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Monday, September 14, 2009


I regard veganism (pure Vegetarianism) as a matter of "lifestyle," "diet" "health" (except the health of my Atma) or anything less than a fundamental commitment of the individual to Ahimsa. Veganism represents a crucial and necessary step in the Atma turning away from the violence of the material world.

I do not think that the concept of Anekantavada gives us a "free pass” to say that veganism is a matter of option or choice. There are very few clear principles in Jain Dharma that admit of no exception despite the general recognition that truth is often a complex matter: inflicting intentional suffering and death on innocent, multi-sensed mobile creatures is one of those principles. And there can be no doubt that *all* animal products involve suffering, torment, distress, and death. Indeed, denying that is on the same level as denying gravity.

Unfortunately, Jainism as a general matter has not embraced veganism. Indeed, I had the honor of giving the keynote talk at an event celebrating Gurudev Chitrabhanu Ji's birthday. The event was held this past Saturday, August 1. One of the issues that came up was that Gurudev lost many followers when he started talking about veganism. How very sad. People accept that Gurudev is a great spiritual leader--until he tells them that their ice cream or ghee is Himsa. As someone raised in the Christian tradition, I always found it sad that so many Christians accepted what Christ said--until it came to something that they wanted to do. Chitrabhanu Ji was once considered one of the most important figures in modern Jainism. And he has lost followers to raita and ice cream and wool!

The fact that we are not embracing veganism is not only a problem in itself, but it is increasingly making flesh eating a matter of “choice," "opinion," "lifestyle"--a matter for more "free passes" under Anekantavada. An increasing number of Jains are turning to flesh/meat eating and more Jains are now investing in and owning stores and shops that sell flesh/meat products. I have seen statements that the number of Jains consuming flesh is rising in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Apparently, more and more Jains are accepting that these issues are all just matters of personal opinion and not fundamental moral doctrine. More and more Jains are using Anekantavada as an excuse for moral relativism. Anekantavada means only that truth is complicated; it does not mean that there is no truth because everything is relative to the whim of the individual. Indeed, if Anekantavada means moral relativism and denies that there are any clear moral truths, then Jainism collapses and loses all meaning.

I gave a lecture on animal ethics/veganism at Princeton University last winter. One of the students agreed with me that all animal products involved suffering and death but he pointed out that Jains did not reject dairy so Jain Dharma was arbitrary on the point of Ahimsa and Ahimsa means whatever the individual thinks it means. The student (who was not a Jain) made a correct observation: we are behaving inconsistently on this issue. Others see this; why don't we?

Jainism is the religion of Ahimsa. And Ahimsa is very clear. The fact that many Jains have not traditionally embraced veganism is now bearing its fruit.

In this age of relentless narcissism and materialism, it is quite natural that the failure to reject all violence against nonhumans will lead to more violence against nonhumans given that there is no logical distinction between flesh and dairy, ghee, raita, milk, wool, etc. And that will only facilitate acceptance of violence toward humans as well. That is precisely what is happening. We are living in a time of

unparalleled violence in conduct, speech, and thought.

The principle of Ahimsa is in crisis. Whether we realize it or not, we are facing a significant challenge to restore Ahimsa as the central doctrine of Jain Dharma and to give it clear, normative meaning.

If any of you are members of the Young Jains in the U.S. or U.K. and are inclined to post this on their lists that would be fine with me. It is my view that we need to get a discussion going and that the young Jains are key to this.

If I have offended anyone, Micchami Dukkadam, Micchami Dukkadam,

Micchami Dukkadam.

Gary L. Francione

Distinguished Professor of Law

Rutgers University, USA

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