Something to Chew On

Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati

One of the questions asked today is, what is the necessity of eating meat? Vegetarianism is growing at a rapid rate. Some approve, some disapprove - they say it is 'another fad'. There are many different theories in existence stating what one should eat, the emphasis being on 'what?' but really we should look at 'why?' and then we will find the answer to 'what?' More important than food itself is one's attitude towards food. As Mahatma Gandhi said:

"A Sanskrit text says that a man becomes what he eats. A glutton who exercises no restraint in eating is a slave to his animal passion."

So whether you eat meat or fruit, if you are eating for the wrong reasons the food itself makes little difference.

The first obvious reason for eating is to sustain the body so we can live. Looking at people, however, they seem to have forgotten this reason and chosen another one. Most of us tend to eat whatever we desire, hoping it will fulfil some innate yearning. Unfortunately the desire is never satiated; we always want more, again and again. Gandhi also said:

"One who has not been able to control his palate...will never be able to control the other senses."

You may say, I don't need to control 'the other senses', but once you have control over them you control the mind, the mind which plays tricks and causes unhappiness.

Gandhi continues:

"If this is true, it is clear that one should take enough food for the requirements of the body and no more."

Diet should be healthy and well-balanced. The body was never meant to be treated as a refuse bin holding the foods that the palate demands. Food is meant to sustain the body.

Now, let us look at the question of meat. The fact that a proportion of mankind has tried to be carnivorous either by force of circumstance or degeneration, does not necessarily mean that meat-eating is instinctive. Our cave - dwelling ancestors were hunters its true, but they were also food gatherers. Hunting parties lasted for days together and were not always successful. When the hunters made a kill, the carcass was shared with all tribal members, so there was little danger of over-indulgence. For the most part the tribe relied on the nuts, berries, fruits, roots and other vegetarian edibles gathered by the women and children. When man learned to domesticate crops and animals, he became almost totally vegetarian, supporting himself on the grains he harvested. Livestock were kept for milk, wool and so on. The size of a man's herd was a sign of prestige and wealth, and animals were so highly valued that they were slaughtered only for major community or religious festivals.

Generally, flesh foods were reserved for kings and warriors. In India for instance, kshatriyas (the warrior caste) were allowed to take flesh foods. However, this does not mean that they ate meat every day. The sheer expense was simply too great to maintain all the king's men in such luxury. The rations of any nation's common soldier were most often just the same as those of the common folk on the land. The man on the land depended on what was available on the farm - grain, vegetables, maybe milk and some eggs.

From Japan and the Pacific, right back through India and the Middle East, people ate meat very occasionally indeed - usually as their share of a consecrated religious offering made in highly ritualised circumstances. In Europe, a chicken or a pig might become a feast for some special event such as a wedding, but the highlights came with roast beef or mutton for the traditional English Christmas, or turkey at American Thanksgiving. This custom prevailed throughout the world almost into this century, when a change in farming methods led to greater meat consumption in Europe, and the American 'wild west' settled down to cattle grazing.

'But meat contains high quality protein - how can we possibly do without it?' We cannot do without protein, but meat is not the only source. In fact it is the plant which is the original source, manufacturing protein from fresh air and sunlight. Meat might contain first class protein, but when we eat it, it is 'second hand'. In the disintegration of animal protein there is liberation of poisons which upset the metabolism and produce toxins. In the decomposition of vegetable protein no such poisons are produced.

Meat contains protein, few vitamins and minerals and also the waste of the slaughtered animal (in particular a virulent poison xanthin). Meat, eggs and fish putrefy rapidly. This putrefaction derives from the highly noxious toxins produced by certain bacilli. The laboratory of the Public Health Service in the USA has carried out a bacteriological research which established that the body must generate around one and a half million putrefactive bacilli to break down just one gram of beef.

These putrefactive bacilli are our worst enemies. They invade the large intestine and multiply and change the original bacterial flora which by rights should contain a majority of fermentative bacilli, capable of dealing with cellulose tissues and playing no part in the manufacture of toxins. When putrefaction is set up in the large intestine, the enormous production of toxic products filters through the intestinal membrane, slowly poisoning the system. These are the direct causes of innumerable organic changes which weaken the system and create conditions favourable for the development of disease. In the case of milk it does not putrefy but goes sour. Fruit, vegetables and grains go mouldy and ferment, but this is not detrimental to health - in fact quite the opposite (take penicillin, for example).

Cancers, tuberculosis and degenerative diseases of the heart are most prevalent in meat-eating communities. The Hunzas (vegetarians) had no such disease until recently when foreign processed goods were introduced. It has also been found that arteriosclerosic disorders are almost wholly absent in populations and isolated communities living on a vegetarian diet. High animal fat intake is a main factor in the thickening of the arterial walls and fatty degeneration (atheromattigations a relation between osteoporosis (bone porosity) and high meat intake.

Many people say, 'but vegetarians are weak'. The strongest, hardiest, most long-living animals are frugivores - the elephant, the ox, the rhinoceros and so on. The Spartans, who stand first among all nations in history for power to endure hardships, were vegetarians, and so also were the armies of Rome when she was conquering the world. Sir Francis Head writes: "It is usual for the copper miners of Central Chile to carry loads of one to two hundred pounds' weight up eighty perpendicular yards, twelve times a day; their diet is entirely vegetarian." Charles Darwin spoke of the same workers:

"The most extraordinary workers I ever saw. The labourers in the mines of Chile live exclusively on vegetable food including many seeds of leguminous plants."

We have been shown throughout the centuries in many scriptures what it is wise to eat. In the Bible alone, references are numerous.

"Ye shall eat no fat of ox or sheep or goat. And the fat which dieth of itself, and the fat which is torn off beasts may be used for any other service but ye shall in no wise eat of it... For whosoever eateth the fat of beasts, of which men offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord, even the soul that eateth it shall be cut off from his people. And ye shall eat no manner of blood whether it be fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings."
Leviticus 7:23-25

Riches are expressed in terms of milk and honey and not the pitiful parts and organs of dead animals. In the song of Solomon, fruits, flowers, vines and nuts illustrate the divine bounty. By eating meat we are causing innocent animals pain and suffering - have you ever been to the slaughterhouse and seen the animal before its death?

"A righteous man careth for the life of his beast."
Proverbs 12:10

However, vegetarianism is not only advocated for Christians. In the Indian classic, the Mahabharata, it is stated:

"He who abstains from flesh-eating is kindly disposed towards all creatures, he becomes an object of shelter to them and gains their confidence. He never harasses anybody in the world nor is over harassed himself."

Nevertheless, flesh-eating remains the choice of the majority and is accepted, at the moment, by most of the medical profession and all concerned in butchery. We are free to embrace the health hazards. If we choose to eat meat we must be aware of the effect it has on the body, mind, emotions and spirit. A vegetarian cannot be said to be more spiritual than a meat-eater, for what is important is not the physical fact of eating or not eating meat, but the sensitivity of one's consciousness. In the Bhagavad Gita it says:

"That which is stale, tasteless, putrid and rotten, refuse and impure, is the food liked by the tamasic. The foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry, burning are liked by the rajasic and are productive of grief, pain and disease. The foods which increase life, purity and strength, health, joy and cheerfulness, which are savoury and oleaginous, substantial and agreeable are dear to the sattvic."
17:8-10

Since spiritual evolution is the progression of consciousness from the tamasic (ignorant) to the sattvic (pure, enlightened) then depending on the type of person we wish to be, we will eat accordingly.