Vegetarianism: A Means to a Higher End
By Adiraja Dasa Christian Resources
The word vegetarian, coined by the founders of the British Vegetarian
Society in 1842, comes from the Latin word vegetus, meaning "whole,
sound, fresh, or lively," as in homo vegetus-a mentally and physically
vigorous person. The original meaning of the word implies a balanced
philosophical and moral sense of life, a lot more than just a diet of
vegetables and fruits.
Christmas is fast approaching and those of us used to celebrating the
occasion with the usual Yuletide orgy of eating and drinking will probably
be busy at the moment stocking up on all the essentials. But what if
turkey, ham, or smoked goose are not up your street? A sizeable
proportion of those sitting down to dinner in ten days will be pouring
cranberry sauce over dishes like almond and apricot nut-loaf or roasted
Blasphemy? No. it's called vegetarianism; and the country with the highest
concentration of non-meat eaters has got to be India.
"There are Indians who've grew up in totally vegetarian families who've
never even tasted meat; not even once," says Vinda Balbir, owner of Mrs.
Balbir's, the indian restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 11. "India has always had
a lot of vegetarians. Many of us believe that [domestic] animals are fed on
unclean food and that it is a sin to kill any living creature."
While religious/ethical beliefs and economic factors have a lot to do with
the profusion of "veggies" in the sub-continent more and more people,
particularly in the so called developed countries have given up meat and
other animal products for health reasons. Heart disease, once largely a
western phenomenon, has now become one of the major causes of death
in the over-50 age bracket in this region too. And although some medical
reports have challenged the accepted wisdom, there is still a large body of
evidence that indicates a strong link between high blood cholesterol levels
and diseases of the heart.
High cholesterol have been attributed (among other reasons) to an
excessive intake of saturated fats and since meat and dairy produce
contain a high proportion of these 'bad' fats, a growing number of people
are beginning to realize the benefits of a low-fat, meatless diet.
"And the advantages don't stop there," says Balbir. "We Indians believe
that vegetarians tend not to have such strong body odors, and that they
are much calmer in general."
The word "vegetable" is thought to have originated in England sometime in
the 17th century ("My vegetable love would grow" - Andrew Marvell, 17th
century English poet). It probably came from the Latin stem, vig/veg,
meaning "dynamic" and the veg variant early had plant associations
(presumably meaning "quietly gaining strength"). The London based, Irish
playwright, George Bernard Shaw, is usually credited with coining the term
"vegetarian" in the late 19th century.
"The word 'vegetarian'," says Balbir comes from the Latin word vegetus,
meaning 'whole, sound, fresh or lively.' But vegetarianism means much
more than just vegetables, fruit and a certain kind of diet. It's got a lot to
do with one's mental attitude too."
Balbir is convinced that people who eat a lot of meat suffer more from
stress-and tension-related ailments. She says meat often contain high
concentrations of adrenaline.
But Indian restaurants, particularly those that specialize in food from the
south of the subcontinent, always have a large selection of meatless
"There are many different kinds of vegetarians so when some come to my
restaurant, I always make sure to ask them first what type of vegetarian
they are so I know which dishes to recommend to them. Some of my
Western customers are strict vegetarians," says Balbir, "Others will eat fish
and seafood but not meat; and others are what are called
lacto-ovo-vegetarians - they won't eat beef, chicken, pork, or other meat
but don't mind eggs and milk."
In the West, some people call themselves vegetarians but will eat fish and
seafood but Balbir says that in her native country, the only animal
products a true vegetarian will consume are eggs and milk.
"We're much stricter about it in India. Some vegetarians worry about not
getting enough protein so they drink milk and yoghurt and put paneer [a
type of home made cheese] into curries and other dishes. Indian veggies
also eat a lot of soy bean curd [tofu], lentils, beans and legumes; this adds
protein and variety to their diet."
Vegetarianism has been practiced in India for centuries and the
subcontinent boasts several types of non-meat eaters not found in other
parts of the world.
"In northern India, where most of the Indians living in Bangkok originally
came from, there are a large number of Sikh vegetarian sects. We have
vegetarians who won't eat eggs and always cook at home. They are also
very particular about who prepares their food because they believe that if
a chef is angry, for example, his or her emotional vibrations could
contaminate the food and make the diner feel ill or irritable. People who
adhere to this type of vegetarianism can be identified by the blue belts
"We also have vegetarians who wear white turbans and will eat eggs but
no cheese or jelly. Then there are the flowers of Jain religion. Most Jains in
Bangkok work in the jewelry business. Apart from abstaining from meat
they also forgo garlic, onions, mushrooms and any vegetable that grows
under the ground because they believe eating plants like these inflames
the passions and makes a person crave more food."
During the annual tessagan jeh, people of Thai-Chinese extraction also
avoid pungent spices and vegetables in the onion family for the same
reason. To the uninitiated, many of the dishes eaten during the ten day
festival look remarkably like meat but if you dig in you'll find that the
roasted "duck" or "pork" is in fact made from textured vegetable protein
(TVP) - a Soya bean product - or wheat gluten.
Most vegetarians are people who have understood that to contribute
towards a more peaceful society we must first solve the problem of
violence in our own hearts. So it's not surprising that thousands of people
from all walks of life have, in their search for truth, become vegetarian.
Vegetarianism is an essential step towards a better society, and people
who take the time to consider its advantages, will be in the company of
such thinkers as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Clement of Alexandria,
Plutarch, King Asoka, Leonardo da Vinci, Montaigne, Akbar, John Milton,
Sir Isaac Newton, Emanuel Swedenbourg, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin,
Jean Jacques Rousear, Lamartine, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ralph Waldo
Emerson, Henry David
Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Rabindranath Tagore,
Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, and Albert Einstein.
Let's examine some of the advantages of becoming vegetarian.
Health and Nutrition
Can a vegetarian diet improve or restore health? Can it prevent certain
Advocates of vegetarianism have said yes for many years, although they
didn't have much support from modern science until recently. Now,
medical researchers have discovered evidence of a link between
meat-eating and such killers as heart disease and cancer, so they're giving
vegetarianism another look.
Since the 1960s, scientists have suspected that a meat-based diet is
somehow related to the development of arteriosclerosis and heart disease.
As early as 1961, the Journal of the American Medical Association said:
"Ninety to ninety-seven percent of heart disease can be prevented by a
vegetarian diet." Since that time, several well-organized studies have
scientifically shown that after tobacco and alcohol, the consumption of
meat is the greatest single cause of mortality in Western Europe, the
United States, Australia, and other affluent areas of the world.
The human body is unable to deal with excessive amounts of animal fat
and cholesterol. A poll of 214 scientists doing research on arteriosclerosis
in 23 countries showed almost total agreement that there is a link between
diet, serum cholesterol levels, and heart disease. When a person eats more
cholesterol than the body needs (as he usually does with a meat-centered
diet), the excess cholesterol gradually becomes a problem. It accumulates
on the inner walls of the arteries, constricts the flow of blood to the heart,
and can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes.
On the other hand, scientists at the University of Milan and Maggiore
Hospital have shown that vegetable protein may act to keep cholesterol
levels low. In a report to the British medical journal The Lancet, D.C.R.
Sirtori concluded that people with the type of high cholesterol associated
with heart disease "may benefit from a diet in which protein comes only
What about cancer? Research over the past twenty years strongly suggests
a link between meat-eating and cancer of the colon, rectum, breast, and
uterus. These types of cancer are rare among those who eat little or no
meat, such as Seventh-Day Adventists, Japanese, and Indians, but they
are prevalent among meat-eating populations."
Another article in The Lancet reported, "People living in the areas with a
high recorded incidence of carcinoma of the colon tend to live on diets
containing large amounts of fat and animal protein; whereas those who
live in areas with a low incidence live on largely vegetarian diets with little
fat or animal matter."
Rollo Russell, in his Notes on the Causation of Cancer, says, "I have found
of twenty-five nations eating flesh largely, nineteen had a high cancer rate
and only one had a low rate, and that of thirty-five nations eating little or
no flesh, none had a high rate."
Why do meat-eaters seem more prone to these diseases? One reason
given by biologists and nutritionists is that man's intestinal tract is simply
not suited for digesting meat. Flesh-eating animals have short intestinal
tracts (three times the length of the animal's body), to pass rapidly
decaying toxin-producing meat out of the body quickly. Since plant foods
decay more slowly than meat, plant-eaters have intestines at least six
times the length of the body. Man has the long intestinal tract of a
herbivore, so if he eats meat, toxins can overload he kidneys and lead to
gout, arthritis, rheumatism and even cancer.
And then there are the chemicals added to meat. As soon as an animal is
slaughtered, its flesh begins to putrefy, and after several days it turns a
sickly gray-green. The meat industry masks this discoloration by adding
nitrites, nitrates, and other preservatives to give the meat a bright red
color. But research has now shown many of these preservatives to be
carcinogenic. And what makes the problem worse is the massive amounts
of chemicals fed to livestock. Gary and Steven Null, in their book, Poisons
in your Body, show us something that ought to make anyone think twice
before buying another steak or ham. "The animals are kept alive and
fattened by continuous administration of tranquilizers, hormones,
antibiotics, and 2,700 other drugs. The process starts even before birth
and continues long after death. Although these drugs will still be present in
the meat when you eat it, the law does not require that they be listed on
Because of findings like this, the American National Academy of Sciences
reported in 1983 that "people may be able to prevent many common types
of cancer by eating less fatty meats and more vegetables and grains."
But wait a minute! Weren't human beings designed to be meat-eaters?
Don't we need animal protein?
The answer to both these questions is no. Although some historians and
anthropologists say that man is historically omnivorous, our anatomical
equipment - teeth, jaws, and digestive system-favors a fleshless diet. The
American Dietetic Association notes that "most of mankind for most of
human history has lived on vegetarian or near-vegetarian diets."
And much of the world still lives that way. Even in most industrialized
countries, the love affair with meat is less than a hundred years old. It
started with the refrigerator car and the twentieth-century consumer
But even in the twentieth century, man's body hasn't adapted to eating
meat. The prominent Swedish scientist Karl von Linne states, "Man's
structure, external and internal, compared with that of the other animals,
shows that fruit and succulent vegetables constitute his natural food." This
chart (under construction) compares the anatomy of man with that of
carnivorous and herbivorous animals.
As for the protein question, Dr. Paavo Airo, a leading authority on nutrition
and natural biology, has this to say: "The official daily recommendation for
protein has gone down from the 150 grams recommended twenty years
ago to only 45 grams today. Why? Because reliable worldwide research has
shown that we do not need so much protein, that the actual daily need is
only 35 to 45 grams. Protein consumed in excess of the actual daily need
is not only wasted, but actually causes serious harm to the body and is
even causatively related to such killer diseases as cancer and heart
disease. In order to obtain 45 grams of protein a day from your diet you do
not have to eat meat; you can get it from a 100 percent vegetarian diet of
a variety of grains, lentils, nuts, vegetables, and fruits."
Dairy products, grains, beans, and nuts are all concentrated sources of
protein. Cheese, peanuts, and lentils, for instance, contain more protein
per ounce than hamburger, pork, or porterhouse steak.
Still, nutritionists thought until recently that only meat, fish, eggs, and
milk product had complete proteins (containing the eight amino acids not
produced in the body), and that all vegetable proteins were incomplete
(lacking one or more of these amino acids). But research at the Karolinska
Institute in Sweden and the Max Plank Institute in Germany has shown
that most vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and grains are excellent sources
of complete proteins. In fact, their proteins are easier to assimilate than
those of meat-and they don't bring with them any toxins. It's nearly
impossible to lack protein if you eat enough natural unrefined food.
Remember, the vegetable kingdom is the real source of all protein.
Vegetarians simply eat it "direct" instead of getting it second-hand from
the vegetarian animals.
Too much protein intake even reduces the body's energy. In a series of
comparative endurance tests conducted by Dr. Irving Fisher of Yale
University, vegetarians performed twice as well as meat-eaters. When Dr.
Fisher knocked down the non-vegetarians protein consumption by twenty
percent, their efficiency went up by thirty-three percent. Numerous other
studies have shown that a proper vegetarian diet provides more nutritional energy than meat. A study by Dr. J. Iotekyo and V. Kipani at Brussels University showed that vegetarians were able to perform physical tests two to three times longer than meat-eaters before tiring out-and the
vegetarians fully recovered from fatigue three times more quickly than the meat-eaters.
Meat feeds few at the expense of many. For the sake of producing meat,
grain that could feed people feeds livestock instead. According to
information compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture, over ninety percent of all the grain produced in America goes to feed
livestock-cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens-that wind up on dinner tables.
Yet the process of using grain to produce meat is incredibly wasteful.
Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that for every
sixteen pounds of grain fed to cattle, we get back only one pound of meat.
In Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappe asks us to imagine
ourselves sitting down to an eight-ounce steak. "Then imagine the room
filled with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls in from of them. For the 'feed
cost' of your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of
cooked cereal grains."
Affluent nations do not only waste their own grains to feed livestock, they
also use protein-rich plant foods from poor nations. Dr. Georg Borgstrom,
an authority on the geography of food, estimates that one-third of Africa's
peanut crop (and peanuts give the same amount of protein as meat) ends
up in the stomachs of cattle and poultry in Western Europe.
In underdeveloped countries, a person consumes an average of four
hundred pounds of grain a year, most of it by eating it directly. In contrast, says world food authority Lester Brown, the average European or American goes through two thousand pounds a year, by first feeding almost ninety percent of it to animals for meat. The average European or American meat-eater, Brown says, uses five times the food resources of the average Colombian, Indian, or Nigerian.
Facts such as these have led food experts to point out that the world
hunger problem is artificial. Even now, we are already producing more
than enough food for everyone on the planet-but we are allocating it
Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer estimates that bringing down meat
production by only ten percent would release enough grain to feed sixty
Another price we pay for meat-eating is degradation of the environment.
The heavily contaminated runoff and sewage form slaughterhouses and
feedlots are major sources of pollution of rivers and streams. It is fast
becoming apparent that the fresh water resources of this planet are not
only becoming contaminated but also depleted, and the meat industry is
particularly wasteful. Georg Borgstrom says the production of livestock
created ten times more pollution than residential areas, and three times
more than industry.
In their book Population Resources, and Environment, Paul and Anne
Ehrlich show that to grow one pound of wheat requires only sixty pounds
of water, whereas production of one pound of meat requires anywhere
from 2,500 to 6,000 pounds of water.
And in 1973 the New York Post uncovered a shocking misuse of this most
valuable resource-one large chicken-slaughtering plant in the United
States was using one hundred mission gallons of water daily, and amount
that could supply a city of twenty-five thousand people.
But now let's turn from the world geopolitical situation, and get right down
to our own pocketbooks. A spot check of supermarkets in New York in
January 1986 showed that sirloin steak cost around four dollars a pound,
while ingredients for a delicious, substantial vegetarian meal average less
than two dollars a pound. An eight ounce container of cottage cheese
costing sixty cents provides sixty percent of the minimum daily
requirement of protein. Becoming a vegetarian could potentially save you
at least several thousand dollars a year, tens of thousands of dollars over
the course of a lifetime. The savings to America's consumers would amount to billions of dollars annually. And the same principle applies to consumers all over the world. Considering all this, it's hard to see how anyone could afford not to become a vegetarian.
Many people consider the ethical reasons the most important of all for
becoming vegetarian. The beginning of ethical vegetarianism is the
knowledge that other creatures have feelings, and that their feelings are
similar to ours. This knowledge encourages one to extend personal
awareness to encompass the suffering of others.
In an essay titled "The Ethics of Vegetarianism," from the journal of the
North American Vegetarian Society, the conception of "humane animal
slaughter" is refuted. "Many people nowadays have been lulled into a
sense of complacency by the thought that animals are now slaughtered
'humanely', thus presumably removing any possible humanitarian
objection to the eating of meat. Unfortunately, nothing could be further
from the actual facts of life...and death.
The entire life of a captive 'food animal' is an unnatural one of artificial
breeding, vicious castration and/or hormone stimulation, feeding of an
abnormal diet for fattening purposes, and eventually long rides in intense
discomfort to the ultimate end. The holding pens, the electric prods and
tail twisting, the abject terror and fright, all these are still very much a
part of the most 'modern' animal raising, shipping, and slaughtering. To
accept all this and only oppose the callous brutality of the last few seconds
of the animal's life, is to distort the word 'humane'."
The truth of animal slaughter is not at all pleasant-commercial
slaughterhouses are like visions of hell. Screaming animals are stunned by hammer blows, electric shock, or concussion guns. They are hoisted into the air by their feet and moved through the factories of death on
mechanized conveyor systems. Still alive, their throats are sliced and their flesh is cut off while they bleed to death. Why isn't the mutilation and slaughter of farm animals governed by the same stipulations intended for the welfare of pets and even the laboratory rat?
Many people would no doubt take up vegetarianism if they visited a
slaughterhouse, or if they themselves had to kill the animals they ate.
Such visits should be compulsory for all meat eater..
Pythagoras, famous for his contributions to geometry and mathematics,
said, "Oh, my fellow men, do not defile your bodies with sinful foods. We
have corn, we have apples bending down the branches with their weight,
and grapes swelling on the vines. There are sweet-flavored herbs, and
vegetables which can be cooked and softened over the fire, nor are you
denied mild or thyme-scented honey. The earth affords a lavish supply of
riches of innocent foods, and offers you banquets that involve no
bloodshed or slaughter, only beasts satisfy their hunger with flesh, and not even all of those, because horses, cattle, and sheep live on grass."
In an essay titled On Eating Flesh, the Roman author Plutarch wrote: "Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstinence from flesh? For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of mind the first man touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, set forth tables of dead, stale bodies, and ventured to call food and nourishment the pets that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived... It is certainly not lions or wolves that we eat out of self-defense; on the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us. For the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life they are entitled to by birth and being."
Plutarch then delivered this challenge to flesh-eaters: "If you declare that
you are naturally designed for such a diet, then first kill for yourself what
you want to eat. Do it, however only through your own resources, unaided by cleaver or cudgel or any kind of ax."
The poet Shelly was a committed vegetarian. In his essay A Vindication of
Natural Diet, he wrote, "Let the advocate of animal food force himself to a
decisive experiment on its fitness, and as Plutarch recommends, tear a
living lamb with his teeth and plunging his head into its vitals, slake his
thirst with the steaming blood...then, and then only, would he be
Leo Tolstoy wrote that by killing animals for food, "Man suppresses in
himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity-that of sympathy and
pity toward living creatures like himself-and by violating his own feelings
becomes cruel." He also warned, "While our bodies are the living graves of
murdered animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on earth?"
When we lose respect for animal life, we lose respect for human life as
well. Twenty-six hundred years ago, Pythagoras said, "Those that kill
animals to eat their flesh tend to massacre their own." We're fearful of
enemy guns, bombs, and missiles, but can we close our eyes to the pain
and fear we ourselves bring about by slaughtering, for human
consumption, over 1.6 billion domestic mammals and 22.5 billion poultry a year. The number of fish killed each year is in the trillions. And what to
speak of the tens of millions of animals killed each year in the
"torture-camps" of medical research laboratories, or slaughtered for their
fur, hide, or skin, or hunted for "sport". Can we deny that this brutality
makes us more brutal too?
Leonardo da Vinci wrote, "Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality
exceeds theirs. We live by the death of others. We are burial places!" He
added, "The time will come when men will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men."
Mahatma Gandhi felt that ethical principles are a stronger support for
lifelong commitment to a vegetarian diet than reasons of health. "I do
feel," he stated, "that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that
we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our
bodily wants." He also said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral
progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
All major religious scriptures enjoin man to live without killing
unnecessarily. The Old Testament instructs, "Thou shalt not kill." (Exodus
20:13) This is traditionally misinterpreted as referring only to murder. But the original Hebrew is lo tirtzach, which clearly translates "Thou shalt not kill." Dr. Reuben Alcalay's Complete Hebrew/English Dictionary says that the word tirtzach, especially in classical Hebrew usage, refers to "any kind of killing," and not necessarily the murder of a human being.
Although the Old Testament contains some prescriptions for meat-eating,
it is clear that the ideal situation is vegetarianism, In Genesis (1:29) we
find God Himself proclaiming, "Behold, I have given you every
herb-bearing tree, in which the fruit of the tree yielding seed, it unto you
shall be for meat." And in later books of the Bible, major prophets
For many Christians, major stumbling blocks are the belief that Christ ate
meat and the many references to meat in the New Testament. But close
study of the original Greek manuscripts shows that the vast majority of the words translated as "meat" and "trophe, brome," and other words that
simply mean "food" or "eating" in the broadest sense. For example, in the
Gospel of St. Luke (8:55) we read that Jesus raised a woman from the
dead and "commanded to give her meat." The original Greek word
translated as "meat" is "phago," which means only "to eat." The Greek
word for meat is kreas ("flesh"), and it is never used in connection with
Christ. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any direct reference to
Jesus eating meat. This is in line with Isaiah's famous prophecy about
Jesus's appearance, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and
shall call him name Emmanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good."
In Thus Spoke Mohammed (the translation of the Hadith by Dr. M.Hafiz
Syed), the disciples of the prophet Mohammed ask him, "Verily are there
rewards for our doing good to quadrupeds, and giving them water to
drink?" Mohammed answers, "There are rewards for benefiting every
Lord Buddha is known particularly for His preaching against animal killing.
He established ahimsa (nonviolence) and vegetarianism as fundamental
steps on the path of self-awareness and spoke the following two maxims,
"Do not butcher the ox that plows thy fields," and "Do not indulge a
voracity that involves the slaughter of animals."
The Vedic scriptures of India, which predate Buddhism, also stress
nonviolence as the ethical foundation of vegetarianism. "Meat can never
be obtained without injury to living creatures," states the ,manu-samhita,
the ancient Indian code of law, "Let one therefore shun the use of meat."
In another section, the Manu-samhita warns "Having well considered the
disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of
corporeal beings, let one entirely abstain form eating flesh." In the
Mahabharata (the epic poem which contains 100,000 verses and is said toe be the longest poem in the world), there are many injunctions against
killing animals. Some examples: "He who desires to increase the flesh of
his own body by eating the flesh of other creatures lives in misery in whatever species he may take his birth."; "Who can be more cruel and selfish than he who augments his flesh by eating the flesh of innocent animals?"; and "Those who desire to possess good memory, beauty, long life with perfect health, and physical, moral and spiritual strength, should abstain form animal food."
All living entities possess a soul. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna describes
the soul as the source of consciousness and the active principle that
activates the body of every living being. According to the Vedas, a soul in a form lower than human automatically evolves to the next higher species, ultimately arriving at the human form. Only in the human form of life can the soul turn its consciousness towards God and at the time of death be transferred back to the spiritual world. In both the social order and the universal order, a human being must obey laws.
In his Srimad-Bhagavatam purports, Srila Prabhupada says, "All living
entities have to fulfill a certain duration for being encaged in a particular
type of material body. They have to finish the duration allotted in a
particular body before being promoted or evolved to another body. Killing
an animal or any other living simply places an impediment in the way of
his completing his term of imprisonment in a certain body. One should
therefore not kill bodies for one's sense gratification, for this will implicate
one in sinful activity." In short, killing an animal interrupts its progressive
evolution through the species, and the killer will invariably suffer the
reaction for this sinful behavior.
In the Bhagavad-gita (5.18) Krishna explains that spiritual perfection
begins when one can see the equality of all living beings, "The humble
sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and
gentle brahmana (a priest), a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater
(outcast)." Krishna also instructs us to adopt the principles of spiritual
vegetarianism when He states, "Offer Me with love and devotion a fruit, a
flower, a leaf, or water, and I will accept it."
The Sanskrit word karma means "action", or more specifically, any
material action that brings a reaction that binds us to the material world.
Although the idea of karma is generally associated with Eastern
philosophy, many people in the West are also coming to understand that
karma is a natural principle, like time or gravity, and no less inescapable.
For every action there is a reaction. According to the law of karma, if we
cause pain and suffering to other living beings, we must endure pain and
suffering in return, both individually and collectively. We reap what we
sow, in this life and the next, for nature has her own justice. No one can
escape the law of karma, except those who understand how it works.
To understand how karma can cause war, for example, let's take an
illustration from the Vedas. Sometimes a fire starts in a bamboo forest
when the trees rub together. The real cause of the fire however, is not the trees but the wind that moves them. The trees are only the instruments. In the same way, the principle of karma tell us that the United States and the Soviet Union are not the real causes of the friction that exists between them, the friction that may well set off the forest fire of nuclear war. The real cause is the imperceptible wind of karma generated by the world's supposedly innocent citizens.
According to the law of karma, the neighborhood supermarket or
hamburger stand (the local abortion clinic too, but that could be the
subject for another book) has more to do with the threat of nuclear war
than the White House or the Kremlin. We recoil with horror at the
prospects of nuclear war while we permit equally horrifying massacres
every day of the world's automated slaughterhouses.
The person who eats an animal may say that he hasn't killed anything, but when he buys his neatly packaged meat at the supermarket he is paying someone else to kill for him, and both of them bring upon themselves the reactions of karma. Can it be anything but hypocritical to march for peace and then go to McDonald's for a hamburger or go home to grill a steak?
This is the very duplicity that George Bernard Shaw condemned:
We pray on Sundays that we may have light to guide our footsteps on the
path we tread; We are sick of war, we don't want to fight, and yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
As Srila Prabhupada says in his explanations of Bhagavad-gita, "Those who kill animals and give them unnecessary pain-as people do in
slaughterhouses-will be killed in a similar way in the next life and in many
lives to come...In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, it is stated clearly 'Thou
shalt not kill.' Nonetheless, giving all kinds of excuses, even the heads of
religion indulge in killing animals and, at the same time, try to pass as
saintly persons. This mockery and hypocrisy in human society brings about unlimited calamities such as great war, where masses of people go out onto the battlefields and kill each other. Presently they have discovered the nuclear bomb, which is simply waiting to be used for wholesale destruction." Such are the effects of karma.
Those who understand the laws of karma, know that peace will not come
from marches and petitions, but rather form a campaign to educate people
about the consequences of murdering innocent animals (and unborn
children). That will go a long way toward preventing any increase in the
world's enormous burden of karma. To solve the world's problems we need
people with purified consciousness to perceive that the real problem is a
spiritual one. Sinful people will always exist, but they shouldn't occupy
positions of leadership.
One of the most common objections non-vegetarians raise against
vegetarianism is that vegetarians still have to kill plants, and that this is
also violence. In response it may be pointed out that vegetarian foods such as ripe fruits and many vegetables, nuts, grains, and milk do not require any killing. But even in those cases where a plant's life is taken, because plants have a less evolved consciousness than animals, we can presume that the pain involved is much less than when an animal is slaughtered, what to speak of the suffering a food-animal experiences throughout its life.
It's true vegetarians have to kill some plants, and that is also violence, but we do have to eat something, and the Vedas say, jivo jivasya jivanam: one living entity is food for another in the struggle for existence. So the problem is not how to avoid killing altogether-and impossible proposal-but how to cause the least suffering to other creatures while meeting the nutritional needs of the body.
The taking of any life, even that of a plant, is certainly sinful, but Krishna,
the supreme controller, frees us from sin by accepting what we offer.
Eating food first offered to the Lord is something like a soldier's killing
during wartime. In a war, when the commander orders a man to attack,
the obedient soldier who kills the enemy will get a medal. But if the same
soldier kills someone on his own, he will be punished. Similarly, when we
eat only prasada, we do not commit any sin. This is confirmed in the
Bhagavad-gita (3.13) "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 enjoyment, eat only sin." this brings us to the central theme of this book: vegetarianism, although essential, is not an end in itself.
Beyond concerns of health, economics, ethics, religion, and even karma,
vegetarianism has a higher, spiritual dimension that can help us develop
our natural appreciation and love of God. Srila Prabhupada tells us in his
explanations of Srimad-Bhagavatam, "The human being is meant for
self-realization, and for that purpose he is not to eat anything that is not
first offered to the Lord. The Lord accepts from His devotee all kinds of
food preparations made from vegetables, fruits, milk products, and grains.
Different varieties of fruits, vegetables, and milk products can be offered to the Lord, and after the Lord accepts the foodstuffs, the devotee can
partake of the prasada, by which all suffering in the struggle for existence
will be gradually mitigated.
Krishna Himself confirmed the divinity of prasada when He appeared in
this world as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, 500 years ago: "Everyone has
tasted these material substances before, but now, these same ingredients
have taken on extraordinary flavors and uncommon fragrances. Just taste
them and see the difference. Not to mention the taste, the fragrance alone pleases the mind and makes one forget all other sweetnesses. It is to be understood therefore, that these ordinary ingredients have been touched by the transcendental nectar of Krishna's lips and imbued with all of Krishna's qualities."
Offered food, traditionally called prasada, "the mercy of God," offers not
only the healthy life of a vegetarian, but also God realization; not just food for the starving masses, but spiritual nourishment for everyone. When Krishna accepts an offering, He infuses His own divine nature into it. Prasada, therefore, is not different from Krishna Himself. Out of His
unbounded compassion for the souls entrapped in the material world,
Krishna comes in the form of prasada, so that simply by eating, we can
come to know Him.
Eating prasada nourishes the body spiritually. By eating prasada not only
are past sinful reactions in the body vanquished, but the body becomes
immunized to the contamination of materialism. Just as a antiseptic
vaccine can protect us against a epidemic, eating prasada protects us from
the illusion and influence of the materialistic conception of life. Therefore,
a person who eats only food offered to Krishna, can counteract all the
reactions of one's past material activities, and readily progress in
self-realization. Because Krishna frees us from the reactions of karma, or
material activities, we can easily transcend illusion and serve Him in
devotion. One who acts without karma can dovetail his consciousness with
God's and become constantly aware of His personal presence. This is the
true benefit of prasada.
One who eats prasada is actually rendering devotional service to the Lord
and is sure to receive His blessings. Srila Prabhupada often said that by
eating prasada even once we can escape from the cycle of birth and death, and by eating only prasada even the most sinful person can become a saint. The Vedic scriptures speak of many people whose lives were transformed by eating prasada, and any Hare Krishna devotee will vouch for the spiritual potency of prasada and the effect it has had on his life.
Eating only food offered to Krishna is the ultimate perfection of the
vegetarian diet. After all, pigeons and monkeys are also vegetarian, so
becoming a vegetarian is not in itself the greatest of accomplishments. The Vedas inform us that the purpose of human life is to reawaken the soul to its relationship with God, and only when we go beyond vegetarianism to prasada can our eating be helpful in achieving this goal.