To include animal food in one’s menu or not… used to be one of several classic debates that seem to have no end or solution in sight. Either of the ‘warring’ camps swore by the benefits of their stand. Today, from economics to environment, from science to spirituality, compelling evidence is tilting this debate in favour of one particular choice.
Now, even as your minds are running furiously to choose your side in this ‘war’ along with the thousand reasons for the same, let us define the scope – the operational boundaries – of this article so that things are understood and assimilated within a reasonable perspective.
Clearly, this article is meant for those who consider ‘spiritual growth’ a life priority. However, it is suitable for the rest as well because a large part of it is based on scientific data and observations. Naturally, it derives heavily from the teachings of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and therefore hopes to serve as a holy grail for His devotees.
The question that now arises is why on earth is an ‘article’ necessary to convey what Swami has said regarding this debate. A cursory look at His life and His discourses state the answer emphatically. Even though He was born into a Kshatriya (warrior class) family that traditionally consumed meat, since His childhood, Baba never touched non-vegetarian food. He discouraged His friends, classmates, family members and village residents also from consuming animal flesh. In His words too, He is as vociferous as in His actions when it comes to the question of consuming meat. Here are a few snippets from some of His discourses where Swami clearly states what he expects from His devotees:
1. Today, let it be anyone, whether one deems himself a devotee or not, he should give up meat caring. Why? Meat eating promotes only animal qualities. It has been well said that the food one consumes determines one’s thoughts. By caring the flesh of various animals, the qualities of these animals are imbibed. How sinful is it to feed on animals, which are sustained by the same five elements as human beings! This leads to demonic tendencies, besides committing the sin of inflicting cruelty on animals. Hence, those who genuinely seek to become devotees of God have to give up non-vegetarian food. Calling themselves Sai devotees or devotees of Raama and Krishna, they fatten on chicken. How can they be deemed Sai devotees? How can God accept such a person as a devotee? Therefore, whether they are devotees in India or outside, they should give up from this instant meat eating. Discourse on 23rd November 1994.
2. If you have to be happy, today, as an offering to Swami, give up meat eating, consuming liquor and smoking. By renouncing these three, you will benefit yourselves as well as society and the nation. Swami’s sole aim is to promote the welfare of the family, the society and the nation. If you wish to follow and carry out Swami’s wish, renounce from this moment itself these three bad practices. Do not put if off to tomorrow. Why? If you go on saying next, next and then it becomes test and then it becomes taste. No. Right now, take the resolve from this moment. This is what Bhagawan is expecting from you today. Therefore, being the embodiments of love I expect that you will certainly follow this; give joy to Swami thereby promote the wellbeing of your family and the nation, I bless you all and bring the discourse to a close. Discourse on 23rd November 1994.
3. We must teach our students to practise Sai’s teachings, so that their parents can learn through their children studying in our schools. For example, the parents of a student may be non-vegetarian. When the student goes home for vacation, he can bring about a change in his parents by narrating to them with humility the sanctity of eating vegetarian food. The student can tell his mother, “Mother, I cannot eat the food prepared by killing another living being. This is not good for me. This body, which is made up of flesh, should not be fed on flesh. Our body needs sacred food and not flesh. Eating of flesh will induce in me animal tendencies. We should eat only sacred vegetarian food which God has provided for us.” Thus, we can teach the parents through the students. And in course of time, even the parents will stop eating non-vegetarian food. I know many families who have stopped eating non-vegetarian food after their children joined our institutions. I do many things through students. Discourse on 21st November 2001.
Coming back to the question,
“Why camouflage a clear-cut directive from Swami as a debate?”
That is because we may firmly believe in what Swami says but are unable to stand up ‘scientifically’ and defend ourselves when posed with uncomfortable questions. These questions need not come only from diehard, non-vegetarian fans but even from our own inquisitive children! A few of us may also wonder whether it is not sufficient to follow any one (or two or three) of Swami’s teachings (it is better than not following anything at all isn’t it?) and so, refrain from giving up animal based diets. And finally we may also be blissfully ignorant of the multi-level repercussions involved in meat-eating. So now that you are clear on which side of the ‘debate’ Swami (and therefore we) stand, you can either choose to simply shut this page and do ‘better’ and ‘more interesting’ things in life, or read ahead and stay informed of the facts from every possible angle. Well-informed choices we hope will help us all reap positive consequences.
The environmental angle
Swami often speaks of a four tier hierarchy that connects the individual to God. He says that Vyashti (individual) is a limb of Samashti(society) which is, in turn, a limb of Srishti (Nature) which is a limb of Parameshti (God). The Parameshti angle towards non-vegetarianism is crystal clear from Swami’s life and teachings. The Srishti or environmental angle presents very persuasive arguments and conclusions too.
A question of sustainability
To start off, let us visit our primary school days where we were taught Lindeman’s ten percent law. It is known that plants are able to absorb only 1 percent of the sun’s energy for primary production and can store only 10 percent of that 1 percent. This is available for the herbivores or plant eaters. Lindeman’s law further states that when these herbivores are consumed by the next trophic level, again only 10% of the energy in the food is fixed into animal flesh which becomes available for next trophic level which is secondary carnivores. Let us consider a food chain like this:
Sunlight – Grass – Grasshopper – Lizard – Snake
Suppose the snake is about 2 kilograms in weight. Working backwards and using Lindeman’s law, we deduce that there needs to be at least 20 kilograms of lizards in the ecosystem. That would imply the presence of at least 200 kilograms of grasshoppers and that, in turn, would need about 2000 kilograms of grass. In short, a 2kg snake needs 2000 kilograms of grass for its sustenance. This is definitely oversimplified because a snake could directly consume grasshoppers but it serves to highlight a point. And that point is:
The higher one goes in the food chain, the greater is the plant resource needed to sustain life. (This is because other than plants, no other life form can fix sunlight a food.)
Of course, there are many who argue that Lindeman’s ‘efficiency of transfer’ law is primitive and almost humbug. There is no arguing the fact that considerable variation exists in the efficiency with which organisms exploit their food sources. But there is no arguing this fact too that the maximum efficiency for exploitation is about 70 percent, with the average tending towards 30 percent. Larry Slobodkin’s paper deals more with this. So, maybe we can modify Lindeman’ law into a ‘thirty percent law’. Even then, vegetarianism is the better news.
It is child’s logic to realize that we would need larger tracts of land to grow plants if we choose to meet our body-meat needs via meat rather than plants. An eighty kilogram person (going by the 30 percent law) will need about 270 kilograms of plant/meat for sustenance. If he/she opts for meat, that meat would need about 900 kilograms of plant. By turning vegetarian, the 80 kg person is saving the earth the need to grow another 630 kilograms of plants! It was this kind of ‘cold logic’ that convinced Graham Hill of Treehugger fame to become a ‘weekday vegetarian’ – because he felt that being a complete non-vegetarian goes against sustainability of the environment! An environmentalist turned part-vegetarian! He presented his powerful and pragmatic suggestion to non-vegetarians in a 5-minute TED talk.
Environmental sustainability is severely hit by meat production via another fast-disappearing, vital resource – water. According to awaterfootprint.org report, on an average, a ton of potatoes need about 330,000 litres of water for production. The production of the same quantity of beef needs, on an average, 16,726,000 litres of water; 50 times more water!
Now, if that was a ‘quantitative’ impact on environment, here is a shocking ‘qualitative’ impact. As this image of earth’s land animals by weight shows, humans are not the most ‘mass’ive among earth’s creatures. That position is taken up by cattle which occupy the earth with twice as mass as humans! They need grazing lands or huge fields where their feed (usually corn) is grown. For this, large tracts of land have been cleared of life sustaining forests, thereby destroying the biodiversity in many places on earth. This is something very serious to consider when, according to a UN report, more than 26% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface is used for grazing and 33% of all arable land is used for cattle-feed production.
Also spare a thought about all the ‘bullshit’ that happens where non-vegetarianism is concerned. It might come as a shock that nearly 20% of all the greenhouse gases (the culprits responsible for global warming and the associated dangers) emissions are due to cattle – that is more than what all the vehicles around the world generate! This is because, apart from carbon dioxide, cattle guts produce methane gas and the manure from dung produces nitrous oxide gas, both which are more polluting than carbon dioxide. One might say that emissions occur from proteinaceous plants as well. In contrast to meat, most of plant proteins’ emissions are generated after crops leave the farm (processing, transport, cooking and waste disposal). Pollution from animal wastes however is not restricted to the air alone.
We people hear the word “lagoon” and picture blue water, surrounded by palm trees, perhaps, or with mountains in the background. A visit to a factory farm (that is what the place which ‘grows’ cattle for the meat industry is called) would quickly erase this beautiful image from their minds. At factory farms, a lagoon means an open-air pit filled with urine and manure. And that too, lots of urine and manure as some lagoons are larger than seven acres and contain as much as 20 to 45 million gallons of wastewater! The lagoons can leak or rupture or they can be filled too high and overflow after a rain. That opens a Pandora’s box of problems from harmful algal blooms tofish kills and ground-water contamination to disease transference. To keep the cattle healthy, a lot of antibiotics are dumped into their feed which naturally gets excreted. These antibiotics breed resistance in the bacteria and other microbes making diseases harder to treat. But even if none of these problems occur, the lagoons still release toxic and stinking gases.
Finally, there is the ‘Bio-magnification’ problem. It can be easily understood from the food chain example that has already been presented. It is a known fact that varieties of chemicals in the form of fertilizers, pesticides and weedicides abound on the plant produce. These chemicals are not broken down by the animal body and hence tend to accumulate within. Assuming that the grass in the food chain has 1 ppm (parts per million) of chemicals, this is what happens.
Sunlight – Grass – Grasshopper – Lizard – Snake
The grasshopper is gifted with 10 ppm of chemicals. The lizard has 100 ppm while the snake gets 1000 ppm of the same chemicals! (Assuming the 10 percent law here). The higher the organism in the food chain, the higher is the concentration of chemicals in the body. The success of top predatory-bird recovery (eg: bald eagles, peregrine falcons) in North America following the ban on DDT use in agriculture is testament to the importance of biomagnification. It is definitely safer for humanity as a whole in this sense to consume plants directly rather than consuming the animals fed on plants. Now imagine the dangers of eating higher-level animals considering them as delicacies!
Meat eating – a speculative or definitive need?
An argument that many non-vegetarians bring up is this – what should a person staying in, say the Arctic, do about food. Or for that matter, there are spaces on earth where growing food is impossible and one has to depend on meat. Unless of course one is on some world saving mission there, we should not even be there. Besides, this is a situation created by nature itself! What do you do then?
Such a situation is more of an exception while this article is a general one. Cancer treatment, for example, makes use of cell-poisoning through chemotherapy. Cancer is an exceptional case where poisoning the body to an extent is necessary. That does not mean that everyone should take doses of these poisons. In other words, meat-eating might be a necessity in some spaces of the world. That should not make it a ‘need’ in every part of the world! Sadly, that is what has happened. We will deal with how this has come about, and the result of such thinking, in the next part of the article.
The socio-economic angle
Mr. Ramesh (name changed to maintain anonymity), a store assistant in Puttaparthi village, earns about Rs.6,000 a month (a little more than $100 a month). Despite his limited resources, he admits that he cannot help but cook meat once a week at least. While most of the vegetables or cereals cost about Rs.50 a kilogram, chicken costs Rs.250 a kilogram. His weekly chicken dinner 4 times a month translates into Rs.1,000 a month expense instead of Rs.200 for veggies. The economic burden of his choice startles him but he sighs with resignation, “What can I do sir? I can’t give up meat.”
Fize Mohammad, a financial consultant from Trinidad & Tobago says, “Whenever I meet a person who says that he/she cannot invest, insure or save because of daily necessary expenses, I gently suggest them to consider cutting down on smoking, drinking and eating meat. The potential for saving is so substantial that clients are pleasantly shocked at growth prospects they can achieve within a decade.”
Mahatma Gandhi, when explaining the vegetarian practices of India to his vegetarian friends in England, put it this way:
“In practice, almost all the Indians are vegetarians. Some are so voluntarily, and others compulsorily. The latter, though always willing to take, are yet too poor to buy meat. This statement will be borne out by the fact that there are thousands in India who have to live on one paise a day. These live on bread and salt.”
Economic conditions need not be as bad as that to realise the ‘investment potential’ of vegetarian food. Every stage of meat-processing is more resource-intensive than its vegetable counterparts. Cleaning the meat needs more time and more water. Cooking it requires greater energy, greater effort and greater time. In fact, there are many vegetarian foods – fruits and vegetables – that can be consumed raw. There is very few such equivalent in the meats – almost everything needs some processing. Finally, even cleaning up after cooking meat requires greater time, energy water and detergents!
What happens at the micro-level at home extrapolates at the macro level too. Higher costs for refrigeration and transportation of meat weighs financially on an economy in the same manner that meat-eating weighs on an individual or family. What about cold storage for vegetables and fruits? Well, for one, vegetables and fruits have to be transported and stored anyway because one can live on a solely vegetarian diet but one cannot survive like that on a solely meat diet (like a lion or shark). Even a meat eater needs his/her share of fruits and vegetables. Secondly, growing vegetables and fruits is much easier compared to growing animals and almost every place has a good share of its local produce.
The health angle
So, let me say that I don’t care about the environment, nor do I care about the cost to society. I earn well and so I eat well. And I earn well enough to insulate myself against any harm environment can do to me. Can I now eat meat and be comfortable?
It is practically impossible to insulate oneself from all the environmental ‘harm’ at least for a majority of the people. For the minority too, it might be only theoretically possible. However, even if one has these questions, meat eating hits because of the impact it has on one’s own body. And here, body is not just the physical one but also the subtle/mental body.
The idea here is even if one is not able to buy in arguments of ‘selflessness’, the arguments of ‘enlightened selfishness’ will work. This is because, paradoxically, in order to be selfish, one has to be selfless and vice versa. Confusing? Well, it will become clear very soon, once we explore the devastation that meat-eating wreaks on the human body.
An invitation to disaster
An internet search on the health problems with vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets throws up hundreds of apparently conflicting results. There are articles and studies which show how meat eating increases risk to cancers of many kinds, how one should definitely reduce meat but not eliminate it completely and some which say that organic meat is good, though not unsubstitutable. There are cases which point out the dangers of strict vegan diets but that does not actually put down a vegetarian diet!
Notice the term ‘apparently’ being used before the word ‘conflicting’. There is a reason for it. If you get confused because of these opposing studies, it is best to see where people are ready to put their money in. And that is because, where money is concerned, everyone talks of business and things arrive to the brass tacks. Did you know that life-insurance companies give greater discounts and cheaper premiums to vegetarians? That is what articles in several news agencies like Daily Mail and The Guardian confirm about several insurance companies. Insurance companies are driven by only one objective – money – and so we can expect their outlook to be objective! If they feel that vegetarians have better health and lifespan, there definitely is some truth in it!
Apart from going that route, let us also follow Swami’s dictum, “The proper study of mankind is man.” By this statement, Swami says that if one wants to understand mankind, one has to understand man. And to understand man, one has to understand the human body. That is what we will approach with our problems in diet – an anatomical study.
Comparing organs and organ-systems, we see that a lion’s kidney is twice the size of a bull’s, and not much smaller than that of the elephants’. The human kidney pales in comparison to it! This allows the lion to handle large amounts of protein and nitrogenous waste products contained in its natural flesh diet. The lion also has a huge liver which secretes larger amounts of bile into the small intestine than does the herbivores’ liver. There is a direct relation between the quantity of meat eaten and the amount of bile secreted. Meat-eating therefore, places a strain not only on the kidneys but also on the small liver of humans which impairs the organ’s function over a long period of time. The comparative anatomy of a carnivore, herbivore and omnivore brilliantly brings out many such differences.
These apart, a non-vegetarian diet makes the digestive system susceptible to a host of parasitic infections. It’s almost like karma coming back to get you – you eat other organisms and other organisms will eat you! Bacterial infections, tapeworm infestation, liver fluke attacks and viral illnesses are most of the times due to meat foods according to a US department of Health and Human Services report. The Physicians Committee for responsible medicine states strongly that male health issues including ED are also linked with some meats.
Bushmeat leads to an international Ebola crisis
Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization described the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa as “unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times which has progressed from a public health crisis to a crisis for international peace and security…I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments in already very poor countries… I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure.”
And as we lament the rising threat of Ebola, the cause remains an animal based food choice, in this case bushmeat.
There is a far subtler yet scarier way in which meat eating affects health. This could possibly be classified as a physiological and psychological event. Any animal, prior to its slaughter, undergoes stress. In animal farms where cruelty to animals is unimaginable, the stress levels are extreme. A basic understanding of how stress functions is necessary here. Adrenaline is the major stress hormone that is released into the bloodstream. It is called the “fight or flight” hormone because that is what it encourages the animal to do. After the animals have been slaughtered, those hormones remain in their bodies and begin to alter the animal meat. The quality of the meat deteriorates significantly. That apart, when you eat the tainted animal meat, you ingest those hormones into your body. Doing so can cause a host of unwanted medical conditions and diseases at physical, mental and emotional levels. It is no surprise then that the highest number of prescriptions of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication are filled in higher meat eating societies.
Of course, one may think that ‘organic’ meat would be good and safe. That is definitely a point for the meat eaters to score. However, ‘growing’ organic meat is more resource-intensive and thus costs more too. Organic meat will gather more negative points on the first two issues discussed viz. the environmental angle and the socio-economic angle. The concept is still under experimentation, making it too early to evaluate its long term impact on health and economy.
A compelling case for non-vegetarianism is its nutritional value. If not from meat, where does one get the proteins from? In a discourse that Swami gave in during the 1990 Summer Course (21 May 1990) He answered this very question.
It is significant to note that those who live on vegetarian food are less prone to diseases whereas non-vegetarians are subject to more diseases. Why? Because animal food is incompatible with the needs of the human body. Doctors speak about proteins being present in non-vegetarian food, but the fact is that there are better quality proteins in food articles like vegetables, pulses, milk, curd, etc. Non-vegetarian food not only affects man’s body but also has deleterious effect on his mind. Food, Head, God – these three are interrelated.
Why then is this misconception so strong, that animals are the only/best source of proteins and other such nutrients. In a sense this is due to our advances in technology. Earlier most people would eat what was available in their neighbourhood. Their diet would consist of vitamins and nutrients in the most easily accessible and locally available form. For instance in the US, those who lived in states that produced lentils depended on them for proteins. Those living in states that did not have the kind of weather and soil to produce lentils, turned to livestock for their proteins. The cattle ate the grass, produced proteins in their bodies, and people ate the cattle. But with the advent of the interstate railways and refrigeration, food could now travel across states. So now, the meat that was produced in say, down south Texas, could travel all the way to Washington, which is a lentil producing state. With time meat, which was an indirect source of protein used in places where there were no access to the right vegetation, became the best source of protein. And that has led to this appalling situation where in the year 2010, over 10 billion farm animals (bovines, goats, pigs, chickens etc.) were killed for food just in the United States.
To put that in perspective, the human population of the entire earth is about 7 billion, making US home to the annual murder of animals nearly one and a half times the entire human population, repeatedly, every single year. (This is not to single out the US, we are just making a point referring to them as numbers are available about the situation there.) Why didn’t lentils replace meat as a source of protein in the states that predominantly had grasslands? May be they just weren’t ‘cool’ enough! But come to think of it, this same advancement in technology is what we must use to reverse this trend.
From fellow living beings to commodity – the journey of animal protein
What happens when this one region of a country, which had to produce meat for the population of that region, now has to produce for the demands of the entire country? The meat production must become more efficient. This demand for meat has lead to a drastic industrialisation of its production. With meat becoming a commodity, the industry and the consumers forget that we are talking about living beings that have feelings, sensations and an emotional existence, even if not as advanced as humans. In the process there is appalling disregard for their pain and discomfort.
While the world population has doubled between 1950 and 2000, our meat consumption has multiplied five times. When the demand for meat was far lesser, the meat came from small local farms. Since the numbers were smaller the conditions in which the livestock were raised were better and much less cramped than it is today. For an animal to become meat, it has to be killed. When a butcher in the early 19th century had to kill one bovine a day, he could take the care to kill it in a manner that would give it the fastest and least painful death. Can that be said about a factory where hundreds have to be killed in minutes? Also when we start seeing living animals as raw materials in a production line, we tend to care that much lesser for their living conditions and life itself. Consider this – when we as humans live an unhealthy life, eating the wrong kind of food and confined indoors most of the time, what happens? We become obese, unwanted fat accumulates under the skin and also in the blood vessels, thereby increasing the dangers of heart problems and the like. In other words we become overweight. Now what if you were a chicken or a cow? All that was said about poor health holds good, only the more fat you become more money you will fetch. Meat is priced by weight after all.
So an industry that is so obsessed with profits and could not care less about the comforts of these animals (after all they eventually ‘kill’ them) would be more than happy if they can provide them poor conditions to live, feed them food which is not their natural food and can get more money in return when they eventually grow unhealthily fat.
And that is exactly what they do! On one hand there is the high health risk for those consuming such animals, which has been discussed in detail in the previous part, but imagine the torture these animals are put to. Well, you don’t have to, for you can see for yourself. Sometime back PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) ran a campaign aptly titled, ‘If Slaughterhouses had Glass Walls everyone would be Vegetarian.’ As part of that, a video was made with very disturbing visuals from slaughterhouses and the narration by the legendary British singer, Sir Paul McCartney. When we did the radio show on the theme of Vegetarianism, we had played just the audio of this documentary and we could say that the effect was indeed remarkable. At least one of our listeners completely stopped eating meat after this show, and attributed it mainly to the audio of this documentary. So we are presenting you this documentary and we must say that it is not for the weak at heart. But if you are weak at heart, but a strong in your non-vegetarian conviction, please do watch!
[Content Warning: The following contents may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewers’ discretion is strongly advised.]
Survival of the cruellest – exploiting the voiceless
What right do we have as one among 8.4 million species as Swami says, to subject other living beings to such treatment? Is there any reason that can be worthy enough to justify this? Now imagine when someone says, “Oh but we need the protein and nutrients!” Picture this – You are walking down a lonely alley when a mugger pounces on you, assaults you and tries to take your wallet or purse. You try to resist, he injures you badly with a crude weapon and walks away with your money. If someone were to ask him, how could he ever do such a thing, and he answers, “But I need the money. I have to feed my children.” That’s exactly what we do when we subject these defenceless animals to cruelty, in the pretext of our nutritional needs.
Whenever such points are raised, the human mind has always tried to counter it in its own crooked way. As we argued that most of the problem started with meat being produced in one region or country and travelling to another part, some have come up with a new solution. People turn to becoming locavore meat eaters. Locavores are people who ensure that the food they eat comes from within 100 miles of its point of purchase (this number may vary, but we guess you got the idea). So when locavores are non-vegetarians their meat comes from small local farms, where the animals are raised in far less cruel conditions. A good attempt at best but it still involves killing living beings to make food.
Rising above environment, economics and evolution
Even for the many environmental, medical and social reasons discussed earlier, champions of meat eating come up with counter practices and methods so they can continue to be non-vegetarians. On the environmental front, instead of curbing the raising of these farm animals for food, the meat lobby is looking to circumvent the issues at hand. Since farm animals are major contributors of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane, even more than all transport facilities combined, at the behest of the meat lobby, scientists are working on chemicals that can be added to the food of farm animals to reduce their belches and flatulence. Clearly, it is very difficult to deter the human mind from what it greeds for, for it will always come up with ways to justify it’s desires or make itself feel less guilty. That is why to become a vegetarian and to remain one all life, one needs reasons that go deep to the core of one’s being and touch the moral and spiritual compass within.
On 20 November 1931, at a lecture delivered at the London Vegetarian Society, Mahatma Gandhi made a crucial observation when he said:
“I discovered that for remaining staunch to vegetarianism a man requires a moral basis. For me that was a great discovery in my search after truth. At an early age, in the course of my experiments, I found that a selfish basis would not serve the purpose of taking a man higher and higher along the paths of evolution. What was required was an altruistic purpose.”
Gandhi further explained that one may heap innumerable reasons favouring vegetarianism for health, environment or economy citing pollution and expense involved in maintaining non-vegetarian food habits. But all these are selfish reasons according to him. And because they are selfish, they are frail and are easily overrun. And that is exactly what is happening with most people. One of the points Gandhi makes in the talk is that most Indians are vegetarians, but a good number of them remain so because it is not economically viable to be meat eaters (remember this is 1930s). He states that if this be the reason for their vegetarianism, they will turn tables when they become richer. Prophetic words indeed as this news report suggests: ‘Many Indians turning to meat as their wallets grow fatter’. So unless the desire to become or remain a vegetarian comes from a moral purpose, it is unlikely to survive science and market forces.
Murder a day keeps good karma away
Bhagawan Baba says that the essence of all scriptures, of all religions and times can be summed up in the words, ‘Help Ever Hurt Never’. He exhorts us to be of help to those around us, or at least cause least harm and injury, even if we are unable to help. This moral lesson is the very basis of why one must be a vegetarian. How can I subsist at the cost of another life? How can I relish a food that is got by putting someone through torturous pain and agony? It is the desire to live with this self-satisfaction that their life and existence is not harming any being, which is leading thousands of people to embrace vegetarianism and even veganism.
One may raise arguments even to counter this stance. Don’t plants have life? Hasn’t it been proven through scientific research that they too can feel pain? (The work of Jagdish Chandra Bose is a monumental effort in that regard.) But Bhagawan gives a simple explanation for that. He says, that the reason the pain that plants feel is not comparable to that felt by animals is because plants do not have a central nervous system. In animals the injury inflicted upon one part of the body is transmitted as pain to the brain, through the central nervous system. This does not happen in plants. Also many of the vegetables and fruits that we consume can be got without killing the plant altogether. Apple picking for instance does not kill the apple tree. So for anyone wishing to live life causing least harm to beings around, a life that does not sustain itself on cruelty, the answer leads to the ‘V’ word.
The Power of Spiritual Compulsion
The discussion so far applies to any individual, whatever be their life goal and aspirations. What about those interested in a spiritual life, desiring to make the most of this precious opportunity to attain a higher goal? Bhagawan says, “Jantunam nara janma durlabham – To be born a human is itself rare and precious”. If so, there must be a purpose for which this boon has been granted to us. So human birth as to be looked upon as a precious means to achieve something higher and grander rather than an end in itself. And Bhagawan also reiterates that we must shed the delusion that we are just the body. When we believe that we are not the body, it is important to consider what the food does to us and not just our bodies! During the discourse Bhagawan delivered at a Cardiovascular conference held in Puttaparthi (7 Feb 1993), He said:
“Many doctors emphasise the value of proteins and recommend meat, eggs etc. But proteins got in this form serve only to build the body and do considerable harm to the mind. Doctors are primarily concerned with the gross physical body. They pay little attention to the subtle form of the mental makeup. Most of the diseases that are prevalent in the world today are related to the mind. Mental illnesses seem to outnumber physical ailments”.
Bhagawan had further explained this important concept about the food we intake, during the 1993 Summer course in Indian Culture and Spirituality too. He said:
This is the reason why Swami would often say that it is important to entertain good noble thoughts when one cooks food. Because that is what forms the subtlest part of the food, the emotions involved, the manner in which the materials were gathered – righteous or otherwise, and also the thoughts one thinks while eating the food. What relevance does this have to non-vegetarian food, and how does this affect the human mind? Swami explains that even as the proteins and nutrients nourish the body and muscle, the pain, the fear and agony the animal undergoes during its torturous life on the farm and especially at the time of its slaughter forms the subtlest part of the food which feed the mind. When the goal of all spiritual practices is the purification and sublimation of the mind or the attainment ofchitta shuddhi, how utterly counterproductive it is to partake of food that can affect it further! Not only are we inflicting indescribable misery on innocent creature, but by eating their meat we also take into our minds the feelings of insecurity and pain.
How Little a Burden is Your Existence?
In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali speaks of the eight-fold path (Ashtanga Yoga) leading to realisation. The first of which is Yama, a certain code of conduct or self-restraint that an individual must observe before being worthy of receiving higher knowledge. Yama again consists of five limbs – Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (adherence to Truth), Asteya (refrain from stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy during the pursuit of education) and Aparigraha (non-appropriation or not seeking gifts or favours). The first and foremost point is Ahimsa or not harming another being; how then can one who claims to have taken to the spiritual path or claims oneself a devotee resort to violence for one’s food? One may claim that they are not involved in the process of killing (an argument many a non-vegetarians resort to), but we saw what animals are put through in slaughterhouses. Would that happen if there is no consumer? Even though not directly, how can one wash one’s hands off the Himsa that is happening for one’s sake? The last of the yamas, Aparigraha is often spoken of as not accepting gifts from anyone.
The idea behind this discipline is that one’s dependence on those around must be kept at the minimum. For, all give and take results in a certain amount of bondage and for anyone who wishes to break free of the bondages of worldly life, accepting or anticipating of gifts and favours would be detrimental. This is also a reason why one must turn to vegetarianism. Our existence should cost our surroundings and beings around, the least possible. As a figure we quoted earlier, if a nation of 300 million people consumes 10 billion farm animals, what is the cost of one individuals sustenance? If you are a non-vegetarian consider the number of lives that have to be lost to feed just you, in your lifetime! This has to be considered by every individual, more so by a person who has turned to or considering a spiritual path. Asteya is refrain from stealing. So it is wrong to accept what is given as gift as much as it is wrong to take away by force or stealth. Here too the bondage that occurs when one takes from the other, binds the individual further. This holds good whether what is being taken is money and material, or proteins and nutrients!
Though one might argue that this holds good only for spiritual aspirants, one must understand that everyone at some point will turn to spirituality for answers to existential questions. And as Swami says, when one becomes more spiritual, the imaginary line that divides spirituality from worldly matters slowly fades away. So the above do not necessarily apply only to those who have a spiritual bent of mind, but to all.
The lasting and deeper effect of meat eating on the human race
Many of the arguments we have placed before our readers in this article are based on scientific or statistical study and are empirically verifiable. But any command that Bhagawan gives will have its reasons spread over different dimensions and not all can be understood by reason or experimentation. Swami gave one such subtle and profound reason during the Summer Course of 1977. Swami has spoken on many occasions about the importance of the thought one has just at the moment of giving up one’s life. If we contemplate on the Divine all through our life, we will then think of God at the moment of death, for when one thinks of God at that moment, he or she merges in God. What happens when an animal is slaughtered? What are its last thoughts and what happens as a result? Swami had said in the discourse mentioned:
“It is my duty to convey to you the truth as it exists. Today, the reason why the human population is increasing is because of the attitude of the people. For man to eke out his living, to fill a small tummy of his, God has created plenty in the world. God has created a large amount of rice, fruits, wheat etc. While such good food has been created by God, yet we go and eat meat and fish. And all these fish (and other living beings) which we kill and eat are reborn as human beings. Thus, if we enquire in some depth into these things, we will realise that whatever the nature of that material may be, the divinity that is contained in man can transform that material into another human being.”
Swami had said something quite similar even during the Summer Course in 1974:
“For the purpose of feeding ourselves, many lives are being sacrificed. In this process of our searching for food, many things like trees, birds, fish and animals are being sacrificed. Because these various living things are being sacrificed and are merging with human beings, they have also been acquiring human lives in their rebirth. None of these Jivas are getting any chance of rising higher than human lives. The entire life is being spent in making an effort to be reborn after one’s death, thus repeating the cycle of birth and death.”
In essence Swami said that when animals are killed for food by man, these life forms obtain a human birth without going through the evolutionary process. This means more humans are born with an animal nature, explaining the collective involution of human consciousness as reflected in rising crimes, hate and violence. Also if we consider the emotion with which these animals give up their life, which is fear of humans, when born again as human beings, they are born with the same fear and distrust towards their fellow beings. And this to an extent explains the growing hostility in the human society.
Once Bhagawan explained, one may catch a cat and feed it Satvic food over a period of time (in an attempt to change its eating habits), but the moment the cat sees a mouse, it will pounce and run after it! This is because, He explained, there is only an extent to which you can change the nature of an animal. At some point, its true nature will surface. He further explained, but humans are not like that. Though born into a family of non-vegetarians, one can through self-effort change one’s habits, and this is what distinguishes a man from an animal. And it is this inbuilt ability we all must harness to change our ways so as to make ourselves worthy of receiving what we all have undertaken this journey for.
Holy Grail for Sai Devotees
Though by means of this article, we have tried to present, through various angles the value of vegetarianism, these are quite redundant for Sai devotees. For members of the Sai family, there is only one reason, sufficient and conclusive, to be vegetarians – Swami wants us to be vegetarians. As Gandhi said, the reason must be more than scientific, dietary or even environmental. It should be moral and selfless. We at Radio Sai, during the preparation of this programme and article came across innumerable people – friends, colleagues and devotees who had effortlessly given up meat eating, and were never tempted to slip thereafter. They had no knowledge of all these arguments we have placed before you in the two parts of this article. They did not need it one bit! It was because they did it for Swami, for the love of Swami and there can be no reason more unassailable than that. And for His part Swami was ever ready to provide the encouragement and inspiration from within and without to those who wished to take this one step. A case in point is the experience of Dr. Mohan, the internationally renowned diabetologist and convener of the Sri Sathya Sai Trust in Tamil Nadu whom Swami encouraged and rewarded for turning vegetarian.
In 2007, all of a sudden the Convener of the Sathya Sai Trust, Tamil Nadu, Mr. G. K. Raman passed away in the Sai Kulwant Hall, during Darshan time on Onam day (about which you can read here). This left the important post of the Convener vacant. The members of the trust requested Swami to appoint another person to the post. Swami said He would but He did not name anyone right away. About a couple of months later, Dr. Mohan, who was one of the members of that trust, was returning after a trip to Prasanthi Nilayam. He had picked a book from the bookstore to give him company on his journey back home. While he was reading it, (which was interestingly a compilation of Bhagawan’s discourses on food) he came across this statement: “I have done so many things for you. All your wishes I have fulfilled. In return I have asked you for one thing – to become a vegetarian, and you have not done so. And you give an excuse saying there’s not enough proteins in vegetarian food [which was exactly the reason Dr Mohan would give for continuing to be a non-vegetarian]. I entirely disagree with you; protein is found in many vegetarian foods like…”, Swami then went on to list vegetarian food items that are rich in proteins. This startled him, for it was as if Swami was addressing him directly, point blank. He made up his mind immediately to give up eating meat. He duly conveyed it to his wife on reaching home. She too was delighted to join him in this endeavour to please Swami.
Just a few days after he had made this resolve, he got a call from the All India President of the Sathya Sai Organisation, Mr. Srinivasan. He was speaking in whispers as he conveyed the news that Swami had chosen him to be the convener, and that Swami had asked him to find out from Dr. Mohan if he was willing to take it up. Mr. Srinivasan explained that he had stepped out of the interview room to make this call, and he had to report to Swami Dr. Mohan’s reply. Dr. Mohan accepted the offer, but it was later that he reflected upon the sequence of events. He explained, that Swami would’ve chosen him as the convener that very day the post had become vacant, or in fact even much before. Swami does not have to ponder over, or weigh options like us. But Swami waited till Dr. Mohan made this resolve to become a vegetarian. May be to reward him for taking that step, or may be it was necessary for him to be further purified before he accepts this noble responsibility. Either ways, it speaks of the importance Swami gave to being a vegetarian, especially for those living and/or serving in His name. If our lives have to now become His message, then it is time to examine our every life style choice.
Another such story of encouragement we recollect at this point is the story of Ms. Jeroo Captain, whose short narration we had carried as an article, ‘Becoming a Veggie’. It is indeed an interesting account and quite unique.
Dear reader, if you too are a person who has successfully turned a vegetarian, please share your account in the comments section below. The way you handled this transformation could be an inspiration or guidance for someone else!
Swami has given us many instructions regarding food, and His message in this regard goes way beyond this simple categorization of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. In fact Swami reminds us that all that we take in, through all our senses should be considered as food. That makes the discipline in food all the more complex and deep. Why then such fuss about vegetarianism? Are all vegetarians angels and infallible, or are all non-vegetarians despicable in character and behaviour? Definitely not, and we would discourage any vegetarian from trying to occupy that mantle of moral high-ground. One needs to be a vegetarian because that seems to be, as mathematicians would say, ‘A necessary condition, but not a sufficient one.’ It is a good place to begin! For Swami Himself has said on many many occasions that He wants His devotees to necessarily abstain from consuming alcohol, smoking and eating meat. And for those still struggling to quit this habit, let’s take that first step, firmly assured that Swami will encourage and reward us to stick to this resolve. Be a vegetarian not for any of the reasons mentioned in this article. Do it because Swami always expects it of His children, and no reasoning can strengthen your resolve as much as this desire to please Him can. Even as you do it, realise that never before has being a vegetarian been so charitable, humanitarian, moral and essential.