It is a usual practice to begin the meals with a prayer from the Atharva Ved Om Sahanavavatu Sahanau Bhunaktu j Sahaviiyam Karavavahai Tej asvinavadhitamastu Ma vid visha vahai Om Shanti ! Shanti!! Shanti!!! Here follows a free translation in English We should protect society together.
We should dine together. We should work together. We should burnish our knowledge. Let hatred be rooted out. Let there be peace that passeth understanding. Whether dining alone or in company, one is reminded of this verse. It shows that our ancestors never looked upon the act of eating as something to be gone through hurriedly, as an unavoidable necessity.
They looked upon mealtimes as pleasurable social occasions that are a part of our cultured lifestyle. A meal is also an act of yqjnya. Certain rites and rituals and ceremonies (sanskars), are to be carried out at important stages from birth to death. But in this context, the term sanskar is used in its practical connotation only.
In this sense, a cultured way of life consists of carrying put consciously the responsibilities enjoined on a person as a member of a family or society. The way we respond to everyday situations reflects how effectively the sanskars have been impressed on us. Consider the following scenarios.
It is lunch time in your office. As you open your tiffin box your colleague cannot help looking at its contents. He notes that you have brought a specially prepared sweet dish. The colleague very promptly asks whether it was somebody’s birthday, In fact, it was someone’s birth day.
The person is delighted because you remembered it and brought sweets for him. Now, the spoonfuls of different items are exchanged and relished with joy. A genial spirit of friendship prevails. You have embarked on a long distance journey by train. Travelling all by yourself, a tedious afternoon stretches out before you.
So far, you have not exchanged a word with the others in the compartment, no gossip. Now, it is lunch time. Your fellow passenger offers you some puri bhqji from his tiffin box. “Let us share”, he says with undisguised friendliness. Of course, he knows you have ordered your lunch already.
At his insistence, you take a bite of a puri from his plate, just to please him. Well, this could be a new beginning – of dialogue, of discussion, perhaps of a new friendship. The ice is broken. Anyway, you surely no longer feel fatigue or tedium.
Your young son is playing about at home. His friend walks in. As it is his first visit to your house, he makes a handsome gift of a chocolate to your son. Later, when the friend has left, your son cuts the chocolate bar into three pieces and, keeping the larger one for him, gives the remaining two to you and his mother. The innocent and generalim Mrulmr of the child overwhelms you with joy. It is small thin mm 111′
Community dinners, meals for the whole village, or a ceremony arranged by a. particular social group or community – these are different from the occasions described above. The list of the occasions for such public consumption of food in I large groups can be extended considerably: the langar of the I Sikh community, the group meals of the varkaris on the palkhi I route.
Large scale cooking and eating arranged for survivors I from natural calamities housed in camps and the festival public I meals for residents of an entire village. These occasions I strengthen the fellow feeling present in the community.
Besides, almost everyone has a sense of involvement. The invitees, the cooks, the waiters and the onlookers keep changing their roles constantly and this is common in the villages though it is less likely to happen in big cities.
The city dwellers too have a glimpse of such community I dinners. There are huge gatherings at the swadhyaya functions I of Shri Pandurang Shastri, the celebrations of the birthday of I Lord Krishna held all over the world by the Hare Krishna sect,
I the mammoth crowds at the Shri Satya Sai Baba Ashram I where even the VIP’s shed their sense of status and mix freely I with others, as devotees. The Rajneesh ashram is no exception. I These are just a few outstanding examples. Several dozens can be added to the list.
While acquainting oneself with items like diet, eating habits, sanskar and related systems through different examples, one finds a common factor amongst them all. The persons mentioned in the examples cited above might have occasionally ‘ tasted different, alternative types of food.
But it is implied that in the incidents mentioned in the examples, they are vegetarians. The special birthday sweet, the traveller’s puri bhqji, the communal meal, the langar, the varkaris eating together – these are all instances of vegetarian meals shared in a spirit of camaraderie.
There is a sense of sanskar or propriety in the selection of the items to be cooked for a certain meal, who to invite, how to serve the food and how to seat the guests. A different kind of example will make the above statement clearer. During the Id festival, the shir kurma dish is sent to the neighbour or the neighbour himself is invited to dinner where the dish is served liberally.
Even a vowed vegetarian is happy to share the feast. At Christmas too, sweet dishes just like the ones we have during the Divali festivals, are sent to the confirmed The vegetarian system of diet was universally known and accepted in society. Also, there was a sense of virtue attached to its acceptance.
One happens to remember these things while travelling through various states with different languages and communities and one cannot help feeling that there is unity amidst diversity. This is borne out by the fact that during the month of shravan or in chaturmas even a brazen drunkard tends to abstain from drinking and a confirmed meat-eater gives up meat.
Around us too, there are persons who seem to exercise self-restraint at least for a month in a year and keep away from meat and drink. These persons might have ignored our advice to mend their ways but the sanskars could easily bring about the change that our piece of sound advice failed to achieve.
This cannot be dismissed as merely an instance of religious restrictions. Many gods are worshipped by slaughtering an animal and its meat is both offered and eaten as prasad.
When we use the expression “a cultured life”, we imply the existence of a kind of sympathy and compassion towards all living beings. We agree that Love is the best emotion but, short of that, there could be something like compassion for the animals, a feeling that innocent creatures should not come to harm, their lives should not be endangered.
This would cause anguish to a sensitive cultured person. It is not, however, suggested that a vegetarian alone is cultured and that a meat-eater is without any sanskar. For, the fact is that the actual animal slaughter is altogether horrible, something that veiy few can stand. It may be possible to go through the other motions – i.e. to skin a dead animal, to process the meat and to cook and consume it.
But it is extremely painful to actually kill the animal or to see it butchered. Even a seasoned meat eater from a typically meat eating society would not readily associate himself with such things. Only those who have taken up this profession out of a desperate need for earning their bread and butter can be expected to carry out the unpleasant and painful job of butchering the innocent animals.
One who has seen a dying animal writhing in agony, a frightened look in its eyes as it breathes its last, will be forever haunted by this nightmarish sight. He cannot help remembering it particularly before eating meat. And consciously or otherwise, the childhood sanskar is likely to surface and, perhaps, win the day.
A sensitive person of this sort is likely to turn towards a vegetarian style of diet. It is rightly said that one who has visited a slaughter house will have no appetite left for his steak. Fish eating is also popular. Very few of them have, however, an occasion to see the fish writhing in agony when it is flung out of water. The sight freezes your blood and may haunt you for the rest of your life.
The experience of death when, for instance, an epidemic breaks out, death striking people unexpectedly, death on the battlefield is one thing and the conscious butchering of innocent animals is quite another. Seeing the animals killed is something brie cannot forget easily. It is a traumatic experience.
Many meat eaters have consciously turned to vegetarianism after seeing the butchering of animals and their prolonged agony. Not being able to get over this, Tolstoy, the great novelist and writer, turned vegetarian. It is said that Tolstoy’s daughter avoided dining Mtla him because no meat was cooked or served at his place. Once she conveyed this frankly to him.
Tolstoy told her that there was a Chicken arourid and that she should kill it herself. The rest, that is the cooking and dressing would be done by the cook. She must do this, added Tolstoy, because neither he npr the cook would kill it. The daughter must surely have been intelligent enough to grasp the implications.
It should be added here that Tolstoy, like many other great men and women of sensitivity and insight, believed that killing, even killing for food, is wrong for moral reasons. As Shelley puts it, “to trifle with the sacredness of life, to think lightly of the agonies of living beings” is a terrible thing.
The meat eaters insist thatjldn ancient India, people of all castes being, meat eaters, non-vegetarianism was almost the order of the day. Further, facts are marshalled to prove that the best offerings to the gods were considered to be animals killed ceremoniously for this purpose. The writers of the Smrutis too had sanctioned meat eating.
There is, of course, truth in these arguments. Hence, there is no reason why this should be denied. At the same time, we should not ignore the power of the right sanskctrs to effect a change for the better in men and societies. The sanskars helped the highwayman, Valya Koli, to transform himself into the great saintly poet, Valmiki.
As Oscar Wilde has said, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future”. Here are a few more examples of a change for the better: Once, centuries ago, cannibalism was freely practiced, in many parts of the world. Today, one must embark on a major expedition in search of such a tribe. The custdm of human sacrifice, which had been practised in India till the last century, has been rooted out.
The same is true of the inhuman system of Satt. It unlawful today and is rarely practised. Child marriages, which flourished in earlier times, have no place in today’s cultured Sanskarit families. During the Mahabharata epoch, the Niyoga was practised for getting a son. Today it is a social taboo. Polygamy, which was. prevalent till 1954, has been legally banned ever since – a radical change that took place just fifty years ago.
Changes like the ones mentioned above had taken place in the ancient times too. Ashoka, the emperor of India became a vegetarian at a certain stage in his life. Lord Buddha preached that only vegetarianism is the right diet. Mahavir Jain, the twenty fourth Tirthankar of Jainism issued a decree that the followers of Jainism must not eat meat.
Those who say that the writers of the Smrutis have approved non vegetarianism seem to ignore the following verses from Manu Na krita Praninamhimsa inausa utapadyate quachit Na cha pranivadhah swargyah tasmat mausa vivarJayet. Samutpati cha mausasya vadhabandhoucha dehinam Prasameekshya nivarteta sarvamausasya bhakshanat.
There is no meat without killing an animal. Killing blocks your entry into heaven. Hence meat should be avoided. A person should ponder over an incident in which a tied animal is killed. After thinking about it, one is likely to want to abstain from all varieties of non-vegetarian food. Na maussa bhakshane doshah na madyecha na pravruttlresha bhutanam nivruttistu mahaphala.
There is no fault i.e. there is nothing wrong in eating meat, in drinking wine and in making love. People are naturally driven to these acts. That is the natural tendency (pravarutti) but they will benefit if they can rise above them (Nivrutti). That will give them mahaphala (heaven). Nivrutti advocated by Buddha means detachment from the world.
It is clear from this analysis that So far, no sensible person has tried to convert people to vegetarianism by law or by restrictions or by intimidation. All the concerned have so far made efforts only, with the following assumption – a person who has been eating meat as a need, as an available food or out of his liking for it, will turn a vegetarian at some stage in his life under the influence of good sanskars.
Hence, it goes without saying that even at present vegetarianism continues to be an integral part of the cultured life.
It is worth noticing how the meat eaters in the world lampoon and ridicule one another. Hindus are upset at the very idea of eating beef and Muslims become furious at the mention of pork. Both the communities have, however, no objection ito eating the meat of lamb and sheep. The Japanese eat raw fish with relish.
However, a special letter was issued stating that these items should not be served at the dinner arranged in honour of the members of the British Royal family since eating uncooked meat is regarded as unacceptable and unmannerly by the British In China, Tibet and some other places dog meat is a common food item. But in Europe it is not considered edible.
In Arabian countries the flesh of horse and camel is a gastronomic delicacy. They import it from Australia. Some consignments were, however, exported to the USA from Australia by mistake. The Americans were outraged. There were protests and demands to ban the Australian meat products. The English target the Germans for their fondness for pork sausages while the Germans laugh at the English for wasting time in catching fish.
The Biharis are provoked to derisive laughter by the Bengali passion for the hilsa fish while the Bengalis pooh-pooh the Biharis, because they do not even know how to eat fish. While in the U. S. A. or in Europe, even a seasoned Indian meat eater has to face some awkward situations. The quantity of meat the Americans serve can sometimes put him off.
He may find himself nearly choking oh the huge American steak. When a European pays a visit to a special restaurant in Argentina or Mexico he may be in for a shock. The waiter presents to him a novel “menu card” – the living animal itself, and asks him what he would like – the brain or the heart of the animal.
The ordered part of the body of the animal – monkey, for instance – is wrenched off then and there and sent to the kitchen for cooking. Having been never exposed to such a stunning experience, the cultured European might not manage to accept the idea of eating something which he has just seen alive.
It can be quite traumatic to realize that the animal has been killed at the his explicit command, certainly traumatic enough to put him off his food that day and perhaps off meat for the rest of his life. Similarly, some seafood restaurants keep fish alive in a tank and invite customers to select the fish they want to eat. It is then killed and cooked.
Lobsters and prawns are often popped into hot oil to fry while still alive and kicking. How fresh can restaurant food get! In the countries of the Middle East, while slaughtering an animal, its throat is slit open. People throng to drink the dripping blood. The inhuman sight sends shivers down the spines of European meat eaters.
The members of the Sikh community eat the flesh of am animal that is killed by a single stroke only. Muslims, on the other hand, slit the animal’s throat half open to let out the blood completely and the animal dies a horribly slow and painful death. They eat such meat only (Hcdal). No other form of meat is acceptable to them.
So, Sikhs will not eat halal meat and Muslims will not eatjhatka meat. Each one’s method of preparing the meat seems horrible to the other! Such, alas, is the kingdom of Heaven! On studying all these details carefully, we can detect continuity between the original sanskars and the regeneration and change that have followed. As a natural conclusion to this, is there an answer to the question Why Vegetarianism?