Food for the Spirit, Vegetarianism and the World Religions, observes, “Despite popular knowledge of meat-eating’s adverse effects, the non vegetarian diet became increasingly widespread among Hindus after the two major invasions by foreign powers, first the Muslims and later the British. With them came the desire to be ‘civilized,’ to eat as did the saheeb. Those actually trained in Vedic knowledge, however, never adopted a meat-oriented diet, and the pious Hindu still observes vegetarian principles as a matter of religious duty.
“That vegetarianism has always been widespread in India is clear from the earliest Vedic texts. This was observed by the ancient traveler Megasthenes and also by Fa-hsien, a Chinese Buddhist monk who, in the fifth century, traveled to India in order to obtain authentic copies of the scriptures.
“These scriptures unambiguously support the meatless way of life. In the Mahabharata, for instance, the great warrior Bhishma explains to Yudhishtira, eldest of the Pandava princes, that the meat of animals is like the flesh of one’s own son, and that the foolish person who eats meat must be considered the vilest of human beings [Anu. 114.11]. The eating of ‘dirty’ food, it warns, is not as terrible as the eating of flesh [Shanti. 141.88] (it must be remembered that the brahmanas of ancient India exalted cleanliness to a divine principle).
“Similarly, the Manusmriti declares that one should ‘refrain from eating all kinds of meat,’ for such eating involves killing and leads to karmic bondage (bandha) [5.49]. Elsewhere in the Vedic literature, the last of the great Vedic kings, Maharajah Parikshit, is quoted as saying that ‘only the animal-killer cannot relish the message of the Absolute Truth [Shrimad Bhagavatam 10.1.4].’ ”
X. Scriptures Against Killing and Meat-Eating
Hindu scripture speaks clearly and forcefully on non killing and vegetarianism. In the ancient Rig Veda, we read: “O vegetable, be succulent, wholesome, strengthening; and thus, body, be fully grown.” The Yajur Veda summarily dictates: “Do not injure the beings living on the earth, in the air and in the water.” The beautiful Tirukural, a widely-read 2,000-year-old masterpiece of ethics, speaks of conscience: “When a man realizes that meat is the butchered flesh of another creature, he must abstain from eating it.” The Manu Samhita advises: “Having well considered the origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of corporeal beings, let one entirely abstain from eating flesh.” In the yoga-infused verses of the Tirumantiram, warning is given of how meat-eating holds the mind in gross, adharmic states: “The ignoble ones who eat flesh, death’s agents bind them fast and push them quick into the fiery jaws of hell (Naraka, lower consciousness).” The roots of non injury non killing and nonconsumption of meat are found in the Vedas, agamas, Upanishads, Dharma Shastras, Tirumurai, Yoga Sutras and dozens of other sacred texts of Hinduism. Here is a select collection.
Vedas and agamas, Hinduism’s Revealed Scriptures
LET YOUR AIMS BE COMMON, and your hearts be of one accord, and all of you be of one mind, so you may live well together. Rig Veda Samhita 10.191
Protect both our species, two-legged and four-legged. Both food and water for their needs supply. May they with us increase in stature and strength. Save us from hurt all our days, O Powers! Rig Veda Samhita 10.37.11. VE, 319
One who partakes of human flesh, the flesh of a horse or of another animal, and deprives others of milk by slaughtering cows, O King, if such a fiend does not desist by other means, then you should not hesitate to cut off his head. Rig Veda Samhita, 10.87.16, FS 90
Peaceful be the earth, peaceful the ether, peaceful heaven, peaceful the waters, peaceful the herbs, peaceful the trees. May all Gods bring me peace. May there be peace through these invocations of peace. With these invocations of
peace which appease everything, I render peaceful whatever here is terrible, whatever here is cruel, whatever here is sinful. Let it become auspicious, let everything be beneficial to us. Atharva Veda Samhita 10. 191. 4
Those noble souls who practice meditation and other yogic ways, who are ever careful about all beings, who protect all animals, are the ones who are actually serious about spiritual practices. Atharva Veda Samhita 19.48.5. FS, 90
If we have injured space, the earth or heaven, or if we have offended mother or father, from that may Agni, fire of the house, absolve us and guide us safely to the world of goodness. Atharva Veda Samhita 6.120.1. VE, 636
You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever. Yajur Veda Samhita 12.32. FS, 90
May all beings look at me with a friendly eye. May I do likewise, and may we all look on each other with the eyes of a friend. Yajur Veda 36.18.
Nonviolence is all the offerings. Renunciation is the priestly honorarium. The final purification is death. Thus all the Divinities are established in this body. Krishna Yajur Veda, Prana Upanishad 46-8. VE, 413-14
To the heavens be peace, to the sky and the earth; to the waters be peace, to plants and all trees; to the Gods be peace, to Brahman be peace, to all men be peace, again and again-peace also to me! O earthen vessel, strengthen me. May all beings regard me with friendly eyes! May I look upon all creatures with friendly eyes! With a friend’s eye may we regard each other! Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita 36.17-18. VE, 306; 342
No pain should be caused to any created being or thing. Devikalottara agama, JAV 69-79. RM, 116
The Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita, Epic History
The very name of the cows is aghnya, indicating that they should never be slaughtered. Who, then could slay them? Surely, one who kills a cow or a bull commits the most heinous crime. Mahabharata, Shantiparva 262.47. FS,pg. 94
The purchaser of flesh performs himsa (violence) by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying its taste; the killer does himsa by actually tying and killing the animal. Thus, there are three forms of killing: he who brings flesh or sends for it, he who cuts off the limbs of an animal, and he who purchases, sells or cooks flesh and eats it -all of these are to be considered meat-eaters. Mahabharata, Anu. 115.40. FS, pg 90
He who desires to augment his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures lives in misery in whatever species he may take his birth. Mahabharata, Anu. 115.47. FS, pg. 90
One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Yielding to desire and acting differently, one becomes guilty of adharma. Mahabharata 18.113.8.
Those high-souled persons who desire beauty, faultlessness of limbs, long life, understanding, mental and physical strength and memory should abstain from acts of injury. Mahabharata 18.115.8.
Ahimsa is the highest dharma. Ahimsa is the best tapas. Ahimsa is the greatest gift. Ahimsa is the highest self-control. Ahimsa is the highest sacrifice. Ahimsa is the highest power. Ahimsa is the highest friend. Ahimsa is the highest truth. Ahimsa is the highest teaching. Mahabharata 18.116.37-41.
He who sees that the Lord of all is ever the same in all that is-immortal in the field of mortality-he sees the truth. And when a man sees that the God in himself is the same God in all that is, he hurts not himself by hurting others. Then he goes, indeed, to the highest path. Bhagavad Gita 13. 27-28. BgM, pg. 101
Nonviolence, truth, freedom from anger, renunciation, serenity, aversion to fault-finding, sympathy for all beings, peace from greedy cravings, gentleness, modesty, steadiness, energy, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, a good will, freedom from pride-these belong to a man who is born for heaven. Bhagavad Gita 16.2-3. BGM, pg. 109
X. Hindu Religious Leaders on Non Injury
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way in which its animals are treated. Mahatma Gandhi
As long as human society continues to allow cows to be regularly killed in slaughterhouses, there cannot be any question of peace and prosperity. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Refrain from killing knowingly even the trifling insects like a louse, a bug or a mosquito. Use no violence even to gain possession of a woman, wealth or kingdom. Never kill any animals even for the purpose of sacrifice. Non-violence is the greatest of all religions. Swami Sahajanand
O lover of meditation, become pure and clean. Observe nonviolence in mind, speech and body. Never break another’s heart. Avoid wounding another’s feelings. Harm no one. Help all. Neither be afraid nor frighten others. Swami Muktananda
Someone who believes in violence and continues causing injury to others can never be peaceful himself. Swami Satchidananda
To be free from violence is the duty of every man. No thought of revenge, hatred or ill will should arise in our minds. Injuring others gives rise to hatred. Swami Sivananda
By ahimsa, Patanjali meant the removal of the desire to kill. All forms of life have an equal right to the air of maya. The saint who uncovers the secret of creation will be in harmony with Nature’s countless bewildering expressions. All men may understand this truth by overcoming the passion for destruction. Sri Yukteswar to Paramahansa Yogananda
If you plant eggplant, you can pluck eggplants. If you sow goodness, you can reap goodness. If you sow evil, you will reap evil. Do good to all. God is there, within you. Don’t kill. Don’t harbor anger. Sage Yogaswami
We are all of the same race and religion. We are holy beings established in Divinity itself. This truth can be understood only by those who have grasped it through the magical charm of a life of dharma-not by other means. Because of that, sages have emphatically proclaimed again and again that it is necessary to love all existing lives as one’s own. Sage Yogaswami
The test of ahimsa is the absence of jealousy. The man whose heart never cherishes even the thought of injury to anyone, who rejoices at the prosperity of even his greatest enemy, that man is the bhakta, he is the yogi, he is the guru of all. Swami Vivekananda
Strictly speaking, no activity and no industry is possible without a certain amount of violence, no matter how little. Even the very process of living is impossible without a certain amount of violence. What we have to do is to minimize it to the greatest extent possible. Mahatma Gandhi, My Socialism, 34-35.
You do not like to suffer yourself. How can you inflict suffering on others? Every killing is a suicide. The eternal, blissful and natural state has been smothered by this life of ignorance. In this way the present life is due to the killing of the eternal, pristine Being. Is it not a case of suicide? Ramana Maharshi, June 1935
This article was written by Lewis Bollard. He is the farm animal welfare program officer at the Open Philanthropy Project. In that role, he researches opportunities to do the most good for farm animals. This article explores a number of things around COVID-19 and is really worth reading.