Bite Me, Ethically – Part 2

In the last post, I began writing about vegetarianism and my evolution where it is concerned. Truly, there are many people whose “package” as a unique being has meant that vegetarianism is wrong. And, truly, there are those of the persuasion that this couldn’t possibly be wrong for ANYONE. My views have evolved from vegetarianism not even being on the radar, to thinking I needed to adopt it and that other should too, to recognizing that not only are there a bajillion people out there for whom this is plainly wrong but also that – at times – I might be one of those people. That feeling, of meat being increasingly not right for me, has definitely plateaued. I no longer feel like it’s something I need to fuss about in any context, but I’d like to continue to explain a bit about where I sit with it all and why.

As I mentioned in the last post – it’s simply not right for some people. There could be many reasons for this and some of those reasons may well be temporary. Another blogger has touched on this a number of times in his own journey with the matter. There are times even when a person might very much want to avoid meat and it’s just not in the cards.

For some abstaining from meat means health issues. I’ve known a number of vegetarians who admit that they aren’t “healthy” eaters – but don’t worry! They’re avoiding meat so it’s all good. WHAT?!?! That’s ridiculous, and I would argue that any karmic benefit gained from not eating meat would be just as quickly and easily wasted by neglecting the “temple” of one’s own body. Ask any shilpi or temple architect and it might be argued that if you can’t do it properly, then you’re perhaps better off (in many ways) just not doing it at all. And along the lines of karma, I’ve written before about how our reactions and sentiments carried about meat eating can create way more karma than we’re unloading by avoiding meat.

I also, in many contexts, find vegetarianism to be hypocritical where it relates to sentient life. Many people who are vegetarian have made the choice to be so because they are uneasy about the idea that sentient beings likes cows, chickens, and pigs are farmed for food. Of course, given the chance and freedom these life forms would opt out of landing on your dinner plate or mine. They are aware of their own existence and would prefer to keep on existing, right? Right.

So, where in all of this does it become okay to pick-n-choose which sentient life we value and which we do not? Isn’t that in itself cruel? Yet that’s exactly what we’re doing as vegetarians. You see, if animals aren’t being farmed then plants will be. And plants cannot be farmed without the loss of life. I’m not talking about broccoli being aware of itself. I’m talking about the MILLIONS of instances of life that are killed just to make one bowl of meat-free salad. Even if we exclude the use of pesticides and likewise exclude the massive number of insects that are killed by them, any farmer will tell you of the massive number of snakes, turtles, rabbits, raccoons, mice and other rodents, and even larger forms of life, that are butchered in the fields where our lettuce and kale are grown.

So I’m morally evolved if I value the life of a cow but not that of a deer? There’s an interesting and well-written article on the Huffington Post about how true veganism (obviously different than the vegetarianism I’ve been writing about) should actually mean people become insectivores. You can read it here. There’s an article here that pertains to vegetarianism and it’s role in the destruction of life. If we’re choosing meat-free eating primarily because of principles like ahimsa and suffering of sentient beings, then you’re absolutely a hypocrite. I know those words might seem strong to some well-meaning people, but I say it’s true because anywhere you look in Hinduism’s holy texts you can read that the core, the seed, of all life is the same regardless of the life form. A cow might look and behave differently than a fox or a human because that’s the difference of living an existence as a cow versus another life form – but the amsha (spark) at the core of any life form is not different based on the life form itself. To think your salad has less blood on it than your brother’s steak is ignorance. And to think a cow or rat or praying mantis have differing values or worth is hypocrisy.

The plain fact is that, at this point in human history, choosing vegetarianism (or veganism) for reasons related to saving sentient life is not only hypocritical but also it’s not really even that humane. But people will believe whatever they wish and absolutely will rationalize whatever makes them feel better about their choices – because that’s what we all really want: justification for our ways.

There are also some texts sacred to Hindus that advise that the authentic sage, or advanced soul, eats whatever is given to him. I’d have to check, but I think one place I came across that was one of the Gitas (not the Bhagavad Gita, obviously). That was an immense lesson for me. The implications are profound and have nothing whatsoever to do with carelessness.

Obviously, all of these things should be considered and reconsidered when deciding to be a vegetarian or not, and the REAL reasons behind why one might. For me, the preference will remain overwhelmingly in favor of flesh-free eats, but probably not strictly and also not likely for the same reasons as the bulk of other people making the same choice.

Thank you.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha – Aum Shanti


7 responses to “Bite Me, Ethically – Part 2

  1. This is another great post 🙂

    The points below are purely my defence of my vegetarianism, and are not trying to put down anybody else’s lifestyle choices.

    There is an important point here of intention within karma.

    Karma is created by intention of action not consequence. Hence as a vegetarian, my intention is to reduce the suffering of sentient beings, not to increase it. This is why I believe the pesticide argument does not hold. Meat eaters on the other hand, are looking to directly benefit from the death of another being. They don’t carry the intention of care for other beings with them. Hence they invoke bad karma.

    The consequences of the action themselves do not actually matter. That is why Hinduism teaches us to be mindful of even our thoughts as these bring about bad karma, regardless of whether they lead to a bad consequence or not.

    The point on plants being sentient is interesting. I do believe plants are beings. They have awareness (but to a lesser extent than animals). They are able to react to their surroundings. They respire, excrete and reproduce just like us.

    But I feel plants need animals like us to feed on them. To aid pollination, plants produce appetising fruits for animals to eat so that their seeds can spread. The seeds are defecated and the faeces provide nourishment for the seed to flourish.

    This argument is a purely scientific argument. I’m afraid I cannot argue a spiritual argument for plant eating. They are beings, as you say.

    The only thing that remotely defends this is that in Hinduism, animal incarnations have only the purpose of repaying the karma of past lives. Hence, animals are not creating suffering for plant beings by eating them or otherwise they would never rise out of animal incarnation. But I feel this has much more to do with the instinctive nature of an animal’s mind rather than its eating of plants. It isn’t really a strong argument.


    • Ji,

      I appreciate your comment and your view. Really, the first and only thing that stands out to me in all that you shared is the bit about intention. I fully agree with you that our mental / emotional level is where all karmas begin.

      I would also add that there’s far more to a tree than the seed from which is grows. The leaves that fall before winter, the branches birds nest in – all perhaps ultimately come from the seed, but the bulk of the seed’s manifestation is well beyond the seed itself. Wise people know this and and how it relates to karma and they make sure the seeds they plant are the ones they want to – but those who focus only on the seeds are not handling their karmas as fully or responsibly as they think. After all, we have the old saying “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Intention is crucial as is governing it properly, but there’s so very much more. 🙂

      Thank you for your input and than you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Dhrishti.

        I agree with you. Seeds give life. I think it is sad how forests are being cleared to cash in on farming land for crops.

        Yet I feel handcuffed by these methods. And it is other beings who suffer as a result of facilitating the survival (?) of the human species.

        It is extremely sad. And in this case overconsumption and wastage are also a causal factor not just what is consumed.

        For which every human on this planet is somewhat accountable.

        It is a very sad of affairs.


  2. Hi Dhrishti.

    I was thinking about this post the other day again. I think I have something to add, although it may not be enough to convince you.

    The saying “The road to hell is paved is with good intentions” can only be true to the consequentialist. Karma itself is not ethical consequentialism.

    Karma is based more on virtue than anything else. The virtue of dutiful actions. Selfless actions. Actions that we seek not to personally benefit from.

    For me, the choice of eating veg only is purely based on my intention to not benefit from the suffering of another being. I am forsaking possible enjoyment to aid the survival of another being.

    This is good intention, and it is the only thing that is dharmically relevant (dharma being a theory of (kind of) virtue ethics)

    But to the consequentialist, the EFFECTS of my actions are the only things that are relevant, not the intention. So, the fact that animals may die as a result of my intention to aid their survival is a cause for ethical concern to the consequentialist. But not to the HIndu.

    This seems ironic, but is shown to be true in current society. Think of the police sieges that have occurred recently where civilians have been shot by police or terrorists when the police have launched the offensive in the final stages of a stand-off. The police had the intention to protect the civilians, but their force has unintentionally caused their death. Should/will they be punished? I think not.

    Indeed, consequentialism is an ethical theory and can be seen as valid in some cases, but it is not one that I have signed up to due to my belief in the ethics of karma.



    • Karma, by definition is “action,” not “intention.” There’s actually nothing that I’ve come across in all my studies that directly correlates / relates the concept of karma to intention, beyond the notion that intention sits as the seed of karma, generally speaking. To that end, I do and have given credit to the value and weight of intention. And a number of my posts here on Sthapati have detailed the immense importance of knowing and understanding intention.

      I would also disagree that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is actually consequentialist. Consequentialism says that “the ends justify the means” – that what you do or don’t do is good, depending on the outcome. Surely any road to hell has meant some “bad” actions, but the point is that action / karma finds its seed in intention, and it’s very risky indeed to suppose that regardless of the action taken, it’s “good” if the intention behind it was “good.” Hitler is a prime example of how very screwed up our good intentions often make things.

      Karma is not based on virtue. Plain and simple, it is action. “Right action” or “wrong action” are all mental overlays we assign to deeds based on our inclinations and aversions – all of which is temporary and mostly unreal. You mention “dutiful actions,” and I would argue that that isn’t karma. It’s dharma.

      These “Bite Me” posts were meant to point out that even those who are “forsaking possible enjoyment to aid the survival of another being” aren’t actually aiding all that much – at least not as much as they often think – a thought pattern which is more often that not quite ignorant, selective, and hypocritical is when/where/how it applies value to life and which lives matter.

      No offense, but I find your statement about good intention being the only thing that is dharmically relevant to be a little blind.

      What I’m saying, is that the outcome isn’t always what we think it is, regardless of our actions OR intentions. And it’s hypocritical to say or think, “It’s okay if millions of sentient life forms suffer and die for my salad, because I’m not intending that to be the case. Those lives don’t matter as much as the cows in the slaughterhouse.”

      “But to the consequentialist, the EFFECTS of my actions are the only things that are relevant, not the intention. So, the fact that animals may die as a result of my intention to aid their survival is a cause for ethical concern to the consequentialist. But not to the HIndu.” –This really bothers me in a few ways. Again with the consequentialism. Perhaps I should review how I write about these things because I feel the point was lost. What matters to me, personally, and what I meant to convey but have apparently failed at, is that these so-called good intentions aren’t really as dharmic as those carrying them think – not because of the fact that despite those intentions millions of animals are still killed so that someone can be a vegetarian – but because the person basing their actions off of those intentions is choosing to justify the killing of one life because they feel they are sparing another. Killing for food is killing for food, regardless of the intention and regardless of what substance ends up on one’s plate. Again, the end result doesn’t matter. (It’s essentially the same, really, which was part of my original point, but it doesn’t matter.) And even if we construe all of this to where it really IS consequentialist, it’s simply rude and arrogant to finish in saying that it’s “not Hindu.” Very few things – ever – anywhere – are “not Hindu.” The faulty application of the term “consequentialist” where it applies to my writing is one thing and I’ll take responsibility for being unclear in what I meant to communicate. But it’s another thing altogether to conclusively decide whether someone or something is / isn’t Hindu – surely as an Indian, and with the background I know you to have, you of all people can understand the mind-blowing diversity found under the term “Hindu.”

      I’m afraid, too, that your point about the police and their intentions is … I don’t even know. Screwed. For one, and this is especially true if you happen to be referencing any of the police drama here in the U.S. in the last year, it’s a very wide assumption to say that the intention of the police officers involved was solely to protect. Blatant racism, excessive use of force against those they are sworn to protect, practically criminal backgrounds in some instances, and histories of abuse of force have made it quite clear that the police don’t always (and sometimes even rarely) carry “good” intentions. At the end of the day, regardless of the noblest intentions some may carry, our police are trusted to be paid, trained, and professionals at what they do. Those things, especially where force to take lives is also an option, automatically mean a great responsibility many – civilians and police – do not understand and if they falter on that responsibility there are and should be consequences…. perhaps this is the one place in your recent comment where consequentialism DOES fit. Unfortunately, in this case it appears to be yourself promoting the notion that the “ends justifies the means” where police are concerned.

      Thank you for the additional thoughts – even the offensive ones. I still think there’s something missing from what you are saying.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry, didn’t mean to offend.

        This was an interesting post that I felt like commenting on.

        I agree with your point about the limited benefit of being a vegetarian.

        For me, it is just the way I have chosen to live now.

        I know many Hindus who eat meat, even beef and I have never questioned their commitment to their religion.

        But I understand that this post was not about Hinduism, more the general question of the ethics of vegetarianism.

        Again, sorry to have offended


      • Ji,

        Thanks again for another comment. My words are sometimes harsh, and like anyone else there are things that set me off more than others. While I was offended by some of what you said and I very much disagree with some of what you said, I insist that none of it is anything you owe an apology for.

        If I am entitled to views, opinions, and understandings based on my own development, then surely you are as well. And surely both sides of the fence are equally valid in their own ways.

        For the record, regardless of the level to which we may disagree on any given matter, I do value ALL input from you so far. I mention some of why on my “Samyag” page and I very much hope that you will not hesitate to share your thoughts here in the future!

        Liked by 1 person

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