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Re: Vegetarianism - Plants have life too. (Seek Answers)

From: K. Sadananda (
Date: Fri Nov 09 2001 - 04:24:29 PST

>Why Vegetarianism?

Here is article II. answers to some questions raised by one Mr. 
Srinivas who was a Vaishnavate slipped into some wrong habits.


Greetings!  I am happy to read your discussion on my article.
I am giving below some more thoughts for you to ponder about.  Do not 
accept them but do not reject them either.  But contemplate on them 
to see if they make some sense.

  The question of - should I be a vegetarian or not - obviously comes 
to only  for a man who has a choice to make.  In fact he has no 
choice but to choose.  All other life forms instinctively fall within 
the system or blend with the nature.  Only because, man stands tall 
in the creation with his intellect highly evolved is capable of 
making that choice.  The other life forms have less of choice and are 
governed more by the instincts.  In the anatomy of all life forms, 
the plants come the lowest with the body, if at all with a 
rudimentary mental development ( as shown by the Dr. Bose) and no 
conceivable intellect.  Animals come with body and mind to some 
degree but with very limited intellect. (I read a story where a cat 
in New York ran back in to the house that was in blaze to save her 
kittens and in the process sacrificed her own life).  Only in humans 
(in most of them) body, mind and intellect developed to the maximum. 
They understand what hurt means since they feel intensely when 
someone hurts them.  All dharmas (doos and don'ts) that are taught in 
all religions are only based on these simple principles.
These are universal values, irrespective of time and space.  What I 
expect others to do to me, I should do to others - this is my dharma. 
I expect others to tell me truth - then telling the truth is my 
dharma.  I expect others to be considerate, kind and forgiving my 
faults, not to steal my property, respect me as I am, not to hurt me 
by action, by word or by thought.  Then these are my does.  The 
reason is I have a value for these since I value others to follow 
these towards me.  When I compromise my values for pleasure or for 
money for whatever sensuous reason or even for fear, I raise 
conflicts in my own mind and intellect.  Feeling of guilt is due to 
the divergence between what my conscious (intellectual values) 
dictates versus what I feel like doing (mental or sensuous 
enjoyments).   I am giving this just as a background.  All dharmas or 
values are not for the sake of religion but only fundamentally 
related to keep me in a state free from conflicts, to be in peace 
with myself; which everyone values the most.

Based on the evolutionary ladder in the life forms, all life forms 
are not the same, even the expression of life through the equipments 
are not the same.  Plants operate mostly at body level, animal mostly 
at body and mind level and human at body, mind and intellect level. 
On that basis killing plants is not the same as killing an animal 
which is not the same as killing a human being.   Even by law the 
last one is a no-no in any society even though human is as much as a 
mammalian as a cow or dog or cat or monkey.  Human meat can be 
consumed since it solves both the food problem and the population 
problem.  But even the notorious meat eaters repel at the thought of 
that- why?  Only law alone can kill a human when that human behaves 
worse than an animal as it has happened for the Oklahoma bombing 

I do agree that in destroying plants you are killing the life forms 
too.  But are you sensitive to that?  My discussion pertains not just 
to intellectual understanding as a thought, after the belly is full. 
It is not understanding as a thought it should be an understanding as 
a fact.  It is called an assimilated value.  Let me give you a gross 
example.  That I am man and not a woman is not just an intellectual 
understanding as a thought but understanding as a fact. There is no 
misconceptions any time about my identity.  In the killing of animal, 
the understanding is without a question but the suffering of the 
animal is vivid to our understanding.   True plant-suffering we 
cannot see - since our sense are not sensitive. Even though 
intellectually at a scientific level we understand that they are life 
forms too, the comprehension of their suffering is not there.  Thank 
God for that!  Otherwise we will be starving to death. 

Remember, I did not advocate killing of the plants either if you are 
truly sensitive about it.  Our saastra-s have recognized this as a 
problem.  In olden days when the plant kingdom was plenty, those that 
are contemplative were asked to eat only the fruits that fall from 
the tree and plat the seed afterwards.  That is why I said, food is 
advised to be taken on a need basis.  I have to keep this body alive 
till I have self-realized or God-realized (read my related article on 
Hinduism).  Hurting my body is as much a no-no as hurting another 
body.  So I have to eat to live.  Life lives on life.  Since I have a 
choice I should exercise the right choice to keep my body alive. 
Eating plants is therefore more preferable than eating animals or 

Since there is a sacrifice of life, the scripture advice us not to 
eat without first offering to the Lord, who is the enlivening factor 
in all life forms.  There is a sandhyaa vandanam - I donot know if 
you are brahman and had gone through upanayanam where they teach you 
the trikaala sandhya.  It is said that sandyaavandanam is essential 
for a brahman ( here true brahman is one who has a satvik mind - a 
mind sensitive to the feeling of others - brahman charati iti 
brahmanaH - a contemplative student - truly it is not based on birth 
) and it is said he does not gain anything by doing sandhya but if he 
does not do he incurs a sin.  If you understand the true import of 
the mantras you see why it is said like that - It is the recognition 
of the fact that you are standing on a platform supported by your 
lineage(gotram), benefiting from their culture, traditions and values 
that have been passed on from generations and you are getting benefit 
from all life forms and from the very source of the life in this 
plant, the sun.   It is a recognition of the fact and recognition of 
the problem and request that your sins (commissions and omissions) be 
forgiven.  The purpose is not to chant mechanically but to make one 
to be sensitive to where we stand in the society in the hierarchy in 
the creation.  It is oblations to our ancestors, oblations to the 
nature and oblations to creation.  Before the food is taken, it is to 
be offered and then taken - then it becomes a prasaadam - part at 
least symbolically should be offered first to bhuutas - crows or 
other scavengers who help us indirectly.  Food should be taken as 
prasaadam automatically imply that one cannot be greedy and only take 
what is needed. 
Before the former tills the land, he does prayer to the earth since 
in the tilling process he is destroying many living organisms. 
Before the harvest is taken, prayers are offered.  These are 
developed to make one responsible and make one sensitive to the 
nature.  That is why not doing is said as a sin.   Jews offer prayer 
before they butcher an animal and then only they sell that meat as 
kosher meat.
Now coming back to your situation, you say that you were brought up 
as a vegetarian, and you become non-veg because of the need.   I do 
not see a need to become for the sake of a convenience.  I came to 
this country in 30 years ago when there are no places that offer 
vegetarian food, yet I survived.  We have brought up our daughter in 
this country and she is a student at Northwestern Medical school. 
She is a strict vegetarian.  She used to cook rice in the microwave 
and eat with the pickles and yogurt, even when she was in the dorm to 
supplement bland so-called vegetarian food in the cafeteria.  Her 
room became an attraction to many Indian Students who were longing 
for some spicy food.  In your case compromise may be a better word 
than convenience.

You say it is not religious, but if one understands the true import 
of so-called religious dharmas, they are taught only for making one's 
life simple and straight forward with peace of mind that everyone 
longs for.  It is intellectual if one understands in their true 
import.  Intellectual and religious are not contradictory - in fact 
they are the same.  If we don't understand the true import of the 
religious manual we need to confirm, giving the benefit of the doubt, 
since it is intended to make us better humans.  If we understand in 
their essence, then we don't have to confirm, we naturally follow not 
to the letter but to its essence. 

Values become mandates only if we don't assimilate them.  If the 
value of the value is understood then it becomes our nature.  We may 
compromise a lower value to follow a higher value.  Killing is wrong, 
but not when you have to do to protect higher dharma.  To save a life 
I may lie, there is no internal conflict.  Krishna's teaching to 
Arjuna is what is called active goodness not passive goodness.

  You can be a non-vegetarian if that does not bother you.  Obviously 
there is some conflict - either because of your upbringing or the 
values you are taught to the degree that in your subconsiousness 
there is a degree of sensitivity in eating meat, even though you may 
justify that I don't physically see the butchering of the animal. 
A colleague of mine used to argue that he is doing a favor to the 
cows since they are brought into life (in forms) because there is 
demand for the meat.  One can use the same argument to develop humans 
as cattle and grow them in forms and feed them to become healthy and 
one day butcher them for their meat. The thought itself is repelling.

One can develop any argument that sounds intellectually convincing, 
to justify eating meat.  But in the final analysis the question boils 
down to:  are you sensitive to it or not.  Would you appreciate 
somebody else killing you and eating your meat?  Even a notorious 
thief would not like that his stolen property be stolen by any other.

I tried to justify killing of plants at the expense of animals or 
humans since one has to eat to live.  Since we are not sensitive to 
the suffering of the plants, whatever the reason may be, we have no 
internal conflicts in eating vegetables.   If we are carnivorous, we 
would not have any conflict in eating meat.  The situation is that we 
do have a choice.  That is the glory of human life.  Because we have 
the choice, we can use the choice to evolve ourselves or damn 
ourselves.  That is the choice we need to exercise.  If you really 
can justify to your own satisfaction that eating meat is necessary 
rather than convenience or tasty then go ahead and eat - no question 
asked  - no discussion needed.  The arguments end there.  All the 
above arguments are only if there is a question in your own mind, 
which you seem to have since your brought up and your value system 
demands that introspection.  Then my advice to you is to stop 
justifying your self for compromises and live up to the values you 
believe in or grown in.  Advice by Krishna is one should follow one's 
own Dharma - swadharma - than follow others even if it is convenient. 
Let us have guts to follow what is right rather than what is 
convenient.  When one follows ones swadharma, even if it is 
inconvenient, there is less internal conflicts, more self 
satisfaction.  More importantly, the mind becomes moldable for higher 
pursuits since you could say no to it in spite of its demands.  This 
is the greatest asset for a human.  

I too went on writing, repeating myself.  But I hope the thoughts are 
clear.  I hope you make the  right choice and follow it through which 
makes you proud of yourself. 

Hari Om!

K. Sadananda
Code 6323
Naval Research Laboratory
Washington D.C. 20375
Voice (202)767-2117

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           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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