Dwaipayan De: “George Bush was wrong. The Axis of Evil doesn’t run through Iraq, or Iran or North Korea. It runs through our dining tables. Weapons of Mass Destruction are our knives and forks. “ – Philip Wollen (Australian Philanthropist and former VP of Citibank)
In the backdrop of the Indian Government imposing a ban on Meat during certain festivals , or banning the sale of beef in certain states, it has become very important for us to understand how we get affected by such laws; whether food should be treated so seriously; and most importantly, whether such restrictions on the sale and consumption of meat is cure or a curse. Let us investigate in more detail.
It is a known fact, that in the slaughterhouses, the animals are subjected to a tremendous amount of fear and suffering. There are countless stories of how cows in fear cry, scream and sometimes fall down dead while inside or even before they are taken into the slaughterhouse. We find that the veins of dead pigs are so big which means that they have practically exploded from the fear that the pig felt and the adrenalin that was produced while it was led to the slaughter. We see how birds are abused and even scalded alive. It has been truly said that “When we suffer, we suffer as equals, and in their capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig is a bear is a boy. . . Animal rights today is now the greatest social justice issue since the abolition of slavery.”
More than 56 Billion animals are killed every year for flesh dairy and eggs. To put things into proper perspective , the total count of human casualties during world war 1 and world war 2 combined is only 97 million (source Wikipedia) , a figure which suddenly looks so less when compared to the cruelty meted out to the innocent creatures every year, just for the sake of dishing pleasure to humans.
Is Meat Eating Natural ?
…Humans have no need for animal products, and the increasing number of vegans on the planet is a testament to how easy it is to live a healthy, fulfilling life without participating in the systematic abuse and unnecessary killing that goes on in the animal industry every day.
— Angel Flinn
Sometimes, people argue, that humans are carnivores or omnivores and meat constitutes an important source of protein, without which the body, might not reach its full potential physically and mentally.
There is an excellent paper by Milton Mills, M.D., which discusses the anatomy of human body, in great detail, and goes on to show , that human beings are neither biologically carnivores or Omnivores but actually Herbivores. All the aspects of the human beings, like the orientation of the facial muscles, Jaw type, nails, teeth type, chewing manner, the enzymes in saliva, stomach type and its acidity (pH value), length of intestine, colon, functions of liver and kidney, prove that the human beings are optimized for eating exclusively plant foods.
Not only are animal products unnecessary for optimal health, an increasing number of nutritionists and health professionals are today acknowledging that animal products are harmful to our health. The World Health Organization has determined that dietary factors account for at least 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries and up to 20 percent in developing countries. When cancer researchers started to search for links between diet and cancer, one of the most noticeable findings was that people who avoided meat were much less likely to develop the disease. Large studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians were about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters.
In the China Study by T.Colin Campbell, which arguably is the most comprehensive study on nutrition ever done, Campbell provides compelling evidence linking animal products to disease, including cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, etc.
Meat and Environment
Having a vegetarian/Vegan diet has a considerable effect on our environment. For example, the amount of potatoes we can produce from an acre of land is about 40,000 lbs compared to only 250 lbs of cow flesh supported from the same acre. When we feed plants to animals in order to eat the animal, we waste an enormous amount of food. For only one pound of cow flesh, 16 lbs of plant food and 5,000 gallons of water are required.
Compare that to 25 gallons of water for a pound of wheat. Animal agriculture is also responsible for most of the food-borne illness epidemics from water runoff. Our use of animals contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions as well as the destruction of forests for grazing. More than 250 million acres of forests are cleared every year in the US alone for this purpose.
“Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.” This figure comes from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
TIME Magazine agrees, saying, “It’s true that giving up that average 176 lb. of meat a year is one of the greenest lifestyle changes you can make as an individual.”
India & Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism, known in Sanskrit as Shakahara, was for thousands of years a principle of health and environmental ethics throughout India. India , has predominantly been a vegetarian country, with, the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations ranking India as the lowest consumer of meat in the world in the year 2007. Inspite of the numerous foreign invasions and barbaric influences of foreign cultures, from time to time, the Indian society still boasts more than 42% of its population surviving on a vegetarian diet even today.
Bharat, or India, has always been a land of spirituality and it is in this holy land, that we may find even a commoner practicing the highest tenets of spiritual science in his day-to-day life.
Lord Macauley delivered the following speech in the British Parliament after making his visit to India :
“I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber , that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all
that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”
Religion in its highest standard preaches 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.
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 the earth itself, stripping its precious forests to make way for pastures. How can one who eats meat practice true compassion by eating the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?
On the spiritual path, we need to see the spiritual nature within all living beings, and that includes the animals as well. We must practice universal brotherhood, which means non-violence to both humans and other animals.It consists of understanding that animals also have souls.They are alive, conscious and feel pain. Those who eat meat however, because of their desires to eat animals, are not so easily able to understand the spiritual nature of all beings. All living creatures , are the same as us, in the sense that we are all children of the Same father, the Supreme Being. Thus, killing of animals shows a great lack of spiritual awareness.
The ancient Vedic text of the Manu-samhita (5.45-8) says, “He who injures innoxious beings from a wish to give himself pleasure never finds happiness, neither living nor dead. He who does not seek to cause the suffering of bonds and death to living creatures, but desires the good of all beings, obtains endless bliss… Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to the attainment of heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun the use of meat.”
Elsewhere in Rig Veda (10.87.16) it is mentioned “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.”
In Mahabharata (Anu.115.52-53) it is stated “Listen to me, O king of kings, as I tell you this, O sinless one, there is absolute happiness in abstaining from meat, O king. He who practices severe austerities for a century, and he who abstains from meat, are both equally meritorious. This is my opinion.”
In Srimad Bhagavatam (11.5.14) it is stated “Those who are ignorant of real dharma and, though wicked and haughty, account themselves virtuous, kill animals without any feeling of remorse or fear of punishment. Further, in their next lives, such sinful persons will be eaten by the same creatures they have killed in this world.”
From the above references, we can understand that partaking of a non-vegetarian diet is thoroughly discouraged across the Vedic scriptures.
Now, Some people might ask, then why is sacrifice of animals prevalent in the temples of Goddess Kali. The answer to this is that the Vedic literature does not offer spirituality in just one form. The spiritual processes offered in the Vedic literature is not uniform but omniform. The Vedic literature recognize that different people have different levels of adhikara or the capacity to practice spiritual life.The Sanatana Dharma , being the oldest of religions, encompasses the inclination of people who range from the morally degraded to the spiritually exalted. So, That is why for those who are so addicted to meat eating,and can’t give it up, meat eating is allowed under certain restricted conditions. So these statements in the scriptures are concessions, and not recommendations.
The process is that once in a month, on a dark moon night , such degraded persons are allowed to take some lesser animal like a goat or a pig. They have to take the animal out of the locality, where there are no people around, or in the temple grounds of Maa kali, and then while chanting the mantra “ Mam sa khadatiti mamsah” , they have to personally slit the throat of the animal.
The mantra that is recited during the sacrifice means “You are giving your life , so in your next life you will get the opportunity of becoming a human being. And I who am now killing you will become an animal, and you will kill me”.
So one day, the person, might realize the meaning of the mantra that he is reciting during the animal sacrifice, and understand the pitiable state that he is going to obtain in his next life , and therefore subsequently refrain from further slaughtering of animals. Thus the objective of such concessions is to elevate the consciousness of a person from the mode of ignorance gradually to the mode of goodness.
Similarly , according to tantric worship, the worshipers of Durga are required to have five M’s “ maans(meat), matsya(fish), madira(liquor), maithuna(sex) and mura(parched rice) to worship her properly. These forms of regulated worship are the only means by which such degraded minds can be enticed to glorify God.
So this concession of engaging in lowly food habits is given to the worshippers under the modes of ignorance, so that they can eventually elevate themselves to the modes of goodness or even higher, where the basis of worshipping God, would neither be fear or material gains but pure Love.
In the process of bhakti-yoga, which is the highest standard of Sanatana Dharma and the very essence of all Yogic practices, devotion goes beyond simple vegetarianism, and food becomes a means of spiritual progress. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “All that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” So offering what we eat to the Lord is an integral part of bhakti-yoga and makes the food blessed with spiritual potencies. Then such offered food is called prasadam, or the mercy of the Lord.
The Lord also describes what He accepts as offerings: “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” Thus we see over here, that the Lord explicitly mentions what food He accepts as offering. He does not accept meat, fish ,eggs,etc but only those that can be obtained naturally without causing harm to others.
So on the spiritual path eating food that is first offered to God is the ultimate perfection of a vegetarian diet. The Vedic literature explains that the purpose of human life is reawakening the soul’s original relationship with God, and accepting prasadam is the way to help us reach that goal.