In Jain philosophy, the answer lies in taking care to minimize the barm one does and to direct one’s actions with the intention to revere life.  This requires vigilance, awareness of motives, and fearlessness to live in tune with nature’s laws.  The underlying

Feeling is not to inspire fear in any living being; it is opening one’s heart to life.

Intention is what counts.  Living in reverence means not condoning or consenting to any form of violence, even if someone else is willing to be the active perpetrator.  It also means trying to prevent it before it happens, and trying to stop it once it has begun.  Throughout history, Jain monks have tried to stop priests from other religions from dragging animals to altars to be sacrificed.  Under Mahavira’s gentle influence, many kings abolished in their lands slavery the caste system, degradation of women, hunting, butchering, and sacrificing of animals, and many people were inspired to live in Ahimsa and Non-Violence.

It is true that just by breathing, using water, treading on earth, and taking plants as food, we are causing lives to be lost.  The emphasis lies in reducing to a minimum the harm we do in order to survive.

We have to make a choice.  Rather than take the flesh and blood of animals who have already evolved all five senses and a highly developed brain, whose nervous system and emotional life are so similar to ours, and in whose veins blood runs,  as in our own, we sustain our bodies with the help of the bloodless plant kingdom, which has not yet developed any one the senses of taste, smell, seeing, or hearing.

The more sensory apparatus, the more a life form can be sensitive to pain.  Since fish, birds, and animals are equipped in this way, we refuse to be a cause to their agony and pain.  Also, when we observe how dearly animals cling to life and struggle to survive, how much they are dominated by fear, we drop any notions of using or exploiting them.  We feel for their helplessness in the face of man’s gluttony, greed, and callousness; we want to see them live unmolested.

Most vegetables are harvested at the end of their natural life cycle.  Many of them, such as berries, melons, beans, peas, squash, okra, pumpkins, nuts, and fruit from trees can be picked without uprooting the whole plant.  Nevertheless, we realize with humiliy that every fruit, leaf, grain that we find on our plate had to lose its life in order to give us life.  Without the plants to whom we are helplessly bound, we would not be able to survive, and therefore, to evolve.  That it why Jain Monks recite this blessing before the daily meals:

Aho Jinehim asavvajja vittisahuna desiya

Mukkha sahana heoosa sahu dehassa dharana

O Jinas! What a wonderful teaching you have  gives us!

You have taught us to take only that food which is

innocent, benign, and healthy, because it has not

been procured through causing bloodshed.

You have taught us to know why we eat—to sustain

the body, and to do so for one main reason—to

unfold our life and reach ultimate liberation.

With this sense of appreciation, we eat with respect and restraint, without taking more than we need.  And we say as the native Americans did, “Dear plants, some day our bodies will return to you, to become food for the nourishment of your roots.”

The staples of a vegetarian diet are grain, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds.  Protein comple-mentarity is achieved easily through a wide variety of combinations, in particular grains and legumes.  Legumes such as lentils, split peas, chick-peas, soy kidney, black, white, and mung beans can be turned into soups, baked preparation, and veggieburgers, and served with whole grains such as rice, barley, corn, wheat, millet, oats, and others.  The nutrition-minded mother can create nut and seed butters from sunflower, sesame, cashew, almond, and other sources for school lunches on whole wheat bread.  Sandwich spreads made from soy tofu, avocado, and hummus, for example, also go a log way a dips or as salad dressings.  The above mentioned foods are high quality proteins which   supply a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

We do not need as much protein as we have been led to believe.  In fact, too much, as found in a meat-centered dire, creates excessive uric acid, a burden on the system and a breeder of disease.

Many raw vegetables—cabbage, carrots, beets, squash, celery—can be greated or sliced and added to mixed greens with fresh tomatoes, peppers, sprouts, and sunflower seeds.  Avocado has been lauded as a complete food.  Iron-rich green leafy vegetables, squashes, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes are among the most nutritious vegetables to be baked or steamed.  Fruits in season are nature’s vitamin supplements and for some people, the staple of their diet.

When plants are the direct source of nourishment, they provide the most efficient fuel for maintaining the body in a state of well-being.  Witness the elephant, bull, gorilla, and horse, along with many other of the strongest animals; all are vegetarians, gaining their nutrients from plants; we can also.  Plants receive energy directly from the sun, air, water, and soil, which gives them the capacity to transmit vitality and energy to us.  By the time plants have been digested by animals, their original energy has already been used up by the animal.  Humans who ingest flesh foods are therefore taking in a second-hand, devitalized form.