International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India

Vegetarianism A Way of Life

LIFE is whole; it includes both science and ethics, which are complementary one to the other. There can be no real conflict or antagonism between them ; so that what is scientific* is right and what is right is scientific, So long as we realize that both science and ethics are aspects of the one Truth we may for convenience of argument discuss vegetarianism from either angle. Sometimes one is asked: do you feel you are healthier for being a vegetarian? The answer of course, is : how could I be otherwise? In India this logical reply would readily be appreciated ; probably it will hardly be credited how in most Western countries it would call for long and tedious explanation. Indeed, the question is sometimes put to one over here ; would you still be a vegetarian if it made you less healthy? One answers: yes, certainly, and then tries to explain how meaningless the question really is, for it presumes one law for spiritual health and another, and a conflicting one, for physical health.

The ethical basis of vegetarianism is unanswerable: it has been stated over and over again by religious teachers and philosophers for ages past both in the East and in the West. The scientific basis is, naturally more complicated, but should not on this account be neglected. One can say, I think, without any hesitation that the more scientific observation proceeds and experiment elucidates the more convincing do the arguments in favour of a vegetarian diet become.

Moreover, scientific thought has within recent gears reached a point where its leading exponents have envisaged concepts of such a profoundly significant and philosophic nature that they may be said to have bridged the gulf between the matter-of-fact mentality based upon outer experience and the spiritual mentality which derives its power and function from inner illumination and perception - from that inherent faculty of human consciousness that is usually termed the intuition, or insight. It is when this hitherto baffling gulf has been bridged and the two levels of human mentality - sometimes referred to as higher and lower-integrated and made one that the essentiality of ethics and scientific thought becomes obvious and one is made vividly aware that any apparent conflict between the two is an illusion.

The Doctrine of Holism

I refer, of course, to the emergence and development of the doctrine of Holism or Wholeness which. although of great antiquity. was re-introduced into the Western world about thirty years ago by the late Field Marshall Smuts and was enunciated almost simultaneously in America by biologists, notably by Professor Ludwig von Bertalanffy, of the University of Ottawa, Canada. The doctrine of Holism or, as it was termed by Bertalanffy. the Organismic theory, may briefly be described as the conception of every organism or entity as being greater than the sum of its component parts and as having a structure in virtue of which it possesses greater potentialities and capacities than a mere aggregation of similar parts would exhibit. This principle applies to conditions as simple as the combination of atoms and molecules, to the integration of cells into tissues and organs, and, in the human body, to the fusion of these into one personality ; while at loftier levels still, it applies to the fusion of all living beings into one all-embracing Life - as Emerson would say, in one Oversoul. Alexander Pope, with a poet's insight, expressed this concept in the lines : "All are but parts of one stupendous whole, whose body Nature is and God the Soul."

In recent times this concept has been extended into the psychological field, to include groups of people thinking and acting harmoniously along similar lines so that group-consciousness has been accepted as a practical working unit capable of exhibiting functions of a higher order than those attainable by the individuals composing the group. It would not be untrue to say that we are being forced at the present time to envisage a unified world. The phenomenal development of scientific knowledge and technical skill with reference to rapid travel and communication has played a leading part in causing humanity to take step after step towards the realization of the Brotherhood of mankind.

A Boundless Ethics

It is only a step further than this - and some scientists have already begun to strike it - to realize the need for a philosophy which looks upon man himself as integrated into a greater Whole, which includes within it all his fellow-beings of the animal kingdom and even of the plant kingdom. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a medical scientist as well as philosopher, theologian, and musician, has stressed this in moving and forcible language. To quote a passage from his writings : "All life is holy, to the truly ethical man, even that from which the human standpoint seems to be lower life." And again : "We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also." Reverence for life in all its forms is the keynote of his philosophy, the first principle which should determine our conduct in relation to all living things.

Professor Bertalanfly, a biologist purely and simply, views the process of evolution in terms of a sequence of ever larger and more complex Wholes, moving and progressing in a spiral ascent through time, and giving expression to ever more and more subtle and lofty grades of consciousness, He goes so far as to suggest that this laborious journey of the gradually unfolding consciousness within the forms may be explained as a process by which God becomes aware of Himself.

Now, this view of the world and universe in which we live has a direct and important bearing upon the problems of health and disease, and, in consequence, upon our habits, including the diet we adopt for the nourishment of the bodies wear. This is, of course, closely related to our attitude to the animal kingdom and to the One Life of which we all form a part.

Already, some thirty years ago, Dr. H. P. Newsholme, one-time Medical Officer for Health for Birmingham, laid down three conditions for the maintenance of health :

(1) Balance of action between the individuals cells constituting the body ;
(2) Balance between activity of the body and activity of the mind;
(3) Balance between activities of the emotional, the intellectual, and the spiritual sides of the mind.

It now seems clear that as part of that greater Whole in which we live and move and have our being, it becomes necessary, if we are to maintain our own health and happiness, that we should live in a harmonious relationship with other living things which also form part of the Whole, just as, in a similar way, the organs of our physical bodies need to act in concert and co-operation if physical health is to be maintained. For, in order to secure a harmonious balance between the activities of our spiritual selves and our psyches and our bodies, it is essential that the inherent qualities of that spiritual nature should find free expression; and of those qualities none is more characteristic or more compelling that that of compassion.

As Sir Francis Bacon wrote: "Nature has endowed man with a noble an excellent principle of compassion, which extends itself also to the dumb animals - whence this compassion has some resemblance to that of a prince towards his subjects." Here, then, we can see that we have bridged the gap which is supposed to separate science from ethics, material benefit from spiritual welfare, and find that the highest morality is alone scientifically sound as a basis for conduct - whether that conduct be in the realm of thought, emotion, or physical activity - which will establish and maintain health and happiness: mens sana in corpore sano.

It is not only a pleasure but, I feel, a great privilege to send a message of greeting to the 15th World Vegetarian Congress which is being held in India. Though prevented by circumstances from being present, I am encouraged to feel, from the many expressions of appreciation and kind invitations I have received, that I have already made many close friendships with my Indian brothers.

I am convinced that not only is the cause of vegetarianism and the Way of Life it represents strengthened by the bonds being made through international co-operation, but that the essential Brotherhood of mankind is brought nearer to practical realization through our work together in a cause which is bound up with the spiritual progress of humanity.


* Unfortunately, much that is considered scientific, such as animal experimentation, is entirely unscientific.