Book Reviews

OUT OF THE JUNGLE by H. Jay Dinshah
Reviewed by Gabriel Figueroa

Out of the Jungle is one of the most often quoted books in the vegan movement. This is with good reason. If you read only one book by Jay Dinshah, make it Out of the Jungle. This book is an excellent introduction, guide, and comprehensive information source on Ahimsa and veganism. It is insightful and thought provoking and beautifully describes the vegan perspective for those both familiar and unfamiliar with it. As much as I love all of Jay's books, this may well be his best.

In Out of the Jungle, Jay gently shows us the way to making the universe a better place for all. He does this by introducing us to a concept that is timeless and found in all major faiths. We may know this concept as the Golden Rule. Many of us are familiar with the Golden Rule, but how many of us truly practice it? Jay talks about how often we think of life in terms of jungle law, i.e. Survival of the Fittest. But, is this truly appropriate? Albert Schweitzer's idea of Reverence for Life is introduced as a corollary to the Golden Rule that allows us to measure how it can be applied to our daily lives.

Reverence for Life leads to the principle of Ahimsa. Jay lucidly explains how we can look at Ahimsa in a positive way by viewing it as Dynamic Harmlessness rather than only from the negative perspective that focuses on what we should not do. Both the positive aspect and negative aspect of Ahimsa allow us to be able to make decisions when we are faced with a dilemma. Jungle law is not something that we can continue to live by if we are to put the principle of Ahimsa to work in our lives.

Jay wastes no time in this book. He immediately gets to the point and talks about how veganism is one of the most practical ways to begin practicing Ahimsa. He talks about the problems of different animal products from a moral and health perspective. We learn how easy it is to substitute vegan items for all types of animal products.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the Dynamic Harmlessness version of Ahimsa is how Jay took the word and used each letter to form what truly are the pillars of Ahimsa. Those who are familiar with the work of AVS have surely seen these pillars before. In the book, each pillar is explained in real depth. We learn what is behind each pillar and how we can begin practicing these today. Jay never says or implies that Ahimsa ends with veganism. On the contrary, veganism is only a part of the path to Ahimsa.

The book ends with a chapter called "Into the Sunshine." This chapter is poetic and seems to be the part of the book that is most quoted. The ideas are not just summed up here, but they are also shown as part of a larger picture. Practical tips show us how to progress on the path. I love this chapter, so rather than tell you what it says I will allow you to enjoy it for yourself.

The book has three very important appendixes that further make this an invaluable resource to those on the path of Ahimsa. The first is "Transition to Veganism," which shows potential vegans how to take the steps to make veganism a part of their life. Appendix II is "Positive and Negative Harmlessness" and exposes us to a workshop and discussion where we hear more about the two sides of Ahimsa and their practical applications. The third appendix "Of Figs and Thistles" is from a short talk discussing how we should lovingly try to make a difference in the world rather than be bitter at those who feel differently than we do.

This book was revised and added to in 1995 to bring additional information born from years of experience. Yet, its basic text and message have remained the same. This is a timeless work even though our society has seen many changes in the time since its original publication. Consider that in today's world, vegan items are much more available than they were thirty-three years ago. In many parts of the country, one can readily order vegan meals at restaurants without too much explanation. It is important to realize that veganism has come a long way since this book was published thanks in large part to the work of committed vegans such as the Dinshahs and the practical information found in books such as Out of the Jungle. However, there is still a much longer way to go.

I consider this book to be a true gem. Out of the Jungle is a primer on how to practice Dynamic Harmlessness in our daily lives. This book helps us to get straight on the path whether we have been vegans for a long time or we are just now contemplating veganism. Even more important, it helps us to realize that Ahimsa is an active principle rather than a passive one. Applying its principles will be one of the surest ways to gain inner and outer peace.