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Religion and Vegetarianism 2
from IVU Newsletter, April/May 1996

In the last newsletter we presented two articles on religion and vegetarianism, one of which was concerned with the Christian approach. These have raised a good deal of interest. Richard H. Schwartz of New York, USA has written about his views on Judaism and vegetarianism and Mr R.N.Lakhotia, President of the Northern Zone of the Indian Vegetarian Congress, has written an article on 'Spirituality and Vegetarianism'. The comments of Dr Richard Schwartz and the article by Mr Lakhotia are presented here. Dr Schwartz is well known for his book on 'Judaism and Vegetarianism'.

Richard Schwartz writes:

I was pleased to see the articles on 'Religion and Vegetarianism' in the February/March issue. I believe that vegetarians should try to start respectful dialogues in religious communities about our diets, because there are major inconsistencies between basic religious values and the realities of modern livestock agriculture and the consumption of meat.

The following points are based on Jewish teachings, but they can easily be adapted to other religious perspectives.

1. While Judaism mandates that people be very careful about preserving their health and their lives, animal-centered diets have been linked to heart disease, several forms of cancer, stroke, and other degenerative diseases.

2. While Judaism stresses that people are to share their bread with hungry people, 70% of the grain grown in the united States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as 20 million people die annually because of hunger and its effects.

3. While Judaism teaches that 'the earth is the Lord's' and that people are to be partners with God in preserving the world and seeing that the wasteful use of food, land, water, energy and other resources, and contribute substantially to soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other habitats, and potential global warming.

4. While Judaism emphasises compassion for animals, animals are raised for food today under cruel conditions, in crowded cells, where they are denied fresh air, exercise and any emotional stimulation.

5. While Judaism stresses that people must seek and pursue peace and that violence results from unjust conditions, animal-centred diets, by wasting valuable resources, help to perpetuate the widespread hunger and poverty that eventually lead to instability and war.

In summary, in view of strong Jewish mandates to preserve health, help feed the hungry, protect the environment, conserve resources, be compassionate to animals, and seek and pursue peace, and the very negative effects animal-centred diets have in each of these areas, I hope that Jews and others who take religious values seriously will seriously consider switching to vegetarian diets.

An article presented in a lecture to a 1993 Jewish Vegetarian Conference entitled 'Resolution on Judaism and Vegetarianism' is available to anyone sending a request to the Hon. General Secretary with six international postal reply coupons.

Basis of Religion and Spirituality in Vegetarianism

by R. N. Lakotia

Most human beings in the world believe in one form of religion or another and are spiritual. But the surprising fact of modern life is that many of the so-called religious or spiritual persons who perform different types of worship, observe fasts, occasionally visit temple, mosque, church or other place of worship, visit a place of pilgrimage and even give donations etc., do not hesitate to eat non vegetarian food, either knowingly or unknowingly.

There are some people who do not believe in any orthodox religion as such but who are spiritually minded i.e. who are interested in the search for God, the spiritual soul. Such persons believe in the divinity of human beings and consider the soul as eternal and permeating every living creature in the world. A spiritual person considers the ultimate aim of life is liberation by establishing identity with the true nature of the soul through meditation or any other type of yoga or spiritual practice.

Unfortunately, even some of the so-called spiritual people are seen to be eating non-vegetarian food. Persons who are truly religious or spiritual by nature should never think of taking non-vegetarian food. They should be vegetarian. This article, by reference to the scriptures, saints and important people in the world that vegetarian food is the only food which should be taken by persons interested in religion or God or having faith in any type of religion or believing in spirituality. Thus such persons should not take any form of meat, fish, fowl or insect or any other food obtained by cruelty.

Ahimsa and Vegetarianism

An important element of almost all the great religions is compassion towards living creatures. This principle finds expression in the principle of 'Ahimsa' or 'Non-Violence'. The great sage Patanjali in his eightfold path of yoga has given the topmost priority to Ahimsa as the first 'Yama' to be observed by people interested in spirituality or the attainment of Godhead or realisation of the self. Likewise, the Vedas, Gita and the other great scriptures of the world all emphasise in one form or another the importance of Ahimsa. Ahimsa is only possible with a vegetarian way of life, and anyone who eats non-vegetarian food cannot be considered, in the true sense, as someone who believes in Ahimsa so having true compassion towards all living creatures. The spiritual traditions of compassion and Ahimsa led to Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution which enjoins on every citizen to have the fundamental duty to show compassion towards all living creatures.

Another aspect of spirituality as made clear in Taittiriya Upanishad spells out the chronology of creation of mankind by showing clearly that the cosmos had the reverse of the sound energy from 'OM' (the pranav) which came out of the throat of Brahma by the decree of the Spiritual Soul or Parmatama and this was gradually transformed to matter, air and gases from which came fire and gradually water, earth and plants. This matter was ultimately converted to plants by a cascade of creations and, ultimately, Mankind. Thus humans owe their creation and birth to plants. In essence, plants could be termed mankind's great great ......grand father.

'Anna' does not refer to any non-vegetarian food at all. Similarly, 'Anna' does not mean rice or wheat alone but all plant products eaten by human beings like rice, wheat, maize, sugar, vegetables, fruit etc. but 'Anna' or food does not mean animal food at all.

It cannot be gainsaid that every activity is proceeded by thoughts and thoughts, good or bad, are a result of the food we eat. If we eat 'satvik' food our thoughts become 'satvik' and we tend to become more kind, considerate and compassionate towards living creatures. That is why in 'Chandogya Upanishad' it has been said, 'Ahar shudhow sat vashudhow satwa shudhow dhruwa smriti', which means that if food is pure, the thoughts become pure and the memory is better. And, if thoughts become pure, they give rise to pure action.

Another aspect which requires a little clarification is the argument of some people that plants also have life so eating plants or vegetables may be considered as non vegetarian but this is not true.

This is because of the lack of proper understanding about the nature of creatures and consciousness. All creatures are generally classified into two groups (1) one organ creatures known as 'sthavar' and two, three, four or five organ creatures known as 'Tras'.

One organ creatures are those which do not have any blood or meat or bone in them. All plants, fruits and vegetables come into this category. The level of consciousness in such creatures is the lowest and all scriptures clearly ordain that eating one-organ plants or fruits does not result in killing and is not considered as violence. The food produced by killing two, three, four or five -organ creatures alone results in violence and killing and is considered as 'non-vegetarian'.

The level of consciousness is gradually higher and higher in creatures from two to five-organ. It is well recognised that food is the source of the body's chemistry and what we eat affects our consciousness, emotions and experimental pattern. Thus, if a person wants to live in higher consciousness, in peace and happiness and love for all creatures, then one must not eat meat, fish, shell fish, fowl or eggs. If one takes animal foods, one introduces anger into one's mind and body as well as jealousy, fear, anxiety and terrible fear of death, all of which are locked into the flesh of butchered creatures. That is why vegetarians or 'shakaharis' live in higher consciousness and non-vegetarians or 'Mansaharis' abide in lower consciousness.

Besides, vegetarian food is the only ideal food for human kind from the point of view of health, nutrition and environment as proven by scientific facts.

The above arguments are strengthened by the scriptural injunctions and sayings of great sages and men of the world, some of whom are quoted below:-

"One who partakes of human flesh, the flesh of a horse or of another animal and deprives others of milk by slaughtering cows, O King, if such a fiend does not desist by other means, then you should not hesitate to cut off his head."
- Rig Veda Samhita, 10.87.16

"But ...meat eating in any form, in any manner, and in any place is unconditionally and once and for all prohibited ...Meat eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit, I will not permit".
- Lord Buddha in the Lankavatara Sutra

"When a man realizes that meat is the butchered flesh of another creature, he must abstain from eating it."
- Tirukural, 257

"You must not use your God given body for killing God's creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever."
- Yajur Veda Samhita 12.32

"Persons who want to advance in the eternal spiritual path are advised to give up all violence towards other living entities by body, words or mind. There is no religion superior to this."
- Srimand Bhagavatam 7.15.8

"For whosoever eateth the fat of the beast of which men offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord, even the soul that eateth it shall be cut off from his people. And ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings."
- Leviticus 7:23-27

"Vegetarian food leaves a deep impression on our nature. If the whole world adopts vegetarianism, it can change the destiny of mankind."
- Albert Einstein

"Animals are our friends.....and I don't eat my friends."
- George Bernard Shaw

"I do not regard flesh food as necessary for us. I hold flesh food to be unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we are superior to it. The only way to live is to let live."
- Mahatma Gandhi

Thus it has been established that any person who is interested in calling himself a true religious person or a spiritual person and has true faith in God or Soul must take only vegetarian food and should never, under any circumstances, take non vegetarian food.

Contributions to IVU News are welcomed. Material published does not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or the policy of the International Vegetarian Union.