The earlier texts, such as the Rig-veda (10.87.16), also proclaim the need to give up the eating of slaughtered animals. “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 friend does not desist by other means, then you should not hesitate to cut off his head.”
“Those who are ignorant of real dharma and, though wicked and haughty, account themselves virtuous, kill animals without any feeling of remorse or fear of punishment. Further, in their next lives, such sinful persons will be eaten by the same creatures they have killed in this world.” (Bhagavata Purana 11.5.14)
The following verses are from the Tirukural:
How can he practice true compassion who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?
Riches cannot be found in the hands of the thriftless, nor can compassion be found in the hearts of those who eat meat.
He who feasts on a creature’s flesh is like he who wields a weapon. Goodness is never one with the minds of these two.
If you ask, “What is kindness and what is unkindness?” It is not-killing and killing. Thus, eating flesh is never virtuous.
Life is perpetuated by not eating meat. The jaws of Hell close on those who do.
If the world did not purchase and consume meat, no one would slaughter and offer meat for sale.
When a man realises that meat is the butchered flesh of another creature, he will abstain from eating it.
Insightful souls who have abandoned the passion to hurt others will not feed on flesh that life has abandoned.
Greater than a thousand ghee offerings consumed in sacrificial fires is to not sacrifice and consume any living creature.
All life will press palms together in prayerful adoration of those who refuse to slaughter or savor meat.
From these verses there should be no doubt that the Vedic shastra recommends that such selfish meat-eating must be given up if one has any concern for other living beings, or one’s own future existence, or for attaining any spiritual merit.
There are also references in the Mahabharata that forewarn the activity of eating flesh. This is in the Anushasana Parva section where there is a conversation between Yudhisthira and Grandfather Bhishma about the merits of abstaining from meat eating and the demerits and consequences for doing so. It is quite revealing. One quote is: “He who desires to augment his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures, lives in misery in whatever species he may take his [next] birth.” (Mahabharata, Anu. 115.47)
“The purchaser of flesh performs violence by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying its taste; the killer does violence by actually tying and killing the animal. Thus, there are three forms of killing. He who brings flesh or sends for it, he who cuts off the limbs of an animal, and he who purchases, sells, or cooks flesh and eats it—all these are to be considered meat-eaters.” (Mahabharata, Anu.115.40) All of these people will also incur the same karmic reactions for their participation in killing, distributing or eating the flesh of animals, as explained next.
“The sins generated by violence curtail the life of the perpetrator. Therefore, even those who are anxious for their own welfare should abstain from meat-eating.” (Mahabharata, Anu.115.33)
A more thorough and educational rendering of the teachings of Bhishma in the Mahabharata is as follows:
Bhishma started, “Numberless discourses took place between the Rishis on this subject, O scion of Kuru’s race. Listen, O Yudhisthira, what their opinion was. (115.7)
“The highly wise seven celestial Rishis, the Valakshillyas, and those Rishis who drink the rays of the sun, all speak highly of abstention from meat. The self-created Manu has said that the man who does not eat meat, or who does not kill living creatures, or who does not cause them to be killed, is a friend of all creatures. Such a man is incapable of being oppressed by any creature. He enjoys the confidence of all living beings. He always enjoys the praise of the pious. The virtuous Narada has said that man who wishes to multiply his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures meets with disaster. (115.9-12)
“That man, who having eaten meat, gives it up afterwards wins merit by such a deed that is so great that a study of all the Vedas or a performance, O Bharata, of all the sacrifices [Vedic rituals], cannot give its like. (115.16)
“That learned person who gives to all living creatures the gift of complete assurance is forsooth regarded as the giver of lifebreaths in this world. (115.18)
“Men gifted with intelligence and purified souls should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated. It is seen that even those men who are endued with learning and who seek to acquire the greatest good in the shape of liberation, are not free of the fear of death. (115.20)
“What necessity be said of those innocent and healthy creatures gifted with love of life, when they are sought to be killed by sinful wretches living by slaughter? Therefore, O King, know that the discarding of meat is the highest refuge of religion, of the celestial region, and of happiness. Abstention of injury [to others] is the highest religion. It is, again, the highest penance. It is also the highest truth from which all duty emanates. (115.21-23)
“Flesh cannot be had from grass or wood or stone. Unless a living creature is killed it cannot be procured. Hence is the fault of eating flesh. The celestials who live upon Svaha, Svadha, and nectar, are given to truth and sincerity. Those persons, however, who are for satisfying the sensation of taste, should be known as Rakshasas [flesh-eating demons] pervaded by the quality of darkness. (115.24-25)
“If there were nobody who ate flesh, then there would be nobody to slay living creatures. The man who slays living creatures kills them for the sake of the person who eats flesh. If flesh were not considered as food, there would then be no destruction of living creatures. It is for the sake of the eater that the destruction of living entities is carried on in the world. Since, O you of great splendor, the period of life is shortened by persons who kill living creatures or cause them to be killed, it is clear that the person who seeks his own good should give up meat altogether. Those dreadful persons who are engaged in the destruction of living beings never find protectors when they are in need. Such persons should always be molested and punished even as beast of prey. (115.29-32)
“That man who seeks to multiply his own flesh by (eating) the flesh of others has to live in this world in great anxiety, and after death has to take birth in indifferent races and families. High Rishis given to the observance of vows and self-control have said that abstention from meat is worthy of praise, productive of fame and Heaven, and a great satisfaction itself. This I heard formerly, O son of Kunti, from Markandeya when that Rishi discoursed on the sins of eating flesh. (115.34-36)
“He who purchases flesh, kills living creatures through his money. He who eats flesh, kills living beings through his eating. He who binds or seizes and actually kills living creatures is the slaughterer. These are the three sorts of slaughter through each of these acts. He who does not himself eat flesh but approves of an act of slaughter, becomes stained with the sin of slaughter. (115.38-39)
“That wretched man who kills living creatures for the sake of those who would eat them commits great sin. The eater’s sin is not as great. That wretched man who, following the path of religious rites and sacrifices as laid down in the Vedas, would kill a living creature from a desire to eat its flesh, will certainly go to hell. That man who having eaten flesh abstains from it afterwards acquires great merit on account of such abstention from sin. He who arranges for obtaining flesh, he who approves of those arrangements, he who kills, he who buys or sells, he who cooks, and he who eats it, [acquire the sin of those who] are all considered as eaters of flesh. [Therefore] that man who wishes to avoid disaster should abstain from the meat of every living creature. (115.44-48)
“Listen to me, O king of kings, as I tell you this, O sinless one, there is absolute happiness in abstaining from meat, O king. He who practices severe austerities for a century, and he who abstains from meat, are both equally meritorious. This is my opinion. (115.52-53)
“Yudhisthira said: Alas, those cruel men who, not caring for various other sorts of food, want only flesh, are really like great Rakshasas [meat-eating demons]. (116.1)
“Bhishma said: That man who wishes to increase his own flesh by the meat of another living creature is such that there is none meaner and more cruel than he. In this world there is nothing that is dearer to a creature than his life. Hence, one should show mercy to the lives of others as he does to his own life. Forsooth, O son, flesh has its origin in the vital seed. There is great sin attached to its eating, as, indeed, there is merit in abstaining from it. (116.11-13)
“There is nothing, O delighter of the Kurus, that is equal in point of merit, either in this world or in the next, to the practice of mercy to all living creatures. (116.19)
“Hence a person of purified soul should be merciful to all living creatures. That man, O king, who abstains from every kind of meat from his birth forsooth, acquires a large space in the celestial region. They who eat the flesh of animals who are desirous of life, are themselves [later] eaten by the animals they eat. This is my opinion. Since he has eaten me, I shall eat him in return. This, O Bharata, forms the character as Mamsah [meaning flesh] of Mamsah [me he, or “me he” will eat for having eaten him]. The destroyer is always slain. After him the eater meets with the same fate. (116.32-35)
“He who acts with hostility towards another becomes victim of similar deeds done by that other. Whatever acts one does in whatever bodies, he has to suffer the consequences thereof in those bodies. (116.36-37)
“Abstention from cruelty is the highest Religion. Abstention from cruelty is the greatest self-restraint. Abstention from cruelty is the highest gift. Abstention from cruelty is the highest penance. Abstention from cruelty is the highest sacrifice. Abstention from cruelty is the highest power. Abstention from cruelty is the greatest friend. Abstention from cruelty is the greatest happiness. (116.38-39)
“Gifts made in all sacrifices [rituals], ablutions performed in all sacred water, and the merit which one acquires from making all kinds of gifts mentioned in the scriptures, all these do not equal in merit abstention from cruelty.” (116.40)