Lost history and meaning of Vegetarianism in Hinduism and in West!

Definition of Vegetarian

In ordinary parlance any body who confines himself to a diet which excludes animal flesh or body parts is vegetarian. An extreme form of vegetarianism may involve complete abstinence from animal products i.e. Milk and eggs etc. as well. Not to use dead animal’s skin for footwear or other body wear may also be part of oral vegetarian practice. Vegetarianism is essentially a way of life which involves least violence.

Non-violence and least violence

Non-violence may be nearest translation of the Sanskrit/Hindi word “Ahinsa” (also spelled as Ahimsa) but that is not correct definition any more. In reality it is difficult to find true vegetarian. To understand this dichotomy, we should dwell on “Non-violence”, a little more.

Gandhian non-violence

The Non-Violence is of course an English word but it became a translation when Gandhi started Civil Disobedience and Quit India Movement against the English Rule on the principle what he called was Ahimsa. That was a political movement and not religious or spiritual movement. It was the determination of Gandhi, who as a leader would dare the English Police to arrest him, for that he and his followers would not accept foreign rule and thus disobey every order. Even the order to vacate the street. People would sit down or even lie down on the street in support. Now this movement for freedom was non-violent in the sense that Gandhi and people following would suffer injury from the arms of English Police but would not retaliate or attack physically. But as history tells us it had a far worse retaliation on the psyche of the attacker. Now with all due respect, it was not a Non-violence. It was Non-Retaliation. Even if we assume that it was Non-violence, then it had nothing to do with vegetarianism. Wikipedia and everybody got it completely wrong. To understand the ahimsa and true non-violence or vegetarianism, we have to dwell deeper into the matter.

Ancient History of Vegetarianism

The historians trace back vegetarianism in India to a number of Hindu scriptures. Though some scriptures seem to be promoting animal meat. In the west it is traced to Pythagoras from Greece who also believed in soul and its reincarnation. He was first in both the believes. As regards India, it is always a matter of debate as to what people were doing. Scriptures appear conflicting. Mythological stories sound illogical. Now what some people were doing at any time or whether scriptures were doctored or not is an academic debate. It does not help as to how to live our life. Such debates lead to fanaticism. Debate over the fact as to what was past always remain ambiguous. As regards, hypocrisy in religious practices, it not a news but a fact of life.
However we can find a fair logic if we look at the vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet scientifically and take into account undisputed facts from history/mythology. Now a few admitted facts:

General Facts:

  1. Protein in Meat/flesh is far more in abundance than in most of the vegetarian diet, though comparable vegetarian diets are now easily available.
  2. It is easy to accumulate muscular mass and to gain weight on non-vegetarian diet. (An adolescent of 15 years rose from 88 lbs. to 136 lbs. in two years on twice a week diet of chicken only)
  3. Human Anatomy suggests that it was not meant to be carnivorous. It differs from various carnivorous creatures in essential aspects.
  4. Humans have fragile body especially stomach. It requires to carefully treat the food/animal before it can consume it. While Elephant can eat raw tree leaves and branches and Snake can gulp the rat as a whole; human need to cook before eating
  5. Every terrain on the earth is not hospitable to provide vegetarian diet, especially cold places. Nothing can be grown in ice.
  6. Human have lived as invaders. Forming armies and traveling long distance to attack and capture whatever the invaders wanted, including slavery and colonization by threatening away natives or imprisoning the children of aboriginal people.
  7. In some sports, no vegetarian ever qualified or reached to the top.
  8. Most animals have become extinct. Soon all would be extinct. We have eaten/consumed everything.

Facts pertaining to India:

  1. India had a caste system in which duties of each caste were diametrically different from others.
  2. Scriptures, doctored or not, admit that some (not all) Brahmin’s (scholarly teacher) used to consume non-vegetarian diet as also most of the warriors. Brahimins were also teachers of war craft and in necessity they fought with Kshatriya/warrior caste.
  3. Mahavira was strictly vegetarian. Mahavira used to fast for about several days before eating.
  4. Buddha was against harming any creäture whatsoever. Followers of Buddha have conflicting way of life. But Ashoka was vegetarian and in his kingdom people were not raising pork or poultry farms. Ashoka, after becoming Buddhist, never attacked another Kingdom.
  5. Adi Shankaracharya established four Dham/Math(offices) of Shankaracharyas in India to propagate Vedic Hindu Religion. They are forbidden to eat any cereal or farm produce what to speak of non-veg diet. They have to survive on fruit and milk only. (How they get over weight is something between them and their God.)
  6. Rama Krishna Paramhansa, the Guru of Vivekananda was a Pescetarian or in other words he was a fish eater but otherwise vegetarian.
  7. No Indian King ever traveled (what to speak of invading) beyond the continent except Rama who attacked Lanka as a prince in exile, to retrieve his wife. India was under foreign rule for 900 years. First under Mughals then English. Some territories were ruled by Greeks and Portuguese for some period of time.

Admitted facts about Europe, USA, Australia and rest of world:

Before coming to any conclusion, we must take into account the admitted or undisputed facts about Vegetarians in Europe:

  1. It is highly probable that early followers of Christian Church were vegetarians as some portions of Bible promote vegetarian food like fruit and grains.
  2. Some very famous people like Pythagoras of Greece in ancient roman times to Bernard Shaw among others advocated vegetarianism former on the theory that animals had soul and later because vegetarian diet was healthy.
  3. There were few people or very small groups who believed in life or soul to be correct, were vegetarians.
  4. Europe is generally hard and cold terrain though a good part support vegetation. It is European traditions that migrants to USA and Australia took with them.
  5. Habits continue even when the circumstances which formed those habits, ceased to exist.
  6. Until about 50 years back it was believed by common man in Europe and USA that humans can not survive on pure vegetarian diet. It started to change with first view expressed by Frances Moore Lappé’s in her bestseller book: Diet for a Small Planet. Even though the vegetarian movement or believers in favor of vegetarian diet existed earlier.
  7. Eating, drinking smoking are all matters of habits.
  8. There is not about a whisper of vegetarianism in China, Russia or Middle East.


When we refuse to listen (read) argument, preposition becomes a religion. Organized religion has to be hypocrite because it refuses debate. Non vegetarian diet is essential for warriors. Without such diet wars were impossible. More wars have been fought for religion then for ideologies. therefore role of religion, would always be dubious.
The vegetarianism came into existence with the recognition that all life forms are equal and deserve to survive. It may be part of some religions or not. Violent action towards the animal creates a pattern/habit of violence. This pattern enhances violence in society. Further to eat non-vegetarian food for taste or to increase strength was bad as both these conducts were deprecatory. After all, with strength people had always dominated over others.
While common belief is that vegetarian diet itself is non-violent, it is not so. The only non-violent way of eating is to eat a fruit dropped from tree, unplucked. Farming, in which, after taking seeds, the plants are discarded and replanted every season is also violent. It is for this reason Shankaracharyas were ordained to live on unplucked fruits. As regard milk, the same should also be consumed after it’s calf had it full. Otherwise it would be violent to calf. But no one is true or absolute vegetarian.
It is possible for people to foresee in ancient times that if we started eating animals they would be extinct and it is environmentally unhealthy to breed animals. Hence they switched to vegetarian diets.
Who knows the whole truth? But the admitted facts given above lead to the these conclusions.

Holy Books

It is unfortunate that all the books which are treated as holy, were written decades, if not centuries after the event or the person whose teachings it contained. These books were written on the understanding of events as perceived by the author.  A vegetarian author will incorporate vegetarian diets to his perception of mythology and a non-vegetarian author will perceive and present things in his own personal settings. No reliance can be placed on anything. Logical thinking leads to above conclusions and I want to be least violent. At least, as much as I can afford to be, in a given circumstance.

Eat whatever we like, but make sure that we smell right otherwise people will shun us.

© Sandeep Bhalla

8 thoughts on “Lost history and meaning of Vegetarianism in Hinduism and in West!

  1. Oh, I will eat something…maybe even continue to eat meat though I am sure troubled by that. Plants too, the “whole of God’s creation” has a soul, yes. But any notion carried to an extreme becomes absurd, even vegetarianism. Living here, by our very being, is an exercise of power and cannot help but takes its toll on the rest of God’s creation. My goal is just to be “kinder” in the day to day endeavor and perhaps take less of a toll. I’m glad we are talking about this.


  2. Interesting. I just stumbled across this and read it as Claire and I are toying with the notion of being more conscientious about our diet. I too am troubled by the knowledge that animals have a soul as does the rest of God’s critters and creation.



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