Many times there seems to be some confusion or lack of clarity on whether the Vedic path condones or condemns the eating of meat. Often, I hear Indians and followers of the Vedic path explain that meat eating is all right, that the Vedic shastras do not condemn it. Of course, in this day and age meat eating includes and supports the whole meat industry, which is the systematic slaughter of thousands of animals on a daily basis. But if we actually research the Vedic texts we will find that there are numerous references in the various portions of the Vedic literature that explains in no uncertain terms the karmic dangers of meat-eating and unnecessary animal slaughter. These indicate that meat eating should be given up for one’s spiritual and even material progress. This means that the Vedic conclusions that some people present for meat-eating are not accurate, and that they have never studied their own religious books very thoroughly. This is something that is important to understand, so let us take a look.
Sri Krishna’s instructions on what to eat in Bhagavadgita
Many people question what Sri Krishna says, or if He says anything at all, about whether to be vegetarian or not. Actually, He provides some important insights. Sri Krishna says in Bhagavad-Gita: “The devotees of the Bhagwan are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (BG.3.13)
So, food should be first offered in sacrifice, or ritual, but what ritual is this? He explains quite clearly that all food, as well as anything else, should first be offered to Him. “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it. O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me. In this way you will be freed from all reactions to good and evil deeds, and by this principle of renunciation you will be liberated and come to Me.” (BG. 9.26-28)
Herein it is clear that food should be first prepared for offering the Bhagwan, but with love. You can often see this in temples wherein the food is cooked with the intention of preparing it with love and then offering it before the Deities of Sri Krishna with love. Thereafter, the devotees take the remnants and distribute amongst them as offered food. This becomes prasadam, or the spiritually surcharged food that is the mercy of the Bhagwan, and which purifies our consciousness by honoring it through the process of respectfully eating it.
Furthermore, what is meant to be offered to the Bhagwan is outlined as a leaf (most vegetables consist of leafy substances), flowers or fruits (which consist of grains, nuts, and fruits and juices), and water. Thus, no meat is mentioned. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that food that is acquired through cruelty is in the mode of tamas, or darkness and ignorance, or in the mode of rajas, passion, which causes pain and distress to both the eater and the eaten. This is completely counterproductive to our own well-being, both in the present and in our future, and certainly causes pain and suffering to others. So, how can this be beneficial to anyone’s spiritual, mental, emotional, and subtle development? As Sri Krishna explains:
“Even food of which all partake is of three kinds, according to the three modes of material nature. The same is true of sacrifices, austerities and charity. Listen, and I shall tell you of the distinctions of these. Foods in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such nourishing foods are sweet, juicy, fattening and palatable. Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, pungent, dry, and hot, are liked by people in the mode of passion. Such foods cause pain, distress, and disease. Food cooked more than three hours before being eaten, which is tasteless, stale, putrid, decomposed and unclean, is food liked by people in the mode of ignorance.” (BG.17.7-10)
Herein, it is clear that pure and wholesome vegetarian foods are what is needed for our own refinement, health, strength, and happiness, while other kinds of food cause pain, suffering and disease. It does not take much comparative study to recognise this.
Furthermore, we can see that the process of preparing and eating food is also a part of the Vedic system for making spiritual advancement. As the Vedic literature explains, what we eat is an important factor in the process of purifying ourselves and remaining free from accumulating bad karma. It actually is not so difficult to be vegetarian, and it gives one a much higher taste in eating and in one’s spiritual realisations. The level of our consciousness is also determined not only by what we think and do, but also by the vibrational level of what we put into our bodies as food. The more natural and peaceful the food, the more healthy and peaceful will be our consciousness. If it is further blessed and offered to the Lord, then it becomes especially powerful and spiritualised. This vibration goes into our own bodies and is assimilated by our consciousness to assist us in our spiritual upliftment.
However, if we eat foods that are the remnants of animals that were petrified with fear before being slaughtered, or were tortured during the slaughter process, that fear, aggression and suffering will also become a part of our own consciousness, which is reflected back on our own life and the people with whom we come in contact. And people wonder why there is not more peace in the world.
Another reason why no meat is mentioned as being acceptable to Sri Krishna is that the soul, which is a part and parcel of the Lord Himself, is equally present in not only humans, but all species of life.
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [or outcaste].” (BG.5.18) Thus, a wise person recognises the value of life, the soul, within all species of living beings. Because he recognises the soul in all bodies, he does not cause any cruelty to them. Cruelty or suffering inflicted on any living being will certainly cause harm to ourselves and regression in our own development, spiritual or otherwise. Compassion and kindness to all beings is how we make spiritual progress. Is there anything that is really more important that this? As Sri Krishna explains:
“One who is not envious but who is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor, who is free from false ego and equal both in happiness and distress, who is always satisfied and engaged in devotional service with determination and whose mind and intelligence are in agreement with Me—he is very dear to Me.” (BG.12.13-14)
Thus, how can we be kind to all living entities if we are looking at them as if they would be our next meal? This is not compassion, concern for others, or kindness. It is no different than the way animals look at each other with the intent to eat another being, or with fear to keep from being eaten. As human beings, we should be better than that, certainly more developed than carrying a mere animal mentality within ourselves. Meat cannot be acquired without violence to others, and unwarranted violence toward others offers nothing elevating to anyone. It is hardly God’s philosophy to be a friend to humans but an enemy to animals by wanting to slaughter and eat them. What can be more thoughtless and evil than that? Thus, this sort of nonviolence that is exhibited towards others, as when one abstains from eating meat, is a godly quality, as Sri Krishna further explains in Bhagavadgita (16.2-3): ahimsa or nonviolence is one of the transcendental qualities that belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.
Vedic references against meat-eating and animal slaughter
To start with, the Manu-samhita clearly and logically recommends that, “Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to the attainment of heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun the use of meat. Having well considered the disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let him entirely abstain from eating flesh.” (Manu-Samhita 5.48-49)
However, it is not simply the person who eats the meat that becomes implicated by eating the dead animal, but also those who assist in the process. “He who permits the slaughter of an animal, he who cuts it up, he who kills it, he who buys or sells meat, he who cooks it, he who serves it up, and he who eats it, must all be considered as the slayers of the animal. There is no greater sinner than that man who though not worshiping the gods or the ancestors, seeks to increase the bulk of his own flesh by the flesh of other beings.” (Manu-Samhita 5.51-52)
As we get further into the Manu-Samhita, there are warnings that become increasingly more serious. For example, “If he has a strong desire (for meat) he may make an animal of clarified butter or one of flour (and eat that); but let him never seek to destroy an animal without a (lawful) reason. As many hairs as the slain beast has, so often indeed will he who killed it without a (lawful) reason suffer a violent death in future births.” (Manu-Samhita 5.37-38)
In this way, the only time to carry out the need to kill animals for consumption is when there is an emergency such as when there simply is nothing else to eat. Otherwise, when there are plenty of grains, vegetables, fruits, etc., to eat, it is only mankind’s lust and selfish desires that motivate one to kill other beings to satisfy one’s tongue by tasting their blood and flesh, or to fatten one’s wallet by making money from participating in the distribution or the cooking of meat. Such violent actions create opposite reactions. For this reason the warnings are given, “He who injures harmless creatures from a wish to give himself pleasure, never finds happiness in this life or the next.” (Manu-Samhita 5.45)
Nonetheless, there are also benefits that are mentioned that a person can attain simply by not eating the bodies of other creatures: “By subsisting on pure fruits and roots, and by eating food fit for ascetics in the forest, one does not gain so great a reward as by entirely avoiding the use of flesh. Me he [mam sah] will devour in the next world, whose flesh I eat in this life; the wise declare this to be the real meaning of the word ‘flesh’ [mam sah].” (Manu-Samhita 5.54-55)
“He who does not seek to cause the sufferings of bonds and death to living creatures, (but) desires the good of all (beings), obtains endless bliss. He who does not injure any (creature) attains without an effort what he thinks of, what he undertakes, and what he fixes his mind on.” (Manu-Samhita 5.46-47)
Also, “By not killing any living being, one becomes fit for salvation.” (Manu-Samhita 6.60)
(to be concluded)