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.”
Anyway, 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.”