By Juliana Di Leonardo
The Earth is a beautiful place filled with all kinds of unique creatures, plants and sites, however, we have increasingly taken their existence for granted. Many people today still expect our world to continue to thrive while having zero concern of how greedily taking the planet’s resources may negatively impact the various habitats and ecosystems along with the native animals who live there. Luckily there are people still out there who are working towards protecting what we have left and also by educating the public. This past Earth Day, the Gathering of Light congregation celebrated both Earth Day and Mahavira Jayanti, Mahavira’s birthday, which seems like an absolute perfect pairing due to his teachings on ahimsa, nonviolence, and the day that brings about awareness of environmental issues and its protection.
Mahavira, the twenty-fourth tirthankara or supreme teacher, is well known for his belief that all living beings big or small deserve to be treated with respect and that no harm should come to them. Ahimsa, is more than not hurting others, but an everyday practice of preventing suffering from happening. At the joint celebration at the Gathering of Light, speakers talked about the importance of protecting animals from speciesism (the thought that humans or other species are greater than another), Anekantavada, many-sidedness and the truth that we are connected to the earth and that we all depend on each other, and lastly, there was mention of how forgiveness can ease the mind allowing us to become less violent and more kind. These beliefs are so imperative now and by bringing awareness to them will surely give our planet a chance to heal.
There are many ways to practice Mahavira’s teachings while showing love to the Earth. The easiest way to start is by taking animals, eggs, and dairy off your plate. It doesn’t have to be immediate as long as you’re working toward the goal of removing them fully, however, dairy products are very addictive, and it is especially hard to wean yourself off them. By taking these items out of your diet, you not only save the lives of animals but also the environment due to the resources required to produce them. A bonus is that it is also kinder to your body to consume products that don’t cause inflammation and high cholesterol.
When it comes to many-sidedness, it is important to remember that many views can bring you to the truth of a situation, the satya. The truth for Mahavira Jayanti and Earth Day is that there is a mutual dependence between us humans and all the other elements that make this floating rock our home. If we currently find ourselves and others in a practice that is doing harm, then it is time for reflection and forgiveness. By forgiving, we release anger and negativity which then makes our transition to living a kinder life easier.
For this week’s Anuvrat or small vow, I encourage you to observe your eating habits and think about how you can get more active in your community whether it be picking up trash or planting native plants. Use everyday as an opportunity to better the world for you and everyone else we share it with.
Juliana Di Leonardo is the Vice President of Humane Long Island. She is a yoga and ballroom dance instructor, model, and artist. Her advocacy for animals exploited by the fashion industry was credited in the 2021 documentary “The Face of Fashion is Fear” and was recognized by PETA with a Hero for Coyotes award.