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Basing their dietary guidelines on Hinduism's Ayurveda tradition, Hare Krishnas ascribe to the belief that bodily health is a function of properly balancing a person's internal levels of earth, air, fire, water, and ether. A person's diet has a great impact on this balance, and thus Hare Krishnas have a lot of fine-tuned restrictions and guidelines.
Aside from the usual vegetarianism espoused by many Hindu sects -- which generally prohibit eggs -- it is no secret that to remain in good standing with Krishna (the god of the Hare Krishnas) one must refrain from eating mushrooms, onions, garlic, coffee, black tea, cocoa and -- to no one's surprise -- alcohol. Though Hare Krishnas are quick to point out the health benefits of their diet, the main purpose of the diet is to enhance one's relationship with Krishna. The reasons for the prohibitions against these foods are found in the Ayurvedic teachings of Hindu scriptures. According to these ancient scriptures: mushrooms increase ignorance; onions and garlic inhibit transcendance by clouding one's mind with "passion"; stimulants such as coffee and cocoa make it difficult to meditate by giving you the jitters; and alcohol makes one susceptible to the realization that the Hare Krishna religion might be a load of bull****. And don't you dare think of eating that bull****... it's a cow product!
While the Hare Krishna diet might seem a little extreme, rest assured that another Hindu sect -- the Jains -- make Hare Krishnas look like the Hell's Angels of Hinduism.
Though certainly part of the Hindu tradition, Jainism is one of the most ancient religions known to man. Hinduism is widely considered the oldest established religion, but the origins of Jainism actually predate the Aryan invasions of India which led to Hinduism. The central tenet of the Jain philosophy is "ahisma," which means not commiting violent acts against living beings. Jains consider ALL life to be of equal importance, whether it is visible, non-visible, microscopic, multi-cellular or single-cell. Even viruses and harmful proteins such as Mad Cow Disease find equal protection under Jain law (those cows keep coming up, don't they!)
As you might have guessed, Jain laws regarding diet are nothing short of exhaustive. In addition to your standard vegetarian prohibitions against meat, fish, and eggs, Jains do whatever they can to not bring unnecessary harm to the plants from which they get their food. While it is ideal to leave a plant unharmed, Jains admit this is not always possible. And they have been known to hurt a plant's feelings with bad looks and harsh words. This is strictly frowned upon.
Jains also prohibit the consumption of many vegetables and fruits with high quantities of "life-forms". This includes root foods such as onions, garlic, potatoes, and other tubors. As well, fruits containing a lot of seeds, such as pomegranates, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, okra, and kiwis are also prohibited. For all the lip service they give to life, it is safe to say Jains don't enjoy life as much as others.
On the liquid side of things, Jains are not allowed to drink more than two glasses of water per day because of the possibility of consuming microscopic amounts of algae or moss. Actually, I'm kidding. But there really is a prohibition against alcohol, which I'm sure you won't find hard to believe. No, Jains don't believe alcohol contains living spirits. They simply believe alcohol is harmful to the body and might cause slight damage to your digestive system and maybe kill some parasites and microorganisms living in your body. This is not a joke. And the other reason for not drinking alcohol is that Jains are only allowed to eat bland food.
Another problematic liquid for Jains is milk. You see, milk is not dead. Milk is alive. And after it squirts our of the cow, it goes through all the same stages as other life-forms. First is childhood (fresh milk), next comes the teenage years (cheese), then comes adulthood (rotten moldy muck), and then death (fertilizer). Honey also falls into this category of banned, high-viscous liquids. Though it is unclear if honey has a mucky adulthood or just dies after a brief crystalline puberty.
You'd think all these restrictions would damn near cramp a person's style. But just imagine if, in addition to all these rules, you were not allowed to eat anything after dark. Needless to say, this rule didn't last very long. Scholars speculate that the ancient Jain prohibition against eating after dark was meant to prevent the trampling of bugs and such while walking in the dark. Or possibly it was that cooking food at night attracts flying insects which might inhale too much smoke and get emphysema. Other scholars think this prohibition was meant to encourage Jains to eat during the day, because it was thought that sunlight helps one digest food better. But maybe... just maybe... they did it to **** with people's heads.
As was the case with most early Hindus, early Jains were actually allowed to eat meat if they "happened upon it," or if it was not intentionally cooked for them. Though it is unclear if this means they were also permitted to eat the ancient equivalent of road kill... one can only hope. And being the merciful creed it was, ancient Jains were allowed to eat meat in time of famine, or if one was suffering from a grave illness such as scurvy, the munchies, or sudden loss of faith. There are currently somewhere between 3 and 4 million practicing Jains worldwide.