Self-starvation,acceptance of flaws, and humility

October 22, 2012

Somebody else’s crisis got me Googling things about intentional self-starvation, and I stumbled on a practice in Jainism in which people do this as some kind of ascetic practice.  According to Wikipedia, not the best source for spiritual guidance, it is predicated on a conception of causing no harm to others even by eating fruits and vegetables, and of producing spiritual progress (if not successful completion of the task).

That’s one of those, “I can’t believe they heard that accurately” moments for me about somebody else’s religious beliefs.  I don’t think people are supposed to be air ferns.  (One of my ways of protesting when I think somebody is acting as if I have no needs is to declare that I am not an air fern.)  I don’t see it as an acceptance of “failure” against an ideal of perfection in which the person makes no claims on anyone else (supreme independence or extreme asceticism).  I see it more as embracing our muddiness — we are of this earth as well as of the spirit, and that’s okay.  We are within an ecosystem.  We have flaws.  We didn’t have to be here, we could have stayed pure spirit, I want to bet, but we’re here, and while we’re here, we participate in the material world.  Including eating.  To deny all that can even look like a type of arrogance, I think, although I tend to see it as a misunderstanding.

I think it’s a form of humility to accept our place as animals as well as human animals and spiritual creatures.  None of these identities is exclusive.  I don’t think we should over-indulge in any of them, but I don’t think we should renounce any of them completely either.  I’d guess each of us finds a different balance of these components in our lives.

My older son used to worry about whether weeds feel pain when we pull them up.  Jains (or some Jains) apparently feel similarly about eating fruits off of trees or vegetables off of plants, and the like.  Being reminded of others’ pain can help us do what we do with compassion, and I do get frustrated with some other religions’ practices that can be exploited to easily redeem past harm we’ve done to others without much increase in self-awareness, but it just strikes me that if the “answer” is self-starvation, something has gone wrong in the process of arriving at that conclusion.  (I am not talking about the process at a natural end-of-life in which the person stops eating and eventually even drinking as the dying body shuts down.)

Okay.  On to something more cheerful.



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