What Is Hinduism?


C H A P T E R   43§

The Meat-Free Life


Five Reasons to Be a Vegetarian & Ten Arguments Against Eating Meat§


imageHERE ARE MORE THAN A FEW HINDUS today who guiltily abandoned the vegetarian ways of their own parents and grandparents when they decided to be “secular” and “modern.” But our ancient seers had it right when they advocated living without killing animals for food. Today vegetarianism is a worldwide movement with adherents among all religions, daily gaining converts through one or more of the five basic reasons to adhere to a meatless diet: dharma, karma, consciousness, health and environment. Each is explored in the following pages, which conclude with an examination of the harmful effects of eating meat.§

Reason 1


Vedic scripture proclaims that ahimsa, nonhurtfulness, is a primary religious obligation in fulfillment of dharma, divine law.

Just how widespread is this movement? In the UK, polls show more than 15 percent of teenagers are vegetarians, and six percent of the general population. In America, eight percent of teens and three percent of the general population declare themselves vegetarian. It is a movement with a broad base, for one can find advocates as diverse as philosophers Plato and Nietzsche, politicians Benjamin Franklin and Gandhi, Beatle Paul McCartney and Rastifarian singer Bob Marley, actresses Brooke Shields, Drew Barrymore, Alicia Silverstone, and actors David Duchovny, Richard Gere and Brad Pitt. It’s also helped that a multitude of rigorous scientific studies have proven the health benefits of the vegetarian diet. §

Vegetarianism, an Ancient Hindu Ethic§

Vegetarianism was for thousands of years a principle of health and environmental ethics throughout India. Though Muslim and Christian colonization radically undermined and eroded this ideal, it remains to this day a cardinal ethic of Hindu thought and practice. A subtle sense of guilt persists among Hindus who eat meat, and even they will abstain at special times. For India’s ancient thinkers, life is seen as the very stuff of the Divine, an emanation of the Source and part of a cosmic continuum. They further hold that each life form, even water and trees, possesses consciousness and energy. Nonviolence, ahimsa, the primary basis of vegetarianism, has long been central to the religious traditions of India—especially Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Religion in India has consistently upheld the sanctity of life, whether human or animal. §

The Sanskrit word for vegetarianism is shakahara, and one following a vegetarian diet is a shakahari. Hindu vegetarians commonly consume milk products, but not eggs, which are definitely a meat product, containing cholesterol which is only present in animal flesh. The term for meat-eating is mansahara, and the meat-eater is called mansahari. Ahara means “to consume or eat,” shaka means “vegetable,” and mansa means “meat or flesh.” The very word mansa, “meat,” conveys a deep appreciation of life’s sacredness and an understanding of the law of karma by which the consequence of each action returns to the doer. As explained in the 2,000-year-old Manu Dharma Shastra, 5.55, “The learned declare that the meaning of mansa (flesh) is, ‘he (sa) will eat me (mam) in the other world whose flesh I eat here.’ ” There developed early in India an unparalleled concern for harmony among life forms, and this led to a common ethos based on noninjuriousness and a minimal consumption of natural resources—in other words, to compassion and simplicity. If Homo sapiens is to survive his present predicament, he will have to rediscover these two primary ethical virtues.§

Is Vegetarianism Integral to Noninjury?§

In Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami’s book, Dancing with Siva, this question is addressed as follows: “Hindus teach vegetarianism as a way to live with a minimum of hurt to other beings, for to consume meat, fish, fowl or eggs is to participate indirectly in acts of cruelty and violence against the animal kingdom. The abhorrence of injury and killing of any kind leads quite naturally to a vegetarian diet, shakahara. The meat-eater’s desire for meat drives another to kill and provide that meat. The act of the butcher begins with the desire of the consumer. Meat-eating contributes to a mentality of violence, for with the chemically complex meat ingested, one absorbs the slaughtered creature’s fear, pain and terror. These qualities are nourished within the meat-eater, perpetuating the cycle of cruelty and confusion. When the individual’s consciousness lifts and expands, he will abhor violence and not be able to even digest the meat, fish, fowl and eggs he was formerly consuming. India’s greatest saints have confirmed that one cannot eat meat and live a peaceful, harmonious life. Man’s appetite for meat inflicts devastating harm on Earth itself, stripping its precious forests to make way for pastures. The Tirukural candidly states, ‘How can he practice true compassion who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh? Greater than a thousand ghee offerings consumed in sacrificial fires is not to sacrifice and consume any living creature.’ ” §

Amazingly, some people define vegetarian as a diet which excludes the meat of animals but does permit fish and eggs. But what really is vegetarianism? Vegetarian foods include grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy products. Natural, fresh foods, locally grown without insecticides or chemical fertilizers, are preferred. A vegetarian diet does not include meat, fish, fowl, shellfish or eggs. For good health, even certain vegetarian foods are minimized: frozen and canned foods, highly processed foods, such as white rice, white sugar and white flour; and “junk” foods and beverages—those with abundant chemical additives, such as artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavorings and preservatives. §

According to Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, “In my forty years of ministry it has become quite evident that vegetarian families have far fewer problems than those who are not vegetarian. If children are raised as vegetarians, every day they are exposed to nonviolence as a principle of peace and compassion. Every day they are growing up they are remembering and being reminded to not kill. They won’t even kill another creature to eat, to feed themselves. And if they won’t kill another creature to feed themselves, they will be much less likely to do acts of violence against people.”§

Reason 2


By involving oneself in the cycle of inflicting injury, pain and death, even indirectly, by eating other creatures, one must in the future experience in equal measure the suffering caused.

Vegetarian Animals§

Vegetarians come in all sizes and shapes, but the elephant is the largest of all, with a sophisticated social life, loving and affectionately caring for its own. Elephants live long, vigorous lives, have a very large brain and, of course, are renowned for their excellent memory. They do not suffer any weakness for not eating meat. In fact, so many muscular and the most intelligent animals—the horse, the cow, giraffe, zebra, rhinoceros, the apes, and more—are lifelong vegetarians and friends of men. Lean animals, thin and wiry, who are feared by man and beasts alike, are all hunters and killers and eaters of flesh—tigers, sharks, hawks, wolves and the like. No one fears a gentle vegetarian, but all have reason to fear the unpredictable meat-eater. Scriptures admonish that it is wise to fear what should be feared.§

Food and Consciousness§

Food is the source of the body’s chemistry, and what we ingest affects our consciousness, emotions and experiential patterns. If one wants to live in higher consciousness, in peace and happiness and love for all creatures, then he cannot eat meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. By ingesting the grosser chemistries of animal foods, one introduces into the body and mind anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, suspicion and the terrible fear of death, all of which is locked into the flesh of butchered creatures. It is said that in ancient India meat would be fed to the soldiers during military campaigns, especially before combat, to bring them into lower consciousness so that they would forget their religious values. They performed these deeds in fulfillment of a warrior’s way—with not the least restraint of conscience. The inner law is ever so simple—not eating meat, fish, foul or eggs is essential to awaken consciousness into the seven higher chakras (the uttara-chakras), up to the crown. Nonkilling—and noneating of that which is killed—is a must to pass from realms below the muladhara.§


How many there are who resent the very mention of becoming a vegetarian, whose instinctive nature is repelled by the idea because they intuit the road ahead. They sense that once the more sattvic diet of pure foods is taken in place of meats (and other dead foods, packaged, processed and cellophane-wrapped) they will feel a great guilt occasioned by their transgressions of dharma, as they have so well perfected over the years their adharmic ways. Adharma means all that stands against Indian spirituality, against the path of the good and the pure and the natural, against dharma in all of its intricate dimensions. None of the specialized dharmas—stri dharma, the duties of women; purusha dharma, the duties of men; ashrama dharma, the responsibility of one’s stage of life; varna dharma, one’s position in society; and svadharma, one’s own perfect pattern—even when performed properly will have the same results without fulfilling this virtue. Even rita dharma, cosmic order, is upset by man’s insatiable, aggressive appetites expressed through flesh-consuming.§

Hindus Were the First Vegetarians§

The book, Food for the Spirit, Vegetarianism and the World Religions, observes: “Despite popular knowledge of meat-eating’s adverse effects, the nonvegetarian diet became increasingly widespread among Hindus after the two major invasions by foreign powers, first the Muslims and later the British. With them came the desire to be ‘civilized,’ to eat as did the saheeb. Those actually trained in Vedic knowledge, however, never adopted a meat-oriented diet, and the pious Hindu still observes vegetarian principles as a matter of religious duty. §

“That vegetarianism has always been widespread in India is clear from the earliest Vedic texts. This was observed by the ancient traveler Megasthenes and also by Fa-hsien, a Chinese Buddhist monk who, in the fifth century, traveled to India in order to obtain authentic copies of the scriptures. These scriptures unambiguously support the meatless way of life. In the Mahabharata, for instance, the great warrior Bhishma explains to Yudhishthira, eldest of the Pandava princes, that the meat of animals is like the flesh of one’s own son, and that the foolish person who eats meat must be considered the vilest of human beings [Anu. 114.11]. The eating of ‘dirty’ food, it warns, is not as terrible as the eating of flesh [Shanti. 141.88] (it must be remembered that the brahmins of ancient India exalted cleanliness to a divine principle).§

“Similarly, the Manusmriti declares that one should ‘refrain from eating all kinds of meat,’ for such eating involves killing and leads to karmic bondage (bandha) [5.49]. Elsewhere in the Vedic literature, the last of the great Vedic kings, Maharaja Parikshit, is quoted as saying that ‘only the animal-killer cannot relish the message of the Absolute Truth [Shrimad Bhagavatam 10.1.4].’”§

Reason 3


By ingesting the grosser chemistries of animal foods, one introduces into the body and mind anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, suspicion and a terrible fear of death, all of which are locked into the flesh of the butchered creatures.

Common Dietary Concerns§

Those considering a vegetarian diet generally worry about getting enough nutrients, since the belief that meat is a necessary part of keeping strong and healthy is still extremely widespread. Recently a group of eminent doctors called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), themselves members of the American Medical Association, have decided to change the US consciousness on human nutrition, particularly among the medical community. The PCRM is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., consisting of doctors and laypersons working together for compassionate and effective medical practice, research and health promotion. Founded in 1985, the PCRM is supported by over 3,000 physicians and 50,000 laypersons. PCRM president (and vegetarian) Neal D. Barnard, M.D., is a popular speaker and the author of The Power of Your Plate. Armed with decades of nutritional research data, PCRM addresses these dietary concerns head-on: §


From market to table: (l to r) North Indian tali plate; a family enjoys a vegetarian meal; selling vegetables at a local market; a traditional South Indian meal served on an eco-friendly banana leaf
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •§

“The fact is, it is very easy to have a well-balanced diet with vegetarian foods. Vegetarian foods provide plenty of protein. Careful combining of foods is not necessary. Any normal variety of plant foods provides more than enough protein for the body’s needs. Although there is somewhat less protein in a vegetarian diet than a meat-eater’s diet, this is actually an advantage. Excess protein has been linked to kidney stones, osteoporosis, and possibly heart disease and some cancers. A diet focused on beans, whole grains and vegetables contains adequate amounts of protein without the ‘overdose’ most meat-eaters get.”§

Other concerns are allayed by the PCRM as follows:§

1. Calcium is easy to find in a vegetarian diet. Many dark, green leafy vegetables and beans are loaded with calcium, and some orange juices and cereals are calcium-fortified. §

2. Iron is plentiful in whole grains, beans and fruits.§

3. Vitamin B12: There is a misconception that without eating meat one cannot obtain sufficient vitamin B12, which is an essential nutrient. This is simply not true. The PCRM advises: “Although cases of B12 deficiency are very uncommon, it is important to make sure that one has a reliable source of the vitamin. Good sources include all common multiple vitamins (including vegetarian vitamins), fortified cereals and soy milk.” Vitamin B12 is widely available in brewers yeast and other potent dietary supplements.§

4. Nutritional needs increase during pregnancy. The American Dietetic Association has found vegan diets adequate for fulfilling nutritional needs during pregnancy, but pregnant women and nursing mothers should supplement their diets with vitamins B12 and D.§

5. Vegetarian children also have high nutritional needs, but these, too, are met with a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian menu is “life-extending.” As children, vegetarians may grow more gradually, reach puberty somewhat later, and live substantially longer than meat-eaters. Be sure to include a reliable source of vitamin B12.§

Those interested in supporting or learning more about the work of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine should visit: www.pcrm.org. §

Reason 4


Vegetarians are less susceptible to all the major diseases that afflict contemporary humanity. Thus they live longer, healthier, more productive lives. They have fewer physical complaints, less frequent visits to the doctor, fewer dental problems and smaller medical bills.

Converting to Vegetarianism§

Making the transition from carnivore to herbivore is not as hard as you might think. According to the book, The New Vegetarians, by Sonia Partridge and Paul Amato, 73% of vegetarian converts stated that the transition was not difficult. It is easier for people who do some homework on the subject and have a bit of cooking skill. The time it takes for people to totally convert varies greatly. About 70% of people make the transition gradually, while 30% stop all at once. Red meat is almost always abandoned within the first year, followed by fowl, fish and eggs.§

One recommended method for the transition is to set a series of goals for yourself. Start simply with getting through one day without meat. Then, try one weekend, then one week. Make a realistic timetable for reaching each goal. Two to three months might be reasonable for some people, while six months to a year might be better for others. Rewards can also help. For a major accomplishment such as a week without meat, treat yourself to a nice vegetarian meal out. §

One can also take a formal Hindu vow of vegetarianism, shakahara vrata, available on-line at www.hinduismtoday.com/in-depth_issues/veggie_vow/. The vow may be taken privately, before elders or parents or as part of a temple ceremony. It reads in part, “I accept the principle of shakahara as the method by which I may acknowledge my compassion, my karuna, for all living beings. As an act of dedication, I am resolved this day to begin (or continue) the regular practice of eating a strict vegetarian diet and not eating meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.”§

The most common problem with conversion is not knowing enough about the vegetarian diet. Some people decide to be vegetarian but have no idea what to eat, and end up with soggy vegetables and undercooked brown rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They become discouraged and rightly wonder how they will survive. But decent vegetarian food isn’t boring. A little research will put your mind at ease. Get some vegetarian cookbooks. Ask restaurant waiters which menu items are vegetarian. Search online for vegetarian recipes.§

Vegetarians are often asked “Don’t you miss eating meat?” For about half of beginning vegetarians the answer is yes, acording to The New Vegetarians. They miss the texture and flavor of meat in the early weeks and months. Almost everyone though, gets over this within six months to a year and for many it becomes nauseating even to think about eating meat. Eighty-two percent of fully adapted vegetarians say there is no way they would consider eating flesh again. §

Reason 5


In large measure, the escalating loss of species, destruction of ancient rain forests to create pasture lands for
livestock, loss of topsoil and the consequent increase of water impurities and air pollution have all been traced to the single fact of meat in the human diet.


Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami writes, “Modern meats are killed by chemical treatment of the animals, the hormones of fear and chemistry of death before and during slaughter, killed again by refrigerating them, killed again by grinding them, killed again by preserving them, killed again by packaging them, killed again by freezing them, killed again by storing and shipping them, and finally really killed by cooking them to death. How can such so-called food nourish a human being? §

“Why should we ever think of eating meat, fish, foul, eggs, anything with eyes or, as some say, with two or more senses. The cock-a-doodle-doo who wakes us up in the morning is dinner on the table at night. How gruesome. How ruthless to thus forever close the eyes of an animal, or have someone else do it for them in order that they may buy the carcass, closing their eyes to the fact, which is even worse, and keeping their own eyes closed to that creature’s suffering to consume it without conscience during jovial small talk over the dinner table. How easy in turn for such a person to turn and maim or kill a fellow human in the same way in times of stress as a natural reaction, in ‘justifiable righteousness.’” As the Tirukural proclaims, compassion cannot be found in the hearts of those who eat meat.§

Wisdom from Saints and Scriptures


Vedas, Shastras and Sutras Alike Decry the Killing and Eating of Animals§


Scriptures of all Hindu denominations speak clearly and forcefully on nonkilling and vegetarianism. The roots of noninjury, nonkilling and nonconsumption of meat are found in the Vedas, Dharma Shastras, Tirumurai, Yoga Sutras, Tirukural and dozens of other sacred texts of Hinduism. Perhaps nowhere is the principle of nonmeat-eating so fully and eloquently expressed as in the Tirukural, written in the Tamil language by a simple weaver saint over 2,000 years ago. §

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. §

Rig Veda Samhita 10.87.16§

Protect both our species, two-legged and four-legged. Both food and water for their needs supply. May they with us increase in stature and strength. Save us from hurt all our days, O Powers! §

Rig Veda Samhita 10.37.11§

O vegetable, be succulent, wholesome, strengthening; and thus, body, be fully grown.§

Rig Veda§

Those noble souls who practice meditation and other yogic ways, who are ever careful about all beings, who protect all animals, are the ones who are actually serious about spiritual practices. §

Atharva Veda Samhita 19.48.5§

You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever. §

Yajur Veda Samhita 12.32§

The ignoble ones who eat flesh, death’s agents bind them fast and push them quick into the fiery jaws of hell (Naraka, lower consciousness).§


When mindstuff is firmly based in waves of ahimsa, all living beings cease their enmity in the presence of such a person. §

Yoga Sutras 2.35§

Ahimsa is not causing pain to any living being at any time through the actions of one’s mind, speech or body.§

Sandilya Upanishad§

Having well considered the origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of corporeal beings, let one entirely abstain from eating flesh.§

Manu Samhita §

The purchaser of flesh performs himsa (violence) by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying its taste; the killer does himsa 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 of these are to be considered meat-eaters. §

Mahabharata, Anu. 115.40§

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 birth. §

Mahabharata, Anu. 115.47§

Those high-souled persons who desire beauty, faultlessness of limbs, long life, understanding, mental and physical strength and memory should abstain from acts of injury.§

Mahabharata 18.115.8§

How can he practice true compassion who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh? §

Tirukural Verse 251§

Riches cannot be found in the hands of the thriftless. Nor can compassion be found in the hearts of those who eat meat. §

Tirukural Verse 252 §

Goodness is never one with the minds of these two: one who wields a weapon and one who feasts on a creature’s flesh.§

Tirukural Verse 253 §

If you ask, “What is kindness and what is unkind?” it is not killing and killing. Thus, eating flesh is never virtuous.§

Tirukural Verse 254 §

Life is perpetuated by not eating meat. The clenched jaws of hell hold those who do. §

Tirukural Verse 255 §

If the world did not purchase and consume meat, there would be none to slaughter and offer meat for sale.§

Tirukural Verse 256 §

When a man realizes that meat is the butchered flesh of another creature, he must abstain from eating it.§

Tirukural Verse 257§

Greater than a thousand ghee offerings consumed in sacrificial fires is to not sacrifice and consume any living creature. §

Tirukural Verse 259§

All that lives will press palms together in prayerful adoration of those who refuse to slaughter and savor meat. §

Tirukural Verse 260§

My opinion is well known. I do not regard flesh food as necessary for us at any stage and under any clime in which it is possible for human beings ordinarily to live. I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species.Ӥ

Mahatma Gandhi§