International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India


The cardinal teaching of Jainism is Ahimsa: It teaches bhula-anukampa (kindness to all living beings) and sattvesha maitri (friendship with every existing soul). Ahimsa is not only an ethical rule with the Jainas; rather it is based on a philosophical background, for, according to Jain belief, even animals, vegetables, and minerals possess life. A similar shining soul like that of man resides in the body of these living things of a lower stratum of life. Therefore, a Jain regards all life as possessed of great sanctity, and observes Ahimsa to its utmost possibility. In the whole world the Jains are the only people who can claim to be strict vegetarians from a hoary antiquity. They declare that the primitive man was a total Ahimsist and a fruitarian.

In the "Parable of the Ram," Lord Mahavira, the last among the twenty-four Tithankaras, has given a sound lesson for avoiding meat dishes. He said:

"As somebody, to provide for (the arrival of) a guest, brings up a young man, gives it rice and gram, and brings it up in his yard. Then, when it is grown up and big, fat, and of large belly, fattened and of a plump body, it is ready for the guest (of non-Aryan stock). As long as no (cush barbarian) guest comes, the poor (animal) lives; but as soon as a guest arrives (Oh, how cruelly) its head is cut off, and it is eaten. As this ram is well treated for the sake of a (barbarian) guest, even so an ignorant, great sinner longs (as it were) for life in hell.

"An ignorant man kills, tells lies, robs on the highway, steal foreign goods, deceives (always thinking of some one) whom he could plunder, the villain. He is desirous of women and pleasure, he enters on undertakings and business, drinks liquor, eats meat, becomes strong to fight with foes. He eats crisp goat's meat, his belly grows, and his veins swell with blood - but he gains nothing but life in hell, just as the ram is only fed (by an ignorant man) to be killed for the sake of a guest).

"Then the sinner who has been killing living beings, at the end of his life falls from his state, and against his will he goes to the world of the Asuras, to the dark place.

"(But) those endowed with excellent knowledge (to observe Ahimsa) live many nayutas (innumerable years); so great a loss suffer the fools in a life of less than a hundred years." Uttaradhyayana Sutra, Lecture VII, 1-13.

The prophecy of the omniscient Teacher is proving true today: the people have adopted the non-Aryan way of life and kill innocent life for their food and pleasure. Therefore, they suffer pain and misery and hardly enjoy the full span of life. They run to fight with each other. Peace and happiness have become obscure. The Law of Cause and Effect - the theory of Karma - is working in its way. Man eating the carcasses of animals has sown seeds of war and he now reaps warfare in return.

The Jainas have based ahimsa and himsa on the principle of soul psychology, which satisfies the intellect and gives solace to the heart. In fact, whenever there is passionate and careless thought activity there is himsa (injury), most certainly; it matters little whether one actually kills or hurts life or not, because injury is caused to one's own vitality. He who has not taken a vow of ahimsa (non-injury) must necessarily have an inclination towards himsa (injury), whether he indulges in it or not. Therefore, it is necessary to take the vow of ahimsa for the good of one's own soul and that of the world at large. Man is the basic factor of society; so, for the creation of a harmonious and virtuous universal society it is necessary that man must observe ahimsa. To begin with ahimsa one must adhere to the vegetarian diet, for it causes least himsa to other life and imparts harmonious vitality to the consumer. While the meat diet, on the other hand, creates a violent tendency in its eater, which leads him to quarrel and kill.

A Jain never touches wine or meat or such vegetables as contain innumerable organic life, because he has been taught a lesson to that effect from his childhood. The Jain Teachers have given scientific reasoning for adopting a humane life - to wit, we read in the Purusartha-Siddhyupaya :

"Wine stupifies the mind : one whose mind is stupified forgets piety; and the person who forgets piety commits himsa (injury) without hesitation. And wine is said to be the birth-place of many creatures which are generated in liquor; those who are given up to wine necessarily commit himsa (injury)." (62-63).

"Flesh cannot be procured without causing destruction of life ; one who uses flesh, therefore, commits himsa (injury) unavoidably. If the flesh be that of a buffalo ox, etc., which has died of itself, even there himsa is caused by the crushing of creatures spontaneously born therein. Whether pieces of flesh are raw, or cooked, or in the process of cooking, spontaneously-born creatures of the same genus are constantly being generated there. Therefore, he who eats, or touches, a raw, or cooked piece of flesh, certainly kills a group of spontaneously-born creatures constantly gathering together." (65-68)

Thus a person would not even think of eating such prohibited things, unless he has a strong desire for them and is careless of his spiritual benefit. Such a person, having a strong and uncontrollable desire, certainly injures his own soul and pollutes his pure character. Therefore, for the good of one's own soul, one must observe ahimsa which begins with vegetarianism and prohibition.

In conclusion we reproduce below two teachings of Lord Mahavira, which our readers will certainly find useful and instructive for a progressive life here and hereafter :

"Time elapses and quickly pass the days; the pleasures of men are not permanent ; they come to a man and leave him just as a bird leaves a tree void of fruit."

"If you are unable to abandon pleasure, then do noble actions, following the Law. Have compassion on all creatures: then you will become divine on entering a new existence."