Jain Diet & Compassion

In Mumbai the Jain community is pretty well known. Large number of restaurants are pure vegetarian and commonly provide dishes without onion, garlic and potato. When I am traveling I find a lot of people aren’t aware of the Jain diet.


Jain Diet

[For the folks that don’t know anything about Jains – they are a (religious) sect of people originally from India. Now they are in many parts of the world as their business takes them 🙂 The diet is strictly vegetarian (including no eggs) Milk is allowed. In the vegetarian diet a lot of vegetarian food is also not consumed.]

Onion, Garlic, Brinjal, Potato, Carrot  (and maybe some others) are typically not consumed. During monsoon season (as demarcated by Jain lunar dates) food restrictions are stricter – no green or leafy vegetables and so on.

Iskcon Govinda restaurants
Iskcon Govinda restaurants have onion-garlic free menu

A lot of us youngsters don’t have Onion & Garlic on daily basis – commonly called ‘half Jain’ in the restaurants. We have potato and stuff. Some people are strict on some important lunar dates each month, and on other days they are more relaxed about the rules.

I avoid Onion, Garlic after my Yoga folks said it was negative pranic. Potato is zero pranic (it doesn’t help improve prana). The Vaishnav diet also does not include Onion & Garlic. This is why a lot of Iskcon restaurants are great for half-Jain folks. 🙂

Another community that has similar constraints are the Tamil Brahmins. I don’t know if Iyengars and Iyers both have these, but at least some Iyer brahmin I know have constraints of onion, garlic etc..

The reason for Jains not having these foods is because of the bacterial content. Jainism is a way of life where you offer least violence to the world around. To the extent that foods that grow underground are avoided because of a few reasons.

  1. One is that when you harvest these vegetables the whole plant is uprooted. This leads to great death, as opposed to just plucking off a fruit of the plant, while the plant still lives.
  2. Second reason is that the vegetable is pulled out of the Earth with a thick coating of mud on it. This mud has a thriving bacterial/bug colony in it. And the whole colony is harmed in the process of harvest.
  3. There are also some more reasons which have to do with the actual life within the vegetable and so on. These get a bit hard for us to understand.

The food system is very deeply explored in Jainism, and it is really wonderful to find someone has gone into the depth and put down so much of in-depth, सूक्ष्म (subtle) knowledge for folks. And in turn through the religion it gets embedded into so many peoples daily lives.

It is interesting to note that the same people for the sake of health or non-violence may not do it. But when it is prescribed in religion they follow it often strictly.

When this is done solely from the perspective of religion and heaven and enlightenment then a lot of the point is lost. Because an incentive type of thinking takes place – you follow religious rules just so you get heaven in return. Same thing about being a “Good” person. If you stick to religious rules because this makes you a “Good” person, it is also a self appeasing matter. It’s a type of vanity.

Nowadays internally in Jain community a lot of people are asking many questions. Like,

Considering the way cows are being tortured for milk – Jains need to be the first ones to stop Milk. Isn’t it?

The answer that many Jains give for this is that Mahavir Swami has written down the food rules. We cannot change them.

Counter point: But then cows weren’t being tortured during Mahavir’s times.

CP: Mahavira Swami has written down many rules for the future when things will be a lot worse in the world – and he has not prescribed stopping Milk (or not wasting plastic for that matter)

CP: Considering the fact that Mahavira happened 2500 years ago and there has been a time when a large number of Jain scriptures burned down and were re-written by the Acharyas – so I think one cannot stick to scriptures so much.

CP: Everyone cannot change the scriptural stuff as per their understanding because their understanding maybe petty and small. Jainism & Hinduism both I find have very, very deep knowledge when one starts digging deeper with an intelligent mind set. Not just in one way but in many ways these religions become full fledged spiritual paths taking care of every aspect of the human till their ultimate well being.

CP: Unless you have the necessary intelligent mind set most of the deeper aspects are lost. And the current religious establishments don’t seem to encourage an intelligent mind set.

What I have found crucial when following a path is that the basic tenets of the path need to be ingrained. After that the actual actions that you perform need to be an expression of these basic tenets as per your understanding and intelligence.

The question is not whether you stop milk or no. The question is whether you can respond compassionately when you know of Cow torture for your Milk. Inevitably when you are compassionate enough, as a natural response you would do something about it, as feasible as per your life situations. 

I was listening to one person whose name I forget. He is a renowned, learned fellow in Jain scriptures in Mumbai. And when he spoke about some of Mahavira’s words written in the scriptures it reminded me so much of Buddha. He also said that the deeper tenets of the path have to be ingrained. Then people must function out of those qualities.

When this happens utter horrible stuff won’t happen in name of religion because everyone is functioning out of the qualities propounded in all religions – Peace, Love, Compassion, Truth.

A Little Story,

Having said all of this, there was an incident that really touched me. And it highlighted for me the qualities even sub-consciously I must have picked up being born in a Jain family. I am sharing a previous incidents so you get a better context of the next incident.

Once in office, a guy really liked corn flakes. One day his corn flakes were visited by a bunch of ants. They totally infested the corn flakes dabba. Sadly, in an attempt to remove the ants he killed all of them and then had the flakes. I was shocked at such violence. At our homes when ants infest food or gather over spilt sweet-stuff, a lot of care is taken that they don’t die. Sometimes trying to clean the mess, we may end up killing them but the heart is heavy when such a thing happens. And a lot of care is taken while cleaning so that they don’t get killed.

One day one ant was crawling up my cousins hand. She rested the hand on the ground, so the ant eventually crawled down onto the floor. Her mother quickly admonished her, why did you leave the ant on the floor like this where anyone can stamp on it? You should put your hand somewhere safe for the ant. So for a Jain, it is not just enough that you don’t swap away the ant from your hand. You must take so much care that you leave the ant in a safe place.

This was truly wonderful for me. And I realized that being around Jains is nice, it encourages compassion in me. I want to be a lot more considerate to the bugs and bees.

One simple way I have figured out, which has been followed in Indian tradition is incense. Burning a lot of incense typically around 6 pm (maybe for the aarti) when the nocturnal bugs start coming inside the house, will actually keep them away. It reduces the harm by keeping them away. Better than the Good Knights and new fangled violent means of attacking these bugs after they enter our house. Good ol’ incense.

Peace to the bugs.


6 Replies to “Jain Diet & Compassion”

  1. Rajesh Bhanukumar Fukte says: Reply

    I am also Jain.& Belong this rules & I am proud of Jainisum.

    1. Good to know Rajesh.
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Good write-up.

    Do keep the neitzens enlighten with articles on various topics.

    All the best

    1. Thanks Dheeraj. Lots about Jainism needs to be written so people have access to it. 😉

  3. Nice to see you are putting your thoughts into words, many of us (jains) know these things but find it difficult to explain others… Your write up would definitely help.. Thank☺️

    1. Thanks Sourabh 😉

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