Seeking Peace in Vegetarianism
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 Mar 2017
20 Mar 2017 – The concept of peace has several dimensions – political, religious, economic, social and even personal traits. Peace is not just the absence of conflict or violence. Even in the absence of violence, we may not always have peace. Peace is a positive aspect that is a reflection of friendship, amity, religious harmony, well being. We also have a sense of peace and joy when we have a clean environment around us.
Another aspect of peace is vegetarianism or in other words, not eating meat or chicken or even fish. We will discuss this aspect a little later.
A clean healthy environment is not only conducive in keeping pollution or global warming at bay but also provides peace and happiness. A healthy environment gives us joy, tranquility; it allows religious leaders and ordinary persons to meditate, to be kind, to have compassion, to seek spiritual union with the Almighty.
Such an environment signifies wellbeing of all forms of life — humans, animals, forests, plants and marine life. This environment is clean, healthy and beautiful — here birds fly around, plants flower, trees grow and produce flowers and fruit; bees produce honey; rivers flow and lakes and wells have clean water for drinking and agriculture. Such an environment gives us peace, solace and happiness and is essential for the survival of humanity as well for avoiding global warming and climate change..
In forests we find birds chirping, animals loitering around, healthy trees that bloom and give us fruit. All this gives joy and happiness. Man has looked at forests with awe, wonder and hope for centuries. Trees have symbolized life, shelter and rest for man. According to the Indian religious and philosophical texts Vedas, the tree kalpvriksha has wonderful properties. A person sitting beneath this tree in a contemplative stance gains knowledge and spiritual strength. For Buddha, it conferred enlightenment
Issue of vegetarianism vs. non vegetarianism
What to eat and what not to eat is a debate that generates controversy and occasionally ill will and has been going on for a very long time in many parts of the world. In particular the debate is between eating vegetarian food or non vegetarian food that includes meat, lamb, chicken, beef and fish etc. The debate depends on several factors – religious, geographical, ideological and of course economic.
Many religions especially Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism etc generally forbid a person belonging to any of these faiths to eat non vegetarian food. There are of course exceptions to this dictate. Some Hindus living in coastal regions eat fish or in mountainous regions where vegetables do not grow easily, do eat meat also. Similarly some Buddhists also eat meat or chicken although in India and some other regions, Buddhists are generally vegetarian.
But Jains are more particular to eat only vegetarian food. In fact some Jains go beyond this order. They not only do not eat meat or eggs, some Jains do not eat anything that grows inside the soil – e.g. potato, carrot, onion etc for this reason. They can eat beans or cauliflower because these food items ripen above the ground and not below the soil. Why this restriction for Jains? The answer is complex but essentially it is because they are particular that they should not harm any animal or bird or insect knowingly.
Muslims are by their faith forbidden from eating pork and the meat that they may eat should be halal. I am not aware if Christians have any particular taboos on what type of meat to eat or not. But generally Christians will not like to eat the meat of a dog unlike in China and a few other countries where there is no such restriction on eating this animal’s meat. Perhaps Chinese are most liberal in eating the meat of any animal or bird or fish.
There are some people called vegans who do not drink milk or eat any milk product. The reason is perhaps ideological and reflects their concept of peace. They feel that the cows are kept in such miserable conditions in order that they may produce more milk that they do not want to take part in torturing these animals and so avoid milk products or beef.
I have met some people who are nature lovers – who enjoy forests and greenery and the birds and some animals which flock to these green areas. Being in a forest, enjoying the quietness, the fresh air and birds hopping from branch to branch of trees is a joy that gives peace and harmony as indicated earlier. They love the wide diversity of nature. So when such people look at the birds – sparrows or pigeons or wood peckers and innumerable other type of birds, they wonder “how can we kill them and eat them? They give us so much joy and peace – killing them would be a crime against God and the environment.”
This argument although made on personal opinion and feelings is a sound one; but there are counter arguments also. One such is the fact that there is shortage of food in the world and many poor people would be further deprived of nutrition if eating meat is forbidden. Similarly many tribal people who depend on forest produce and hunting and fishing would not have been able to survive since prehistoric times if they had become vegetarian.
So the question remains whether to be vegetarian or not? Ultimately it depends on a person’s personal traits and one’s commitment to God and to the environment. We can only applaud their honesty and hope that more people learn to become vegetarian.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Mar 2017.
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