Search This Blog

10 November, 2008


The greatness and dignity of human beings is their ability to sacrifice their lives for others.
- Swami Tejomayananda

A question often asked by people concerns vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism. This is a relevant topic because it involves the value of ahimsa, which is an important aspect of sanatana dharma.What is the position of manu smrti on the question of eating meat? The general commandment given (called a samanya) is: "Do not eat meat." There are a number of reasons why this injunction is given. One is from the spiritual standpoint, that there is one Self or one Life that pulsates in all beings; since all beings want to live happily in this world, we do not have the moral right to take away a life or to cause any unhappiness or sorrow to others. This is a simple dharma, to understand.The second reason is that the greatness and dignity of human beings is their ability to sacrifice their lives for others. The person, who sacrifices his comforts or wealth, his happiness, or even his life, in order to protect, sustain, and help others, is considered great. Therefore, we are cutting the very root of the glory of human life and degrading ourselves.
In recent times, several organisations have been formed to protect wild life and forestry. A movement of this kind is necessary nowadays because there are so many greedy and cruel people who are concerned only with their own acquisitions and pleasure and are ready to destroy anything for their own sake. Human beings should sacrifice for others, not sacrifice others for their own personal comforts, pleasures of other pursuits.

A third reason for not eating meat is given with respect to an argument put forth by some non-­vegetarians. If all beings have life and vegetarians kill and eat plant life, why should we not eat animals also? However this argument is really a fallacious one, for if we extend this reasoning a little further, we would then be asking why we cannot eat human beings also. If it is necessary to destroy life no matter what we eat, then why is there a shortage of food? But, of course, everyone would reply, "Oh, that is horrible! How can you say that?" No one will agree with the argument when it is taken that far.Even though there is-life in all beings, in both vegetable and animal kingdoms, there are degrees of evolution and of the manifestation of intelligence. The degree of feeling and understanding, of mental and physical pain, is much less developed in plant-life as compared to animal-life. According to our dharma sastra, the purpose of human life is to know the Truth. In order to know the Truth we must sustain our lives, but it needs to be done with proper discrimination.When a patient goes to a doctor, the doctor will try to treat the patient with as little medicine as possible and without an operation. However, if an operation is necessary, the doctor performs it, generally with anesthesia, so as to give the least amount of pain and discomfort to the patient.

In the same way, although life must be sustained with life, it should be done by causing the least pain and disturbance to nature. This means that even when eating vegetarian food we should eat,moderately and with discrimination. Even from an anatomical point of view, the body structure of a carnivorous animal is meant for eating meat whereas the human body is not. From a medical standpoint also, many people today are advised to reduce their fat and cholesterol intake, which generally means the reduction of red meat in the diet. It is needless to explain here that not only meat-eating, but excessive eating of any kind is not good for physical health.


(Courtesy: Mananam - Hindu Culture Part II, Vol. XV, No.1, January 1993)

No comments: