A Jain Perspective on Veganism

Pravin Shah, President, Jain Study Center of NC, and TVS Member

Editor's note: Jainism is a religion which perhaps most strongly advocates vegetarianism and non-violence. Pravin will be giving a talk on Jainism this spring and we should have an article in the next newsletter from him.

Two years ago, I visited a dairy farm near Burlington, Vermont. Here is the summary of what I saw and learnt.

Last year while in India, I visited a dairy farm near Bombay. I observed similar things; overall, things were actually probably worse because there are few enforced regulations.

Traditionally in India, cows have been treated as a part of the family, and after feeding the baby calf, leftover milk was consumed by humans. However, as my older daughter Shilpa always says, cows' milk is for baby cows and not for humans or their babies; no other animal consumes the milk of another species. We do not have the right to consume cow's milk for our benefit, and furthermore milk is not essential for our survival.

As I learned about the dairy industry, I at first found it hard to believe. On a personal level, I feared that it would be impossible for me to become vegan. How could I eliminate milk, yogurt, butter, ghee, and cheese from my diet? To become vegan means that I cannot drink tea, eat any Indian sweets, pizza, milk chocolate, eggless but dairy-containing cake, and many other items. However, the dairy farm tour made me an instant vegan.

From the Jain point of view, our survival is limited to elements such as vegetables, water, fire, earth, and air. The cow is what we call a Panchendriya (five-sensed) animal, and cruelty to Panchendriya is totally prohibited and considered the highest sin in our religion. In today's environment, I do not see the difference in cruelty between meat and milk production. In the production of milk, the cow is not killed instantly but she is badly tortured during her entire life and ultimately slaughtered before the end of her natural life.

Here is a summary of some of my health statistics before and two years after I became vegan:

               Before        After

Cholesterol      205          160
HDL               34           42
Trigliceride     350          175

After becoming vegan, I feel more energetic. I do not have any calcium deficiency. Of course, one has to monitor one's own body chemistry; in my case, my doctor is very pleased and has not put me on any vitamins or calcium supplements.