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Jain Biology: ▪ Nutrition

Published: 02.11.2009
Updated: 02.07.2015

Nutrition is defined as receiving of nourishment. Every living organism must receive nourishment to survive. Nutrition—

  1. supplies its needs of energy for its day-to-day activities;
  2. makes good the wear and tear;
  3. adds to the protoplasm, the material necessary for growth. A properly adequate nourishment must include: carbohydrates, proteins and fats: water, vitamins and minerals.

These are referred to as Nutrients. Water and mineral salts are inorganic and the rest are organic. Water, vitamins and salts are simple and are absorbed without digestion while the others are complex and need digestion before they can be absorbed. These are in brief the known facts proved by science.

Now let us see what scriptures say about nutrition.

The subject of nutrition of living organisms is not discussed either in Prajñāpāna Sūtra or Uttrādhyayana Sūtra. In Sūtrakṛtāṅga Sūtra, the title of chapter 3 is "knowledge of food: and in each paragraph there is a passage (which is repeated) dealing with the nutrition of living organisms. The passage is: "These living organisms (plants which grow from Earth) are nourished by the fluids from the earth (nutrients drawn from the earth) which is the origin (birth places) of many living organisms; they consume the bodies of the earth-bodied, water-bodied, fire-bodied, air-bodied organisms and plants as well as the bodies of the mobile organisms (trasa prāṇa śarīra); they render the manifold immobile and mobile organisms inanimate by depriving them of life; the inanimate bodies of these manifold organisms, consumed now or before—at the time of their birth—or absorbed by their rind and which were already added to the protoplasm of their bodies, are fully digested observed and assimilated (by them). And from these they—the plants which grow from the earth - bring forth their various parts and organs which are of manifold colours, smells, tastes, touches as well as forms and structures", i.e., ultimately the nutrients (from the food) after assimilation by the plant become the material of which its different parts, as branches, leaves etc. are formed and these parts are of various different colours etc.

Thus according to the scriptures, basically, nutrition consists of bodies of different kinds of living organisms. It should be carefully noted that what is consumed is the BODY which is the material component of all living organisms, because even if a living organism is taken as food, it gets killed and becomes devoid of life, i.e., the non-material soul transmigrates leaving the material body to be consumed.

Now if we collate the list of essential nutrients specified by biology we find that:

Mineral salts are the bodies of the earth-bodied organisms.

Waters are the bodies of the water-bodied organisms.

Energies and substances formed by burning are the bodies of the fire-bodied organisms.

Airs are the bodies of the air-bodied organisms.

Carbohydrates are the bodies of the plants organisms.

Proteins are the bodies of the mobile organisms.

Thus, there is no fundamental difference between the Biological and scriptural statements about nutrition. Let us examine this more critically.

According to Jain scriptures, each and every type of raw-mineral.[1] element or compound occurring naturally, is animated by earth-bodied living organisms, it remains animate until it is processed after which it becomes inanimate matter. This matter is therefore, the mass of bodies from which the souls have transmigrated. Thus when any living organism takes in a mineral, which is an essential constituent of nutrition for all living organisms from plants to human beings, it consumes the bodies of the earth-bodied organisms.

Similarly each and every drop of raw water, rain or dew, water in seas, rivers, lakes, wells etc. is animated by innumerable water-bodied living organisms. It remains animate unless it is processed, after which it becomes inanimate water. Thus, whenever any living organism consumes water, which is regarded most essential for sustaining life, it consumes the bodies of the water-bodied organisms.

The case of the intake of the bodies of the fire-bodied and air-bodied organisms is more complex. Let us first discuss the fire-bodied organism. It is true that no living organism on earth can Consume live fire; but again we are not considering the intake of live fire but the bodies of the fire-bodied organisms. Now we know that in the process of photosynthesis, by which the green plants make carbohydrates by the combination of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide; sunlight is an essential ingredient. And we also know that sunlight is the energy, radiated in the form of heat and light, from the raging natural fire within the body of the sun. Thus energy cadiated from fire of any type, in the form of heat contains the bodies of the fire-bodied organisms. Also substances burnt by fire are the bodies of fire-bodied organisms.[2] Fire might be produced by any type of combustion or atomic fission or fusion.

Now let us consider the air-bodied organisms. The term used in Jain scriptures for them is 'vāyu kāya' which literally means wind-bodied (organisms). The names of some kinds given in Uttarādhyayana are: squalls whirlwinds, thick winds, high winds, low winds etc. Basically all these imply 'moving air' and not stationary air. This means that when air moves, i.e., it becomes wind, it also becomes a yoni for the living organisms which take the air as their bodies and which are therefore called air- bodied (or to be precise wind-bodied) organisms. What is the minimum velocity at which air becomes wind? Unfortunately we do not find such information in any of the three scriptures.

It is customary to exclude both fire-bodied and air-bodied organisms from the list of immobile (sthāvara organisms) and included them in the list of mobile ones (trasa organisms) though their existence is the result of the fruition of sthāvara nāma karma and not trasa nāma karma. This is because they are dynamic and not static like the other three—earth-bodied, water-bodied organisms and plants. And for this reason they are called 'GATI TRASA' i.e., they are included in the mobile list by the virtue of their being dynamic.

What is the significance of this virtual transfer? Authors of this essay consider that the emphasis on the dynamic character of these organisms signify that their bodies are made of ENERGY.

Scriptures never considered matter and energy to be fundamentally different—as did science until recently—but modification of the same substance. Fire energy and wind energy are the two forms of energy which possess the property of being the 'yoni' of the fire-bodied and air-bodied organisms respectively.

Let us review, briefly, the scientific view regarding matter and energy. Until Albert Einstein established, in 1905, a fundamental truth about physical reality viz. matter and energy are not different elements as pictured by pre-relativity scientists—the former inert and tangible and latter active and invisible—but two different manifestations of the same cosmic entity instead of being two different entities. Matter was energy in a frozen state while energy was matter in dynamic state. He expressed the interchangeability of matter and energy by the most famous equation in the history of science: E = mc2. The liberation of energy in any form - chemical, electrical or nuclear—involves the loss of an equivalent amount of matter.

The simplest instance of the liberation of energy is burning of coal where O2+ C = C02 + energy, giving 92 units of energy per gram of mixture. If instead of molecular fusion of these two atomic species, we have a nuclear fusion between their nuclei, the energy liberated per gram of mixture will be 14 x108 units, i.e., 15,00,000 times as great. Nuclear energy can be liberated by fission—splitting of the nuclei of heavier elements into nuclei of two lighter elements—and fusion—combining or fusing of two nuclei of the lighter elements into one nucleus of a heavier element. In the sun the tremendous liberation of energy and extremely high temperatures 6000°C at the surface and 20 million°C in the centre - are the result of the second type, i.e., the fusion of four hydrogen nuclei into one nucleus of helium.

Fission and fusion, are also common in everyday phenomenon that occur any time we burn anything. For example, they occur in the lighting of the match, the cellulose in the match being fissioned into its components carbon and hydrogen. These are then fissioned with the oxygen of the air.

Now we come to the question of dead bodies of the mobile (trasa) living organisms being consumed by the trees which grow from the earth. From the just concluded discussion on the dead bodies of the various sthāvara living organisms, we saw that these are essential items of nutrition in the form of minerals, water etc., for all living organisms. What happens to the organic bodies of the mobile living organisms?

"Dust thou art and to dust returnest" sang the seers. All that lives must die and when they die their bodies are consumed by a special group of living organisms called decomposers. These are the bacteria and fungi which convert the dead bodies to simple substances like C02, H20, and compounds of Nitrogen. All these are reabsorbed by the primary producers and come back into circulation. Thus flow of food is linked into a chain by the plants and various animals.

Let us very briefly see how the food chain is formed. Since green plants make a major part of their own food, they are called autotrophics and the primary producers. They are eaten by the herbivores for their growth and metabolism. Since they are the first of all animals to eat the plants, they are called primary consumers. Next the carnivores eat the herbivores, they are known as secondary consumers. The secondary carnivores may in turn be eaten by a succession of other carnivores, the tertiary carnivores. A simple example of food chain is:[3]

Sun—Cabbage—Cabbage white caterpillar—thrush—kestrel.

In reality, the relationship is seldom so simple. An animal would consume several kinds of food and in turn becomes the food of several ohers.Thus the food chains are intertwined into a web and we speak of Food Webs rather than of chains.[4]

Thus matter is cycled and so is never exhausted; energy is always lost and must be replenished.[4]

So now we know that the dead bodies of the mobile living organisms, from those with two sense-organs to those with five sense-organs which include MAN are recycled and consumed by plants to begin the new cycle.


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Edited by:
Prof. Muni Mahendra Kumar

Ladnun-341 306 (Rajasthan, India)

First Edition: 2008 Printed at: Shree Vardhman Press, Naveen Shahdara, Delhi- 110032

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  1. Albert Einstein
  2. Bhagavatī Sūtra
  3. Body
  4. Einstein
  5. Karma
  6. Nāma
  7. Nāma Karma
  8. Nāma karma
  9. Prāṇa
  10. Science
  11. Soul
  12. Sūtra
  13. Sūtrakṛtāṅga
  14. Trasa
  15. Uttarādhyayana
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