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Re: Foods

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani)
Date: Wed Mar 15 1995 - 15:41:13 PST

I must disagree with the following assessment:

Parthasarati Dileepan writes:
> Rationalization for vegetarianism:
> ----------------------------------
> Killing cannot be the reason for avoiding meats [...]

> Ahimsai is also not logical.  The same problems persist.
> The pain and suffering that plants undergo is not apparent
> when we pluck fruits and vegetables or even fell plants
> and trees. [...]

>From my understanding, the *fundamental* reason for not
eating meat is ahimsa, and to prevent killing of animals.
Ahimsa has long been the doctrinal basis for vegetarianism --
even works like Manusmriti argue from this point of view.

The Mahabharata, for example, is replete with admonitions
to avoid consuming animal flesh out of concern for the poor
creatures. ``What about plants -- do they not feel pain?''
is of course the obvious follow-on question.  

Well, perhaps plants do feel pain, but each one of us must
draw a line somewhere.  It is easy, nay, trivial, for most of
us to eat heartily without eating meat or meat by-products.
I cannot criticize the eskimo too much for eating fish --
he has nought else from which to choose, but we who live
in these conditions must try to lead as cruelty-free an
existence as we can.

We all attach different degrees of importance to different
life forms -- those who eat meat most likely would not
consider killing and eating humans. So vegetarians 
draw the ahimsa line somewhat arbitrarily at the animal/plant
boundary.  Some go further, and do not eat root vegetables
out of concern for the plant; this is even more laudable,
but not practicable for all.  [Indeed this is the recommended
way for true renunciates, such as sannyaasis, etc., which
only makes sense if ahimsa is the motivating factor behind
the injunction.]

As Vaishnavas, ahimsa is our primary ethic.  A verse that
appears in Sri Nadadhoor AmmaaL's "Prapanna Parijata" says:

	ahimsaa prathamam pushpam pushpam indriyanigrahaH
	sarvabhUtadayaa pushpam kshamaa pushpam tathaiva hi |
	dhyaanam pushpam tapaH pushpam pushpam jnaanam pushpam eva ca
	satyam ashTavidham pushpam vishnoH prItikaro bhavet ||

        Noninjury (ahmisa) is the primary flower, the next
          one being Control of the senses;
        Kindness to all creatures a flower, 
          with Forgiveness an especially important one.
        Meditation a flower, Austerity a flower, 
          Wisdom a flower as well;
        Truth is the last of these eight flowers
          which are extremely dear to Vishnu.

[Nadadhoor AmmaaL is the paramaguru of Sri Vedanta Desika.
 This verse is probably a quotation from a much older work.
 I may have gotten some of the less important words wrong 
 in the sloka.]

> The only reason left is the separation of saathveega and
> thamasic foods.  Animal flesh is thamasic and must be
> avoided.

This is also a reason, but since most people do not do "dhyaanam"
or any other kind of meditation, it is irrelevant whether they
eat taamasic or saatvic food.  We avoid animal flesh out of 
concern for the animal.

Mani

P.S. As for Desika's "aahaara niyamam", it is clearly a
     product of his time period and should be seen in that
     light. We should always look for higher principles (the forest)
     among and instead of the many Pharisaic injunctions (the trees)
     that previous teachers have left us. If not, what to do
     about foods that Desika had no knowledge of, such as potatoes,
     tomatoes, peanuts, etc?