I have been a vegetarian all my life. It started off for religious reasons (I am a Tamil Brahmin), but while there were no strict checks made on our diet by our parents (in fact, we were encouraged to eat omelettes when we dined out, and take the cod liver oil capsules daily to improve our health), being a staunch vegetarian was somehow an implicit and unwritten (and unmentioned) code of conduct in our family.
As I grew up, and I had the freedom to experiment with alternate diets, I really did not do so. I am not sure if I can attribute it to my religion or my conventional upbringing; it was more a deep conviction that it was wrong. If you had asked me then, I would not probably been able to spell out why it was wrong. In my mind, I associated being vegetarian as one of the basic tenets and rules by which I want to live my life; religion was just an easy way of explaining it away!
In my earlier blog, I explored popular reasons to become a vegetarian. Today, after four plus decades of practicing vegetarianism in spite of countless opportunities to be otherwise, hours of online research and talking to people, I know exactly why one should be a vegetarian. So here goes.
THE ONLY REASON YOU OUGHT TO BE A VEGETARIAN: Being a vegetarian increases your spirituality
A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses. ― George Bernard Shaw
I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized. ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Being a vegetarian goes far beyond following the rules and regulations set by your religion. However, I would like to introduce a religious concept here. Food, according to the Bhagavat Gita, can belong to three categories. Saatvik food is wholesome, juicy, and sits light on the stomach. Rajasic food is spicy, rich and you tend to sleep after the meal! Tamasic food is pungent and stale, almost to the point of being spoilt.
Depending on the kind of food you eat every day, your behaviour and the way you think gets affected. This is the also the toughest reason to analyse and substantiate, but being a vegetarian goes beyond your physical body. It is a way of life, where you refuse to be violent (or eat the product of violent actions); where you refuse to succumb to the call of your tongue and rise above petty delights; where you understand that every action has an equal reaction, and you want a sense of peace that comes from non-violence. Combined with a sense of compassion and a feeling of well-being, your body will feel light. Satiated. Comfortable. This sense of well-being does pervade into your soul and make you more spiritual – a state where you are more in touch with your body and the inner being that resides in it.
What is your relationship with food?
Every person has a special relationship with food. We eat for comfort, we eat to reduce stress, we eat when we are sad, happy, lonely, or at a party. The equation that you share with food determines where you are in your spiritual journey. At the first level, eating is purely physical – you eat to satisfy your tongue and your stomach. Self-control is tough and binge-eating is more common than not.
As you evolve, your relationship becomes less emotional and more intellectual. You leave fad diets behind and start eating to ensure that your body receives the best nutrients it needs. You also start experimenting with different cuisines and pick and choose the healthier options among them. At this level, food brings emotional as well as intellectual satisfaction.
At the deepest level, you eat to maintain a higher level of awareness. Food that is light, wholesome and easily digestible. Food that your body does not have to expend a lot of energy to digest and get rid off. Food that is eaten only when you really need it. At this level, fasting, eliminating pungent foods, or staying without food for a higher purpose is common. For instance, Hare Krishna followers eat only food (prasad) that has been first offered to Krishna. They believe that untasted food offered to the divine first and then consumed imbues it with a special consciousness that spreads to those who eat it too. When you are at this level, the notion of self-control or craving does not enter the picture – you simply are neutral to food, and eat it purely so your physical body can continue to facilitate the spiritual journey.
To eat meat or not?
What is the difference between religion and spirituality? Is there a difference? For the purposes of this article, there is a quantum of difference between these two words. Here is the meaning that comes closest to how it is being used in this blog.
Religious: Having or showing belief in and reverence for God or a deity.
Spiritual: Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul
Based on this definition, being a vegetarian may or may not be a tenet of your religion, but it has everything to do with being a spiritually aware person. You need to become a vegetarian if your ultimate goal in life is to be in touch with your inner self, and be everything you want to be.
Food that is great for the tongue or for the soul? End of the day, this is a personal decision. On the other hand, if you have equal access to both a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian fare, a spiritual bias indicates, in fact, insists, that you pick the vegetarian option.
- http://www.southerncrossreview.org/22/gandhi2.html – Gandhi’s speech to British Vegetarian Society
- Quotes about vegetarianism – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/vegetarianism