In the disclaimer I offered back on May 25th of this year (which can be read here), I mentioned that there are many kinds of Hindus, and thus many expressions of Hinduism. The kind of Hindu I want to write about is the carnivorous kind. I hope you brought your big mind to class today. I also hope you have your reading glasses and ample time to not only read what is likely to become a rather lengthy post, but ample time to mentally masticate the suchery about to be included. Aum Ganesha!
Before I dive deeply into what I’m planning here, please allow me to be clear: I’m not condoning carnivorous practices among humans. It’s my opinion that our current methodology for farming meat products is not only wasteful and inefficient, but also immensely cruel. I also believe there’s more than enough scientific evidence to support the theory that humans are anatomically and physiologically designed to consume primarily plant material for our nutrition needs. Lastly, I do think, for various reasons which I may end up not going into very much, that humans – as spiritual and intellectual organisms – function optimally when abstaining from eating meat. Beyond that, I’m not mad at folks who chomp beasts.
From where I’m sitting, this topic is a source of contention and too many misguided, skewed intentions. In the middle ages, Christians hunted other groups of people who they perceived to be a threat of some sort. Mind you, those Christians didn’t simply decided against a group and then plot its extermination. There was something about one group or another that was perceived to be a detractor to the process of “saving” the world, or was seen as a roadblock of sorts for those attempting to gain entrance into eternal heavenly paradise. Everyone wants paradise and some people want it for others, too. This was the goal of Christians then, but what ended up happening instead were things like the Crusades where folks were literally hunted and killed for not being Christian. Interestingly, during these times even Christian priests were tested – by vegetarianism. If they refused to eat meat, they were accused of having been influenced by the religion of Manacheanism and would be killed. Some could read this as indicative of the violence inherent in Christian doctrine. I’ll let you take those thoughts where you will.
I find that something along these lines, although not to the same extreme degree, happens in Hindu/Buddhist circles. There are many many scriptural texts in the Hindu religion. Many of those texts strongly advise that eating sentient beings isn’t too far removed from eating another human and at times those same texts precisely detail the karmic and spiritual repercussions – sometimes with an amount of detail that causes me to question the validity of that kind of precision. What’s often overlooked, though, are the parts of the Hindu family that either say nothing about abstaining from meat, encourage killing in some contexts (perhaps for sacrifice or beacuse of so-called duty), or advise that being too against meat eating is no different from actually consuming flesh yourself.
That last bit is important. I personally know a numerous number of vegetarians and vegans who believe that abstaining from fleshy chews will save their souls all the while completely ignoring the inner landscape they’ve cultivated around the subject and all the resultant karma they’re incurring because of it. All of our external actions have seeds which are subtle, many being as subtle as our own thoughts and emotions.
Please understand that aversion is ultimately, qualitatively, no different than desire – both are dangerous traps! This is affirmed/confirmed in the Gita by Shri Krishna, himself. Ultimately, perception of “goodness” is meant to be avoided as much as perception of “evil.” The only possible benefit of cultivating an abundance of “good” is pleasantry of experience. Be sure – the two are essentially the same. Hating or despising the consumption of meat will put you in the same samsaric/karmic boat as those who actually eat meat. Karma is karma, after all, and even the smallest amount of the most subtle karmic expression is still enough to imprison one on the wheel of death and rebirth – preventing moksha from being yours.
I want to show that, while there may be plenty of Hindu Scriptures or accepted concepts that strongly encourage a meat-free life, there are also scriptures that proclaim the more ultimate benefit of transcending such preferences. I’ll write more about that later. One should also note that there’s a key difference between encouraging someone in a behavior and simply not condemning them for it.
I also want to briefly visit what is probably the most common reason for abstaining from meat: Ahimsa. Most understand the term to simply and broadly mean nonviolence. This is true, but at best this definition only half covers abstention from meat. That’s because, at best, “nonviolence” only half defines ahimsa. Taking the definition of a word like ahimsa to be fully encompassed by something like “nonviolence” is like saying Brahman is as simple as “God.” It’s simply not (completely) true. This form of simplicity is at work in other forms of fundamentalism where something important is whittled down to chewable bites, and then those bits are said to contain every flavor of the original. As with any other Sanskrit word, there are numerous layers of meaning, and saying ahimsa means nonviolence is like saying you are your skin. It should also be pointed out that true nonviolence is not possible in ANY life. This is something else that is key to remember and is a prime example of how fundamentalism works, even within Hinduism. You end up throwing out practicality and reason. Other layers of ahimsa are possible in life, with effort, and when ahimsa is applied to a spiritual context those deeper layers are what’s being pointed to, not simply nonviolence. With that said, ahimsa alone makes a great case for better living, but not specifically a vegetarian diet.
Karma is another word that’s quite often tossed around when arguing whether meat eating is massively detrimental within the perennial context. Everyone seems to be under the assumption that all killing is “bad” and that all “bad” actions create undesirable results. If this were really the case, the warrior caste would be lower than the Shudras and would certainly be doomed to hellish places lifetime after lifetime, and Krishna wouldn’t have advised Arjuna that to kill humans (humans he loved!) is the dharmic thing to do. This is further support that the concept of non-violence isn’t meant to be so encompassing. Surely, with God represented equally in all sentient beings, if there are times when it’s literally righteous to kill other humans, there must also be times when it’s okay to kill “lesser” beings – although not necessarily for food. Still, I have a hard time believing that someone who enjoys a hamburger is automatically somehow karmically worse off than a soldier… at least here in the Kali Yuga.
Three Hindu scriptures do sufficiently well at illustrating all of this – not that consuming flesh is ok, but that it’s worse (or just as bad) to have an aversion to it. Due to the current length of this post, I’ll save the actual meat of what I’m getting at for another post, which is just as likely to be as broad as it is long. Stay tuned if you care.
Jai Shri Ganesha!
Aum Mahaganeshaya Namaha