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Jainism and Vegetarianism

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Jainism and Vegetarianism

The reason is not far to seek, Ahimsa is the very foundation of the Jaina system of religion and culture. The basis concept of Jaina philosophy is that every living organism, however lowly and underdeveloped, is endowed with a soul of its own, which is in its inherent nature and potentialities, not different from that of any other creature including the highest and the most developed human being. There are an infinite number of souls in the universe, and every one of them is independent, immortal and eternal. On account of its good or bad actions, a soul goes on transmigrating, entering at every new birth a new embodied existence which lasts till death, the round of births and deaths constituting for each soul its samsara. The root cause of this phenomenon is ‘Karma’, the law of cause and effect, for which the soul itself is responsible and it alone has to bear the consequences of its actions. However, when a soul is awaken to its spiritual possibilities and wills and exerts to fee itself from the bondage of ‘Karma’, it succeeds in doing so, ultimately attaining nirvana, the state of spiritual perfection and unalloyed everlasting bliss whence there is no return. All souls being thus alike, all the living beings are members of a single fraternity. It is why a deep love and genuine compassion for all life came to be the fundamental characteristic of the Jaina culture and way of life. Ahimsa in, Jainism, is equated with Dharma, piety or religion, and has been elevated to the status of the supreme spiritual force. It is the essential nature of the spirit or soul and finds its fullest expression in the perfect and purest soul. It is not merely non-violence, but much more, including compassion, truthfulness, honesty, chastity, charity, generosity, self-control, self-abnegation, humility, greedlessness and equanimity. It is not a purely negative conception, but also has positive aspects. It replaces the belief ‘Life feeds on life’ by forcefully asserting “cooperation and coexistence is the basis on which life thrives”.

For the Jains, Ahimsa is thus the highest religion and its invariable corollaries, humanitarianism and vegetarianism, the most essential practicing creed. A Jain, therefore, not only not uses as food any animal flesh, fish, fowl or eggs, he regards many vegetables too as uneatable, does not drink any spirituous liquor nor other intoxicants, takes his meals before sunset and drinks filtered or strained water. The impact of Jaina way of life has been considerable not only in weaning numerous persons from the habit of meat-eating, but also in creating a general atmosphere in Indian society where even hardened and habitual non-vegetarian feel shy in openly indulging in meat eating or even in upholding the habit. And, this fact has been admitted by many a non-Jaina intellectuals like B.G. Tilak and Dr. C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar who once observed, “It is or should be needless in India to emphasize the importance of vegetarian habits and the underlying philosophy of life in as much as doctrine of compassion and non-violence has been the life long tradition and heritage of the country during many millennia and the feeling of humanity’s oneness with all animate creation is the part of the racial consciousness.”