International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India

Giving up Meat-eating is Essential Aspect of Ahimsa

Extracted from "Talks on the Gita, XXXVIII"
Sunday Standard, 13.8.1957,
Courtesy: Akila Bharata Sarva Seva Sangha

Till now we saw the one aspect of ahimsa, that is, how a non-violent man defends himself against the attacks of the violent. how ahimsa has evolved in the struggles between individuals. But there is also a conflict between man and animal. Man has not yet been able to put an end to conflict between human beings, and halves by filling his stomach with the flesh of animals.

Men cannot stop fighting with each other even now ; nor can they live without eating helpless lower animals which also live. Though he has existed for thousands of years, man has not yet learnt how to live. He cannot yet live like a man.

But now even in this matter there is progress. There was a time when man lived on animals only. But oven then, the more intelligent, the nobler ones, did not like this. They laid down a restriction that, if they had to eat meat, they would eat only the flesh of animals offered in sacrifice. The intention behind this was to limit violence. Many people gave up meat altogether ; but those who could not do so were permitted to offer it to the Lord in sacrifice, do a little penance, and then eat it.

It was thought then that, as a result of this condition, if one could eat meat only in a yajna, a sacrifice, violence would be controlled. But later on yajnas became common, and whoever felt like it performed a sacrifice and ate the meat.


Then the Lord Buddha went a step further. He said, "If you want to eat meat eat it. But don't bring the name of God into it." The aim of both these statements is the same, that violence could be controlled, that somehow people should be drawn into the path of self control. Both from the performance of yajnas and from nonperformance of them, we learnt to give up meat. Thus, little by little, we gave up eating meat.

In the history of the world it is only in India that this great experiment has been attempted. Millions of people here have given up meat-eating. If today we do not eat meat; it is no mark of our greatness. Because of the merit of our ancestors, we have got used to this. Why, we are surprised when we hear or read that the Rishis of old ate meat. We say, "What nonsense ! How could Rishis eat meat? It's impossible."

On the other hand, their greatness is that, though used to taking meat, they had self-control enough to give it up. We do not have to go through all that trouble now. We have: without effort on our part, inherited their virtues.

In Bhavabhuti's "Uttararrama Charita," Vasishtha arrives at the hermitage of Valmiki. To welcome him a young calf is killed. A small boy says to an older boy, "The big bearded tiger that came to our ashram today has eaten up our little calf, hasn't it "And the older boy says, 'Hush! He is the great Rishi Vasishtha. You mustn't say such things."

The fact that they ate meat in ancient times, and that we don't do it now, does not mean that we are better than they. The fruit of their experience has come to us easily. We should now progress further. We should make an effort to give up even milk altogether. It is degrading for men to drink the milk of other animals.

Ten thousand years hence the men of the future will say of us, "Why did our ancestors have to take a solemn vow not to drink milk? Ram-Ram! How could they bring themselves to drink milk? Were they such savages? "We should fearlessly and humbly make experiments and progress steadily. The tree of truth should throw out new branches. There is plenty of room for development. No quality has as yet evolved to its fullness.

We should develop the divine tendencies and keep away from the demonic. The Lord describes in this chapter the demonic qualities, so that we may keep away from them... The Lord. ...exhorts us to give up the demonic and acquire the divine qualities. Come let us make the effort!