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Vegetarianism: Recommended in Vedic Scripture

By Stephen Knapp


       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 times 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 which explain 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.



       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)

       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 fiend does not desist by other means, then you should not hesitate to cut off his head.”

        "You must not use your God-given body for killing God's creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever."
(Yajur Veda 12.32.90)

       There are also references in the Mahabharata that forewarn the activity of eating flesh: “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)

       “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 realizes 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.

       In Bhagavad-gita, however, we also find similar verses on what is recommended for human consumption. Lord Krishna says, “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Bg.9.26) This means that not only should one be a vegetarian and eat only fruits, water, grains, vegetables, etc., but such items should be made as an offering to God with love. The reason is that, “The devotees of the Lord 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 what is offered are only those things that Krishna accepts. That becomes prasada, or remnants of foods offered to the Lord.

       As further elaborated in Bhagavad-gita by Lord Sri Krishna: “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.9.27)

       Herein 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 realizations. 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 spiritualized. 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.



athAto "brahma" zignAsA - Then thereafter be inquisitive to enquire about "the Absolute"