(iv)Passions (kasaya) and

(v)Activities of mind/body and speech (yoga).

Food has direct impact on all these causes. It is well known and proved by science that all types of food have good as well as bad effects depending to an extent on their nature, the their intake. Ayurveda also talks of three broad categories of food namely rajasika (rich or heavy to digest), tamasika (toxic causing laziness and loss of discriminating knowdledge) and satvika (pure food which does not produce perverted views in the consumer's mind and is fit for consumption to lead a healthy and peaceful life.) Jaina diet emphasized the last type. Rajasika food is said to enhance laziness and disinterest in vows while tamasika food is said to enhance passions and perverted views. Satvika food countains all the four essential constituents of food grains, edibles and water, oil, airs and solar energy in essential quantities and prepared proeperly. In today's terninology such types of food can be compared to balance food having carbohydrates, proteins, salt, oil, water, air, minerals and vitamins. Similarly those food items which are said to be aphrodisiac in effect or causes loss of discriminating intellect or cause enhancement of violent nature are to be avoided.

3.0 Preparation and Preservation of Food :

The manner of preparing the food for consumption, and the quality and edibility (i.e. shelf life in modern parlance and before the food articles become stale or infested with germs and other bacteria) are very important considerations for Jainas. This is also true today as the mass producers of ready made foods and food articles (FMCC MNCs) go a long way in enhancing the shelf life of food items by adding preservatives and packing in inert containers all products and indicate shelf life of the product. A typical list of food items and their shelf life as per Jain texts is given in section 6.0 later. Similarly the pserson who prepares and serves the food assumes significance in Jaina way of life.

A.Desirable attributes of person6 for preparing food for the monks are listed below (i)Awareness of the needs and limitations of the monk/nun for whom food is being prepared.

(ii)Should be free from any expectation of worldly benefits/pride/anger/indiff - erence towards towards the monk/nun while preparing the food.

(iii)Should be knowledgeable about the qualities, limits and desirability of various ingredients for food e.g. the shelf life, the ingredient being free from living beings, their beneficial and harmful effects on mind/body and speech etc.

(iv)Should be in happy mood and be with pure mind body and speech.

(v)Offer respect to monk/nun while serving etc.

(vi)Pregnant or nursing (lactating) women or those having menstrual period;Sick or old presons, children scared or incapacitated (blind/lame etc.) per - sons are not allowed to serve food to the monks and nuns.

Similarly the kitchen should be clean, well lighted (preferably by sunlight), ven - tilated and protected (free from mosquitioes, files, dust etc.) place, All the ingredients used should be first manually cleaned (sorting), checked for their suitability (i.e. within the time limit prescribed and free from living beings of any kind) then washed and used. The water to be used should be strained and boiled before use. Similarly the persons cooking. utensils and the place etc. should be clean. B. For the householders, the above principles are kept in mind and forms the basis while relaxing these restrictions depending upon.

I.Life style like joint family/nuclear family or single working person.

ii.Professional needs of working hours.

iii.Place of stay.

iv.Kitchen facilities at home fitted with all possible modern kitchen applicances.

As examples, the food prepared by domestic help under the supervision of a family member, the food from vegearian resturants; enhancement of shelf life of food with the availability of modern appliances like refrigerators and freezers, water purifying systems (like RO), food articles being made and sold by large corporations, legal restriction imposed by government on labeling the food for its content, use of preservatives for enhancing shelf life etc. are acceptable for adoption. Most of the Jaina texts found in temples and homes having pujas (devotional hymns). Samayikas (meditation hymns) and avasayakas (essential duties o householders) have a list of edible things, the impact of their mixing with each other and their life. Section 6.0 gives some sample food articles and their shelf life.

4.0 Vegetarian diet

The Jaina diet is claimed to be strictly vehetarian, perchaps vegan but relaxed to contain dairy products also (lacto vegetarians). Most of the restaurants and other high end restaurants and food serving orhanizations present special Jaina menus i.e. vehetarian food without root vegetables like onion, garlic, potatoes etc. However certain root vegetable like turmeric, ginger etc. in dired and powdered from are acceptable for their medicinal qualities. Animal products or those products made by using even small quantities of animal products are forbidden (e.g. processed cheese using animal based rennet, cereals or medicines using honey/bone ash or other such things. ice creams using eggs). Here again the method or preparing, consuming satvika food in limited quantities and times and eating before sunset or after sunrise, so as to avoid contamination of food with mosqutoes and insects are emphasized.

5.0 Modern medical Science, Economic and ecological Views on Jaina Diet.

We see a significant movement in the world towards adopting vegetarian food and giving up meat eating or even animal based products based primarily on health considerations. Everyday we find new medical reports identifying illnesses correlated to eating meat and poultry products. Similarly a number of studies support economic considerations for being veetarian and resource constraints in supporting meat eating habits. On the ecology front also, recent researches on production of meat or other animal products show detrimental effect they have on our land and water resources besides harm to the air quality and the ill effect of consuming animal products. The Food Revolution by John Robbins

a.Medical : Dr. Dean Ornish in the forward to the book `The Food Revolution by John Robbions says `A series of scientific studies and randomized clin-ical trials demonstrating that the progression of even severe coronary heart diseases an be stopped or reveres simply by making comrehensive chan-ges in one's diet and life style. These lifestyle changes include adopting a low fat, plant based, whole food diet; stress management techniques (inclu- ding yoga and mediations); moderate exercise; smoking cessation; and psychosocial group support.'

'b.Ecology :' `It is a dream of a success in which all beings share because it is founded on reverence for life. A dream of a society at peace with its conscience because it respects and lives in harmony with all life forms. A dream of a people living in accord with the natural laws of creation. cherish- ing and caring for the environment, conserving nature conserving nature instead of destroying it. A dream of a society that is truly healthy, practicing a wise and compassionate stewardship of a balanced ecosystem. (Page 3). All of the planet's physical features and living organism are interconnects. They work together in important and meaninffui ways. The clouds. oceans,mounatains, volcanoes, plants. bacteria and animals all play important roles in determining how our planet works. (Page 231) Traditionally farm animals played an important role in keeping agricluture on a sound ecological footing. They ate grass, crop waste and kitchen scarps that people could not eat. Their manure provided the soil with needed nutrients and the animals pulled the plows and provided other service that enchanced human life. (Page 233).

c.Economic : There is not enough land to raise animal feed and satsfy the meat eating habits of the human population. Producting one Kg of lettuce consumes 33 gallons of water while producing one Kg of beef consumes 5300 gallons of water. The same is the case of land requirements to cultive other grains and plant based foods. Disposal of animal excreta makes the water bodies as unusable for irrigation and human consumption. A number of large water bodies (aquifers) all over the world are becoming dry on this account.

6.0 Jaina food & diet for housesholders

Jain1 texts give detailed list of food items which are not edible and the time period for which an edible item also remains edible. The householders are further advised to seek opinion of the monks/nuns whenever in doubt.

6.1 Edible foods and their shelf life

Some of the in-edible items are given below :

i.Any thing which involves killing of mobile living beings. For example meat and eggs of any type and their prducts : honey ; food grains and cooked foods infested with moth/mildew and micro organism etc.

ii.Any thing which involves killing of large numbers of stationery (one sensed living beings). For example root vegetables like onion, garlic, potatoes etc.

iii.Anything which induces laziness or are toxic or aphrodisiac in nature. For example alcohol in any form; tobacco; opium, heroin etc.

iv. Anything which is even edible but not suitable for a particular individual. For exmple cold water or drinks for a person suffering from cold, cough etc.

v.Anything which is unknown.

Most of the plant based foods like cereals, fruits (except infested or having large colonies of micro organism in them or toxic in nature), vegetables (except root vegetables. leaf vegetables during rainy season, vegetables infested with insects) are considered edible. Milk and its products are generally considered edible but with certain limitations.

6.2. Shelf life of food items

This is very important consideration for Jainas concerining edibility or in-edibility of any food items. Some example are given below.

Water : strained water-48 minutes; strained water with cloves added-6 hours; boiled water-12 hours; water boiled many times-24 hours.

Milk : 48 minutes after taken out from cows; boiled milk within 48 minutes after extraction 24 hours; curd-24 hours; butter-48 minutes; ghee-as long as it does not change taste/colour/small.

Cereals : As long as they do not get infested with mildew- moth or insects; flour 7.5 and 3 days during winter, summer and rainy seasons.

Cooked foods : Generally 6 hours after cooking; fried things-24 hours; sweets having water-24 hours and sweets with no water are like flour.

6.3 Time and quantity of food comprising a normal diet.

Normally three meals per day are recommended starting with after sunrise and ending before sunset in quantities sufficient for sustenance. Further fasts/missing one meal or two meal regularly (8th and 14th day of every fortnight and religious days) and avoiding any one specific types of foods on certain selected days are advised for good health and enhancing self control. The texts do not specific exact quantity (by weight or type of food items) to be consumed and hence the statements are generally qualitative. Normally the emphasis is on minimizing the food intake (i.e. prohibiting overating completely) but not starving.

7.0 Conclusions

Jaina canonical literature gives the following description of a Saint' to support his/her spiritual life. That Saint, who, without the desire, passions (attachements and aversions) but maintaining an attitude of carefulness and restraints (samitis and guptis) eats proper and worthy for the Saint as per the Jaina scriptures food and wanders from one place to other place for preaching and stay is said to be free from the flaws of taking food directly. The soul of that Saint , who is busy in meditating on his self and is free from the act of accepting other matter is in fact called a fasting self (nirahari). Thus such Saints are said to be free from the flaws of the food accepted by them in enabling them to meditate on their self. Such pure food is accepted once a day during daylight, that too less than the full need of the stomach is balanced in dry-oily-sweet-salt tastes and contents, free from elements like honey, meat etc., is prepared by religious persons aware of the method of preparing and serving. Such food is said to free from the flaws of adhah-karma and is taken through a special method ( Nvadhaabhakti ).

With these as ideal, the diet for housegolders is suitably modified depending upon his/her spiritual inclinations, family and professional circumstances and the place where he/she lives. The basic principles of Jaina diet are : Non-violence has to be always kept as a supreme factor while planning one's diet. It should assist us in achieving our objective of the human life by enhancing self control, reducing passions and lead a happy and healthier life.


1.Tattvartha Sutra by Uma svami (umasvati) and its commentary by pujyapada, sutra 2.30

2.Badha Pahuda by Kundakunda. V-34

3.Ratnakaranda Sravakacara by Samantbhadra, commentary Prabha Candra, edited by Dr. Panna Lal. Verse 66.

4.Ahimsaka Jivana Saily by Samani Chinmaya Pragya.

5.Purusartha siddhi upaya, Amrit Chand Suri v. 61-75

6.Tattvartha sutra, viii. 1.

7.Purusartha siddhi upaya, Amrit Chand Suri v. 168-170

8.Bhagavati Aradana by Sivarya 1206-4-10

9.Puja Patha Pradeep, Samayika ka Saundarya compiled by Dr. Mukesh jain

10.Pracacanasara by Kundakunda, verse 3.26-30; Sutra Kratanga verse 1.3.1-6.