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Which is better among vegetarian or non-vegetarian eating habits?

A vegetarian has some kind of superiority complex over non-vegetarian that he doesn’t kill animals for satisfying his taste buds. A non-vegetarian thinks that he is not a grass-grazer and eats the tastiest food available and costly too. Both live in a myriad world of their own. Sometimes they are not on talking terms and shun each others presence for gastronomical reasons. Which is better way to feed ourselves is an age-old question which we are prompted to answer.
In Anusasana Parva of Mahabharata, Yudhisthira asks Bhisma which is better vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism? Bhisma replied in a scholarly way which very few of us know. For the sake of lesser mortals there is a reproduction of the text of Mahabharata. Copyright is vested to Abhimanyu Mukherjee and author is Bharadvaja Sarma and this book is published by Academic Publisher, Kolkata.
“Offering meat in Sacrifices–practice of meat-eating–non-violence”
Vaisamapayana said, “After giving this talk on life, death, sins and virtues, Brihaspati, the preceptor of the gods, ascended to heaven, as all eyes were on him.

And then Yudhisthira asked Bhisma, “Grandfather, you have often said that non-violence is meritorious, and that abstention from causing injury to creatures is consistent with ethical conduct. I have also heard from you that forefathers – Pitris like to have offerings of meat as oblation and that is why in funeral rites like Shraddhas meat of various kinds is offered to forefathers. How can one procure meat without killing a living creature? How can these contradictions be resolved?”
And Bhisma said: “Those who desire beauty, health, longevity, intelligence, retentive memory, strength of body of mind would do well to abstain from causing injury to creatures. On this topic endless discussions have gone on among different sages. Seven celestial sages, the Valakhiyas praise abstention from causing injury to creatures. Manu, the self-born is of the opinion that those who do not eat meat or who do not kill living creatures or do not cause living creatures to be killed is a friend of all creatures. They earn the trust of all living beings and are never oppressed by anybody. They are the ones who are admired by the righteous. The noble and righteous seer Narada has said that those who wish to increase the bulk of their bodies by the flesh of other creatures are sure to suffer in the end. Brihaspati has said that the man who abstains from honey and meat earns the merit similar to that acquired through the act of making gifts and through sacrifices and penance. In my opinion, if a non-vegetarian, one who has been used to eating meat, gives up meat-eating, he would acquire merit which is greater than the merit one acquires through sacrifices and penance and by the study of the Vedas. Once a person got into the habit of eating meat, he finds it difficult to give it up. The vow of vegetarianism, if widely practiced, would give reassurance and feelings of security to all creatures. If there are no meat-eaters there would be no slaughter. Manu has said that meat that has been sanctified by spells should be offered to the departed soul. It is like purified butter. Any other meat is impure and worthless. One should never eat meat that has not been sanctified and dedicated in sacrifices.
Yudhisthira then said, “It is a pity that those who eat meat, as the Raksasas do, seem to prefer meat to many other delicious items of food like sweets and vegetables. I myself think that there is no food tastier than meat. I shall like to hear about both merits and demerits of eating meat or for that matter abstention from meat eating.”
And Bhisma said: It is true that if any item of food is to be judged by taste, there is no food superior to meat. There is no food more beneficial than meat for people who are weak and thin, or tired or for those who enjoy the pleasure of senses. Eating meat gives one instant feeling of strength and nourishment. But those who want to increase their own flesh eating meat of other creatures are indeed very selfish, mean and cruel. It occurs in the Vedas that animals were created to be offered as sacrifice in Yajnas. Agastya dedicated all deer to the deities. In ancient time it was laid down that no blame should attach to the Ksatriyas if they ate meat acquired by prowess, and as such, hunting which is an act of prowess was not considered sinful. When people go on hunting they risk their lives. Risks are on both sides – those that kill and those that are killed. Those who eat meat of animals are themselves eaten in their next life by animals. Etymologically the Sanskrit word Mamsa (meat) means “He ate me.”

ImageAnyway, there is no act more in keeping with ethical principles than compassion to all creatures. Those ascetics who perform penance and look upon all creatures with compassion go to heaven. Gift of life is the best of all gifts. There is nothing dearer than soul, and people with awareness of soul in their own selves should practice compassion and non-violence to all creatures.”


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11 thoughts on “Which is better among vegetarian or non-vegetarian eating habits?

  1. This debate of Vegetarianism vs Non-Vegetarianism goes on and on. Arguments can be advanced in favor of either. Scientific reasons can be cited in support of both. Religions esp., Hinduism equivocates.
    What I find funny is apprently, The Buddha recommended Ahimsa and made it the cornestone of buddhist philosophy, but he didn’t eschew meat eating for the laeity.
    Other religious people are very much appalled why “animals” are scrificed in Hindu Rituals whether it is Vedic Yajnas or to some non-Vedic deities. It is really amusing that a confirmed meat eater should find “pashu-bali” ‘appalling’. Whether one hunts for his food and eats, buys meat sold by a butcher as in Dharmavyadha’s case to eat- are all directly or indirectly allowing or causing animals to be killed. A tiger can eat nothing but meat. By nature man has evolved to be an omnivore. So, let it be that one eats what one finds agreeable to him/her. This is for laeity No arguments are likely to reach a conclusion in respect of superiority of either. The only meaningful thing in “nonviolence” as the basis of no-meat-eating- principle is why kill when we do not want to eat meat. It is but true that one whose goal is adhyatmic advancement has no particular use for meat. So it is preferable that he is a vegetarian.

    The Kshatriyas who followed Jainism abstained from meat and in time weren’t truly capable of giving protection that was necessary, to the people. Indian fell to the invaders because of universalizing ahimsa.

    • All major religious texts except Jainism and Buddhism support prevalence of meat eating. Hindu meat eaters are of various kinds most of which are hilariously ridiculous. Most of them are agree not to eat beef (cow & buffalo), rest animals are acceptable. There is one more category who don’t eat meat on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and on auspicious festival days.
      Your last statement seems to be true that ‘Indian fell to the invaders because of universalizing ahimsa’.

    • The propriety or otherwise of meat eating has been raised several times. Meat was a favourite item of food for the Ksatriyas and it appears that the Brahmins in the ancient times ate meat and beef too.
      Vyasa’s Mahabharatam by Bharadvaja Sarma, page no. 15.

  2. Thanx Sushil ji, for this informative post. I didn’t know about this episode of Mahabharata and I’ll translate this for a vegetarians’ forum called Niramish.

  3. Welcome Nishant ji! you can translate this article and I recommend you to read the book ‘Mahabharatam’ by Bharadvaja Sarma, published by Academic Publisher, Kolkata. There are many chapters which are omitted in Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute’s Mahabharata. I got this book in February’s book fair with a discount of 25 %, Flipkart provides only 5% discount (price is Rs 1000/-).
    Each line of Mahabharata is an ocean of knowledge. Every person should have a copy of Mahabharata in his home and the common myth that the book of Mahabharata is a bad omen should be resisted.

  4. Are vegetable really vegetarian any more? If yes for how long? See

    • In common parlance, anything with limbs and which bleeds is an animal and which is green in colour which grows in farm is vegetable. Jainis don’t eat the vegetables which is grown under the soil like potato and some don’t eat cauliflowers too, the reason is unknown. Staunch Vaishnavas don’t eat garlic and onion.
      On the issue whether the vegetables are veg. any more, the scientific answer is that it is need of hour to grow the crop which is resistant to extreme weather conditions and which are pest-resistant and above all with a high yield. This is a bogus issue that cereals and vegetables like Bt-Brinjal has genes of fish. Without genetic engineering it is impossible to feed the 7 billion hungry tummies.

  5. For a “religious vegetarian” their may be some ethical dilemmas to confront as our vegetarian products get empirical requirements for quality control. For example, the U.S. FDA rejects a 100 grams batch of chocolate if it contains more than 100 insect parts. There are similar limits set for bread and cakes and prepared food products. How does a vegetarian stick with green in this world teeming with non-vegetarian life?

    • Sushil Kumar on said:

      US FDA’s criteria for 100 insects is quite amusing, I came to know about it just 2 days back. In India, food habit is very important and interesting in all religions; a staunch Hindu will never eat beef, a Muslim will get angered by just hearing the name of pork, and pork is enjoyed by Sardars and Christians. Christians have no restrictions in what to eat or not to eat. Although vegetarian Hindus are of many kinds, like pure vegetarian or Vaishnava vegetarian who don’t eat even garlic & onion; eggitarian, who eat eggs but not chicken; lacto-vegetarian who prefers milk products in his diet.
      And there is one new breed in this vegetarianism who prefer organic agriculture products which is 3 to 5 times expensive than the normal one.

  6. The question is: is this world capable to provide sufficient vegetarian food to millions and trillions of mouths both human and of animals? At the same time can this world provide enough non veg food to both men and creatures .NO. Thats on practical levels, a balance of both required to this earth to exist. Hence respect to both practices is the need of the hour…..Dora, Srikkulam

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