Jain Diet

1.0  Introduction: Jain term for food is āhāra. Recent literature also uses the term bhojana also. Āhāra is the taking in or absorption ( and not eating) of the matter fit for the three kinds of bodies (1. gross or physical body of human, animals and vegetation kingdom; 2. the transformable body of the celestial and infernal beings; and 3. the project-able or communication body of the saints of high spiritual purification level) and six kinds of completion (called paryāpti; these being assimilation of molecules of matter, formation of body, the senses, the respiratory organs, the organ of speech and the mind)

1.Food means taking external inputs (nutrients, energy and body building and functioning elements) by the living being. It is the most important need of the living beings as without it they may not be able to survive for long time.  It therefore becomes important to know Jain views on food. Food and conduct, as per Jains, have strong correlation. Here also ethical postulates, such as being healthy (to be able to perform right conduct for self purification), non violence, self control (sańyama), attitude and our thinking have strong correlation to the type and quantity of food we take.

Pure souls (or siddhas /parmātmā) do not need any external energy to exist as one of their attributes is that they soul possesses infinite energy to enjoy their state of infinite knowledge and bliss.  Even Arhantas (i.e. pure soul with physical body) are said to be able to exist without taking food i.e. kavalāhāra2 even though their body accepts no-karma matter from the environment directly. Mahāvira, during his penance of more than 12.5 years is said to have taken small quantities of food only 265 times

However all living beings need external energy and nutrients to maintain their physical bodies healthy and use it effectively to utilize their faculties (mind, body and speech) to achieve their objectives. Even when a living being dies and adopts a new body, even during this period of leaving the old body and accepting the new body (a fraction of a second as per Jain texts) the particular living being takes some food1. Thus food is the primary need of all living beings. Like cotton is the basic material of cloth, similarly to practice Mokşa Mārga with right vision-knowledge and conduct as main constituents, proper diet is very important. The eight basic virtues or requirements to be a householder (sravaka) have at-least three virtues consisting of abstinence from meat, honey and wine 3 while other acaryas have all the eight associated with associated with abstinence from eight types o food containing innumerable micro living beings. Jain To conclude the underlying principle of Jain diet can be summarized as ‘eat to live to be able to exercise self control and not just maintain the body healthy’ so as to able to perform optimally your duties to achieve the objective and ‘not just live to eat’. 

1.1 Types of food (āhāra) that living beings (empirical souls) take.

i. ‘Oza’ or life span determination at the time of birth is the energy the living being takes at the time of birth and this energy stays until his /her death. We hear stories of some living beings buried under debris for days together alive due to the existence of this energy.

ii. ‘Roma’ or nutrient & energy absorbed from environment directly.  Every pour of body (millions in number) is capable of absorbing nutrients from the air & solar energy (similar to the process called photo synthesis in plants where the leaves absorb all the food from air and sun light and convert them to plant and its branches, leaves, fruits and flowers. Jain texts and modern medical science emphasize and provide several means to enable us use this type of food and minimize the need of the third type i.e. kavalāhāra.

iii. ‘Kavala’ or food taken as morsels by mouth or injected in the body by other means. Generally we man this type of food to denote all types of food. Few people realize that solar energy and fresh air are components of food (type ii indicated above).

iv.‘Mano’ or mental food.  All the necessary nutrients needed are available in the environment around us. However our spiritual capabilities are not so advanced to use this method. Monks do develop such capabilities through their practice of Mokşa Mārga. Stories abound in Jain texts or such developments (generally Jain texts have four types of stories namely Women (stri), Food (bhatta), Kingship (rāja) and country (deśa)). It is also said that celestial beings i.e. heavenly beings (gods and goddesses) have such capabilities and their bodies are even termed as celestial body so that they do not need ‘kavalāhāra’. 

v. ‘Karmaņa’ or the absorption of karmaņa particles by the empirical soul due to its various non-self activities. These act as insulation for soul’s energy to enjoy its own nature of knowledge & bliss. These particles also reduce the efficiency of body parts to perform their function.  All spiritual practices aim at stopping further accumulation of these particles on the soul and to dissociate the existing bonding particles with soul.

2. Basis of Jain Diet

The question now arises, what is the proper food as per Jains? We know that one type of food makes us sick and the other type makes us healthy, calm and composed. Ayurveda divides food in three types namely ‘hita’ or beneficial to the body, mita or eating less than needed and ŗta i.e. which does not depend on exploitation of others and the consumer earns his food.   Jains talk primarily of the third type as the first two are corollaries of this.  We all talk of the kavalāhāra taken from the mouth or through other means introduced in the body as food. Perhaps Jain ethical texts emphasize the importance of food most for a happy life now and to move forward on Mokşa Mārga i.e. path of spiritual beneficiation to attain salvation. Basis of Jain diet can be enumerated as follows:

2.1 Non Violence (Ahińsā) 

Non violence is the heart of Jain philosophy. The entire ethical practices and the doctrine evolve around minutest details of this concept.  ‘Live and let live’ and Non violence is the supreme spiritual value’ are the hallmarks of Jain doctrine. Thus Jain food also is based on the practice of this doctrine. This result in the following boundaries for what is good to eat and what is not good.

    Total avoidance of killing of 2 to 5 sensed living beings as food. This prohibits consumption of meat, eggs etc of any kind.
    Minimal killing of one sensed i.e. living beings with air, water, fire and earth as body and plants for food. To live, we cannot avoid harming air, water, fire and earth bodied living beings while we can exercise control and restraint in harming the plant life. This perhaps prohibits consumption of root vegetables or plants and fruits where colonies of micro-living beings exist. Only fruits of the plants free from such considerations are prescribed for consumption.
    The food taken should be such that it does not enhance the violent nature (like anger, aversion, hatred etc) in the person consuming the food. Excessive consumption of dry (i.e. non oily) or spicy food; consumption of animals or their products create violent feelings.  
    Exercise carefulness while preparing and taking food e.g. not eating after sunset as the subtle two-three sensed living beings may not be visible and to prepare the food in a clean place after carefully cleaning the food articles by known and well intentioned persons.

2.2 Non-eating

One of the pillars of three components Jain doctrine of Anekant namely co-existence of opposites says that eating and non-eating should co-exist to practice Mokşa Mārga. Therefore Jains lay equal importance on not eating also. The first three types of external penance6 are anśana (fasting), unodari (eating less than what is normal food intake) and rasa parityāga (giving up one or more of the five types of tastes namely salty-sweet-oily-dry and bitter foods on specific dates and for periods). Jains (practicing spiritual vows) keep fasts or eat once a day on 8th and 14th day of each fortnight, do the same on almost on all festivals and special occasions, do not eat greens during rainy season and on specified days etc.   Not eating or practicing the three austerities does help the person in maintaining control over his sensual desires and perform spiritual and other duties more rigorously. The community glorifies those individuals who observe the maximum number of fasts during Paryuşaņa Parva. 

2.3 Minimization or annihilation of passions (anger, pride, deceit and greed) and maximize self control over sensual pleasures and enhance the capability to observe the vow of celibacy (bŗhamcarya).

The five deterrents to salvation and causes for the kārmika influx and bondage are6:

i. Perverted views (mithyātva),

ii. Disinterest in observing vows (avirati),

iii. Laziness (pramāda),

iv. Passions (kaşāya) and  

v. Activities of mind/body and speech (yoga).

Food had direct impact on cause’s ii to v. It is well known and proved by science that all types of food have good as well as bad effects depending on the method they are prepared for eating, mixing of different types of foods and the quantity of their intake. Āyurveda also talks of three broad categories of food namely rājasika (rich or heavy to digest), tāmasika (toxic causing laziness and loss of discriminating knowledge) and sātvika (pure food which does not produce perverted views in the consumer’s mind and is fit for consumption to lead a healthy and peaceful life).  Jain diet emphasizes the last type. Rājasika food is said to enhance laziness and disinterest in vows while tāmasika food is said to enhance passions and perverted views. Sātvika food contains all the four essential constituents of food namely food grains, edibles and water, oil, air and solar energy in essential quantities and prepared properly. In today’s terminology it can be said to be as balanced food having carbohydrates, proteins, salt, oil, water, air, minerals and vitamins. Similarly those food items which are said to be aphrodisiac in effect or causes loss of discriminating intellect or cause enhancement of violent nature are to be avoided.  

3.0       Preparation and preservation of food:

Discussion here refer primarily for monks but the same hold good for householder but relaxed to meet he individual needs and circumstances.

3.1 The person who prepares and serves the food is an extremely important link in this as he /she is supposed to have attributes listed below for serving food to monks6

i.  Awareness of the needs and limitations of the person for whom food is being prepared.

ii. Should be free from any expectation of worldly benefits / pride / anger /indifference towards the person while preparing the food.

iii. Should be knowledgeable about the qualities, limits and desirability of various ingredients for food e.g. the shelf life, the ingredient being free from living beings, their beneficial and harmful effects on mind /body and speech etc.

iv. Should be in a happy mood and be with pure mind, body and speech

v.  Offer respect to the person etc.
The following persons are not allowed to prepare and serve food: 

i. Pregnant or nursing (lactating) women or those having menstrual period.

ii. Sick or old persons, children, scared or incapacitated (blind /lame etc) persons. 

iii. Those wearing or touching shoes or standing at a pedestal higher than the one who is taking the food.
Most of the Jain texts found in temples and homes having pujās (devotional hymns), sāmāyikas (meditation hymns) and āvaśayakas (essential duties o householders) have a list of edible things, the impact of their mixing with each other and their shelf life. 

 3.2 Preparation

The food should be prepared in a clean, well lighted (preferably by sunlight), ventilated and protected (free from mosquitoes, flies, dust etc) place. All the ingredients used should be first manually cleaned (sorting), checked for their suitability (i.e. within the time limit prescribed and free from living beings of any kind) then washed and used. The water to be used should be strained and boiled before use. Similarly the persons cooking, utensils and the place etc should be clean. The food is then prepared by person/s not belonging to banned list and served in the clean place (preferably kitchen itself).

4.0 Vegetarian diet

The Jain diet is claimed to be strictly vegetarian, perhaps vegan but relaxed to contain dairy products also (lacto vegetarians). Most of the restaurants and other high end restaurants and food serving organizations present special Jain menus i.e. vegetarian food without root vegetables like onion, garlic, potatoes etc.  Animal products or those products made by using even small quantities of animal products are forbidden (e.g. processed cheese using rant, cereals or medicines using honey/ bone ash or other such things, ice creams using eggs). Here again the method of preparing, consuming sātvika food in limited quantities and times and eating before sunset or after sunrise, so as to avoid contamination of food with mosquitoes and insects are emphasized
5.0 Modern medical science and economic views on Jain diet.

We see a significant movement in the world towards adopting vegetarian food and giving up meat eating or even animal based products based on primarily health considerations. Everyday we find new medical reports identifying illnesses correlated to eating meat and poultry products. Similarly we see a number of studies showing economic considerations for being vegetarian and resource constraints in supporting meat eating habits.

6.0 Conclusions 

Jain canonical literature gives the following description of a monk’ to support his /her spiritual life 10.

That monk, who, without the desire, passions (attachments and aversions) but maintaining an attitude of carefulness and restraints (samitis and guptis) eats proper and worthy for the monk as per the Jain scriptures food and wanders from one place to other place for preaching and stay is said to be free from the flaws of taking food directly.  The soul of that monk, who is busy in meditating on his self and is free from the act of accepting other matter is in fact called a fasting self (nirhari). Thus such monks are said to be free from the flaws of the food accepted by them in enabling them to meditate on their self. Such pure food is accepted once a day during daylight, that too less than the full need of the stomach is balanced in dry-oily-sweet-salt tastes and contents, free from elements like honey, meat etc, is prepared by religious persons aware of the method of preparing and serving. Such food is said to free from the flaws of adhaħ-karma and is taken through begging.

With these as ideal, the diet for householders is suitably modified depending upon his /her spiritual inclinations and the place where he /she live. The basic principles of Jain diet are:

    Non-violence has to be always kept as a supreme factor while planning one’s diet.
    It should assist us in achieving our objective of the human life by enhancing self control, reducing passions and lead a happy and healthier life.


1. Tattvartha Sutra by Uma Svati and its commentary by PujyaPada sutra 2.30

2. Bodha Pahuda by Kunda Kundav-34

3. Rattan Karand Shravakahara by SamantBhadra, commentary Prabha Chandra edited by Dr Panna Lal. Verse 66.

4. Ahinsak Jivana Shelly by Samani Chinmaya Pragya

5. Purushartha Siddhi Upaya Amrit Chand Suri v. 61-75

6. Tattvartha Sutra by Uma Svati and its commentary by PujyaPada sutra viii.1

7. Purushartha Siddhi Upaya Amrit Chand Suri v.168-170

8. Bhagawati Aradhana by Shivarya 1206-4-10

9  Puja Patha Pradeep , Samayika ka Saundarya compiled by Dr Mukesh Jain

10.Pravaana Sara by Kunda Kunda verse 3.26-30; Sutra Kŗatāńga verse 1.3.1- 6