|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Vegetarianism is understood with different significations;
but, viewed in the background of Jainism it amounts to using a strictly
vegetarian diet either in the procurement or in the constitution of
which no harm or injury to apparently living beings is involved directly
or indirectly. It is closely linked up with three fundamental principles
of Jainism : Ahimsa or Non-injury, Samyama or Self-control and Tapas
Ahimsa is the basic principle on which the Jaina moral
code is built. In simple words, 'Live and let live' is the creed of
Jainism. As every one of us wants to live, enjoy pleasures, and escape
pain, so every other living being wants to live, enjoy comforts, and
avoid pain. If we want to exercise our right to live, we must concede
the same right to others as well. It is a simple moral law of reciprocity.
Naturally man has no right to slaughter animals for his food or for
his pleasure. If he does so by his superiority in the cadre of biological
evolution, his action is not justifiable in any way. And if he wants
to lend a life of justice and equity in society, he must have the highest
respect for the entire animal world, nay the sanctity of life as such.
This necessitates that he must take to a vegetarian diet.
Man is endowed with the faculty of discrimination between
right and wrong, just and unjust, and fair and unfair. His superiority
as man depends on his ability to exercise this faculty with the utmost
sincerity. As an enlightened member of society he cannot afford to arrogate
to himself privileges and prerogatives which are not available to others.
An individual cannot enjoy any rights without the responsibilities accruing
from them : in fact, every respectable citizen has more duties than
rights. He is expected to lead a life of self-control. Such a self-control,
according to Jainism, amounts to various kinds of restrictions in the
matter of food, in acquiring possessions, and in the enjoyment of pleasures.
Moderation is the first step on the path of self-control. By observation,
the Jaina teachers have concluded that animal food not only involves
destruction of life but it is also stimulative to the animal passions;
and every one, therefore, who wants to lead a sober, sensible and religious
life should live on a vegetarian diet.
Austerities of various kinds are prescribed in Jainism
; and a pious Jaina is expected to observe different austerities such
as fasting, eating less than one's fill, putting restrictions on the
use of certain items of food, and renouncing delicacies : in fact, he
is to eat to live but not live to eat. Of course these austerities are
intended only for those who are sufficiently advanced on the path of
This doctrine of non-injury has led the Jaina Teachers
to study in detail the whole range of the animal world and to classify
the various living beings under different grades according to their
development and sense-faculties. This was a practical necessity. If
injury to living being is to be avoided gradually, it was necessary
to study what the various living beings are and how they stand graded.
Living beings fall into two broad classes, Trasa or mobile and Satavara
or immobile. Trasa, beings are those which possess two, three, four
and five sense-organs. Sthavara beings are those which have only one
sense organ, namely, that of touch : and they are of five kinds: earth-bodied.
waterbodied, fire-bodied, air-bodied, and vegetables. Jaina Teachers
had realized long back that plants had life, and they had treated them
as one-sensed beings.
The case of a house-holder is slightly different. He has
social obligations and practical difficulties. Naturally according to
his religious stage, he does his best and avoids injury to Trasa beings.
It is not always possible for him to avoid injury to Sthavara beings.
But even there he is ever struggling to see that he minimizes harm unto
Stharara beings. Naturally in his diet he does not use such fruits,
roots and green vegetables as contain living organisms.
The above details make it abundantly clear that Jainism
not only insists on strict vegetarian food, but even there those items
of vegetarian stuff which involve harm unto subtle organisms are also
to be avoided by a pious Jaina. Apart from its religious aspect, vegetarian
food has its value in various ways. It is only a strict vegetarian that
can assure himself that he is a cultured citizen who is not living at
the cost of any other life in this commonwealth of animate beings. Further,
the Vegetarian diet is conducive to a dispassionate and balanced mind
and a detached and equable attitude. It is thus the baser emotions and
lower instincts are sublimated resulting in nobler virtues of universal
kindness, equality, and brotherhood.
It is admitted by all that nowhere else, as in India,
has the doctrine of Ahimsa, universal non-injury or non-violence, had
so great and long continued an influence on national character. It is,
therefore, in the natural course of our national history and heritage
that outstanding men and women of our land should adhere to vegetarianism,
both in public and private, so that they might create a kindlier atmosphere
round about them and prove themselves standards of high thinking and