" 'Because where I come from in India — a small town — getting milk and eggs doesn't harm animals,' Trish replied. 'Cows and chickens are treated like family members and die natural deaths. But with modern factory farms, it's different, and Jains need to be vegan.' There are Jains in India — mostly the younger generation — who have adopted a vegan lifestyle as their ethical obligation.
"Trish told me that she and her friends transport bugs outside of buildings rather than kill them; they refuse to build fires when on camping trips (in order to protect flying insects), don't wear leather or animal products, and (like ascetics) don't eat after sunset (to avoid accidentally harming small beings). Additionally, Trish volunteers for animal organizations as well as human organizations, specifically the Midnight Mission and a local hospital.
"Trish suggested that I attend one of the many temple classes that were about to begin, so I headed back inside the temple. The gathering that I joined resembled a middle-school classroom, and I was an unexpected visitor who seemed to startle the regular students; I triggered a lively debate with my inquiries: 'Stealing and violence against living beings are both sinful deeds. What happens when these principles conflict with each other? Should a Jain, for example, steal to rescue an animal from a factory farm or vivisection lab in order to protect that animal from torture and certain premature death? What do you think of underground activists, such as the Animal Liberation Front?'
"Prior to my question, nineteen students sat obediently on the floor with books on laps, spellbound by three, sedate instructors. After my question, the room seemed more like a lively school cafeteria — but the teachers did not seem to notice. 'There are many gray areas,' one of the teachers quietly explained. 'Rescuing an animal has consequences if the animal is someone's property. There is no practical way to save all animals. Plus, no one can really change anyone else's mind.' I asked what Jains would do if they stood face-to-face with human slavery or the extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany, but the more I tried to dig Jains out of their ascetic caves, the more my shovel crashed into impenetrable rock. No Jain that I met was willing to abandon their composed inner world for direct action. No one suggested that certain laws be ignored, or that revolutionary action must sometimes be taken. One of the teachers even noted that a Jain activist, fighting for a cause, is relegated to the bottom rung of the enlightenment ladder. A more advanced Jain is devoid of emotion, withdraws from the world, and focuses on an inward life. A second instructor added: 'It is best to buy an animal from a research lab. We are not in favor of illegal acts, but we would not criticize animal activists either.' Although these teachers expressed pessimism with regard to changing humanity, there was a distinct optimism in the way they refrained from judging and hating others.
"Still, they were willing to take a stand against contributing to suffering and premature death: 'Although a Jain would not rescue cows from slaughter,' a Jain teacher concluded, 'a Jain must never work as a slaughterhouse operator.' This made me wonder whether there's a difference between killing and letting an individual die. The oldest extant Jain canonical work, the Acaranga Sutra, says: 'A wise man should not act sinfully towards animals, nor cause others to act so, nor allow others to act so.' The word allow seemed to suggest that Jains should be active in the same way as the Animal Liberation Front, but those I met at the center interpreted allow only to include legal acts."