Jainism’s Timely Wisdom
Will Tuttle, PhD
Jainism is an ancient wisdom tradition whose time, more than ever, is now. From every angle, our violence toward animals for food and other products is boomeranging and if humanity fails to embrace Jainism’s core tenet—that violence brings misery and death—we will fail as a species to survive.
For example, and predictably, the most forcibly ignored cause of global warming is eating meat and dairy products. According to a recent major study by the United Nations entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” the single largest contributor to greenhouse gases, of all human activity sectors, greater even than all transportation by car, truck, bus, boat, train, and plane, is livestock production. Breeding millions of cows, pigs, and other animals for food is the greatest source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 297 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, as well as methane gas, which is 30 times more powerful.’ The science on this is unequivocal, and in addition, eating animals requires massive amounts of fossil fuel inputs, directly pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In the West, we transport over seventy percent of our corn, soybeans, oats, and other grains to animal confinement operations, pump water to irrigate these fields, manufacture millions of pounds of fossil fuel-based fertilizer and pesticides, and house and slaughter billions of animals yearly. The end result of all this is that while it takes only two calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of protein from soybeans, and three calories for wheat and corn, it takes 54 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of protein from beef! It’s easier to see the gallons of petroleum poured into our cars than it is to see the gallons of petroleum poured into our cheese, eggs, fish sticks, hot dogs, and steaks. We waste huge amounts of petroleum for our meat, and send our children to war to ensure the supply.
On top of this, sixty percent of our fish are now factory-farmed, causing severe water pollution and decimating wild fish populations. Our seemingly limitless appetite for fish for feeding factory-farmed fish, birds, and mammals has brought our oceans to the brink of collapse. Dairy cows, for example, consume huge quantities of fish, added to “enrich” their feed to increase milk and cream output. And it takes three to five pounds of caught fish to make one pound of farmed salmon. We have exterminated fish, turtles, and sea mammals so completely that jellyfish are now taking over parts of the ocean”, and fishing vessels have to go out so far that they use unsustainable amounts of diesel fuel. A recent study published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal concluded that the only effective way to reduce greenhouse gases is to reduce human consumption of animal foods.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Converting precious land and grains to animal fat, protein, and sewage is extravagantly wasteful, and is also the main driving force behind water pollution; topsoil loss, habitat destruction, and the ongoing extinction of species that many biologists say is the greatest threat our Earth is facing. Eating. animal flesh, dairy products, and eggs is also elitist. Those with higher incomes buy grain and feed it to animals whose flesh and secretions they eat, driving up the price of grain so that those less wealthy suffer malnourishment and starvation.
Violence toward animals for food also devastates our personal environment as well as our social environment. The largest human nutrition study ever conducted, the Cornell-Oxford study under T. Colin Campbell, concluded, “Our study suggests that the closer one approaches a total plant-based diet, the greater the health benefit.” Buying and eating animal-sourced foods damages our social environment because it fosters an attitude of reductionism, domination, disconnectedness, and exclusion. It is forced on us from birth and is based, at its living core, on dominating the reproductive cycles of female mammals, birds, and fish. It requires a heartless exploitation of what we know in our bones is the most sacred dimension of life: mothers giving birth, nesting, and nurturing their babies. Female animals are virtually always inseminated with sperm guns, their babies are stolen from them and killed, and the mothers (mere “breeders”) are also killed for their flesh after a few years of cruel treatment. We drug them, terrorize them, sicken, oppress, and imprison them, and break their families, and we wonder why we find the same things happening in our human world. As we sow, we reap. And we employ whole armies of our brothers and sisters to do the terrible work of confining and killing billions of hapless animals, work that tends to bring out the worst in them.
“Jainism—striving to minimize our violence toward others—is indeed a tradition and way of life whose time has come! Its core principle of ahimsa is the inspiration underlying the modern vegan movement, and for both, the essential motivation is compassion. As each of us embodies the power of this ancient Jain wisdom, we directly reduce cruelty and suffering and bless the world by dramatically reducing our abuse of the Earth, other humans, other species, our loved ones, and ourselves. Our physical, psychological, social, and spiritual health are all connected, and they can flourish when we understand and live this.
I have sketched just the briefest of outlines in this short piece. To understand the deep structure of our culture and the big picture in more detail, please read, explore, study, meditate, and ask questions. We are each called to be, as Gandhi said, the change we want to see in the world. That is Jainism’s message and its power.
- Hindu temples, Bollywood and a Yemeni city’s India ties
- Your essential cut-out-and-keep guide to modern laughter
- 70,000 km around the world in six months - to document the diaspora
- Small US town Gettysburg in Pennsylvania is big draw for democracy lovers
- Dance shows on TV: Are they talent spotters
- Guyana to mark 175th anniversary of arrival of Indians
- Kriyananda: An American yoga guru who loved India
- Ashas bring ray of hope for India’s primary healthcare
- Gift economy: Experiments in radical generosity
- This Manipur bureaucrat has enriched people’s lives with help from Indian Americans
- ‘Srinivasan’s rise testifies Indian community’s contributions to US’: Nirupama Rao
- History maker ‘Sri’ Srinivasan’s feat hailed widely
- ‘Trailblazer’ ‘Sri’ Srinivasan creates history as top US judge
- Don’t forget fitness on holiday!
- Affluent Indians develop taste for organic food, says survey
- Boost nutrition intake with salads
- Bollywood movie review: ‘Ishkq In Paris’ feel good, frothy
- 56,700 Indians face deportation from Saudi Arabia: Khurshid
- 12-year-old Indian American Sathwik Karnik of Massachusetts wins National Geographic Bee
- UAB’s Yogesh Vohra Awarded $480,000 Grant from U.S. Department of Energy