Sanatan Dharma

Nonviolence and Vegetarianism

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Part VII - Other Important Articles, Chapter 1/6 - Nonviolence and Vegetarianism

This is Part VII - Other Important Articles, Chapter 1/ 6

Table of Contents

33. Nonviolence and Vegetarianism

Nonviolence is prescribed to be practised physically and mentally. Vegetarian food is prescribed for those who wish to progress spiritually.

33.1. Non-Violence (अहिंसा)

Non-violence was always practiced and encouraged in Hinduism. Non-violence is not to be taken in literal way. It is an attempt to be as much non-violent in actions, thoughts and emotions. Only Atman is truly non-violent as it attaches with no one. One can be non-violent when one detaches oneself from body mind, intellect and ego. It is identification with the body and all that is non-Self that is responsible for all types of violence, physical or mental. Hence, Non-violence is a journey beginning from dis-identification of Self with the body and mind and ends up in total detached state which is Brahman, a state beyond all three guNa-s - sattva, rajas and tamasa.

33.1.1. Why does violence cease to exist in state of enlightenment?

Brahman or Atman is beyond three guNas- and so it is beyond mAyA. All that we experience is because of mAyA. Our attachment with non-Self is because of mAyA.

One can only be enlightened when one has renounced attachment towards worldly objects, both external (physical) and internal (mental, desire to acquire them). Hence mind does not long for objects. An introvert mind is satisfied. yogi-s and advanced meditators live a simple life with very few necessities.

An enlightened yogi feels intense bliss, deep peace, has a sense of contentment, and feels completeness. Such a yogi does not need anything from the outside world or from heaven, but remains merged into the Blissful immortal brahman.

For advanced meditators, every thought or desire itself is violence, as it produces ripples in steady consciousness and tries to trap the infinite consciousness into thought process and desire to achieve them. If such is the case of a sAdhaka, who has not yet realised, then what can be said about GYAni, an enlightened soul, who is permanently merged into Brahman? Definitely violence cease to exist in the supreme state of Enlightenment.

33.1.2. Why does mind give violent reactions?

Because it does not get what it wants or longs for. Hence either it is a quest to conquer, achieve or it is the frustration of failure to achieve the desired object that brings violent reactions.

33.1.3. Why does mind long?

Atman empowers mind and it itself shines (reflects) from within mind. Searching for happiness is our basic longing. It is not wrong to desire for happiness. What is wrong is to search it outside when it is inside says Sri Ramana Maharshi. After achieving that is desired, we feel happy. Everyone, whether one believes in spirituality or not is longing for this happiness. Our entire life is nothing but search for this truth. We try to find it in a person or an object and try to achieve it. Since it is our own wish, we use our will and put in our efforts … and the vicious cycle of action and reaction, karma and it’s fruits keeps rolling … and one is trapped in the cycle of birth and death. So instead of returning back to the source of mind, which is Atman, ‘I’, we search ‘I’ outside mind and body.

So the cause of violence is -

To search for happiness out us in worldly objects or person and

Making efforts to achieve it and get frustrated if it is not achieved.

One may take violence as an act of physical abuse. But in reality, in subtler plane, violence is found even in trivial actions like making efforts. It is violence when it is compared with the eternally peaceful and blissful state of non-activity.

So why does a person resort to violence -

The answer is: Ignorance of our True nature.

So to return to our true nature, what should be done?

Now we enter into the spiritual world, the path of renunciation and dis-identification. We may have the will, but not the temperament and mental purity to apply the teachings of vedAnta in our life. One cannot simply stop expectations and reactions. Hence we begin with purifying our mind so that one day we can practice detachment with correct understanding.

The path of purification begins with doing social service and surrendering fruits of work to God. We can go one step further to surrender our actions too to God and keep praying to show him a direction and the path that best suits you. We can add bhakti to get emotionally attached to God. Upon right time, God will himself guide you either directly or through a Guru. After this phase, just like a prey cannot escape from clutches of a lion, so does a student does not escape from the clutches of Guru. He (his spiritual progress) is under the control of Guru and constantly benefits from his Guru’s grace.

Till now, we were talking about violence from spiritual POV, now lets turn towards practical side of ‘violence’

33.1.4. Practical side of non-violence

Non-violence is a necessity for sages who have renounced the world. For a person living in society, one has to follow smriti-s too, which are moral and ethical codes. Like the parASara smriti, often called as the smriti that is suitable to kaliyuga (refer to sloka-s 1-25 of parASara smriti) says that you should be careful while donating something. Take care that the person is of good natured, else our money or stuff can be used for wrong purposes. Even the celebrated Manu smriti 8.350 says that a king can kill anti-social elements like murderer and rapist either in secret or in public. For this king incurs no sin. Sin is uncured when King does not kill him.

Our SAstra-s teach us to rise against injustice, to keep fighting till last drop of blood. All devatA-s except bhagavAn brahmA ji are equipped with weapons. SAstra-s do not teach us to be cowards. Teachings of vedAnta are not to be confused that it should be applied by all. vedAnta is not for all. It is only for those high souls you have purified their mind by lots of good karma and intense meditations in this life or in previous lives. We have a dedicated SAstra ‘dhanurveda’ for training men in martial arts.

You may have heard about animal sacrifices in SAstra-s. Please Kanchi Paramacharya's response on these issues

33.2. A False Practical Perspective - Violence can only be won by Non-violence

There is a popular notion that ‘Violence can only be won by Non-violence’. The answer is both true and false. The answer is true from mental or spiritual POV and false from Practical POV We will have to understand both approaches.

Mental / spiritual approach

The approach of countering violence with nonviolence is very effective way on personal level. When violent thoughts enter into mind, a sAdhaka (disciple) is taught to counter it by non-violent way. The approach is to stay as a witness, by not letting thoughts and emotions influence your mind and force you to act in a violent way. Any person's opinion is his/her opinion and cannot influence you. Only if and when you start thinking on it, other's thoughts now becomes your thought. If you get involved in violent thoughts you are adding fuel to the fire and keep it burning. Hence first, the thought should be identified and our conscience will help identify it. Next, firm decision must be taken as not to get influenced by it. To reduce influence of thoughts and uproot them, one must detach himself from such thoughts and let it pass by. Silently and peacefully surrender yourself to God and thoughts in some time will lose strength. This is meditative approach which only few practice.

Remember, you and only you can practice meditation. Only you can detach yourself from thoughts and not let them influence you.

Practical Approach

On practical grounds, the case is completely different. Here, a violent person's conscience does not stop him or he does not listen to his own conscience. Hence his mind allows 'the act of violence'. How can other person help such a person unless that person himself decides to change his approach and decides to act against his violent tendencies.

The issue today is topsy turvy when religion is taken into account. While eastern dharmic religions prefer and advocate meditative approach, some religious preachers of Islam teach violence as they core duty. Again the intention behind violence is not noble, it is destructive in nature.

A wrong deed does not become right deed when you do it by pledging belief in a particular saviour.

Our dharma shAstra-s teach us to fight injustice. Be it manusmriti or mahAbhArata or rAmAyaNa. Which for of God did not lift weapons to fight for justice? Even Lord brahmA jI when angry will project a rudra form his forehead and a rudra will destroy the wrong doers. Even female forms like mA kAlI and mA dUrgA held weapons.

Our ancestors kept fighting with mughals and muslim rulers. Two advaita AchArya-s sAyanAchArya and vidyAraNaya svAmI encouraged both of them, reconverted HukkA and Bukka to Hinduism. Both brother fought muslims and won back large part of kingdom known as Vijaynagar, which lasted for 350 years. This kingdom was larger than any muslim kingdom.

Some say that Britishers could no longer withstand the onslaught and the increasing influence of Shri Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on youngsters and Indian soldiers in Royal British Army. Indian Soldiers refused to attack their fellow Indians and the war of freedom was won.

Like you said, Shri Guru Govind Singh ji and Shri Tek Bahadur Singh ji along with other brave sikhs dedicated their to fight Muslim invaders.

If you do not fight back, enemy gets impression that we are weak.

Chanakya was also of the opinion of 'eye for an eye' approach.

Peace Talks - things to consider to make it succesful

Likewise, when we talk of ‘peace talks’, they are only possible when both parties wish to genuinely solve the issue by debating on it. Both parties have to be optimists, be receptive and open to all suggestions. For this they must have a calm mind. If one party is not ready to compromise and not ready to listen i.e. is not receptive, there can be no peace talk.

29.2. Vegetarianism (शाकाहारी भोजन)

Our journey is from individuality to totality. In order to progress spiritually, we have to turn our extrovert mind introvert. For doing this, one has to have dispassion in worldly matters and objects. Only a sAttvika mind can turn introvert, as rajas is for activity, power and glory and an active person, who is attached with his actions is always extrovert. tamasa guNa is connected with laziness, inertia, ignorance, revengeful attitude.

It is due to these qualities that Veg food is recommended, as it contains more of sattva and rajas guNa tamasa. Fruits contain more sattva than rajas.. They are light to digest. Underground food is not prescribed in Jains and even by vaiShnava-s as it has tamas guNa. It is said that 'food makes up mind' and hence, it is prescribed to saints to have a light sAttvika food.

33.2.1. No Central nervous system

Plants do not have central nervous system, though they have feelings and have life. They have a guNa of paropkAra (benevolence). In ancient days, saints used to pray to plants to have fruits and plants used to respond to their prayers. Saints used to pray to herbal plants to show their guNa-s (healing qualities). Some say, this is how Ayurveda was developed. Besides, we do not destroy the whole plant, but just pluck flowers, fruits and other vegetables. If we do not pluck fruits or grains, then open ripening they drop automatically. Do we feel pain when we trim our hair and nails? Aren’t they part of our body?

33.2.2. Leaves and Branches

Leaves, and branches grow back. Leaves have their own lifespan. They turn yellow and dry. They detach and fall off from trees. Similarly branches or small stems turn dry and fall off. Even if one does not harm tree, some branches fall off on their own. In coconut trees, heavy branches good enough to break our skulls or cause facture, fall by themselves. This indicates that trees do not die when a leaves or stems are torn out. However, if you axe branches that are green, then wise say that trees do not like it. They emit vibrations which other trees catch. Birds sittings on trees also catch these vibrations and get nervous, especially those birds who have build nests on nearby trees.

33.2.3. Underground Food

The damage is done when we uproot plants and take their roots like onion, etc. Here too the plants are not deliberately destroyed. When they’ve finished developing, you’ll notice the lowest leaves start to yellow and wither. Shortly after, the stems will flop over at the neck, as if all your plants had just died. Hence even if we do not uproot them, plants are still going to die.

Still since they grow underground, they are said to have more of tamasa guNa.

The peculiarity of tamasa guNa is strong smell which we see in onions and garlic. Even garlic can be taken in small quantities for medicinal purpose. Many Herbs are grown underground.

You may be attracted by the smell of Pav Bhaji, but you will never be attracted by the smell of any fruits. You will eat fruits only that is necessary, which is not the case with other foods. If it is your favourite delicacy, you will eat more. This attraction and bias is keeps mond extrovert, while fruits do not increase our extrovert tendencies as they do not attract us in a way other delicacies do.

Hence, for spiritual aspirants, sAttvika food is recommended which is light, easy to digest, causes less harm to others and purifies our mind. The energy saved in digesting food can be used for spiritual purposes.

33.2.4. Trees wants us to eat fruits

Another argument is that plants also feel pain. This is true and SD has recognised this long before modern medical science did. However, there is a reason for plants and trees growing flowers and fruits. The reason is to multiply, to increase the number of trees. It is the same desire that is in every living being. Flowers have pollens. The pollens from male part needs to be transported to female stigma. The process of transfer is called as pollination. Since plants cannot move on their own to satisfy their mating desire, they need to get it done through someone else. Hence flowers look beautiful, their colour, shape and aroma are very attractive. Insects gets attracted to it and sit on it and in process pollens are stuck to insects. When insect reaches another flower, pollens get deposited to another flower and the process of pollination is completed. In the same way, fruits have seeds. When any animal eats fruits or vegetables and drops seed on ground, if they fall on suitable land, seed will one day grow to a big tree. Hence plants wants us to eat fruits. It is their way of multiplying. Hence the argument that plants have feelings too and so we should not eat fruits and vegetables seems unwise.

33.2.5. Deforestation

Deforestation is the main issue. Increasing, uncontrolled human population, no care of environment by us and our ‘lavish’ lifestyles are responsible for deforestation disturbing the whole ecosystem. shAstra-s and Hindu culture teach us to live in modesty. SD does not encourage negative qualities like greed, selfishness, uncaring attitude, etc which are responsible for all the mess stealing the natural habitat of animals, birds and insects. Hence living dhArmic life is always better. We must keep our ever-demanding mind in check. SD teaches us how should we keep a check on our mind and live in harmony with nature.

33.2.6. Why should not we eat meat

Mineral kingdom i.e. rocks have consciousness (read somewhere in Sankara bhASya, mostly in viShNu sahasranAma bhASya), but this consciousness is in raw form and often they have to wait for many years or even kalpa to ascend to higher state of consciousness. Animals are more evolved than plants. No animal is willing to give away his life for taste of tongue. When any animal e.g. chicken knows that it's going to due, it is in state of depression and hopelessness. The emotions like pain of separation from body on account of death is too much and wish to live i.e. unwillingness to die, are all embedded in the energy or emotional body of animal. We cook and eat these emotionally diseased bodies. Emotions are tAmasika in nature and hence they will increase tamasa guNa of mind. So mind does not gets purified. One yoga student who used to eat non-veg was initiated into higher practice after warning to quit non-veg. He didn’t quit eating non-veg. After sometime, burns appeared in his skin.

yogi-s say, that meat eating clogs mind. Is eating meat permitted?

Eating Meat is permitted in certain conditions. Human survival is more important than following shAstra-s. There are factors which are beyond our control like natural calamities like earthquake, floods, barren, non-fertile land.

In such cases, which are called as ApAta sthiti (emergency situation), normal rules are not applicable. dharma cannot be rigid and non-practical.

Meat eating is permissible where the land is not fertile and there is no vegetation. West Bengal is flooded for 6 months. There is no chance for any vegetation for 6 months. Hence Bengalis eat Fish with rice. It is their staple diet. Bengalis do not consider fish as non-veg. The common argument

If one argues that there is no difference in ‘killing’ either plants or animals, then we would like to ask them why they condemn cannibalism. Carnivorous animals avoid eating other carnivorous animals.

33.3. Vegetarianism - Scientific Perspective

Vegetarianism is have many advantages. Scientists, doctors and economists are favouring vegetarianism. Many papers are published in support of this claim.

In technical terms being ‘vegetarian’ excludes consuming, milk and milk products and eggs. Better word would be ‘Lacto-vegetarian’.

Scientific studies have have concluded that human body is not created to eat meat. Human have adopted

Some of the advantages of being vegetarian are

  1. Longer lifespan

  2. Human body is not designed to eat (and digest) raw meat.

  3. Lower chance of heart diseases

  4. Reduce risk of colon cancer. Undigested meat remains stuck on intestine walls for 3-4 days and sometimes for months.

  5. Live healthy life. Veg food is rich in minerals and vitamins.

  6. More stamina and energy

  7. Economical.

  8. Meat industry one of the factors in global warming.

  9. and more

There are several theories put forward to support claim that Human Body is not designed to eat meat. Lots of information is available on internet showing advantages of vegetarianism. We will write them in brief

  1. No sharp and strong claws

  2. Meat-eaters have no skin pores and perspire through the tongue

  3. Canines in Humans are for name sake only. Even Omnivorous animals like Monkeys have longer and stronger canines than humans. Molar teeth for grinding are absent.

  4. Humans have intestinal tract 10-12 times their body length while carnivorous animals have only 3 times their body length.

  5. Carnivorous animals eat meat raw and have a desire to hunt animals and get attracted to the dead body, while humans do not have hunting desire.

  6. Hydrochloric acid in stomach to digest food is 20 times stronger in case of meat eating animals.

  7. Salivary Glands are not needed to digest food in case of carnivorous, while humans and herbivorous animals have well developed salivary glands.

  8. Meat-eaters have acid saliva with no enzyme ptyalin to pre-digest grains while Humans like Herbivores have alkaline saliva with ptyalin to pre-digest grains.


Original Source: Based on a chart by A.D. Andrews, Fit Food for Men, (Chicago: American Hygiene Society, 1970)

Here is one more article explaining dangers of eating meat

“You are what you eat”, is a slogan that I love to use to show the mental aspect of vegetarianism. When animals are slaughtered, fear and aggression enzymes are shot into their cells from their glands and other organs, just as in humans, and are part of the dead carcass that goes on to the food store. They remain in the meat until the consumer ingests those same enzymes, which are molecularly very similar to those found in humans. Fruits and vegetables do not have emotions; therefore, when they are picked they do not release any emotions cells prior to digestion. The enzymes within fruits and vegetables supply the body with sufficient nutrients that will always uphold a healthy state of mind.

Fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients; the very thing the body needs to live a long disease and pain free life. The same cannot be said for meat. Nutritionally, the alkaline-based digestive system of humans will not properly break down substantial acid substances, the greatest of which is meat.