The Non Vegetarian Debate

It has been some time since I have written a blog - mostly due to paucity of time and partly due to lack of a topic which would create interest in me to take out time and write one. Finally here is one and the topic must have given in on what sparked this interest in me.
Recently, by the grace of my Divine Master - Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Swami), we had the good fortune of having the opportunity to conduct a Winter course for Sai youth. The course was mainly on being able to practically implement the teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba in daily life.
Among other things, it brought out some interesting viewpoints on how youth of today perceive Swami's teachings and what they feel about some of these being easy to practice or otherwise.
It reminded me of many wonderful experiences and interactions I was fortunate to have with Swami in my younger days and also some insights I got by interacting with seniors who had a lot of guidance from Swami. Among many things that were discussed and brought to light, one of the topics that was discussed was about Vegetarianism and whether it is justifiable to eat non-vegetarian food.

Always eat the kind of food which will help you keep your
body fit for Spiritual growth
It is perhaps easy to dismiss any discussion or debate on this by saying that Swami always advocated vegetarian food. But, for the sake of discussion we encouraged reasoning and what came out was interesting. One of the youth said that even in history, it has been mentioned that Rama, Krishna, Shirdi Sai Baba, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Jesus Christ have all eaten non-vegetarian food. So, how can we justify a logic behind why vegetarianism is important for spirituality. Weren't these souls seen as spiritual beacons? Another youth said that it was very difficult - nay - impossible for him to convince people around him about the 'why' of vegetarianism. When he would argue that it was a non-violent means, people around him would shout him down by saying that even plants were living beings and therefore eating them would also amount to violence. 
Another youth said that one of his colleagues argued that since he was consuming milk, cheese and a variety of other animal products under the umbrella of the term 'Vegetarian', he was actually being a hypocrite. There was another youngster who brought the point of whether eggs were also considered non-vegetarian since it did not involve violence.
These were interesting arguments and by now you'd know why I chose to write a blog on this topic.

However, there is a scientific and a spiritual explanation to the 'why' of vegetarianism:

The Scientific Angle:
Going by Darwin's theory of evolution, man descends from the apes, all of which are herbivorous and not flesh eaters. Also, considering the undeniable similarity between the dental make and the digestive systems of humans in comparison with monkeys/apes, it is difficult to believe that humans were supposed to be omnivores. 
Some of the research I did on this yielded the following facts:
1. Humans have an intestinal tract 10-12 times their body length like most other herbivores. However, carnivores in contrast have an intestinal tract of only 3 times their body length so that rapidly decaying meat can pass through quickly.
2. Meat eating carnivores have Hydrochloric Acid in their stomachs which is 20 times stronger than herbivores and humans to be able to digest meat.
3. Salivary glands of humans and herbivores are well developed to pre-digest grains and fruits, unlike meat eating animals.
4. Carnivores have acid saliva with no enzyme ptyalin to pre digest grains. Herbivores and humans have alkaline saliva with ptyalin to pre digest grains.
5. Carnivores have sharp front teeth for tearing and no molar teeth for grinding. Herbivores and humans have no sharp front teeth but have flat rear molars for grinding.
6. Meat eating carnivores have no skin pores and perspire through the tongue. Herbivores and humans perspire through skin pores.

However, the counter argument is always that the non vegetarian food we consume, unlike carnivores, is cooked. And therefore, it is alright to eat it. But, there is definitely no doubt that nature did not design humans to eat flesh.

The Humanitarian Angle:
A lot of the debate in favour of vegetarianism is often based on humanitarian grounds about avoiding violence and cruelty to animals. Well, what then about the plant kingdom. They are also as much living beings as the animals as pointed out by the famous Indian scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose.
But, here is where the difference lies - whilst plants are also living things, there is a definitive difference between killing an animal and killing a plant. The main difference being that plants do not have a Central Nervous System to convey pain and there is no brain which will read this message and send back a signal of reaction to the pain, like how animals would have.
This in itself means that when a plant is cut(killed), there is no 'pain' in the sense of the term understood by us. This is however not true for animals which will wriggle with pain on being slaughtered.

The Spiritual Angle:
Ah! Finally! Readers of my blog would rather have been waiting for this part. Well, lets get a little deeper. According to Swami, there are 4 levels of consumption that occurs when we eat something. The gross solid part of the food goes into the body and strengthens the muscles and flesh. There is a gross liquid part which goes into the blood stream and contributes to the 'Prana' of life principle within the body. But what is interesting is that Swami says there is a subtle part of the food which goes into the mind and forms into thoughts. And finally, there is a component of the spirit which feeds into the spirit within each of us too.
From a purely spiritual angle, the pain that an animal goes through, the emotional turmoil it undergoes even for a minute before dying - enters into the food and when consumed by man, disturbs him emotionally. This is an undeniable fact.
Then what about the 'egg' eaters and 'milk' drinkers? The egg is like the seed within which the entire tree is packaged. And therefore, it has within it the components of what would form into flesh, nervous system, brain, etc. Hence, it is also not something which is advisable. We must also keep in mind that the eggs that are available in the market are often products from a poultry farm where the hens are kept in pathetic conditions and despicable environs. No kindness is shown to them. The only objective being to exploit the hens and get maximum output of eggs. It is therefore this bundle of emotions that gets carried along with them since the hens are NOT devoid of a brain and a central nervous system. As for milk, one may argue that even dairy farms could be run in a similar fashion.

Yes, if it is so, milk should also be avoided. But how much can one avoid. One has to draw a line somewhere. The idea is that a person who is interested in his/her spiritual growth should live in such a way that he/she causes minimum harm to others.

The Interview that clarified:
In the year 2000, we had gone as a group of Engineering students from Hyderabad to Puttaparthi. Most of the boys were first timers. To our amazement, Swami graciously called the group of 18 for an interview. In the fascinating interview, Swami answered many of our questions. I distinctly remember a conversation which was close to the current topic of this blog.
During the interview, I mustered some courage and said,
"Swami, there are many in our class (who were in the interview room), who eat non-vegetarian food. Please tell them not to do so."
Swami: If they want to eat, let them eat. Why do you force them to abstain? There is nothing wrong in eating non-vegetarian food.
(I was quite amazed at this retort from Swami. I continued, )
Me: But Swami, you always say that we should eat only vegetarian food.
Swami: There is nothing wrong in eating non-vegetarian food. But it is not good for you. You may tell them that it is not good. But you should not force them.
Me: If there is nothing wrong, why do you advocate vegetarian food Swami?
Swami: There are 2 main reasons why I say it is not good to eat non-vegetarian food. First is that to eat non-veg, people resort to himsa, violence. I do not like violence of any kind. By consuming the output of such a violent act, there is some karma that gets accrued by the person who consumes the meat as well.
Secondly, by eating animal meat, one gets animal qualities. Man should rise to become Divine and not degrade to become like an animal. Due to these two reasons, I say that one should avoid non-vegetarian food. You may tell others the same thing.
Rajasic and Tamasic foods exist in vegetarian diet also. But non-vegetarian food accentuates passions and therefore is not good for spiritual growth.

This interaction clarified a lot of things for me. Firstly, non-vegetarianism is not something that is an absolute sin in itself. But it is definitely not good for spiritual growth. Secondly, animal tendencies are more likely to enter you through non-vegetarian food than through vegetarian food.

Sanctified Food:
Another question one of the youth posed was, would it be alright if we chant 'Brahmaarpanam...', thereby offering the food to God and sanctifying it before we partake it even if it was non-vegetarian food. The point in question is, would it be alright to sanctify the food, or would it be alright to offer non-vegetarian food to God. The objective behind the prayer should not be to remove impurities from the food. That will anyway happen when you pray.  If you have this as your objective, it becomes business and not prayer. The objective should be to make it an offering to God with love. Now, if your conscience permits you to offer it to God with the total conviction that He will be pleased, of course you can offer. But if you harbour any doubts about whether or not it should be offered, then perhaps your conscience is telling you that its wrong.

Bhakta Kannappa offered meat - and the Lord accepted
The story of Bhakta Kannappa is a classic example. Kannappa was a hunter who was also a great devotee of Lord Shiva. When he would kill an animal, he would offer the meat as Naivedyam to Lord Shiva at the Kalahasthi temple Shivalingam. But he never harbored doubts on whether this is the right offering to make.His heart was pure and without malice. He did not aspire for the sin to be taken away by Lord Shiva. It was rather a whole-hearted offering full of love. Hence, when Lord Shiva tested him, he even plucked out his eyes and offered them to the Lord. Let us come to our case in comparison. Knowing fully well that violence is not something the Lord will appreciate, if one were to still make an offering, I doubt if it would be accepted by the Lord as it may not be whole hearted like the offering of Bhakta Kannappa.(Read Kannappa's story here -

Lastly, this kind of discipline - of abstaining from non vegetarian food should be from the 'Source', that is, it should stem from a conviction from within. It can never be by 'Force' or by a dictum from someone else.
So, for those who want to grow spiritually, shun violence and develop Divine qualities, it is definitely a no-no to be non-vegetarian. The debates may rage but your conscience should reign supreme.
Samastha Lokaah Sukhino Bhavantu!!!


Popular posts from this blog

GURUDEVA - a tribute on Guru Poornima

Spiritual Stirrings for the Soul

Why God Created the Universe?