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Vegetarianism, Non-violence and Hinduism

Author - Anil Chawla

In most so-called Hindu organizations across the world, meat eating is a strict taboo. Sangh clan, in particular, seems to have adopted vegetarianism as a Hindu ideal with such ferocity that they do not even realize the damage that they are doing to their organization and to Hinduism by this mindless espousal of vegetarianism.

Hindu religion has never been vegetarian. A study of Valmikiy Ramayan makes it absolutely clear that Ram did not believe in either non-violence or shunning meat-eating. Ram, like warriors of those days, was a hunter and killing deer was a routine activity for him. Ram went in pursuit of the golden deer to kill it and have its skin serve as a decoration for his royal seat. Obviously, when one hunts an animal and skins it, one does not throw away the meat - one eats it and Ram also ate meat of deer hunted by him. Nevertheless, the following incident and extract from Valmikiy Ramayan should remove any doubts about Ram's food habits.

Hanuman met Sita when she was in captivity. After confirming that Hanuman was a genuine person and not a fraud, Sita started inquiring about Ram's well-being. She wanted to know whether Ram was eating properly. Hanuman's response was

Verse from Valmikiy Ramayan

(Ram neither eats meat nor drinks alcohol). Essentially Hanuman was saying that Sita's absence had disturbed Ram so much that he had no interest left in good food (meat) and drinks; he consumes the bare minimum and often ate only one time in the day. (Valmikiy Ramayan / Sunder Kand / Chapter 36 / Verse 41). Clearly, Ram was a meat eater who had temporarily lost interest in food at that time due to the pain of separation with his beloved wife Sita.

If Ramayan has one instance of confirmation of meat eating habit, Mahabharat has innumerable such instances. Bhim's declaration that he would drink the blood of his brother Duryodhan's chest is obviously not something that a non-violent vegetarian would ever declare.

Ahimsa Parmo Dharm

(Non-violence is the ultimate dharm) is often cited in support of espousal of non-violence by Hinduism. This is a classic case of taking something out of context and misusing it. The incidence in Mahabharat where this appears has to be understood before citing this truncated part of a verse. Ruru was a famous rishi (sage). His wife was bitten by a snake and died. He loved his wife and was heartbroken. He was advised to give up half his age to his wife, so that she could rise up from the dead. Ruru did that and his wife became alive once again. But now, Ruru was angry with all snakes and decided to kill all snakes in the world. Once Ruru met a dundubh (a creature similar to snake but a different species). Ruru was going to kill the dundubh when dundubh started talking to him requesting for his life to be spared. Dundubh told Ruru

Verse from Mahabharat
Verse from Mahabharat

(O the exalted one among all living beings (Brahmin), non-violence is the ultimate dharm for you. The dharm of warriors is not for you.) (Mahabharat / Aadiparv / Paulamparv / Chapter 11 / Verse 13-16).

Two noticeable facts is the above incident are - (a) It is a type of snake preaching to a rishi (sage) about non-violence only to save his own life. This is not a prescription by a rishi (sage). Hence, it carries no weight. (b) Even the snake could not go so far as to stress on non-violence in general terms. All that he said is that non-violence is not for Brahmins who should not adopt the ways of the warriors. Even if one is stupid enough to take the words of a snake-like creature seriously, it is only the Brahmins who should be non-violent. Of course, we know that Brahmins like Acharya Dron (the guru of Pandav brothers) participated actively in wars and killed thousands or probably millions of people.

If one still has any doubts about non-violence and vegetarianism, one should read Chapters 207 and 208 of Markandeysamasyaparv of Vanparv of Mahabharat. A Brahmin named Kaushik was told by a lady that he did not understand the true meaning of dharm and should take lessons from a butcher of Mithila. Kaushik goes to the butcher who is selling different types of meats in his shop. The butcher takes Kaushik to his home makes all the due offerings to him and the two start talking. Kaushik is disturbed the profession of such a man who has achieved a height of wisdom. The Butcher replies that this is his family profession and he sees nothing wrong in it even though it is cruel. The Butcher explains how he takes his care of his family and does all his duties as per dharm. The Butcher explains that soul is immortal and he is only an instrument in the cosmic scheme. Even a farmer who ploughs a field kills creatures who live under the soil. It is impossible for anyone living in this world to be completely non-violent. All creatures are dependent on others. Human beings have always relied on and used medicines, plants, grains, animals and birds. There is life even in trees and yet human beings cut trees. There is life even in a grain of rice. Life cannot exist without living beings consuming other living beings.

I have given here a very brief gist of a long argument advanced by a butcher to a Brahmin. It might surprise many that the Brahmin accepts the wisdom of the Butcher who comes across as a higher status follower of dharm than Kaushik, the Brahmin.

Immortality of soul that the Butcher talks of is also the heart of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita. Strangely, many Hindu organizations today talk of faith in Shrimad Bhagwad Gita but see killing of animals for food as a sin or crime. The essence of Hindu thought is to focus on life and not get perturbed by death. Rearing animals for slaughter is a life-giving phenomenon. If slaughter of poultry birds was stopped completely, the population of poultry birds will not increase, it will drop drastically. Killing a chicken for food is what gives the chicken life. Jains who talk of non-violence and vegetarianism do not rear chickens. The ones who relish chicken meat are the ones who rear chickens.

One does not know how the emphasis on vegetarianism became a theme of Hinduism or modern-day Hindutwa. Probably, this is a result of the influence of Jainism. In recent years, the influence has grown enormously. In most Hindu organizations, Jains occupy key positions and control the agenda. Jains and Hindus have a strange relationship. Hindu organizations define Hinduism in a manner that Jains are considered as Hindus - a position well-accepted by Jains when they join Hindu organizations. In contrast, Jain organizations do not consider Jains as Hindus. At the time of census, Jain organizations campaign actively to ensure that no Jain mentions his / her religion as Hindu. A few years back, Jains managed to get themselves classified as a minority distinct from Hindus. This complex maneuvering allows Jains to get the both of both words. On one hand, they leverage their position to influence majority Hindu agenda and on the other they get the constitutional benefits of being a minority.

Keeping aside the politics of all this deft maneuvering by Jain community, it is important for Hindus to realize the true teachings of their religion and not fall into the false glamour of non-violence which is neither practically possible nor desirable. Let us not bend backwards in accommodating the sentiments of a minority religion and destroy our own ideology of strength. Hinduism is the religion of people who worship arm-bearing deities; of people who worship valor, knowledge and hard work; of people who look at nature and learn lessons from it; of people who are never afraid to face death either of one of themselves or of anyone else.

Even from a political perspective, vegetarianism is bad politics. Majority of Hindus have no objection to consuming meat. Except a few castes, most castes (and tribes) in India have been traditionally eating non-vegetarian food especially on festive occasions. A political party that espouses vegetarianism is bound to lose the support of the majority soon enough. Let BJP and Sangh clan realize that while they might want to please the Jains amongst them, it will be suicidal politically to be seen as pro-vegetarianism.

13 September 2015

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer and a lawyer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a legal and management consultant by profession.

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