Oct 10, 2019

Jainism view on having a pet...

Q9. Is it acceptable in Jainism to have a pet?
First, let’s talk about the basic tenets of Ahimsa relevant for this question. Once we understand and internalize the basic principles, we need to use our own wisdom to apply them in our current environment:
-        Ahimsa means to not hurt any living beings, including animals, through our thoughts, words and actions
-        Ahimsa means to respect all living beings and have compassion towards all living beings
-        Ahimsa means to let the living beings live in their natural habitat
-        Ahimsa means to not use animals, directly or indirectly, for our physical, emotional or any other needs
Jainism advocates following path of minimum violence for lay-people (Shravak and Shravikas), which implies using only one-sense living beings for our healthy survival and not hurting any movable two sense and higher living beings.
When it comes to having a pet, there are few basic questions: Why do you want a pet? How/where are you going to get the pet from? And other considerations like what would you feed the pet, environmental impact, companionship of same species?
Why do you want a pet?
The reasons for owning a pet can range from companionship, therapy, want to give a shelter to an animal, just because all my friends have it, it is becoming a trend now etc.
Whatever the reason might be, adopting a pet animal and bringing it inside a house restricts their freedom and deprives them of their natural habitat and companionship of its own species. Animals aren’t meant to be used by humans for their needs. Domestication of animals started only because of humans.
Buying a pet from a pet store / puppy mill
There is a lot of violence in pet breeding industries. For example, the state of Kansas is the largest puppy breeder in America. For every 1 puppy to put into market, 3-4 puppies are killed which are non-sellable.  
The pet industry also causes other kinds of violence to the animals that it sells. They separate the mothers from their litters shortly after birth, causing emotional anguish that may be out of sight to the pet owner, but very real, nonetheless. They also generally neuter or spay the animals. Even though this is done for the good intention of preventing more unwanted animals, it still causes violence and prevents them from having normal reproductive functions. As a result, if you buy animals from pet store, breeder or any commercial sources, then you are becoming a direct contributor towards such violence and this would be harmful to your spiritual growth even if you are treating that animal kindly with shelter, food, and companionship.
Rescuing a pet or using a pet as a guide/therapy/service animal
For Example, a neighbor is moving, he can’t find a home for his pet dog and he offers you to take care of it or he will put the dog to sleep. In this example, if you are willing, capable and you can take care of the pet then you are saving a pet’s life and you are having a pet out of compassion.
Another example is adoption of abandoned animal from shelter that in returns provides valuable companionship and possibly even support for an older or special needs person.
These are few such justifiable scenarios in which you may be saving a life and preventing violence.  However, you want to be mindful of directly/indirectly not promoting use of animals for human needs.
Feeding pet animals
Among the two most popular pets, dogs and cats, both are generally carnivorous. By keeping a pet, you obligate yourself to feeding the animal its preferred and natural diet. Often that will lead the owner to feed the pets non-vegetarian food, which, in turn, makes the owner complicit in supporting the entire meat industry, not just the portion eaten by the animals. This is because the meat industry uses the by-products of slaughter that are not suitable for human consumption for pet food, effectively subsidizing the cost of animal agriculture. By keeping a pet that requires non-vegetarian food, one is effectively engaging in the killing of cows, pigs, chickens, and fish to support their need for a pet.
If you decide to feed your pet vegan or vegetarian food, then it is very important to make sure your pet gets regular vet checkups to make sure they are getting the nutrients they need. For example, it is typically said that cats have to be carnivorous due to their need for taurine and arginine, which are not normally found in plant-based foods. Taurine and arginine aren’t just desirable for cats, but they are essentially because without enough taurine cats will go blind. Fortunately, Taurine and arginine can both be synthesized from vegan sources, and so these are typically found in vegan cat foods, including the brands WysongBenevo, and Ami. This is just one example but if you keep a pet, then you have to do the due diligence and research in determining their nutritional needs and alternatives.
Pets also have an adverse effect on the environment. A recent study by UCLA found that dogs and cats are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. Furthermore, they can also carry disease, pollute waterways, and coastal zones through runoff from areas with feces, and have adverse effects on wildlife.
Companionship of its own species
Most pet animals are social / pack animals and require the company of others of their own kind. However, few pet owners are able to adopt multiple animals to keep them company. In other cases, these animals are locked up in homes like prisons for long periods of time, at the mercy of their owners to come home and interact with them. The justification that they appear happy and lead materially more comfortable lives than they could in the wild, are not valid justifications for subjugating animals for the purpose of our entertainment, companionship, or functional support. 
What is the root cause? And how can we address the root cause?
If it weren’t for humans, animals would never have been domesticated. Humans mostly started domesticating animals for their needs and now we are in this vicious circle. Just because the need keeps on increasing, puppy breeder keeps on increasing the supply. And as noted earlier for every 1 puppy to put into market, 3-4 non-sellable puppies are killed.
If these domesticated animals were sent back to their natural habitat without preparing/training them, then they wouldn’t be able to survive in the new environment either.
We cannot change all the impacts of animal domestication overnight. But at an individual level, we can stop contributing towards increasing the demand. And we can also focus on our spiritual growth so that we aren’t depending on pet for our emotional needs.
Bottom line
We strongly suggest against buying a pet animal from a pet store or commercial sources. In specific scenarios, we must use our own wisdom to do what's right at the time.
If we can help any living being in any way, then we must do so. We should never miss an opportunity to help all different forms of life around us if we have the capacity to do it.
We should also work towards growing spiritually and becoming emotionally strong, so we can eliminate our dependence of our emotional well-being on any external factors.

Sep 20, 2019

Eating meat of naturally dead animals

Q8. One of the students at Pathshala wants to know why one cannot eat naturally dead cow's meat. She does not want to do it. However, her classmate asked, and she could not answer. Do you have a good answer for it?
On the surface this question might seem extraneous with an obvious answer, however, it stems from systematic understanding of Ahimsa principle and awareness about existence of life in one, two, three, four and five sensed living beings. Please refer to this blog post for details about five senses and their role from Ahimsa point of view.
This question can be addressed in one of the two ways:
·       Asking an individual to “not question it” and just follow what is being said. Using this approach is easy and simple, but in the long run, it will either drive the individuals away from religion and spiritual lifestyle, or create a community that would follow religion blindly, that is, without any understanding of their own.
·       Aid individuals in understanding the values, principles and logical reasoning, so that the individuals can use their own logic and wisdom. Nowadays, people have information at their fingertips, there is increased awareness and they want to think, understand and reason it out for themselves.
Our intent in addressing this question is to create a positive and enriching experience about the religion, enable understanding and answer questions for curious minds who want to understand rather than follow blindly.
This question can be interpreted in many ways. The question is not about eating meat or debating on natural causes for animal's death. The focus and intend of the question is:-
  • If an animal is naturally dead (animal’s soul has parted/the dead body is not living)
  • By eating meat of that animal equivalent amount of plant lives are saved
  • Assumption is that technically there is no violation of non-violence principle. Then is it allowed in Jainism?
And the answer is NO.
Jain Acharyas did not allow it and consequently the Jain societies have been protected from the negative implications that may result from these types of actions.
As an example - Buddhism has the similar five great vows like Jainism. However, the non-violence vow has been mis-interpreted and exploited and meat eating has proliferated in some Buddhist culture.
“According to Theravada sect of Buddhism, Buddha allowed his monks to eat pork, chicken and fish if the monk was aware that the animal was not killed on their behalf.” 
In other words, Buddha allowed eating meat of a dead animal with some caveats in place. Those caveats and loopholes are now being taken advantage of by some.
In Bangkok, some restaurants have signs “we sell only dead animal’s meat”. This implies that animals were not killed for their meat.  Rather animals died naturally and then their body is being used as meat.  Hence many Buddhist people and monks eat the meat in the restaurant without thinking twice or feeling guilty about it.
One can see that industries and businesses take advantage of this kind of loopholes.  How can that many animals die naturally where the restaurants always have meat dishes for their customers?
Every action by which a person directly or indirectly supports killing/injury to animals and/or every action that knowingly or unknowingly promotes the industries that involves cruelty towards animals is a form of violence (himsa). When it comes to any form of violence, whether we are doing it (karyu), making someone else do it (karavyu) or directly/indirectly promoting others to do it (karta anumodiyu), then it results in karma bondage and limits our spiritual growth.
In Jainism, food is restricted to that originating from plants, since plants have only one sense (ekindiya) and are the least developed form of life. Research shows a plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients also has health benefits, such as reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Consuming any food that is harmful to our body is violence towards ourselves.
Death of an animal will promote growth of bacteria in the body. This fact can lead to questions about himsa at bacteria level related to food consumption. However, consumption of yogurt or fermented food (dosa/idli/ dhokla batter) also incurs bacteria growth. Even farming also incur himsa at bacteria level. From a layperson perspective, for our healthy survival we cannot avoid himsa at the bacteria level but attempt to minimize it. Here our aim is to discuss himsa to five sense animals, which is considered highest sinful act than millions of bacteria (one or two sense invisible living beings) in Jainism.    
Jainism has one of the most rigorous forms of spiritually motivated diet on the Indian subcontinent.  Whether the animal is dead naturally or butchered, the meat is still “meat”.  We should think about how our food choices fit into our spiritual path or our vision for transforming ourselves?
If Jain Acharya’s would allow the exceptions to such rules, then people will find ways to exploit it and compromise ethical standards. People forget the circumstances or the caveats and start following it as a norm. If there is a leeway, people get a tendency towards eating it and when something becomes part of the culture then it takes time to overcome it and people continue to follow it blindly. In Jainism, this is what happened with dairy consumption, people are culturally programmed to consume dairy products, despite of the cruelty towards five sense animals in current times. (See this blog post for details). In the past, milk and other dairy products were allowed only for medical purpose and with Acharya’s permission, however it has become a norm even though raas-tyag is the fourth vow of nirjara.
Because of such negative implications to society and people going into wrong directions, Jainism does not allow such exceptions/actions with meat consumption.

Aug 23, 2019

Jainism perspective on Alcohol Consumption...

Youth and Parents frequently ask this question. Drinking of all forms (occasional, social, at parties, happy hours) are widely proliferating among Jain youths and adults in Western world in many places. The intent of providing information here is to empower individuals to make their own decisions and be able to defend their decision. Once we have the information and clarity behind guidance provided by the religion then we can use our own wisdom to take the decisions that are right for us.

Bottom Line Up Front: Jainism Principle/Outlook on Alcohol Consumption
According to Jainism, alcohol consumption of any kind is not allowed. Jainism has never allowed any exceptions either, like allowing occasional or social drinking. This kind of position has protected the Jain societies (to a certain extent) from the negative implications that have resulted and/or can result from alcohol consumption. Now let’s explore the reasons/logic behind this position.

Ingredients and Process of Alcohol Production
From ingredients perspective, beer for example is made from four basic ingredients: Barley, water, hops and yeast. The basic idea is to extract the sugars from grains (usually barley) so that the yeast can turn it into alcohol and CO2, creating beer. The process includes malting, mashing, boiling and fermentation. The entire process takes a few weeks to produce the final product. There are no animal products in the ingredients, except fermentation which includes innumerable bacteria that is similar to making yogurt, dosa/idli or dhokla batter.  
From production process perspective, some beers and wines go through a process of filtration called ‘fining’ using animal-derived products like fish gelatin or isinglass (produced from swim bladder of fish) or plant-derived products like Irish moss. Even though the fining agent is removed before consumption, the process involves himsa when using animal-derived products. Most breweries do not reveal if they do or do not use animal products in the processing of their beers/wine, however there are some exceptions.

Primary reason against alcohol consumption
The most important reason against alcohol consumption is the effect of alcohol on the mind and soul. In Jainism, any action or reaction that alter or impacts our mind is violence/himsa towards our own self, which is a five-sense human being. Violence to other five sense beings or to our self is same violence.  In fact, our mental state is more Kashayaful when we hurt our self than others. 

Alcohol affects our mind, which affects our Samyaktva (Right Faith and Right Knowledge) and negatively affect our spiritual progress. Spiritually successful life is about being aware moment to moment and making mindful choices every moment. Any food that affects or has a potential to affect our mind is absolutely prohibited in Jainism.

Alcohol severely deteriorates our decision-making capability, degrades our judgement to decide right from wrong, loosen inhibitions and lead people to speak and act in ways that are harmful to self and others. In that moment, we lose spirituality that we might have acquired with numerous practices over a long period of time.

Additionally, there are seven major addictions (maha-vyasan) defined in the Jain literature. Jain lay people should not indulge in those addictions and alcohol is one of them. 
1) Non-vegetarian diet (mansahaar), 2) Alcohol (daaru), 3) Gambling (jugaar), 4) Stealing (chori), 5) Illicit relation with somebody who is not your spouse (para-stri-gaman), 6) Relation with prostitute (veshya-gaman) and 7)Hunting (shikaar).  These activities have the potential to become addictive and habitual with severe negative implications. And if these addictions become habitual necessities of the body then one experiences severe withdrawal symptoms when trying to give up any addiction.

So, to be clear, it is not only the product that is wrong, but primarily it is the characteristics of the product and the way it affects our mind that is harming us.

Effect of Alcohol on our health / body
Alcohol is a poison for the body. It is associated with a variety of negative effects on health (contributing to liver damage, obesity / diabetes, heart health, etc.). In this sense, it is harmful first to our mind, and also to our body. Abusing alcohol means that we are polluting the home of our soul.

Occasional or Social Drinking
Characteristic of alcohol is that it slows down our thinking. Alcohol changes the we way think and feel, and hence influences the way we act. Of course, the impact of alcohol increases with amount consumed. How many people just have one drink occasionally their entire life and never indulge in more? How many people started with one drink and now drink often? There may be such people, but they are very rare.
Jainism has never allowed exceptions like allowing one drink or social drinking because of the negative implications to the society and people going into wrong direction. Once there is leeway, people get the tendency towards drinking and it can become a problematic situation. And when something becomes part of the culture then it takes time to overcome it. When we allow an exception to such rules then people will find ways to exploit it.

Overcoming External Factors and Belief Systems
There are always going to be external factors that come into play like social pressure, peer pressure, desire to fit in, that’s the way to make friends, that is what all my friends do, that’s what the majority of people at work do, we feel out of place if we don’t drink, we are drinking to socialize, we are drinking to relax… and the list can go on and on. These are all the factors that people do face in current times. But we need to be aware and mindful of what we are doing and why.
Also, we need to recognize widely spread belief systems related to alcohol consumption like drinking is normal, drinking doesn’t do any kind of damage, drinking is required for parties and to enjoy. There are many such beliefs/misconceptions in the society that will continue to exist and change with time. For example, party should be all about how good the food was, parties rotate around food, food is wasted instead using the next day, weddings have to be gala or it’s no celebration, one must travel to many places to experience life, one should have kids to complete their life, one should try non-vegetarian food once to explore taste and experience, pictures or likes on social media is an indicator of a good life or self-worth and list can go on and on. We all face such belief systems in various aspects of our lives day in and out, however, we need to recognize and challenge any such belief systems. And we need create our belief system based on our own values and principles.
There are plenty of studies that have found that drinking leads to anti-social behavior, abuse, violence, crime, blackouts, falling into dangerous situations, increased aggression, sexual assault, domestic violence, addiction as well as increasing the risk of self-harm and suicide. We should have complete clarity within us about the choices we make, reasons for those choices and full understanding about the consequences of those choices for us.
Saying no to drinking and going against the majority requires courage. We need to internalize our belief system such that we can defend our decision, find strength internally do what’s right for us and especially not get influenced by any of the external factors.

Recommendations for Way Forward:
So, now you have the information, think about this information, do more research, create your own belief system, decide what is right for you and what is good for you long-term.  
There are numerous famous teetotalers (nondrinkers) to take inspiration from (see lists in references below). Drinking is not a requirement to be socially successful. Just as smoking or taking drugs is not a requirement, one can choose to avoid alcohol. Also, for social situations, there are non-alcoholic beers available for people who choose not to drink.
Use your own wisdom and make your own decision keeping your goals, purpose and the aim of spiritual growth/religion in the forefront.

Famous Teetotalers references:

Aug 4, 2019

Usage of animals for medical research...

Q6. Does Jainism allow the usage of animals for medical research?

This is an important question that has very compelling perspectives for both sides, for and against the use of animals for medical research. Animals, from fruit fly to the mouse, are widely used in research. From Jain principles perspective, this question is straightforward, however, it can quickly become complicated in the current environment/lifestyle and also as we start hypothesizing scenarios.
Many factors come into consideration with using animals for testing/research:
  • Should we use animals solely for human benefit? It is ethical/moral?
  • If we don’t use animals, then how would we develop new treatments for deadly diseases? For Humans as well as for animal treatment?
  • Animals and Humans don’t react the same way then is testing really useful/necessary?
  • With animal testing, there is definite pain and suffering for animals, whereas there is uncertainty in benefits for humans
  • What about new computer systems, mathematical model, human tissue, cell culture? What about using cadavers (human dead bodies) for research? 
  • Are there other alternatives to using animals? 
These perspectives also vary with individual backgrounds, belief system and experiences in life. 
What is Jainism Perspective?
Using animals for any kind of research involves a lot of violence, exploitation and cruelty. It is a gruesome and cruel industry. Nowadays a huge number of animals are used in many types or research/testing: medicines, cosmetics, vaccines, agricultural, household materials, aeronautic, automotive, behavioral, consumer product testing etc. And these animals are subjected to horrifically painful experiments. Tens of millions of animals are used for testing every year, and it is just an approximation, since animal testing labs are not required by law to disclose the number of animals used for testing. 
From Jainism perspective, any kind of exploitation/use of animals is violence towards those animals and is not allowed. And there are no exceptions to the principles in our scripture. If any exceptions are allowed in our literature, then people will find ways to exploit it. Once there is a leeway, people get a tendency towards using animals for their benefit and it can become a problematic situation.          
What if the human race is at stake?
Amongst all the living beings, grown-up human beings possess a fully developed mind and human beings are the only ones who can do meditation and ultimately attain self-realization and liberation. So, if the entire human race is at stake then one must do whatever minimum is required, with Jain Acharaya’s permission, for the survival of the human race. We can protect ourselves but not have aggression (an example of aggression would let me destroy other before someone is going to attack me). 
What can we do at an individual level?
From a spiritual perspective, we should follow the path of minimum violence, do what is absolutely required for individual survival. We should not waste the human life, make the best of our human life and use every moment for our spiritual upliftment (i.e. reduce our Kashayas and eliminate Mithyatva).  
Now we have the information, we need to internalize the information, verify/test it with our experience, make it our own and then use it to make decisions that are right for us.  
From a practical perspective, at the individual level, we need to stop/avoid/minimize using any products that involve cruelty. We need to do the due diligence of gaining as much information as we can about everything that we use/consume and ensure that they are cruelty free. Plus, nowadays given technology/internet, we can do the required research efficiently and find cruelty free alternatives for all the products. There are cruelty free alternatives for vitamins and medicines too. 
Vaccines have been in ethical controversy for long, many vaccines also have animal by-products in them and hence it is not that straightforward. Some people take regular vaccines, and some opt for non-vaccination/religious exemption. For vaccines or any life-threatening diseases, we need to gain as much information as possible and then use our wisdom to decide at an individual level. 
In summary, we have to look at the purpose/objective from a holistic point of view and use our own wisdom to make a decision by applying Jain principles in our current environment. Please remember that under any situation, if we exploit animals there is big consequence and if we use them very minimum for our survival, the consequences to us is minimum.


Jul 21, 2019

Jainism Perspective on use of Products that involves Violence / Himsa in Jain Rituals

Q5. Why are products that involve himsa or cruelty of movable beings (Tras Jiva) used in various Jain Rituals? Products like milk, wool, silk, peacock feathers, saffron, varakh etc. Should we continue to use them?

Rituals play an important part in our religion to build culture around the community, to inspire one another, strengthen religious values, build up interest in religion and for survival of any religion. However, rituals must be performed with the right understanding and interpretation, such that it provides an inspiring and uplifting experience. Rituals should enable our spiritual growth and serve as a reminder to reflect upon the Jain philosophies, values and proper conduct.
There are many rituals in place today that are rooted from generations of history and they are performed with the mindset that “this is how it’s always been done”. In some cases, these rituals are done in Mithyatva (ignorance), not knowing that some of these materials used in rituals do indeed come from violence. This Mithyatva can be seeded from lack of knowledge, lack of desire to gain information, blindly following rituals, believing in the wrong beliefs, lack of alignment with Jain values/principles, or fear of challenging that status quo.
Our intent in addressing this question is to create awareness, create a positive and enriching experience about the religion and answer questions for curious minds who want to understand rather than follow blindly. It will cause a little discomfort as we are stepping out of our comfort zone.
Now, let's understand the use of certain products in Jain rituals, spiritual intent behind the rituals, cruelty associated with these products in current times and potential alternatives. 
Use of Milk in Abhishek and other rituals
Spiritual Significance:
The spiritual intent behind Abhishek is to make our life simple and pure by cleaning our souls, getting rid of our undesired qualities, and ultimately ending the cycle of birth and death (i.e. Moksha).
Jain literature indicates that during Tirthankar Abhishek only pure water called kshir samandra water was used. This water was so pure that it looked white in color. Hence to symbolize this water, people started to mix a small amount of milk with water and a tradition established.
Compassion / Non-violence Point of View:
In today’s commercial environment, the milk is produced in the most cruel way by depriving calf of its mother's milk, slaughtering male calves and ultimately slaughtering mother cows around 5 years of age. Also, there was never a reference made to use actual milk in any Jain scriptures.
Hurting or killing five sense animals are considered highest sin in Jain literature. Please visit the Jainism view on Dairy products blogpost for violence involved in modern day dairy industry.

What can we do now?
Given what we know and understand about commercial milk production, we should refrain from using milk, and milk products like ghee, sweets, especially in any religious rituals.

We can also find alternative ways to complete the rituals, for example use only pure water or add small amount of non-dairy milk like almond milk instead of cow’s milk, use vegetable oil instead of ghee in any ritual. In the past about 100 years ago, Castor oil was used in the temple Arti and Mangal divo and other rituals.

Use of Woolen Katashanu and Charavalo during Samayik and Pratikraman Rituals
Spiritual Significance:
Samayik and Pratikraman are the most important rituals for our spiritual growth. The purpose of Samayik is to meditate, reflect and strengthen our soul on a daily basis. During Pratikraman ritual, we repent for our mistakes and wrongdoings. Hence the aims of both rituals are to prepare us in attaining divinity through perfection in conduct and Meditation.
Katashanu is used to sit on and Charavalo is used for any movement during the Samayik and Pratikraman rituals. In older days, during cold weather the woolen Katashanu and Charavalo provided health protection to insects and us.
Compassion / Non-violence Point of View:
Sheep which thrive in nature without human intervention, will grow just enough wool to protect themselves from the cold in the winter and to keep them cool in the summer. When it is time, they will shed their winter coat all by themselves.
Sheep used for wool production are bred to have way more wool than they would have produced naturally. Plus, when they have their wool shaved off (a process called shearing), the people are paid by how much wool they can get, and a lot of sheep get hurt and some even have parts of their ears or skin cut off. The wool industry does not only exploit sheep, but it is also very cruel to them.
Other kinds of natural wool also known as, mohair, pashmina, shahtoosh, cashmere etc. have the same suffering and exploitation of animals.
What can we do now?
Use alternatives to wool, including cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece or other cruelty-free fiber for Katashanu and Charavalo.

Use of Silk in Places of Worship
Spiritual Significance:
The tradition says that silk is purest and cleanest material and it should be worn during Puja in temple rituals.
It all started around 1133 AD at the time of King Kumarpal, the King of Gujarat, a state in Western India. During his rule he was greatly influenced by a great Jain teacher Acharya Hemchandra. The King was so inspired by his teachings of Ahmisa (non-violence) and Compassion that he declared in his entire state to stop killing of animals for food, sport or fun.
It is said that he was further inspired by the saint to lead a religious life and perform puja (a symbolic worship to a Tirthankar Murti (idol) in the temple) to show his devotion to Lord Mahavir. The King decided to wear the best and most expensive new clothes to perform the puja and so he ordered the best of the material to be obtained. His men went and purchased the costliest, finest and softest material from China, called silk, for their King.  
At that time, no one knew that the imported material was made by killing silkworms, which involved sheer violence. But since then the tradition continues. Unfortunately, even today some people wear silk clothes in religious rituals justifying that King Kumarpal used it.
Compassion / Non-violence Point of View:
How many people know that the silk, one wears or uses involves 100% violence to silkworm, but one wears it with great pride in the places of worship? It is sad that one follows tradition blindly without questioning the origination or it’s making process. 15 silkworms are killed to get 1 gram of silk. Silkworms are usually boiled alive and female moths are slit open to check for diseases after they lay eggs.
What can we do now?
There are many other materials that look somewhat like silk are from man-made fibers known as artificial silk (art silk). Of these, rayon (viscose) is of vegetable origin; whereas nylon and polyester (terrene) are petroleum products. Although man-made fibers do not have direct himsa but they do have environmental impact that leads to indirect himsa. So, it is best to use material like cotton instead of any materials that involves himsa/violence. 
The Book of Compassion pages 51-54.

Use of Peacock Feather
Spiritual Significance:
Peacock feather is used for a broom/picchi to clean Murti in the temple by one sect and the floor by another sect. The spiritual intent behind this usage is to practice Ahimsa and save insects and minutest micro-organism.
A Jain sadhu practices 5 mahavrats: Ahimsa mahavrat, Satya mahavrat, Asteya mahavrat, Brahmacharya mahavrat and Aparigraha mahavrat.

Digambar sadhu uses Picchi or Picchika to clean the floor as one of the aspects for practicing Ahimsa duirng moving from one place to another. The Picchis are made of peocock feathers (Swetambar sadhu use woolen Charavalo which has similar concerns from a compassion point of view). 

Traditionally, the feathers are collected in the rainy season when a peacock shed them naturally one at a time. A digambar sadhu never walks without his picchikaSwetambars use picchi to clean Aangi (Puja) material from Murti every morning in the temple.

Peacock naturally discards one feather at a time and a new feather comes in. According to the tradition, in the past, the picchis were made from only using the naturally discarded feathers and they were replaced only when the Picchis were not usable.
Compassion / Non-violence Point of View:
Nowadays to collect peacock feathers manually from the forest takes a lot of labor which is very expensive. Hence now peacocks are raised just for feathers. They manually pluck all the feathers from live peacock and then kill the peacock. China is one of the biggest suppliers for peacock feathers. Also, nowadays picchis are replaced every year regardless of their usability. It is an annual ritual in certain tradition.
What can we do now?
Be aware and mindful of the spiritual intent behind picchi ritual. Ensure that the material used for such a compassionate purpose of saving minutest bugs does not involve so much violence towards peacock. Going forward, it is best to use other sweeping materials that does not involve violence towards any movable living beings. 

Use of Saffron in Puja
Spiritual Significance:
In the ancient Jain literature, there is no mention of using saffron for murti puja. Rather, only chandan (sandalwood) is used. The spiritual intent behind using chandan in puja is to remind us that by applying chandan to Bhagwan murti we wish to make ourselves peaceful, quiet and calm (samata).
Somewhere along history, someone mixed saffron with chandan, probably because of smell / color or because it is a very rich product and Jains traditionally like to use the best. It got introduced only a couple of hundred years ago and after one generation, these kinds of things become traditions.  
Compassion / Non-violence Point of View:
About 50,000 - 75,000 saffron flowers are plucked / destroyed to create 1 lb of saffron. Each flower only has one thread of saffron and using the saffron thread destroys the flower. There is a youtube video on saffron production.

Even though Saffron is a flower and not a movable living being, from compassion point of view, it is the sheer number of flowers that are destroyed for saffron production. And the use of saffron is not even indicated in our literature. Jain principle indicates that dravya puja should be done with minimum violence. 

In addition, saffron is significant acidic and the acid in saffron harms the marble murtis. Hence to protect the murtis, Acharyas at that time decided to put placeholders "tikkas" for where the saffron can be used during puja. We will never see "tikkas" on the old murtis. Tikkas on murtis gives out the perception that the murti is for puja only. The old murtis without tikkas, ornaments or other decorative material serves as a more conducive symbol for meditation and internalization of the Jain values and principles.
What can we do now?
Be aware and mindful of the spiritual intent behind the puja ritual. Ensure that the material used for such a pious purpose does not involve the significant large quantity of flowers and we achieve the intended spiritual benefit. Going forward, it is best to use only chandan rather than saffron mixed with chandan for puja. Also, if we were to use pure chandan instead of kesar then there is no damage to the murti either and there will be no need for "Tikas". And the murti will also serve the purpose of meditation object for the beginners. 

Use of Varakh in rituals at Temple
Spiritual Significance: 
The belief is that more people would visit temple because of decoration of the Murti. This will help to spread Jain religion.
Varakh or silver / gold foil is used in many Jain temples on idols and in some religious ceremonies. Typically, we are unaware of the process used for manufacturing it. Mostly it is used to beautify the appearance of the murti and other sweet products used in Naivedya Puja.
Compassion / Non-violence Point of View:
Varakh is made by placing the pure metal (silver or gold) between parchment sheets or by manually pounding between the layers of ox gut. Varakh itself is not derived from an animal source. However, in manual method a crucial material of animal origin, ox-gut / animal intestine, is used in its manufacture. This ox-gut is obtained from the slaughterhouse.

Even though varakh can be made using machines, the costs with using machines is significantly higher. So, we can't really be sure what is source of the varakh production.
What can we do now?
Rather than using varakh, many temples today use metal moldings that are custom made to fit the murti.  These moldings replicate the gold/silver look and are not made with cow's intestines so that violence is eliminated. In reality, we do not need to use Varakh in any ritual or on food items at all.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) bans silver leaf (Varakh) of animal origin in food items: 

Bottom Line:
It is up to each one of us to ensure that our rituals/products are in-sync with our Jain values and principles. We don’t know who, why or when certain materials were introduced or changed in our rituals. But going forward, each of us as individuals can make a conscious choice, using our own knowledge, research and wisdom, of what we want to use.

There are many aspects that plays in a role when it comes to such changes, but it is up to each one of us, to not do things out of ignorance, fear, force, greed, guilt or reward. 

Without knowledge and awareness, we are either in false belief, blindly following someone else or unknowingly promoting the industries that involve cruelty towards animals and such actions result in karma bondage and limits spiritual growth. 

Therefore, when it comes religious rituals, products used for rituals or any such things, we need to do the due diligence of gaining as much information as we can. Plus, nowadays given technology/internet, we can do the required research very efficiently to ensure that we have the knowledge and awareness.

Jun 25, 2019

Jainism View on Dairy Products...

Q4. Dairy products are not a Vegetarian product (it is an animal product) why do Jains consume them?  Should they consume? Why is eating of Dairy product not prohibited in the Jain scriptures?

First, let’s talk about the question why dairy products are not prohibited in Jainism:
Jainism is an introspective religion and there are no “thou shalt” commandments in Jainism. Jainism provides a set of values/principles and guidelines on how we can apply them in our day-to-day life. It is up to each one of us to understand and internalize these values/principles and apply them mindfully in various aspects of our lives like how to consume and preserve natural resources, how to follow right ethics, what we should eat/not eat, wear/not wear, integrity with work and finance etc.
We shouldn’t accept anything blindly, but instead be conscious, logical and do the right thing using our wisdom. We have to make sure that there our conduct is consistent with our Jain principles and values.
Next, we will provide our perspectives on the history of cow’s milk usage, cow’s natural milk production cycle, modern day dairy industry, Ahimsa principle as it applies here and Mahavira preaching of Jain principles and his life stories. Then it is up to individuals to make their choices using their own awareness of the situation and wisdom.

Historic perspective on cow’s milk usage:
In olden days, India was primarily an agricultural country and farming industry was owned by individual independent family farmers. Bull was absolutely needed for farming and transportation. Without the availability of bull, human population in India could have extreme difficulties. Hence every farm family use to raise a few cows for the availability of bull. Milk was fed to calves.
Later, as the population of India increased, and India’s agricultural industry was unable to produce enough grains, vegetables, and fruits. So, farmers and others started using very small percentage of milk as food. This milk usage was for their survival and not selling. They treated the cow as their mother and took care of them as a part of the family member. Hence cruelty aspect was very minimum.

Let's understand how natural Cow milk production occurs:
The typical lifespan for a cow is 15-20 years. Just like humans, cows can produce milk only after the calf is born. And the cow naturally produces milk only until the calf is weaned off, which is approximately up to 15 to 18 months. Just like human mothers, cows naturally only produce the quantity of milk that is required by its calf. That is the law of nature for all mothers feeding their babies under natural environment.

How does the modern-day dairy industry work?
Cow’s lifecycle in commercial dairy industry:  
As soon as the cow is around 15 months, she is impregnated. The calf is born after ~9 months. And ~3 months post-delivery, the cow is impregnated again. Cow is made to deliver a calf every year to get continuous supply of milk. The newly born male calf is not allowed to consume its mother milk and mother cow’s all milk is used commercially. However, after 3 deliveries the milk supply goes down.
Statistics says that there is about 30% reduction in the milk production (after 3 deliveries) by age of 5 years. And when that happens, the dairy industry sends the cow to slaughterhouse, since it is not cost effective to keep that cow. And then the same lifecycle starts for the new cow. Cows don’t get any kind of natural or humane life in the process.

Use of hormones and mass milk production:
In the dairy industry, baby cows are given heavy doses of hormones to bring them to reproductive maturity faster than the natural cycle. Young cows are also given heavy hormones and artificially impregnated every year to keep them viable for producing milk. Immediately after a male calf is born, it is taken away from the mother cow.  The female calf is kept with mother for few weeks and then taken away. This causes enormous stress on the mother cow, so it often will not produce any milk for 1-2 days. Then she starts producing milk. In addition, the dairy industry usually uses machines for mass production and those machines are set to timers. 

Use of antibiotics:
The dairy and meat industry are exercising mass production and are not properly caring for the cows leaving them at risk of sickness and infection. For mass protection, the cows are treated with high doses of antibiotics. These severe antibiotics are sometimes used as preventive measures, regardless of true need. As a result, these antibiotics are also deposited within the cow’s milk supply.  Just like in humans, these heavy doses of antibiotics work the same way, by killing bad and good bacteria, which adversely affects their gut and their diet.

What happens to cows that are not producing enough milk or to the male calves?
Mass death of Cows:
Hundreds of years ago, bulls were used for farming and transportation but that is not the case now. The production of dairy products also necessitates the death of countless male calves that are of no use to the dairy farmer, as well as the premature death of cows slaughtered when their milk production decreases. Both male and female calves after kept up to a certain age for the sole purpose of reproduction and milk production.  If they are not needed or cannot be used by the meat/dairy industry, they are slaughtered for “veal” or “beef”.  And finally, older cows and bulls are sent to slaughterhouses.

Why dairy industry is also bad for the environment?
From recycling our household rubbish to cycling to work, we're all aware of ways to live a greener life. One of the most effective things an individual can do to lower their carbon footprint is to avoid all animal products.  Here is why:
The production of dairy and other animal products places a heavy burden on the environment - from crops and water required to feed the animals, to the transport and other processes involved from farm to fork.
The vast amount of grain feed required for meat and dairy production is a significant contributor to deforestation, habitat loss and species extinction. A third of the surface of North America is devoted to grazing. Half of American croplands grow livestock feed for meat and dairy products. 220 million acres of land in the USA have been deforested for livestock production. In Brazil alone, the equivalent of 5.6 million acres of land is used to grow soya beans for animals in Europe. This land contributes to developing world malnutrition by driving impoverished populations to grow cash crops for animal feed, rather than food for themselves.
World's 1.3 billion cows annually produce 100 million tons of methane a powerful greenhouse gas which traps 25 times as much solar heat as CO2. Livestock production accounts for more than half of all the water consumed in USA. And the waste released in the Environment by American Meat and Dairy Industry is 230,000 pounds per second, polluting our land, air and water systems (source: USDA  2001).
On the other hand, considerably lower quantities of crops and water are required to sustain a plant-based diet, making the switch to plant-based diet one of the easiest, most enjoyable and most effective ways to reduce our impact on the environment.

Now let’s look at this from Jainism values / principles perspective:
Ahimsa perspective:
Being vegetarian is just not enough from Ahimsa mindset, since consumption of dairy and other animal byproducts are considered equally high order of sin (Himsa) as consuming direct animal products (E.g. meat and other non-vegetarian food). Great deal of suffering is caused to animals in the dairy industry. While, Ahimsa teaches us that every living being (Animals included) has the right to life and freedom. Cows love their children just like us. They deserve to be safe and free from harm just like us. They have a capacity to experience grief or joy just like us. So why make them suffer?
Now the agricultural production in the world is such a level that it can feed the human population several times over.  There is no shortage of vegetarian food in the world. Milk and other dairy products are not needed for our healthy survival.

Mahavira’s Preaching Perspective
In addition to Ahimsa principle, Mahavir Swami also preached Samvar and Nirjara. In Nirjara, he explained six bahiya tapa, which includes that a Jain should practice “Ras Tyag”. They should not consume juicy food like milk, yogurt, butter, ghee, oil etc., since it affects human mind and makes it lazy and sleepy which is a hindrance to meditation or one’s spiritual progress

Mahavira’s Life Story Perspective
Jain Agam literature (scripture) consist of 65% stories and remaining 35% include Karnanu-yoga (geography, Karma philosophy, gunasthanak etc.), conduct or Achar (six AvashyakPratikramanSamayik, Vows and Repentance), and Philosophy or Dravyanu-yog which include Jain philosophy of pure souls and impure souls.
The main purpose of the Jain stories is to explain Jain principles and conducts. And the significant portion of stories are created (mythology) by the author using the name of the historical personalities. But one should not derive the Jain principles or Jain conducts out of the story.
One such story is that Mahavir ate kheer (milk-based food item) in his first Parna (fast breaking Tapa). Hence many Jains do ask the question that what’s wrong with drinking milk if Mahavira ate kheer?
There is no Jain principle or Jain conduct described by Lord Mahavir that indicates to drink milk and consume dairy products.  On the contrary his teaching of Nirjara bahiya tapa (ras tyag) and ahimsa says to refrain from consumption of milk and dairy products, as explained above.

Bottom Line
There is significant violence and cruelty to five sense animals in the commercial dairy industry and cow’s milk is meant for its calf. Hurting or killing five sense animals are considered highest sin in Jain literature. So, based on that Jains should refrain from dairy products or any products that involves animal cruelty. However, we do understand that any kind of change is difficult especially when it has become a part of life. Even if we can’t make the transition, at a minimum, we should not blindly justify our actions and use our own wisdom to apply the Jain values in the current times.
Therefore, when it comes to dairy products or any products that involves animal cruelty, we need to do the due diligence of gaining as much information as we can. Plus, nowadays given technology/internet, we can do the required research very efficiently to ensure that we have the knowledge and awareness. It is up to each one of us to ensure that our conduct is in-sync with our Jain values and principles.