Paryushana, also known as the festival of forgiveness, is usually celebrated in August or September.
Paryushana centres around reflection, forgiveness and freeing ourselves from everyday activities, to create time for us to get to know ourselves better, tap into the peace within us, and work on liberating our souls. In this blog, Heena Modi shares her journey towards veganism, how it began with Jainism, and how these values weave into the Jain faith.
Early years of eating meat and eggs
When I was growing up, I don’t remember my parents ever telling me not to eat meat or eggs. Maybe they did, and it fell on deaf ears.
I recall eating meat when I was at school and possibly at the child-minder’s place, and I ate eggs at home. My Mum was what a lot of Indian people call ‘pure vegetarian’. In other words, she was a lacto-vegetarian. Making food with eggs must have been so conflicting for her, but she did it anyway.
I have a vivid memory of my mum cracking an egg open to make something like scrambled eggs and she started retching. It was a bad egg and it absolutely stunk. She didn’t make me feel bad for eating eggs or blame me for the effect it had on her. After she stopped retching, I remember thinking that I’d never let her make eggs for me again.
Although I didn’t eat meat very often, not even once a month, something shifted within me when I was 11 years old. I can’t remember the catalyst, but I remember thinking that I didn’t agree with killing animals for food and I stopped eating meat from then on.
Looking back, my behaviour was still contradictory because I wore items that were made of leather. I say contradictory because my decision was very much about saving animals from unnecessary death, so wearing leather didn’t align with my thinking, but I suspect that I wasn’t ready to fully commit.
I continued to eat eggs and wear leather and other items that were created by another living being’s death until April 2008.
Mahavir Janma Kalyaanak birthday celebrations
What happened in April 2008 was the day that all the Jain organisations within the UK got together to celebrate Mahavir Janma Kalyaanak (Mahavir’s birth anniversary).
This was a first! The organisations usually host separate events, but this time they’d decided to create one large event together and it felt amazing! To me, it was symbolic of unity, acceptance and community.
I walked into the hall where the event was being held and saw that there were some stalls around one side of the hall. The rest of the hall was full of chairs and most of them had people sitting on them. My fiancé Suraj and I found a couple of chairs and sat down. Soon after, Pramoda Chitrabhanu walked up to the microphone and introduced a film. I grasped something about her holding a senior position in an animal rights charity in India and that she was married to a spiritual teacher, Chitrabhanu. The only part of her introduction that was familiar to me was the bit about Chitrabhanu. I knew and liked the song, Maitri Bhavanu, which he wrote over 70 years ago. The song is all about virtues that Jains need to cultivate to achieve liberation.
I went through so many emotions when I watched it! The video was all about the cruelty behind dairy production in India. I felt emotions ranging from disbelief and anger to being speechless and sobbing. The film was horrible! I just couldn’t get my head around how anyone could treat any living being in the ways they showed in the video.
Suraj put his arm around me and said, ‘Shall we give up dairy from tomorrow?’ I remember being confused by what he said, processing it, and then feeling relief as I said yes.
I went dairy-free overnight and then started researching because my mind kept yo-yoing between disbelief about those practices occurring in the UK and ‘I will never be able to have dairy again’. I needed to do a bit of digging and figure out what I thought, rather than following the content of the video blindly. I discovered that the same practices were not used in the UK, but what happened here was equally bad and I couldn’t partake in it.
Soon after, I found out about the harm involved in the production of eggs, honey, silk and wool. Within a year, I went from being dairy-free to living a vegan lifestyle.
What’s Jainism got to do with it?
I thought that abstaining from eating meat meant that I no longer consumed foods that involved the death of other beings, but attending this Jain event exposed me to the truth about dairy.
For me, Jainism is about Kshama (forgiveness), Maitri (universal friendship), Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satya (truth). There’s much more to Jainism than this, but these are the virtues that resonate with me the most.
Kshama: I had to forgive myself for partaking in this system of violence for so many years and I had to find a way to stop judging others for doing the same. I also had to find a way to not get perturbed by what others said or did, to forgive, and to be loving and accepting of everyone regardless of where they were in their journey.
Maitri: I had to remind myself that I was on a journey that took years to come together and that it had to come from within. I needed to remember that when I met non-vegans who were vocal, aggressive, cynical and judgmental of my decision to shift to a vegan lifestyle. I needed to see them as being a soul that was no different from me – that is, one bound by its own baggage of Karma. This virtue is also partly what stopped me from being able to continue as I was – that is, consuming and wearing animal products.
Ahimsa: This is probably the most obvious way to explain the impact that the video had on me. Seeing the violence that the cows endured brought me to tears and I couldn’t unsee it. I couldn’t be a part of it anymore. However, this became the doorway to me seeing more and once I’d walked through that door, I couldn’t forget what I had found out and I didn’t want to. For my own peace of mind and to be true to myself, I had to have consistency and harmony between my thoughts and my behaviour.
Satya: I’ve touched on this earlier: I had to be true to myself. The real, deeper truth is about seeing myself as a soul instead of a body and seeing other living beings in the same way.
If I don’t want to be held captive, impregnated, for the food that my body worked so hard to make for my children to be stolen from me, or for my children to be taken away from me, how could I wish that on any other living being? The same goes for all the processes involved in making eggs, silk, leather, wool and honey.
Making the shift to a vegan lifestyle doesn’t put an end to me being involved in processes that involve violence, but it’s a good start.
Heena Modi, qualified teacher and Natural Health Practitioner, helps people shift towards vegan living with compassion and personalised approaches. As a vegan of 15 years, she has the lived experience to make the transition to a plant-based lifestyle light, fun, smooth and as easy as possible. Follow her work and find her new recipe book at PlantShift.com