Here is an order (the monks of the Jain community) which lives harmlessly and utilises the barest minimum of the earth’s dwindling resources
MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS ARE wondering about the urgency of my recent trip to Ahmedabad. But given that a consignment of my goods which were dispatched there was stuck with the transporter in a curfew bound area, and that goods meant to reach me from here never left, for business reasons I am here in Ahmedabad in midsummer.
But sitting here in a suburb of this devastated city on a cowdung floor I am glad I made this journey. This house that I have come to visit has no electricity, lacks running water and not an ounce of cement has been used in its construction. I have spent the night on the terrace sleeping on a mattress on the floor. But despite the coolness of the night it was hot.
Perhaps it was the over-cooked, spicy and oily food which made me restless until a cool breeze and fatigue lulled me to sleep after midnight. The pre-sunset timing of the meal did not help in its digestion particularly because its contents included fruit and the mandatory sweet dish eaten with the meal. But being a guest I quietly ate it despite the protests of my taste buds, senses and stomach.
Worse was to come. With everyone up before sunrise, breakfast was served by 8 a.m. I’m used to a light fruit breakfast and just couldn’t fathom how and why anyone would want to eat the same type of fare as the night before with the addition of milk first thing in the morning. Anyway again I ate it all. But with all my energies being diverted to my digestive system I just couldn’t keep my eyes open and slept for another two hours wondering how the others managed.
BUT THE MAIN REASON I AM HERE IN AHMEDABAD is because the devout Jain promotee of Asal (real or authentic in Hindi) Foods was taking diksha (renunciation from the world) together with his wife. I wanted to meet with them before that day to discuss our work since they were also involved in the marketing of organic foods and promotion of traditional values. Having known them for seven years, an inner voice compelled me to meet them and see their work in Ahmedabad.
So for the first time in my life I had an insider’s view of the Jain community. Thus far I had only heard about how they are averse to even accidentally killing germs and insects. I used to see them clothed in white, heads covered, no shoes and carrying their begging bowls for food. Suddenly, while I was amidst them I was able to understand the logic of their world view. Even as nations and people set about producing more, consuming more and creating one environmental disaster after another, here is an order (the monks of the Jain community) which lives harmlessly and utilises the barest minimum of the earth’s dwindling resources. Even the food they eat is begged and that too in minimal quantity.
I went to listen to a lecture by a Jain monk whose name I cannot pronounce or spell. But in his earlier avatar he was Atul Shah before he took diksha. The son of a successful diamond merchant, he gave up everything to read the scriptures and lead the simple life of a monk. Unfortunately I didn’t understand much of what he said in Gujarati but the hall full of people obviously enjoyed his lecture immensely. Atul had written about my first health food outlet just before he renounced the world 12 years ago. Now he tells me that it’s all very well what I’m doing but the strength and importance of Jain philosophy propounds that food is but a small part of life.
I couldn’t agree more and quite often when people consult with me and I sense an obsession about food I make a point of reminding them that food makes up but a minuscule part of our lives. We need to care about the other parts much more than we do about food.
IN FACT WATCHING A BEAUTIFUL MIND, the cinematic biography of Nobel laureate scientist John Nash, brought this very thought to mind: that the diets of the mind and heart are infinitely more important. This beautiful film is a clear message to the world that love can conquer everything. Nash’s determination and his wife’s love and support conquered even something as formidable as schizophrenia. Having known at close quarters some people with this problem I can vouch that the intelligence and cognitive levels of schizophrenics are above normal and that unconditional love can make all the difference. It would have been interesting to know if John Nash had a childhood in which unconditional love was a missing ingredient. I am one of the fortunate people to have known such love from a grandmother who would take all kinds of nonsense from me as a teenager and yet respond only with love and understanding.
The Jain monks showed me how their high ideals and values were more important than any other issue. And although their food was not digestible, their philosophy made me really wonder about our wasteful lifestyles. And what touched me most was the fact that Sailesh and Pragnya Shah who have renounced the world have two sons who four years ago at the ages of 12 and 16 also renounced material life.
If we could, at the least begin with becoming aware of our wasteful ways and try and see how and where we could be less wasteful and move gradually to simpler lifestyles, we could also contribute our bit without renouncing the world.