By John Di Leonardo
All my life, I wanted to make the world a better place. Early on, I committed valiant acts of violence in defense of others who could not adequately defend themselves, taking on bullies in the school yard as a child and going after rapists and violent gangs as a teenager. As my worldview expanded however, I learned that not only were the biggest problems well beyond my fists, but that violence only begets more violence. I disbanded my own gang of vigilantes and began study in counselling and school psychology with the goal of helping children with special needs when they were young and most malleable. It was not until I was halfway through my schooling however that I learned about Jainism and my life changed forever.
I had never met a vegetarian before and I believed all the typical fallacies, namely that killing animals was a necessary sin and that humans could not survive, much less thrive without consuming meat. Now, I was not only presented with an entire community that had eschewed meat for thousands of years but monks who were so dedicated to their practice that they waited for berries to fall off the vine so as not to molest the plant. I felt small and cowardly. How could I claim to be protecting my community while consuming other Jiva (life)? After class, I went to the school cafeteria and loaded up a plate full of chicken carcasses, but this time, I could not take a bite and pushed my plate away. I never ate meat again. A year later, I learned how infant cows are torn from their mothers so we can consume milk meant for them and how in the egg industry male chicks are killed, suffocated or ground alive at only one day old because they cannot lay eggs. I went vegan as a result. The weight of the cruelties in this world seemed bigger than I could bear but I knew I could no longer engage in these cruelties myself.
Shortly thereafter, I received an email from PETA notifying me that Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus was coming to town during my Spring break. Enclosed were pictures of baby elephants being chained and beaten, forced into the unnatural contortions seen on the big stage. I made a small vow, or Anuvrat, to dedicate my Spring break to peacefully protesting outside the circus each day. Following these demonstrations, I felt empowered and made another vow, to see the end of Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus’s exploitation of animals before I died.
Before I knew it, I was employed by the largest animal rights organization in the world and leading the last ever Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus protest. The circus giant had fallen, and I was not even 30.
Since then, I’ve continued to take small but significant vows (Anuvrat), stopping slaughterhouses and aquariums from being built on Long Island, closing pet stores and fur stores, shutting down circuses from New York City to Greenport, and working with my colleagues at Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION) to directly rescue about 1,000 animals each year from neglect and cruelty.
We cannot save the world all at once but through Anuvratas we can make a vow to stop cruelties in our daily life or a vow to stop individual acts of cruelty in our community. Over time, these vows add up and we will be astonished at what each of us can do for our sentient community.
John Di Leonardo is an anthrozoologist and the founding director of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION), Long Island’s leading animal advocacy organization and farmed animal rescue, having stopped slaughterhouses, aquariums, and wild animal circuses on Long Island. He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the largest animal rights organization in the world. He has a master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He went to India and obtained a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John recently moved from Nassau to Suffolk County, he can be reached at [email protected].
People also ask … … ….
Which is older Buddhism or Jainism?
Mahavira was born a little before the Buddha. While the Buddha was the founder of Buddhism, Mahavira is not the founder of Jainism. He is the 24th great teacher (Tirthankara) in the Jain tradition that was founded in the present era by Rishabh or Adinatha, thousands of years before Mahavira.