|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
message from pre-historic times till this day has been the message of
Ahimsa, a message of harmlessness, a message of innocence, of
goodwill and brotherliness for one and all. We in India in all humility
repeat from day to day the formula:
Simple living primarily means simple and natural diet. The natural diet of man is vegetarian diet.
If w e hold views similar to Darwin we must also hold that when man first appeared on the earth he lived on fruits, nuts and vegetables, for his immediate ancestor, the ape, lived on this kind of food. In the natural state man has neither sharp claws nor horns, nor is he endowed with teeth for tearing his victims. Hence he could not use flesh for his food. Scriptures also hold the same view.
The Vedic injunction is "Mahinsyat Sarva Bhutani" (Do not injure any creature). The Yajur Veda (2.34) asks the seekers after happiness to use butter, milk, ripe, naturally fallen fruits, and pure water for their food. Over and over again has it been said that the Rishis lived on fruits, flowers, roots, and tubers. The idea finds an echo in the Ramayana and other books.
Sri Ramchandra accepting the invitation of Guharaja says: "Wearing the skins of trees, living the life of Tapavis, I live only on flowers and fruits" (Valmiki Ayodhya Kand 50).
Laksmana tells Rama that in the forest he would bring for him flowers and fruits and himself also partake of the same.
Sitaji repeats the same thing (Ayodhya Kand 27:16)
In the "Markandeya Puranam" (chapter 49) a very interesting and detailed description is given of the life of the primitive men. It is clearly stated that they obtained from certain trees all they needed for living - fruits for their food and treebarks for their clothes. Men of that age were qyuite healthy and lived up to a ripe old age.
Shi Beharilal Sastri says that the Jain scriptures also
hoId that the first men wore clothes of tree barks and lived on fruits
(Dipmala number of the Vainkleshwar 1952, p. 58)
If we ransack the Scriptures of other nations both of
ancient and modern times, we would find the same thoughts repeated.
In the Bible we read "I have given you every herb-yielding seed
and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed : to you
it shall be for meat ".
The Sura-E-Eraf of the Holy Quran presents a similar picture.
In the "Encyclopaedia of Religions and Ethics,"
Vol. 1, p.195, we read in relation to Greek civilization...... "In
the Golden age men lived upon the fruits of the earth."
"Man was never meant to be a carnivorous animal."
He was in the beginning faithful to his constitution and, therefore,
"without sin and sickness, trouble and misery."
But through his own fault, through the misuse of his liberty
and of his intellect he came to slip away from the path of rectitude.
He took to flesh-eating. The bright sun of virtue came to be surrounded
by clouds of evil and sin. The war between Indra and Vratra began, (Rig
Veda mandal I Mantra. 5-7). The tussle between the spirit of good and
the spirit of evil came into the world (a Zoroastrian idea). The Papursha
went about enticing the virtuous (Shakta Marga). Mara came to mislead
Buddha. The fallen angel, Satan, began to beguile mankind." ( Semitic
This war has been going on in the world of mortals for
thousands of years. The higher spiritual forces have again and again
manifested themselves in the bodies of Avatars, Peghambars, reformers,
and Rishis and called upon men to return to the ancient natural way
The Hindu Smritikars (Law-Makers) - Manu and Yajnavalka,
- condemned flesh -eating in very strong terms.
When their voice on account of the lapse of time became
weaker and when sinful men took to flesh-eating indiscriminately and
when, to justify their ways, they introduced animal sacrifices, some
reformers of the Mahabharata period raised their voice against the evil.
Says Mahabharata (Anushasan Parva) : "He who kills, he who advises
others to take flesh and he who eats, the three will live in hell for
as many years as the animal killed has hair on its body" (3000
B.C.according to Indian tradition ).
According to Bhishma Pitamaha "In Yajnas and such
other good works the pure souled Manu has considered Ahimsa (abstinence
from every kind of injury to other sentient beings) as Dharna (Duty).
It is the selfish, who, being covetous of
A thousand years rolled by and the voice of the reformers
again became dim in the din of seekers after luxuries and carnal enjoyments.
Animals came to be killed in thousands. The spiritual reaction to this
life of licentiousness appeared in the form of Mahatma Buddha and the
great Jain Thirthankara, Mahan Atma Mahavira (1500 B.C. according to
In the Dhammapada of Buddha we read : "All men tremble
at punishment, all men fear death. Putting oneself in the place of others
kill not, nor cause slaughter."
And again "All men tremble at the rod, all men love
life. Doing as one would be done by, kill not nor cause to kill."
Buddha goes further and says: " As a mother looks
after her only child, till it is alive, so should we have great heart
and kind mind for every living being."
Sri Mahavira Swami ordains : "Do not harass any living
being.. . . . .all should look after the life of others, as carefully
as they look after their own life."
The teachings of these two great sons of Bharatamata had
a tremendous influence not only on India but on many other countries.
Their message, though the self-denying Bhikshus, spread far and wide
both to the East and to the West. Their teachings also gave the world
if not the best, surely one of the very best of the kings of the world,
- Sri Asoka Vardhan, who exchanged the method of conquest with weapons,
for the method of conquest through love and persuasion. A thousand or
more years passed and once wore Himsa invaded our country. Animal sacrifices
that had been condemned forcefully by the past reformers reappeared.
Then came the Vira Saiva wave. The reformers of this age also condemned
the slaughter of the poor dumb animals.
At the Parliament of Religions held at Calcutta in the
year 1937, the representative of Vira Saivism or Lingayat sect of Southern
India told his audience that the Agamas like the Upanishads assigned
esoteric significance to Yajnas. Animal slaughter found no place in
When these reformers had lost their momentum, foreigners
from the North-West entered India and, through the force of this new
impact, people again took to flesh-eating and animal sacrifices. The
reaction to this degradation was the powerful Vaishnava wave. The chief
protagonists of this wave were: Sri Ramaujacharya, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,
Sri Vallabhacharya, Bhagat Kabir, Guru Nanak, and others.
The leaders of the Vaishnava movement strongly supported
the cause of vegetarianism. Here are a few passages from their writings
: Bhagat Kabir says : "Kindness of Hindu and mercy of Muhammadan
have fled from their homes. One kills by Halal and the other by Jhatka
(one stroke). The houses of both are on fire."
And again : "He kills a living being and says it
is allowable" Once again "Hear, how flesh is produced. You
call it pure! It comes from semen and woman's impure blood. You have
taken impure flesh."
In Guru Nanak's Scripture, we read : "That garment
becomes polluted which is touched with blood. How can the mind of the
persons, who take in blood be pure?"
Lastly we come to the modern times. In modern times India came in close contact with European nations and lost her independence. The Government servants imitated the habits of their masters and became flesh-eaters. With the onrush of Western ideas and Western education, these Government servants and those who came into close contact with them, got more and more addicted to this forbidden food. They set a very bad example for the general masses. Mother India's inner soul revolted at this state of affairs. A number of reformers entered into this new arena and continued the old eternal fight. Rishi Dayanand, the founder of the Arya Samaj, delivered powerful lectures condemning flesh food and animal sacrifices.
Also in his works he tried to prove by economic calculations that the use of flesh diet was highly injurious to the economics of the society.
Guru Ram Singh of the Namdhari cult was a strict vegetarian and he asked his followers and others to live on vegetarian diet only. His was a powerful voice. Even the mighty British Empire got nervous at his non-co-operation movement.
Mahatma Gandhi, the last though not the least of our reformers, was a very powerful advocate of a natural vegetarian diet.
Elsewhere, reformers, preachers, and prophets have, from time to time, raised their powerful voice against animal sacrifices, flesh eating, and supported humanitarianism.
About the time that Mahatma Buddha and Mahatma Mahavira appeared in India two great reformers, namely Laotse and Kungtse (Confucius) preached the same truth to the great nation of China. Here is a quotation from the teachings of the first reformer:-
"It is the way of TAO not act from any personal motive, to conduct affairs without feeling the trouble thereof, to taste without being aware of the flavour, to accept the great as small and the small as great, and to recompense injury with kindness."Here is a quotation from Leggi's introduction to Taoism: "Arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen, hateful, it may be said to all creatures. They, who have the Tao do not like to employ them".
It is related that the great reformer, Confucius, also lived a life of purity and simplicity. At the table of a king, he took only such diet as did not involve shedding of blood. He refused even to touch flesh-food.
The history of the Semitic religions is similar to Hindu culture. So far as dietetics are concerned. As already pointed out, man was at first vegetarian and whenever he deviated from the path of rectitude he was admonished and asked to go back to the original way of living.
Passages from the Bible could be easily quoted. Here are one or two such passages :
"He that killeth an ox is as he slew man,
"Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. For meat destroy not the work of God. It is good neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine"
Lord Christ was the Prince of Peace. He was a vegetarian. so was his brother James and so were his immediate followers. Their tradition has been kept up by great Saints and several orders of monks and certain Christian sects and communities.
About Prophet Muhammad Stanley Lane Poole says : "Prophet Muhammad's ordinary food was dates, water and barley bread. Milk and honey were luxuries of which he was fond but which he rarely allowed himself".
True followers of Islam, Sufis and Parhezgars, have always refrained from a flesh diet. Moulana Rumi in his Masnavi has given esoteric interpretation of sacrifice. The same thing was repeated by Moulvi Idris Ahmed , B.A., LL.B,, when he said "Islam does not attribute any sanctity to the sacrifice of animals - it requires sacrifices of inner selves. The flesh and blood of the sacrificed animals shall never reach God but your piety (the inner sacrifice of hearts) shall only reach God".
Hermes, Apollonius and Plotinus in Egypt, Pythagoras in Greece, Cicero and Seneca in Rome emphasized the same truth.
Had we the time and inclination to go into the depth of the history of the various countries of Latin America we would find an echo of the same story. It is related that about six centuries before the Spanish conquest of Mexico, a king of very humane and beneficent disposition built at Tezecuco a vast temple in honour of QUETZALCOATLE from which all blood was excluded and where only flowers and incense were offered.
It is hardly necessary for me to say anything regarding self-sufficiency of vegetarian diet. Men of great physical strength, men of penetrating intellect have lived and flourished on vegetarian diet. Recently it has been noticed in India that the average age of a Jain is 88 years, and Jains are strictly vegetarians.
Friends, today the circumstances are more favourable for propagating our ideals than they were before. Today the world has become one great unit-modern inventions have destroyed the boundaries of geography.
Reformers have appeared at the same time both in the East and in the West. Daynand and Gandhi, Tolstoy and Bernard Shaw, Thoreau and Emerson, Kellogg and Oldfield and many many other great men have all advocated the cause of vegetarianism and humanitarianism. We have to make one strong and united effort to achieve our goal, when there would be peace and goodwill all round and the world would glisten in the good time that is coming.
IN INDIAN RELIGIONS
Dr. O. Schradder traces the origin and operation of the principle of non-hurting or harmlessness in the Indian religions. When Ahimsa became first a religious principle, it is difficult to say. He notes that "of the now existing religions. Jainism is the one which has the most complete system of it and which has always clung to it with the utmost possible tenacity." The Jaina in the Uttarajjhayana forbade the use of honey, silk, wool, as depriving animals of their property.
A rigorous system of Ahimsa was in vogue about the close of the Vedic period. In the Brahminic system, the principle was for a long time restricted to the Sannyasin and was only introduced in the form of vegetarianism to the Brahmann caste.
Dr. Schradder traces the triumph of vegetarianism in South India : "In the course of time, when Jainism and Buddhism had become powers in the land, the Brahmins could not help restricting the killing of animals and eating of meat at the sacrifice, and here. too, it had to be more and more reduced, until at last even the 'flesh-desiring' Pitris mere forced to become vegetarians. And finally the ultimate step was taken by some representatives of the Madhva sect, which arose in South India in the thirteenth century, A.D. to condenm as sinful any slaughter of animals, and to introduce instead into the sacrifice the practice of the so-called pishta-pasu or animals made of dough."
The problem offered by Buddhism with regard to Ahimsa is rather hard of solution: The party headed by Dr. Hewman is of opinion that Buddha was a vegetarian and that the first vow to be observed by both laymen and monks is the principle of Ahimsa while the other party taking their stand on certain Buddhistic scriptures deny that Buddha objected to meat and that belief in Ahimsa is not incompatible with the eating of meat. But what is the trend of Buddhistic thought and scriptures in the matter ?
Dr. Schradder comments: "'That a great religious
teacher preaching Ahimsa did not altogether condemn the enjoyment of
meat; that an ascetic could ever hope to get rid of his passions without
having renounced once for all any animal diet - this must have been
something extraordinary and incomprehensible to many a person in that
time, just as it is a puzzle still now to thoughtful people who come
into touch with Buddhism. It is a matter of course that under the circumstances
described meat was by no means a regular constituent of the Bhikkhu's
meal, but rather an exception which could easily haw been avoided altogether.
But the Buddha did not want to forbid it; and his main reason
in doing so was evidently the wish to set an open and standing example
of his teaching: that the question of food (ahara) had absolutely nothing
to do with that of moral purity (visuddhi)."
What then is the conclusion reacted by Dr. Schradder in his study of Jain and Buddhistic documents? "Our conclusion then would be that in ancient Buddhism meat was a rare food with the Bhikkhu and a still rarer one with the layman, for the layman did not beg for his food, but he was, of course, likewise allowed to accept food from non-Buddhists, e.g., on a journey. Absolute Ahimsa is an impossibility, even to the most conscientious ascetic. It is the great tragical fact of life that in order to live we have to destroy Life. "All this is pervaded by living beings." And "All this is swallowed by living beings." (Jivair grastam idam sarvam.) Yet it is also true that we have the duty to avoid all unnecessary slaughter, that we have to spare and mitigate suffering wherever we are able to do so, mindful of the beautiful words of old Bhishma: "Neither was there nor will there be a higher gift than the gift of life." (Pranadanat paramadanam na bhutam na bhavishyati." (Mahabharata XIII)
( - with acknowledgments for quotations to Indian Review, May 1914)