Jain hand Jain Dietary Customs
Jainism is a small religion but an ancient one that has been inordinately influential on the culture and religions of India, Archaeologists find evidence the religion was already established in the Indus Valley civilization of 5000 to 8000 years ago. Currently the major region of growth for the Jain religion is the United States where a number of temples have already been constructed and converts are being accepted.


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Jainism has contributed a great deal to both culture and religion in India and from there to the rest of the world. This is because of the great antiquity of the religion, because Jains have generally been the most highly educated people in India, and due to the recognized integrity of the religion. Jains are so respected that some non-Jain temples in India are administered by Jains.

While the earliest Jain "teacher" reliably dated lived around 600 BCE, he is listed as the 23rd stretching back perhaps to well over 3000 years BCE (there are long gaps between them). In the Buddha's day, his followers recognized Jainism as already a very ancient religion and Jainism most certainly contributed a great deal to Buddhist thought.

There are two major sects of Jainism and several minor ones but the differences are not great. Monks of the Digambar persuasion wear no clothes because clothes are posessions and increase desire for material things. Monks of the Svetambar persuasion wear white robes (nuns of both sects wear white robes). Other disagreements among the sects are even more minor and not over doctrine but conduct. Temples in the United States welcome all sects.

General Principles

  • Responsibility:   Every human is responsible for his/her own actions. Karma is fully implemented.
  • Compassion:   All conscious (five-sensed) living beings have eternal souls and all souls are equal because all are capable of achieving Moksha (Nirvana, transcendance from the cycle of birth and death). All should be regarded as having near equal worth, though human life is considered the highest form.
  • God:   The universe is eternal and governed by natural laws. There is no supreme being or creator god. There is only the pure soul of each living being: Consciousness, Knowledge, Perception and Happiness.
  • Rationality:   Great emphasis is placed on rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct.
  • Detachment:   Attachment to material things and worldly life gathers karma and interferes with achieving moksha (liberation), trapping one in the cycle of birth, death and suffering.
  • Nonviolence:   Jains generally choose professions that respect life and ethical conduct. Doctors, yes; soldiers, no. Monks and nuns walk barefoot and sweep the ground as they go to avoid stepping on insects. In times past Jains wore face masks to prevent accidentally breathing in no-see-ems and monks and nuns often still do.

Specific Rules

In general Jains are pretty strict about adherence, but some of the rules regarding plants (one sensed beings) and no overnight storage are not tightly adhered to by laity today. Monks and nuns are expected to follow all strictures with great accuracy. This section is an overview of important points but for more detail (and more rules) refer to Jain Web sites (1, 2).
  • Night Meals are forbidden because of the many creatures that come out at night and which may be accidentally killed due to poor lighting or attraction to fire.
  • Freshness:   Food must be prepared fresh daily. Keeping cooked food overnight is forbidden. Ground spices have an expiry of 3 days during rain, 5 days in summer and 7 days in winter.
  • Vegetarianism: Traditionally Jains have been lacto-vegetarians, but modern dairy farming methods, particularly what happens to the male calves (the veal market) has caused many to pursue a vegan diet eating no animal products.
  • Water is filtered through three layers of cotton cloth before use for cooking or drinking. Water should boiled and cooled before drinking to avoid illness caused by micro-organisms. Illness is thought to engender intolerance.
  • Root Vegetables: (potatoes, carrots, turnips) are forbidden because uprooting a plant kills it (non-violence) and because many tiny creatures may inhabit roots.
  • Beansprouts are prohibited because they are living and eating them kills the whole plant.
  • Cereal Grains are permitted.
  • Fruits: Most are permitted but fruits that bleed milky sap when cut, Jackfruit, for instance, are forbidden. Many Jains avoid fruits that have a red meat-like appearance (tomatoes, watermelon).
  • Vegetable Greens are considered marginal because plucking them involves pain to the plant. Most Jains consider greens acceptable but cabbages and other greens where the whole top is cut and the plant thus killed are forbidden.
  • Mushrooms, Fungus and Yeasts are forbidden because they are parasites, grow in non-hygienic environments and may harbor other life forms.
  • Honey is forbidden as the excrement of bees (actually they barf it up).
  • Eggs are forbidden as progeny of five-sensed beings.
  • Cheese and Yogurt are permissible (for non vegan Jains) but must be freshly prepared on the day they are eaten and no animal rennet may be used to make them. Vegetable and Microbial rennet is acceptable but in strict practice only acid coagulated fresh cheese will fit the same day rule. The previous day's yogurt may not be use as a starter the next day.
  • Vinegar is forbidden, it's a product of fermentation (yeast to alcohol then bacterial to vinegar).
  • Alcohol is forbidden because it may destroy the power of discrimination, create delusions and result in ill health. Also alcoholic beverages are considered non-vegetarian because of FDA allowed additives, some of which are of animal origin.
  • Onions, Garlic, Scallions, Chives and Leeks full under the category of "roots" the pulling of which kills the whole plant so they are forbidden.
  • Silver Foils common in India as decoration on sweets are banned because the foils are pounded out between layers of bull intestine and are therefor not vegetarian.


This list does not include all sources used to prepare this page but it but those listed are particularly informative.

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