Eating is not just external
In modern days we say "believe to see", but how much can we really see? Because we cannot see thoughts, microwaves or a bird flying further and further away from us, doesn't mean these things don't exist. Karma is the same. Reactions of our past activities hang invisibly on to us like vultures flying high above waiting for the moment to feast on our bodies. Why does something happen to one person and not to someone else? Why are we born different?
Even if we see twins who look exactly the same, have even the same tastes etc., still one of them can die from a car accident and the other doesn't. Why? Because we're not the same, there is a lot that we cannot see, but it is there, waiting for us to manifest in the future. Eating is the same. So many things can come back to us according to the food we eat. Eating meat, smoking and drinking alcohol produce indisputably bad reactions for us. According to the ancient teachings of karma this doesn't just apply on the growth or external level, it also comes into being on the subtle plane. Like if we eat the remnants of someone with a certain disease, we're very likely to develop that disease as well.
Lots of karmic reactions are transferred through the food we eat. It literally becomes part of us and affects our consciousness. Apart from the products that we eat, another factor is who prepared the food. Was the person in good or selfish consciousness? Everybody remembers that "grandma's soup" just tastes different. Why? because there was so much love and affection in it! Love goes literally through the stomach, maybe you cannot see it, but healthy people know what we are talking about here.
In India it's common therefore to offer your food first to a higher being, before you eat. When we eat the remnants of someone with a higher consciousness, our consciousness also goes higher and we get higher knowledge. The best option is to offer the food to the highest person. We know that person as "Krishna", which means "the all-attractive". Krishna's senses are not limited as ours. He can simply accept things through His eyes and you might not see it, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. So many things happen without us seeing it. The fact is that this technique of "purifying" our foodstuffs is a thousands of years old tradition followed by millions of people to this day especially in the far eastern countries.
When we eat the food first eaten by Krishna we get purified, therefore it's called prasada, or "mercy". Prasada is "karma-free", because it is purified by the faultless person that exists beyond karmic influence. If you follow this process, your mind opens and your knowledge increases, it's as mystic and simple as that. Krishna doesn't like eatables obtained by violence or that intoxicate our body. Many great thinkers have adopted a healthy and vegetarian diet, because it feels proper to do so. Knowing or unknowingly, we are all ultimately attracted to Krishna. That's why He's called the "all-attractive".
I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals.
I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants.
Each year about 134 million mammals and 3 billion birds are killed for food in America. But few people make any conscious connection between this slaughter and the meat products that appear on their tables. A case in point: in television commercials a clown called Ronald McDonald tells kiddies that hamburgers grow in "hamburger patches." The truth is not so pleasant - commercial slaughterhouses are like visions of hell. Screaming animals are stunned by hammer blows, electric shock, or concussion guns. They are then hoisted into the air by their feet and moved through the factories of death on mechanized conveyor systems. Often still alive, their throats are sliced and their flesh is cut off. Describing his reaction to a visit to a slaughterhouse, champion tennis player Peter Burwash wrote in his bookA Vegetarian Primer, "I'm no shrinking violet. I played hockey until half of my teeth were knocked down my throat. And I'm extremely competitive on a tennis court ... But that experience at the slaughterhouse overwhelmed me. When I walked out of there, I knew all the physiological, economic, and ecological arguments supporting vegetarianism, but it was firsthand experience of man's cruelty to animals that laid the real groundwork for my commitment to vegetarianism."
Ancient Greece and Rome
Ethical considerations have always attracted many of the world's greatest personalities to adopt a vegetarian diet. Pythagoras, famous for his contributions to geometry and mathematics, said, "Oh, my fellow men, do not defile your bodies with sinful foods. We have corn, we have apples bending down the branches with their weight, and grapes swelling on the vines. There are sweet-flavored herbs, and vegetables which can be cooked and softened over the fire, nor are you denied milk or thyme-scented honey. The earth affords a lavish supply of riches, of innocent foods, and offers you banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter: only beasts satisfy their hunger with flesh, and not even all of those, because horses, cattle, and sheep live on grass." The biographer Diogenes tells us that Pythagoras ate bread and honey in the morning and raw vegetables at night. He would also pay fisherman to throw their catch back into the sea.
In an essay titled "On Eating Flesh," the Roman author Plutarch wrote: "Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstinence from flesh? For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of mind the first man touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, set forth tables of dead, stale bodies, and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that has a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb" How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds? It is certainly not lions or wolves that we eat out of self-defense; on the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us. For the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life to which they are entitled by birth and being."
He then delivered this challenge to flesh-eaters: "If you declare that you are naturally designed for such a diet, then first kill for yourself what you want to eat. Do it, however, only through your own resources, unaided by cleaver or cudgel or any kind of ax."
Da Vinci, Rousseau, Franklin ...
The Great Renaissance painter, inventor, sculptor, and poet Leonardo da Vinci epitomized the ethical approach to vegetarianism. He wrote, "He who does not value life does not deserve it." He considered the bodies of meat-eaters to be "burial places," graveyards for the animals they eat. His notebooks are full of passages that show his compassion for living creatures. He lamented, "Endless numbers of these animals shall have their little children taken from them, ripped open, and barbarously slaughtered."
French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau was an advocate of natural order. He observed that the meat-eating animals are generally more cruel and violent than herbivores. He therefore reasoned that a vegetarian diet would produce a more compassionate person. He even advised that butchers not be allowed to testify in court or sit on juries.
In The Wealth of Nations economist Adam Smith proclaimed the advantages of a vegetarian diet. "It may indeed be doubted whether butchers' meat is anywhere a necessary of life. Grain and other vegetables, with the help of milk, cheese, and butter, or oil, where butter is not to be had, afford the most plentiful, the most wholesome, the most nourishing, and the most invigorating diet. Decency nowhere requires that any man should eat butchers' meat." Similar considerations motivated Benjamin Franklin, who became a vegetarian at age sixteen. Franklin noted "greater progress, from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension." In his autobiographical writings, he called flesh-eating "unprovoked murder."
The poet Shelley was a committed vegetarian. In his essay "A Vindication of Natural Diet," he wrote, "Let the advocate of animal food force himself to a decisive experiment on its fitness, and as Plutarch recommends, tear a living lamb with his teeth and, plunging his head into its vitals, slake his thirst with the steaming blood ... then, and then only, would he be consistent." Shelley's interest in vegetarianism began when he was a student at Oxford, and he and his wife, Harriet, took up the diet soon after their marriage. In a letter dated March 14, 1812, his wife wrote to a friend, "We have foresworn meat and adopted the Pythagorean system." Shelley, in his poem Queen Mab, described a Utopian world where men do not kill animals for food.
... no longer now
He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,
And horribly devours his mangled flesh,
Which, still avenging Nature's broken law,
Kindled all putrid humors in his frame,
All evil passions, and all vain belief,
Hatred, despair, and loathing in his mind,
The germs of misery, death, disease and crime.
The Russian author Leo Tolstoy became a vegetarian in 1885. Giving up the sport of hunting, he advocated "vegetarian pacifism" and was against killing even the smallest living things, such as the ants. He felt there was a natural progression of violence that led inevitably to war in human society. In his essay "simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to moral feeling - killing." By killing, Tolstoy believed, "man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity - that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself - and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel."
Composer Richard Wagner believed that all life was sacred. He saw vegetarianism as "nature's diet," which could save mankind from violent tendencies and help us return to the "long-lost Paradise."
At various times in his life, Henry David Thoreau was a vegetarian. Although his own practice of vegetarianism was spotty at best, he recognized its virtues. In Walden he wrote, "Is it not a reproach that man is a carnivorous animal? True, he can and does live, in a great measure, by preying on other animals; but this is a miserable way - as any one who will go to snaring rabbits, or slaughtering lambs, may learn - and he will be regarded as a benefactor of his race who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and wholesome diet. Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized."
The Twentieth Century
It goes without saying that the great twentieth-century apostle of nonviolence Mohandas Gandhi was a vegetarian. His parents, being devout Hindus, never gave him meat, fish, or eggs. Under British rule, however, there was a great attack on the age-old principles of Indian culture. Under such pressures, many Indians began to adopt the meat-eating habits of the West. Even Gandhi fell victim to the advice of some schoolfriends, who urged him to eat meat because it would increase his strength and courage. But he later resumed a vegetarian diet and wrote, "It is necessary to correct the error that vegetarianism has made us weak in mind, or passive or inert in action. I do not regard flesh-food as necessary at any stage." he wrote five books on vegetarianism. His own daily diet included wheat sprouts, almond paste, greens, lemons, and honey. He founded Tolstoy Farm, a community based on vegetarian principles. In his Moral Basis of Vegetarianism Gandhi wrote, "I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we are superior to it." He felt that ethical principles are a stronger support for lifelong commitment to a vegetarian diet than reasons of health. "I so feel." he stated, "that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants."
Playwright George Bernard Shaw first tried to become a vegetarian at age twenty-five. "It was Shelley who first opened my eyes to the savagery of my diet," he wrote in his autobiography. Shaw's doctors warned that the diet would kill him. When an old man, he was asked why he didn't go back and show them what good it had done him. He replied, "I would, but they all passed away years ago." Once someone asked him how it was that he looked so youthful. "I don't," Shaw retorted. "I look my age. It is the other people who look older than they are. What can you expect from people who eat corpses?" On the connection between flesh-eating and violence in human society, Shaw wrote:
We pray on Sundays that we may have light
To guide our footsteps on the path we tread;
We are sick of war, we don't want to fight,
And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
H.G. Wells wrote about vegetarianism in his vision of a future world, A Modern Utopia. "In all the round world of Utopia there is no meat. There used to be. But now we cannot stand the thought of slaughterhouses. And, in a population that is all educated, and at about the same level of physical refinement, it is practically impossible to find anyone who will hew a dead ox or pig ... I can still remember as a boy the rejoicings over the closing of the last slaughterhouse."
Nobel-prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer became a vegetarian in 1962, at the age of fifty-eight. He said, "Naturally I am sorry now that I waited so long, but it is better later than never." He finds vegetarianism quite compatible with his mystical variety of Judaism. "We are all God's creatures - that we pray to God for mercy and justice while we continue to eat the flesh of animals that are slaughtered on our account is not consistent." Although he appreciates the health aspect of vegetarianism, he states very clearly that the ethical consideration is primary. "Even if eating flesh was actually shown to be good for you, I would certainly still not eat it."
Singer has little patience with intellectual rationalizations for meat-eating. "Various philosophers and religious leaders tried to convince their disciples and followers that animals are nothing more than machines without a soul, without feelings. However, anyone who has ever lived with an animal - be it a dog, a bird, or even a mouse - knows that this theory is a brazen lie, invented to justify cruelty."