Jainism is an ascetic Asian religion whose adherents advocate ahimsa, or noninjury, both as an ethical and philosophical goal, and whose example has had a strong admonitory influence on non-Jains. The Jaina monastic community has a number of characteristic practices which evince an extreme regard for life. Monks carry a small brush with which they carefully sweep the floor before sitting or lying so as to avoid crushing any insects. They may wear masks to prevent inadvertent inhalation of small creatures, and strain their drinking water. Wild honey is avoided, as bees may be killed during its collection.
Ascetics have few or no possessions and must beg for food. Some choose in old age to die through ritual fasting. Most Jainas are not ascetics, although some strive to imitate monastic ideals by pursuing a progressive path of renunciation, leading to rebirth as an ascetic. The non-monastic Jaina community practices vegetarianism and opposes the killing of animals. Because of this, agricultural and military occupations are not suitable to Jainas, who historically have chosen instead to enter the professions or to take up business interests.
Sikh means disciple, a follower of the 10 gurus. Sikhism was founded in the fifteenth century ce by the guru Nanak who proclaimed, ''There is no Hindu; there is no Muslim.'' Nanak rejected the social distinctions of the Hindu caste system and required his followers to eat together as a symbol of unity. Sikhs retain the Hindu reverence for cows and thus do not eat beef. Other meat may be eaten, although some Sikhs are vegetarians. Permitted animals must be killed with a single blow, 'jhatka,' literally a sudden shake or jerk. Generally, Sikhs are not rigid about adherence to dietary laws and readily adapt to the food customs of other cultures.
Food plays a part in the Baha'i religion through fasts and feasts and through dietary injunctions which favour vegetarianism and abstention from alcohol. Vegetarianism is held to be a compassionate practice and one which is in line with God's will, though meat is not actually prohibited. Fasting is viewed as a spiritual undertaking and is symbolic of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires. It is deemed to have both physical and spiritual benefits. A 19-day fasting period occurs in March, during which there must be complete abstention from food and drink between sunrise and sunset. Exemptions are granted for travellers, the sick, pregnant and nursing women, while those engaged in heavy work may also be excused. Children under the age of 15 years and elderly persons over 70 years of age are not required to fast but may choose to do so. Obeying the fast is a matter for individual conscience and is not enforced; if food is eaten 'unconsciously' during the fast it is deemed to be an accident rather than a breaking of the fast. Unlike in Islam, there is no making up of fast days missed as the fast can only be kept during the designated time.
Nineteen Day Feasts (so called because they are held on the first day of each of the 19-day-long Baha'i months) bring Baha'is together to consult and discuss and to offer suggestions to their Local Spiritual Assembly. At a feast, which is entered into with right thinking, the 'heavenly food' of knowledge, understanding, love, and kindness is present, providing members with a sense of spiritual restoration. The significance of providing food at these gatherings appears to be related to the Baha'i injunction to serve one's fel-lows—rather than to the social solidarity of sharing food. The absence of guidelines or restrictions on what may be served indicates that it is the act of serving which is symbolic, not the food itself.
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