|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
THEN AND NOW
"It is the same Avatara that, having plunged into the Ocean of life rises up in one place and is known as Krishna, and diving down again rises in another place and is known as Christ." - Ramakrishna.
This is an age of re-assessment. Ancient beliefs are being called to question in the light of new knowledge and reason. It should be realized that when a great spiritual leader leaves this world his teachings fall into the hands of lesser men. These re-interpret principles, perhaps write the Master's words from memory with faulty understanding, and often insert their own more limited ideas.
A point can be reached when a truth may be overlaid with sacerdotal practices, priestcraft, and the intellectual debris of many ages - some of which may have adhered in ages of barbarism, as in the case of Christianity, which has also borrowed histories and customs of primitive tribes.
According to figures in our possession the vast majority of Indians are Hindu - 255,000,000 or 64 per cent of the population. Moslems number about 92,000,000, and there are smaller numbers of Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees and Buddhists, with a sprinkling of Hebrews. At least 7,600,000 are tribal animists believing in witchcraft and nature spirits.
The true value of any religion or philosophy lies in its basic teaching, often consisting of a single illuminating truth. All else is so much padding.
The only purpose in subscribing to a religion is to put its fundamental principles into practice. How far these primary tenets are projected into everyday life depends on the understanding and sincerity of the followers. Founders of different schools of thought have had to contend with human nature as they found it at a particular time, and so although they may themselves have visualized perfection their public teaching had to be limited to the spiritual and intellectual stature of their audiences. Then, also, there has sometimes been a tendency to "water down the wine" for the sake of weaker brethren.
According to English mystics, like Dr. Anna Kingsford and the Rev. J. Todd, this world and its inhabitants were once perfect, with life evolving according to the divine plan - in complete harmony, beauty, and with contact with hierarchical beings. But, through a misdirection of power the celestial outpouring was lost ; men descended in spiritual stature and many cataclysms overtook the earth: until it became the playground of negative forces and savagery, when the evil that men wrought produced degenerate forms and ferocious animals.
This is taught in The Markandeya Purana. "Picacas,
serpents, Raksasas, as well as envious beings, beasts, birds, alligators,
fishes, reptiles all, whether born of mothers or from eggs, were produced
Scientifically minded people will find this absurd, but their own findings may eventually lead them to the inescapable fact that the material world is an end- product of thought or force.
As has been taught in the East, every step of a way out
from the appointed path must be retrodden on the return - the karma
must be borne and expiated.
No other explanation of the present state of the world
and human nature so covers the facts as the idea of a descent, and the
struggle back over a path blazed by ourselves. We catch a glimpse of
the reason why we continually seek something better and why every man
has a deep longing in his heart for perfection - the perfection he once
enjoyed, and therefore remembers dimly; and why good only comes by self
sacrifice and self discipline. It also offers an acceptable explanation
for evil and the problem of vicious creatures.
It explains how great truths can be wrested from the inner
being and how those who have sought diligently and made steps homeward
can turn and illumine the path for others, even though they cannot make
the steps for them. Why all religious
Bearing these things in mind, as we meditate on diet,
we can see five stages of the return for God, being love, compassion
and perfection, would not create beastliness; it is man-made through
the falling away from righteousness :-
To a very great extent the importance of these stages
is the measure of return and the spirituality of religions.
Hinduism, in its pristine purity, is the shining light
of India. Its main tenet is the idea of an all embracing spirit permeating
the cosmos; Brahma being the One and Only Reality, the cause and ultimate
goal of all individuated things (jiva).
Hinduism has many polytheistic attachments and we see
no inconsistency in this principle, since the control of life force
must be hierarchical or through planes or manifestation - we see a pale
reflection in human government. There is no reason why acknowledgement
should not be made for specific aspects of deific ministry. It is only
the spirit and the way in which it is done which matters. Polytheism
is, in many respects, more logical and intimate than monotheism and
neither are antagonistic.
The teachings include the transmigration of souls (samsara).
It is one of the few religions which has extended the logical implications
of its principles to include all creatures.
The Brahmans are the priestly Hindu caste, but all Brahmans are not necessarily priests. Just as Christianity superimposed itself on existing paganism, it appears that Brahmanisin embraced the deities Vishnu and Siva to form a trinity. It may have been that in this way larger communities were drawn into the fold. In the case of Christianity the places of worship were frequently built on the original pagan ritual sites, so that, like a stream of ants, the original worshippers would continue to attend.
Believing in the unity of life and that all creature forms are vehicles for soul experience, sincere and illuminated Brahmans and Hindus have always been vegetarian.
In the Laws of Manu - the first man in Hindu mythology - we find: "He who does not willingly cause the pain of confinement and death to living beings, but desires the good of all, obtains endless bliss. He who injures no creature obtains without effort what he thinks of, what he strives for, and what he fixes his mind on. Fleshmeats cannot be procured without injury to animals, and the slaughter of animals is not conducive to heavenly bliss; from fleshmeat, therefore, let man abstain."
Yoga practices are, of course, systems of self-discipline for the mastery of the animal part of us and for the spiritual development of the inner being. Yoga teaching insists that vegetarianism is absolutely necessary for progress beyond a certain elementary point.
Hinduism has, in the Vedic hymns, the world's oldest scriptures, composed well before before 1000 B.C., and these are still unsurpassed in beauty. Hindu literature, has enriched the world with the Satapatha Brahmana, the Upanishads, the Laws of Manu, Mahabharata which includes the Bhagavad Gita; the Puranas, the Hatha-yoga Pradipika, and the Yoga Sutras.
That the wonderful Brahma concept of the unity of life and the need for compassion should have survived since the dawn of history, through ages of world darkness, is a tribute to the power of truth and the remarkable souls who have put the principle into everyday practice for thousands of years.
The debt of the world to India is beyond telling.
To the Moslem the Koran represents the actual word of God as spoken through His Prophet, Mohammed - the devout follower does not feel, therefore, that divergence from the literal word for word meaning of the Koran is possible. No question of tampering arise here as Mohammed is said to have written the Koran himself.
Islam presents a very difficult problem to anyone seeking justification for vegetarianism, but at least the Koran given us a picture of an all powerful God, i.e. a divine being at the centre and therefore omnipotent. Much of the text is taken up with admiration for ancient Hebraic characters, like Moses, who frequently spoke harshly against the Israelites' lust for flesh foods and propounded the commandment "Thou shalt not kill."
We must try to understand Mohammed and the problem with which he was faced. In the sixth century A.D. Arabia was a pagan country with warring tribes, delighting in the slaughter of their tribal enemies and the ritual sacrifice of animals. It would have been difficult to teach something which could not have been practised or which would have been looked upon as weak, though the main foods of Arabs are dates, rice, goat's milk, wheat bread, pulses, etc, with meat as a luxury.
So, though in the prayer of the Moslem, we find a full recognition of the deific quality of humaneness: "In the name of God, the compassionate compassioner...", we do not find the projection into everyday life - this was a limitation imposed, perhaps, by the times and the people.
Even so the Prophet put what restraint he could on the
lust for flesh, probably in the same spirit as the Jews made the Kosher
laws, i.e. - if flesh must be eaten then, at least observe these
precautions to avoid the worst effects. In Sura V, under the dedication
of "In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,"
we read: "That which dieth of itself, and blood, and swine's flesh,
and all that hath been sacrificed under invocation of any other name
than that of God, and the strangled, and the killed by a blow, or by
a fall, or by goring, and that which have been eaten by beasts of prey,
unless ye make it clean by giving the death stroke yourselves,
and that which hath been sacrificed on the blocks of stone, is forbidden
you." (This is almost word for word with the Jewish ordinance.)
Ramdhan, the time of fasting, is also a step towards self
discipline - a preliminary effort to curb the fierce, all consuming
passions and lusts of those wild times.
Vegetarianism in no way conflicts with Islamic teaching
but would be an extension and a wider interpretation of the concept
of an Omnipotent God. With present-day standards of living, there is
now no valid excuse, or reason, for living in the same manner as a barbaric
people who knew no better. As in other religions we see the chosen one
trying to reform prevailing conditions and bring culture and civilization
to the people with whom he found himself.
Christianity is the State religion of Britain, though
it has ever dwindling supporters, as thinking people reject the the
magical trappings still taught by the orthodox priests.
The Bible consists of a collection of ancient Hebrew histories
and the exhortations of prophets to reform the idol worshipping, flesh-eating
tribes; it also has varying accounts of the life and times of the Master
Jesus, together with the simple allegorical stories he is said to have
told to the pagans of his time. The Bible also includes the efforts
of the apostle Paul, who incidentally never met the Master, to deify
him; and stories of the crucifixion brought about by the claim that
Jesus was the long awaited Messiah and The Son of God. All these documents
were gathered together over a hundred years after the death of the Master
and called the Word of God - The Bible.
Yet gleaming through this unfortunate beginning are fragments
of eastern wisdom - the same all embracing, compassionate deity, the
love for man and all created life. Many of these utterances are still
word for word with Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and even Confucian
texts from which they have so obviously been borrowed.
It is these fragments which still hold people to Christianity,
rather than orthodox priestcraft, which still teaches that man's salvation
depends on his belief in the physical resurrection of the Master, his
divinity and so on. (Like many other founders of religions, his birth
was said to be by an immaculate conception and in lowly surroundings
- the ancient method of symbolism being taken literally.)
It should also be known that the Bible was thoroughly
edited by the Council of Nicea in the fourth century A. D. so that the
Roman Emperor Constantine could embrace Christianity yet retain the
flesh-pots of Rome. The Bible therefore can be
The Master (The Son of God) is depicted as a flesh-eater. But the present Bible is translated from the Greek and all words in the Gospels, which have been translated as meat (fleshmeats) and appear to implicate the Master, do in fact mean no such thing. They are (used several times each): - Broma, which simply food; Brosimos, that which may be eaten; Brosis, food or the act of eating; Prosphagion, any thing to eat; Trophe, nourishment, and Phago, to eat. All these Greek words have been rendered as meat, showing how a translator of no understanding of the attributes of a divine man (or advance Yogi) can betray a vital aspect of truth. (The translations from the Greek can be checked in any good Reference Library.)
Because we have little regard for orthodox Christianity, a distinct from some Christians, it should not be thought that many very noble souls have not been in and still are in its ranks. Nevertheless, in the light of new knowledge and Eastern wisdom the Church will have to make its choice of the path it treads. It has both the truth and the naked desires of fallen man.
Vegetarianism is not only implicit in the basic teachings of the Master Jesus - love and compassion - but is actually demanded in the text of the Old Testament much more so than flesh-eating.
The term Sikh means a disciple or chela and was bestowed by the founder, the Guru Nanak, who lived from A. D. 1469 to 1539. In the same way as Buddha and Mahavira were heretical to certain sacerdotal and social practices of orthodix Hinduism, so the first Guru is said to have rebelled against tyrannical aspects of Brahmanism and Islamism.
Though he kept the idea of one universal God he rejected the caste system and taught the equality of man. In the Granth, the Sikh sacred canon, idolatry, the burning of widows, the use of intoxicants and tobacco are prohibited. The best moral virtues f Christianity are advocated and the doctrines of transmigration of souls and predestination are emphasized. Baptism by water or the sword, form initiation into the sect - one is not necessarily born a Sikh.
There have been nine Gurus since Nanak, ending with Govind Singh in 1708. It is thought that each was an incarnation of Nanak.
The early Gurus were noted for their piety and simple ascetic lives in the tradition of highest Brahmanical practice, but the fifth, Arjan (1581-1606), found that Moslem persecution made force of arms necessary to preserve Sikhism. His son, Har Govind, turned the Sikhs into a military sect by attracting warriors and wrestlers into the community. He is said to have encouraged his followers to eat meat in the belief that it would give them greater strength. In this was, what started out purely as an ascetic religious movement, with high ideals, became almost a military organization.
Since only stalwart and rugged recruits were initiated, provided the five austerities were accepted, the fine physical qualities of the Sikhs are more likely to be due to selective breeding, very abstemious lives with emphasis on physical development, than to the meat they are supposed to have eaten - we agree, of course, that flesh-eating tends to produce ferociousness.
In point of fact, in the learned treatise on the diet of races and nations, Strength and Diet, by John Russell: the Sikh diet is given as being mainly vegetarian with wheat flour as the staple food.
Only the principles of a religion are important. Where they came from, who first started them, are facts only for passing interest. Yet the history of Jainism is of special interest.
Jainism was re-stated by Mahavira in the sixth century B. C.- a date confirmed by a mention of the Jains in the Buddhist Pali Pilakias, whose origin is authenticated. In the same way as Lao Tze is said to have merely enlarged on the already existing Taoism, so Mahavira gathered up the accumulated wisdom of a line of 24 previous Gurus or Tirthankaras (Jinas), and as the influence of Buddhism waned in India the smaller sect of Jains grew in importance. In many respects they were heretical to Buddhism and orthodox Brahminism.
In the beginning the Jains attached much importance to the virtue of non-adornment, believing that nakedness had great virtue (the Digamlbaras or "sky clad ones"), but later another group appeared called the white clad ones" (Svet-ambaras) ancl nakedness is now vary rare, though an occasional extremist may b found among the older generation.
Jainism may be said to be a metaphysical religion, with strong ethical observances. Everything has a soul or life force, not simply animals and men, but minerals and plants - an intellectual concept from prehistory which is just now being confirmed by material science. Scientist now acknowledge the fact that every particle of matter is caused by magnetism or is a line of force operating at a given wavelength. As we have stated many times - the terms or names given to particular aspects of life should not be allowed to confuse us. God, Brahma, Allah, Life Force, Divine Breath, Spirit, Magnetism, Cosmic Radiation, etc., may all be the same. Soul, radiation, nuclear energy there is no difference. Modes of expression belong to different planes of interpretation.
Believing that injury to any soul or living thing is one of the worst possible crimes, the Jains are strict vegetarians and always have been; and carry their observances to the logical conclusion of being as careful as possible in all their movements and activities. In Jainism we have the loftiest conception projected right through to the outward life. The only example of complete embodiment of principle of which we are aware.
As far as we know it is the oldest religion in the world, with the Vedas, and a further testimony that high ethical cultures existed long before anthropologists dream possible - long before Europe was experiencing its Stone Age - for we can be certain that great spiritual concepts are the gathering up of many ages of experience. In Jainism we have another heartening echo of the elusive Golden Age.
Jain literature in its present form goes back only to the 5th century A,D,, the Agamas, and were translnted into Sanskrit in about A.D. 1.000. Some old manuscripts are said to belong to the 3rd century B.C., but the older Purvas, on which they were based, have been lost.
The asceticism of the Jains may appear to be extreme and
impractical to most people, but their behaviour is logical. Their way
of life, utter kindliness and brilliant minds, prove that flesh-foods
and dairy produce, are not necessary for the peak of human attainment.
As world affairs develop, on the lines indicated in
Economic Considerations, the Jains will undoubtedly grow in influence
for they have the knowledge and practical experience which will be needed.
Whether our readers like the prospect or not, the Jain and other vegetarian
systems of living will become universal through dire necessity, unless
it is embraced willingly. It will be this or nothing.
The Parsees are of Persian origin and sought refuge in India in about the 7th century A. D. from Mohammedan persecution. They brought Zoroastrianism with them and so preserved this religion which has completely disappeared in the land which gave it birth.
At one time, it is said. the Hindus and Persians were
of one family - it is not surprising, therefore, to find a close similarity
between Zoroastrianism and the teaching of the Vedas. There is an equally
close similarity with Christianity, which was strongly influenced by
Zoroastrianism. (The stories of the flood and creation are Zoroastrian.)
There is no certain date for the life of Zoroaster or
Zirathushtra, but it is thought that 600 B.C., when so many great teachers
were re-stating ancient verities - Pythagoras, Buddha, Mahavira, Lao
Tze, Confucius - is the most likely time, though as in every case the
founder of an apparently new religion was merely re-interpreting already
The Avesta and Pahlavi texts are filled
with a, love for the earth, all growing things, and particularly for
man and the creatures. Again we have a God of love. Ahurn Mazda, but
this time opposed by the power of evil. In the Pahlavi text it
says : "For what purpose is a righteous man created for the world,
and in what manner is it necessary for him to exist in the world? The
reply is this, that the creator created creatures for progress, which
is his wish : and it is necessary for us to promote whatever is his
The Zoroastrians are generally supposed to be fire and
sun worshippers, but this is due to misunderstanding. The Zoroastrians
acknowledge their indebtedness to the sun as the seat of power and the
centre from which divine life force proceeds for this planet - a religious
way of expressing a scientific fact.
We do not know what proportion of Parsees carry their
tenets to the logical conclusion of vegetarianism, but many do and especially
the priests. A modern version of Zoroastrianism is found in the West,
the Mazdaznans (restated by Dr. O. Zar-Adusht Hanish, in our time) and
its members are strictly vegetarian.
Though Buddhism has but few representatives in India,
the country of its origin, it is still powerful in surrounding countries
and therefore exerts a considerable influence.
Gautama was born in 560 B.C. and the earliest Buddhist
Pali tests are the "three baskets" - the Vinaya, Sutta
and Abhidhamma Pitakas, though Buddhist literature is vast.
Again we have an attempt to be free from priestly orthodoxy. Gautama broke away to found a pure ethical and philosophical way of life without caste and outward observances to a God, Whom he felt could not be known and understood by a finite human mind. Buddhism is not an atheistic denial of God - the subject is merely relegated as being beyond comprehension and the individual Buddhist can believe what he chooses. (There is a wide tolerance in the East for individual outlooks which is not found in the West among schismatic sects.) Buddhism is, then, a blue-print for learning life's lessons, negativing evil, and attaining Nirvana.
The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddhist Dhamma with right views, aims, speech, conduct, livelihood, with non-hurtfulness to all living creatures; perseverance, right mindfulness and contemplation.
Buddhism, being of an intellectual nature, has been the
target for much mental gymnastics, but basically it is a teaching of
rectitude and kindliness - it is a matter of regret that a little flesheating
has come to be regarded as "the Middle Way." But many Buddhists
are still vegetarian and the Bhikkus mostly live a simple frugal life
causing harm to none.
To Summarize Religious Considerations.
We repeat: this is an age of re-assessment in the light
of scientific knowledge and wisdom - with discernment and discrimination.
Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the advanced beings who established creeds were men who were only later glamorized with divinity and miraculous births - their basic teachings are the only criterion.
To belong to a particular sect in name only and ignore the message of Ahimsa is a betrayal of all the Masters stood for.
All the founders of religions had the courage to break from degenerate practices to re-state underlying principles. We think the time has come for similar courage and understanding, so that the dross of our own dark ages can fall away and the true light be seen.