Vegetarianism: The Vedic ideal upholding the cosmic law of causality

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By Gaurav Sharma

Food occupies a central position in the annals of the Vedic literature. “People are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin”, says Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita.

As part of the Vedic thought, food occupies a predominant position in the evolutionary process of living entities.

Reasons supporting Vegetarianism

The purpose of food, according to Vedic scriptures is not limited to just increasing the duration of life and aiding bodily strength, but also includes purification of the mind.

Purification of mind means to go beyond the three modes of material nature; goodness, passion and ignorance. In this context, the Vedic scriptures, unambiguously propound the idea of vegetarianism as a prerequisite to self-realization.

One who is always eating meat or drinking liquor, which is eating and drinking in passion and ignorance, must give these things up so that his real consciousness may be awakened. In this way one may become peaceful and refreshed.

-Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.20)

The mode of passion and ignorance, imply excessive attachment, pre-domination of desires and violence, envy. Working under these qualities, the living entity is kept tightly bound within the fetters of the Karmic cycle or the realm of actions.

In other words, the food that we intake involuntarily shape our mood, personality and mind, all critical instruments in molding and directing our consciousness towards a subtle dimension of life.

Also, since meat-eating, necessitates killing of animals, it is invariably connected to Himsa or violence against the creatures so slayed. Negative karmic influences inevitably follow when violence is committed against any living entity.

The law of karma, or the principle of causality is not only cited in the Vedic books, but is further echoed in the Bible, in the form of the proverbial saying: Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatations 6:7).

Flesh eating, therefore, is one mode in which humans enslave themselves to suffering.

Is meat-eating ethical?

Another contention against meat-eating is the ideal of compassion. A lot of people in the West, after seeing the cruel treatment meted out to animals in the slaughterhouses, have shunned non-vegetarian diet from their system.

Kept in cages, unable to move around, the animals cum prospective meat are traumatized to live amidst their own faecal matter.

Calves are isolated from their mothers and the same reproductive slavery is enforced upon them as their mothers. They are chained and injected with heavy chemicals to make their flesh tenderer, before they are slaughtered.

Foie de Gras, a French delicacy comprising of liver of a duck or goose is a testimony to the cruel discrimination carried out against other life forms.

In order to fatten the liver of the birds, they are force fed more than what they would normally eat, either in the wild or domestically. After the disdainful feeding, they are slaughtered to guarantee the buttery consistency that the taste buds of gastronomes so wishfully desire.

The After-Effect

When animals are subjected to such a horrific treatment, we humans, in our short-sightedness, become oblivious to the cosmic law of cause and effect.

By engaging in meat-eating and, by inference, supporting animal slaughter, the concept of compassion central to the Buddhist way of living, is grossly violated.

The Mahaparanirvana Sutra candidly warns against such indulgent abuse, “The eating of meat extinguishes the great seed of compassion.”

The injunctions of all great Vedic scriptures are the same; killing other living entities amounts to killing oneself.

The Mahabharata, Anushasana Parva 115.33, proclaims, “The sins generated by violence curtail the life of the perpetrator. Therefore, even those who are anxious for their own welfare should abstain from meat-eating.”

Therefore, the maxims mentioned in the Vedas against meat-eating are not meant to infringe upon our personal rights, but rather to uplift us from an ignorant and violent mode of functioning to a more peaceful and compassionate way of life.

Arguments against Vegetarianism

The most obvious question raised by libertarianists against vegetarianism is that killing plants is also a form of violence.

While it is true that when plants are cut for supplying food, violence is committed against them, but comparatively the pain inflicted on plants is much less compared to the agony experienced by animals when being tortured for skinning their flesh.

Plants lack a central nervous system and a brain to process pain, and consequently their level of experience is minimal as compared to human beings or animals, although they undoubtedly experience some discomfort.

Moreover, a lot of fruits fall off naturally when they are ripe. Animals do not drop their body parts at any point of maturity.

The current scenario, making choices

In the present age, most people are non-vegetarians. Part of the reason can be justified on the basis of the persons’ regional tradition and geographical location. For example, coastal Brahmins have always espoused the idea of fish as a vegetarian delicacy.

Lately, however, there has been a surge in non-vegetarian propaganda, largely due to the Westernized idea of complete and unquestionable ‘freedom of choice’, along with the widespread use of media to propound such an ideology among the masses.

Television advertisements make good use of making animals appearing like packaged food products. Companies have become adept at painting non-vegetarian food as the natural food choice.

Will Tuttle, an American writer in his book The World Peace Diet rights, “As infants, we have no idea what ‘veal,’ ‘turkey,’ ‘egg,’ or ‘beef’ actually are, or where they come from. … We find out slowly, and by the time we do, the cruelty and perversity involved seem natural and normal to us.”

The meat industry has now become an integral part of corporatized India. The torture and violence are carried out against animals as a means to garner more and more profit for the corporate bosses who fund the politicians in return.

As a result, life itself has become appropriated by the corporate lobby, and our ideas of non-violence have become completely distorted and hypocritical.

An individual survives by committing violence against another individual.

However, as part of their discerning intellect, humans have the special ability to make trade-offs regarding the amount and type of pain inflicted on other living beings, by choosing wisely their own dharma or way of living.