Vegetarianism – Q. 327

Q: I need clarity on some questions.

 01. The understanding is everything is life/consciousness/totality, it is the totality that functions through animals including human beings ( so-called separate entity/Body Mind Organism) and life/god/consciousness’ true nature though indescribable in words has been described as Sata Chit Ananda in other words peace love etc. So my question is if that is true why animals attack and kill, when they too have Life? Though humans too do that but, Master has good explanation for that under Advaita teaching as to why humans possibly do wrong or kill. One answer some what suffices when it comes to humans in particular as to why they kill or do wrong, i.e. when this impersonal consciousness identifies with the body and mind suit, there is every chance that actions that will happen will be imbued by the understanding that I am a body and so are others and actions with ignorance can take place, but the question is what about in the case of animals, why they do kill/attack if they have Life or rather they are Life?

02. From the spiritual point of view, why we say eating animal flesh is incorrect ( for the lack of a better word), though nobody has directly said that, but many say it involves eating a vessel/instrument etc., through which life functions so we should not do it, but what about vegetables/plants they too have sentience/Life though may be lesser than animals.

Different answers heard from different masters not from religious masters per se but from most realized souls, along the lines of: 01. The question is not why impersonal being does it, the question is why not? 02. Vegetables/plants is eaten just to continue the functioning whereas meat in most cases is eaten because of taste attachment, killing for taste is not a question of correct or incorrect it is not aesthetic. If you want to eat flesh eat people then. 02. Basically everything has a nature. Out of three Gunas, i.e. Satva, Raja and Tama, animals have more Tama Guna and plants have less, so vegetables/plants are preferable. 03. For example, when you are making choices between a best choice and better choice, you should make the best choice, lets say there is a baby and a Snake and this snake is about to attack the baby who should we kill since both have/are sentience? We can in this situation kill snake’s body and not the  baby’s because it has more life-force and may be it’ll become a great master one day and will make a great difference in pointing so-called ( ‘so-called ‘because there is no individual entity doing seeking) seekers toward enlightenment.

 Going by the logic in the above snake and baby situation, it appears what the master(s) meant was that baby has more sentience and snake less or may be from the level of higher-plan perspective it was not appropriate to kill the baby. Going by the same logic, animals should have more life-force/higher awareness than vegetables/plants, in other words animals should have more Satva Guna in their body, they should have a more pure body/satvic body and plants should have less satva in them because it has less sentience. Why then we are told we should not eat meat ( although  we are not told directly) because animals have more Tama Guna than plants/vegetables? I guess, no enlighten master has said stop eating meat, but  in most cases it has been observed they don’t eat meat, there must be an intuitive understanding/base/explanation for that.

 Please shed some light.

A (Shuka): I shall answer the query as it relates to vegetarianism. 

 Swami Dayananda saraswati, whom I revere as an enlightened master, vociferously advocates Vegetarian food, and stresses the need for people to be vegetarians at every given opportunity. 

 Oshadibhyah annam – says Taittiriya Upanishad. Food means plants. Every biologist will agree that the food chain invariably starts with plants. The reason why the Upanishad says food means plants, is because only they have the ability to manufacture/convert sunlight, water, minerals into edible food. All animals either eat plants, or eat those animals that eat plants; they have the ability to only digest food and not manufacture food. Therefore, food means plants only. 

 Swamiji is very fierce in his criticism of non-vegetarians. I have heard him in several lectures calling the stomachs of non-vegetarians as a graveyard, since that is the place fit for dead animals. Swamiji fervently appeals to everyone to become exclusively vegetarians. 

A (Ramesam):

01. The understanding is everything is life/consciousness/totality described as Sat Chit Ananda in other words peace love etc. So my question is if that is true why animals attack and kill, when they too have Life?

Ramesam: Yes, it does look baffling and strange that all life-forms should devour and live on another life-form.  One may invent all sorts of explanatory justifications and narrate plausible stories for one life-form destroying another life-form invoking theories of karma, sin, past lives, a pecking order of superiority in living beings etc.  But on a deeper examination by a questioning mind, all such reasonings crumple like a pack of cards. The bottom line is life survives eating another life in the game of life!

Yes again, Advaita does say all that is there, is only One Consciousness-Beingness-Infiniteness which is designated by the name Brahman. All forms arise within Brahman. Brahman allows all to appear within Itself without let or hindrance. And also remember that all forms are made up of (permeated by) Brahman only and no-thing else. This quality of Brahman being in identity (= oneness) with all forms is described as “Love.”

In the light of the above, your question can be rephrased as:

How do so many different forms appear at all when Advaita tells us that there is only One Immutable indivisible Brahman alone without a second? And,

How do these different forms continue to appear (even if they are false appearances like water in a mirage) and what forces and energies sustain the appearance of these multiple forms?

And here stands out the philosophy of Advaita head and shoulders above all the rest of the theories and systems with its invincible logic in understanding the ultimate Reality behind the above questions.

The easiest way to understand the logic of Advaita is through the Metaphor of Sun and a reflecting water surface of a Lake.  When the Sun shines on undisturbed clear water in the lake, you will see a single image of the Sun’s disc. Throw a stone on to the water. Several ripples arise and you begin to see multiple solar discs in all distorted shapes as reflections in the moving ripples.

Now consider how these multitudes of discs continue to appear within the converging, coalescing, diverging and interfering waves of the ripples.

A wave would obviously need energy for its continuity and movement. The energy is obtained by a surviving wave from an attenuating wave.  So one wave ends and the other wave grabs that energy and moves on.  You can say that the attenuated wave has become the “food” for the surviving wave. Notice here in this model that each and every wave becomes the ‘food’ for one or another wave.

Think each of the reflected disc of the Sun along with its wave to be an independent life-form. Like the waves in the lake, the life-forms are the ‘food’ that keeps the flow of life going. There is no escape here.

Taittiriya Upanishad has a mantra boisterously exemplifying this understanding in the tenth anuvaka of bRRighuvalli. The mantra is uttered in great ecstasy with laughter (by the aspirant who has understood the game of creation):

“Ha Ha Ha, Oh Oh Oh! I am food, I am food, I am food. I am the eater of the food, I am eater of the food, I am the eater of the food.”

In the above Metaphor we have made the following comparisons:

The  Sun                                                    —             Brahman

Process of reflection                                  —             Creation of the world

The stone dropped into the lake                —             The first I-thought of separation

Movement in the waves                             —             Life

The ensemble of the reflections in the lake–             World of multiple objects/creatures

Each wave with a reflected Sun disc          —             A Life-form

Energy for rippling                                      —             Food

 Continuing the analogy, ponder over what happens to the reflected disc of the Sun in the wave that has ended.  If you are an onlooker sitting on the bank, it appears as though the reflected disc of the attenuating wave is eaten away by the surviving disc.

But the real Sun continues to shine brilliantly from up above in the sky totally unaffected by the goings-on on the lake surface. It appears as though he is enjoying the rolling waves and the moving and shifting shapes of himself in the reflected images, one image disappearing and a fresh image emerging with each new wave. The fun and frolic lasts as long as the Sun does not mis-identify himself to be one of the dying and disappearing reflected discs. But the moment he forgets his true nature and thinks that he is the limited reflection in the wave, he will experience sorrow and misery at the inevitable destruction of the form.  Advaita keeps reminding us that “you are like the Sun and not the image which is a non-existing reflection in the wave. You are eternally there, deathless and unborn.”

For a more detailed exposition of the philosophy of Advaita, please take a look at:

Advaita Simplified: Parts VI and VII:—Part-VI-The-separate-person-is-action.ashx—Part-VII-Nothing-has-ever-happened.ashx

 02. From the spiritual point of view, why we say eating animal flesh is incorrect ( for the lack of a better word)?

I guess, no enlighten master has said stop eating meat, but in most cases it has been observed they don’t eat meat, there must be an intuitive understanding/base/explanation for that. Please shed some light.

Ramesam:  Admittedly there are quite a few confusing and contradictory viewpoints expressed about what food we should eat and whether Veg or non-Veg is good for human beings. To top it, each person bandies so called scientific evidence for his/her opinion. Almost every spiritually related Forum on the internet would have discussed this issue one time or the other with no clear answers.  Sometimes the discussions go in a frenzied manner citing one or the other scripture or dharma shastras that permit or prohibit consumption of meat.

It is an annoyingly confounding problem particularly for people in India, one of the few countries where Vegetarianism is followed by birth rather than by choice by almost 30 per cent of the population (this statistic reported in 2006 appears to me to be on the high side). To add to the muddle are the exhortations by half-informed gurus whose advice quite often contravenes scientific studies. Some of the Swamis continue to consume meat (e.g. Ramakrishna Mission), though they talk of ‘bhuta daya.’  Further, I found to my discomfiture and astonishment that it is absolutely an impossible problem to find vegetarian food in the countries where Buddhism is the dominant religion which teaches ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence).

Before we examine the question of what type of food is desirable for spiritual aspirants on the Advaita path, it is advisable to tease out the complex factors that go to influence our food habits.

First and foremost important fact that you should realize is that, whatever may be your intentions, the food you eat is not decided by yourself alone!  You are a composite of several organisms and your ability to digest and assimilate a given food depends on the population pattern of the bacterial flora in your GI tract. I have presented a series of articles on this aspect, thanks to Dennis, at the Advaita Academy site. The links are:

 Next we have to take into account the biological, evolutionary, anthropological and cultural backgrounds we carry in our genes. The recent write up by Dr. Rob Dunn discusses these issues well. He says, “Our bodies are filled with layers of evolutionary histories; both recent and ancient adaptations influence how and who you are in every way, including what happens to the food you eat. The recent adaptations of our bodies differ from one person to the next, whether because of unique versions of genes or unique microbes, but our bodies are all fully-equipped to deal with meat (which is relatively easy) and natural sugars (also easy, if not always beneficial), and harder to digest plant material, what often gets called fiber.”

The link to his paper is:

Now we are ready to add the next layer of stipulations from the spiritual angle. Unlike other religious systems with certain unexplained dogmas, Advaita is purely an investigative philosophy that goads you to conduct Self-inquiry. In order that you can carry out your inquiry without interruptions and with great commitment and focus, it is mandatory that you should have healthy body and an agile mind. Hence the primary stipulation is that you need a simple, balanced and nutritious diet that does not inebriate or make you indolent.

As you progress on the path with unswerving commitment, you find several changes taking place not only with respect to diet but other interests too without your effort. One’s desire to have only some particular foods wanes. Several meat eating Non-dual teachers tell me that their own body desisted eating non-veg food. U.G. Krishnamurthy lived on a diet of just a bowl of noodles with tomato ketchup three times a day.