I am still on the track of negative reasons to become and remain a vegetarian. The reason why I am classifying reasons to be vegetarian into positive and negative is that I firmly believe that if you would like to start a movement, then your reasons for the same should be irrefutable.
And they should not be such that to the person whom you would like to convert to your cause they seem like assault on his personal choice and beliefs.
Negative reasons to be a vegetarian
In my article on Negative Reasons for being a Vegetarian, I had listed four negative reasons, namely:
- Being a vegetarian because you are in love with a vegetarian.
- Becoming a Vegetarian for health reasons.
- Being a vegetarian for religious reasons.
- Being a vegetarian for Moral reasons, that is, being a vegetarian because of the belief that one should not kill animals!!
I have already written about the first two negative reasons to follow a vegetarian diet meal plan. I would now like to turn my attention to the third negative reason to be a vegetarian and that is Religion. A lot of people become and remain a vegetarian because they feel that their religion dictates non-violence and does not sanction eating meat.
I personally feel that it is not really possible to convince anyone that the religion they follow does not sanction meat eating. Well, maybe I cannot make a categorical statement that NO religion expressly prohibits meat eating – there are some exceptions, but majority of religions are not pro vegetarian lifestyle and do not prohibit meat eating.
Vegetarian Philosophy of Major World Religions
First let us see what the main religions in the world are. As per the www.adherents.com, the break-up of the various religions in the world is as follows:
Vegetarian Diet & Hinduism
What I would like to do is try to understand what the stand of each religion on vegetarianism is. The first religion that I will take up for this analysis is Hinduism. The reasons for this are:
- I am a Hindu, both by birth and practice.
- Of all the major religions of the world the percentage of vegetarian people among Hindus is the largest – according to some estimates 25-30% of Hindus are vegetarian. This would also mean in absolute terms, the largest number of vegetarian population in the world is Hindu.
Now even though the percentage of vegetarian people among Hindus is the highest, I have without any doubt reached the conclusion that Hinduism does not prohibit meat eating, even though one keeps reading about references against meat in ancient tomes like Manusmriti and Yajur Veda, and notwithstanding the well known statement associated with the Hindu religion – “Ahimsa Parmo Dharma” (Non-violence is supreme religion).
I am reproducing here a couple of quotes from Manusmriti and Mahabharat (For more, please read QUOTES):
Having well considered the origin of flesh-foods, and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let man entirely abstain from eating flesh.
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 of 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.
I think that these statements are a result of the personal choices and beliefs of the authors of these tomes and that we should not read anything more into them. The reason why I think so is that there are abundant examples in the Indian mythology and scriptures that are contrary to the above expressed opinions. Sample some of these:
- In Ramayana, during the last year of their stay in Jungle, Sita was smitten by a golden deer and she requested Lord Ram, her husband, to get the same for her. Lord Ram went after the deer and after a chase brought the deer down with his arrow. So Ramayana says clearly that Lord Ram hunted an animal. And if what is mentioned in Mahabharata that “He who brings flesh or sends for it, he who cuts of the limbs of an animal … all of these are to be considered meat-eaters,” Then Lord Ram has to be considered a meat eater!
- In Ramayana itself, King Dashrath (Lord Ram’s father) once went for a hunting expedition and accidentally killed Shravan Kumar. It so happened that Shravan Kumar was filling up a pitcher of water from a lake for his parents and the sound of the water filling the pitcher felt like that of an animal drinking water to King Dashrath who was waiting nearby for some animals to show up. King Dashrath was cursed by Shravan Kumar’s blind parents that he will die yearning for his son – a curse that came true years later when he died after Lord Ram was sent to the forest for 14 years.
- There is a more or less similar story in Mahabharata in which King Pandu (Father of the mighty pandavas) was cursed by a pair of copulating deer when he killed them while on a hunting expedition that he will die if he tried to make love to a woman!
- Another very interesting story is from Shiv Puran (Lord Shiva’s life story). Once Parvati, Lord Shiva’s wife, wanted to bathe but could not find an attendant who could stop anyone from accidentally entering house. So, she created a boy’s idol out of the turmeric paste that she was using to clean herself, gave life to it and told him not to allow anyone to enter the house as long as she was having her bath. The boy – Ganesha, followed his mother’s order and stood guard at the entrance. Later, Lord Shiva returned home and was stopped by Ganesha from entering the house. Shiva told the boy that he was Parvati’s husband therefore could not be stopped from entering the house. Ganesha refused. A fierce battle ensued and finally Shiva severed Ganesha’s head with his trishul (trident). Later, when Parvati came out and saw her son’s lifeless body, she was very angry and sad. She demanded that Shiva restore Ganesha’s life at once. Unfortunately, Shiva’s Trishula was so powerful that it had hurled Ganesha’s head very far off. All attempts to find the head were in vain. As a last resort, Shiva approached Brahma who suggested that he replace Ganesha’s head with the first living being that came his way which lay with its head facing north. Shiva then sent his celestial armies (Gana) to find and take the head of whatever creature they happened to find asleep with its head facing north. They found an elephant which slept in this manner and decapitated it, attaching the elephant’s head to Ganesha’s body and bringing him back to life. From then on, he was called Ganapathi, or head of the celestial armies and was to be worshipped by everyone before beginning any activity.
The point that I am trying to make here is that in the Hindu scriptures there is equal talk about non-violence and violence towards animals. The Gods themselves are “guilty” of hunting from time to time and hence it would be just not correct to say that Hindu religion prohibits violence towards animals and meat eating.
And I think one of the fundamental reasons for this is the recognition by the ancient scholars that in reality “living beings live on living beings” – jeevah jeevo jeevathi.
Why are large number of Hindus vegetarian?
Finally, if the scriptures do not give a clear and unambiguous direction against meat eating, then why is it that you find such a large percentage of Hindus as vegetarian? I don’t think any study has been done on that, but I would like to hazard some guess:
- It is a well recognized fact that Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world. It is therefore quite likely that the number of books written on Hinduism by ancient scholars too would be the largest.
- The writers of these books were Brahmin sages who were primarily vegetarian. It was their personal belief system and choices that they mentioned as advice in the books that they wrote.
- The above two together resulted in higher percentage of vegetarian population among Hindus!
Do let me know what are your views on this:
Do you think that world religions in general and Hindu religion is particular is pro vegetarian diet?
Next post will try to understand if Christianity is pro-vegetarian or not.