Many Hindus eat meat, yet ahimsa and vegetarianism are considered as noble ideals.
Hindus have practiced polygamy, child marriage etc., but always consider a monogamous commitment to a spouse with swatantra, as the ideal state.
Hindus have mistreated womenfolk and happening still, but to treat them well, is always considered a virtue.
Hindus have discriminated against people from different strata of the society, but to raise beyond the duality of worldly affairs and realize the essential Brahman pervading/permeating us all, is considered Jnana
And many more such cases.
To the liberal intellectuals who selectively smear only Hinduism, these are all signs of hypocrisy. But it is hardly so, the theme of Dharma is about ‘aspiration’, to set the goals for people to evolve towards.
For example, a meat eater is recommended to avoid it, initially on one day of the week, then have it only once a week, over time entirely avoid and so on. Similarly for different paths of progression, for different contexts. The Shastras do not compromise on the virtues or ideals — end goals but give flexibility in how each person evolves towards it. A very apt quote of Vinoba in this context
“ There can be a gap between desired goal and reality, but there should not be a contradiction between a goal and one’s acts.”
The importance of context and definition
There are media reports which claim India is non-vegetarian based on some statistics. For example, the Quint:
“Over 70% Indians Are Non-Vegetarian, Most Meat Eaters in Kerala”
So let’s look at definition first, Wiki for example says:
“Non-vegetarian is an Indian English word that is used to refer to a person who is not a vegetarian i.e. someone who consumes meat, especially as a major source of protein”
Now look at the statistics,
“However, around 80 percent of Indian men and 70 percent of women consume eggs, fish, chicken or meat ‘occasionally, if not weekly’, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of national health data. But their ‘daily diet’ tends to be vegetarian, consisting of milk or curd, pulses or beans and dark green and leafy vegetables,"
Overall, 42.8 percent Indian women and 48.9 percent of men consumed fish, chicken or meat weekly, according to the National Family Health Survey, 2015–16 (NFHS-4).
So how is meat/seafood, the major source of protein for Indians, if 70–80% of them consume it occasionally and weekly?
Per these statistics,
- 80% of the people consume meat only 2% of the time:
- 80% of the people consume vegetarian food 98% of the time;
- 20% of the people consume vegetarian food 100% of the time;
Yet the media calls India a non-vegetarian nation.
If I were to apply this impressive lack of statistical analysis to other things,
- India is a Christian nation.
- India is a Communist nation
- India is ruled by Congress.
and so forth.
So if someone claims that India is a ‘non-vegetarian’ nation based on such numbers, then they can also be considered ‘non-idiotic’ people, for even they would have one bright idea, every other year. But then this is the same thing media does with rapes and crimes against woman. Exaggerates and misrepresents statistics, hides the analysis behind emotional appeals and outrageous claims.
At an individual level, if a person consumes meat even occasionally, he/she can indeed claim to be non-vegetarian. But the scale matters, when looking at statistical numbers to categorize the society, it is nonsensical to use the far lesser number, to broad brush an entire nation. And the reason they do this is to malign BJP government’s efforts to promote vegetarianism. The argument is that India is highly non-vegetarian and the government is imposing a diet upon the people. But as the statistics, they quote themselves prove, the government is actually more in tune with the people than the media.
Besides, irrespective of the current numbers, the government should nudge the people towards the future and that future should be determined by the ideology of the party elected — economic, cultural and social ideologies. In that sense, the move towards vegetarianism makes eminent sense, giving the environmental challenges due to livestock breeding and industrial meat farming.
I hope India never gets to be like the US, which in the past 50 years has gone from having meat once a week, to having meat in every meal, causing massive damage to the ecology, health and lifestyle.
The values of Hindu Dharma, inculcate and inspire people to incrementally reduce their consumption of meat — barring one day of the week, only once a week, only on special occasions, less as you age, never bovines, only eggs, only seafood etc., is perfectly aligned to the future we must seek for the health of the environment. The government should indeed nudge and encourage such maturity in the diet.
Rama did, so I will
Rama, Durga, Shiva are all said to be meat eaters in Puranas and Itihaasaas, so why can’t we? I suppose we should be glad that people are reading this literature at least to scrounge such justifications. But the problem is we are not Rama, Durga or Shiva. Shiva would even quaff the Halahala poisons and remain unaffected, any volunteers to emulate that? It is not the exact dietary customs we should imbibe from these legends, but values of dharma.
And that was my response to this question,
When Ram and Krishna being a Kshatriya ate animals, & hunted them in the forest for training, why their followers are instructed to be a Veggie?
There are no instructions, but only recommendations. And if at all there is an instruction, then it is “know and follow your dharma”. Our heritage never imposes a “set in stone” rule, that everyone should follow in all times. That is Christianity and Islam. Dharma is highly contextual, it depends on the “Kala, Desa, Varna, ashrama etc”
So what is right for Rama, may not be right for Krishna and what is wrong for me, may be right for you. A good example is Dharmavyadha, a butcher was held a BrahmaGyani. Because he had achieved the state of Brahman, the karma of this world did not affect him — there was no “him”. So unless I have achieved such a state, I don’t want vasanas tainting and adding to my karma. Today, I do not need to kill/cause animals to be killed, to sustain myself or do my duty. But if tomorrow, I am in a situation, where animal protein is the only option for me to meet my dietary needs to perform my worldly duty. I will eat meat, to do so is my Dharma. But until then, for me to eat meat when alternatives are available, merely for indulging in my sense of taste, is adharmic.
Some families traditionally had professions, which required consuming animal protein. So that might have become a lifestyle. But they also should reassess their needs and evolve out of the habit slowly. Until we evolve to photosynthesize, we have to kill something or other — plants, to survive. But while doing so, we should try to obtain nutrition in the with ‘ least impact’ to the world. It could be fruit instead of seed, seed instead of plant, plant instead of fish, fish instead of mammals, other mammals instead of bovines, other bovines instead of cows and so on. Eggs are better than the hen, itself and so on. To understand these factors is to know Dharma. Don’t read it as though I am recommending to eat eggs :(.
The impact is determined by many factors.
If a being is endangered-scarce in numbers, then NO, even if it is a plant.
If a being can’t reproduce/regenerate easily, then NO. If a being can feed more of us, then better than one that can’t.
No, the recommendation is to understand your needs, the availability and picking the optimum solution. We do not know what was the optimum solution for Rama and Krishna, but given the honour accorded to them, we can assume that they picked whatever was the most optimum — Dharmic solution available to them at any point. That is what we should be followers of and not the specific diet or other stuff. We can’t and shouldn’t follow them literally, without applying our own contexts to it. For example, for a diabetic, eating sweetmeats would be adharmic.
So mimicking Rama is ok, if mimicked in all his acts. If I try even an ordinary bow and arrow, forget Shiva Dhanus or Kodanda, I probably would end up shooting myself in the foot. Besides, dismissing Ramayana as fiction, for issues like Ayodhya Janmasthan and then use it as justification to stuff oneself with beef, that is just hypocrisy.
If the arguments of meat-lovers are thus wobbly, there are the fanatic vegans at the other end of the spectrum. They would interpret everything in Hindu legendarium as ‘Vegetarian’, they make Tofurkey out of all the mamsa references. Not just vegetarianism, but veganism is required in the present day context, but that is not to be achieved by means of dishonesty and misinterpreting the legends.
When it comes to lifestyle and dietary consumption, the ‘truth’ to be learnt from Itihaasaas and puranas, is not that ‘Rama or other avatars, did or did not eat meat’, but that they consumed what is optimal to their contexts. They consumed it with a sense of trusteeship, for they were the upholders of a worldview which sees this world, and nature — prakriti, as Chaitanya, the divine permeating it all and considers ourselves as trustees. Hence the tree, the river, the stone and the animals, are all worshiped and treated with care, even as their products are used to better our lives.
And then there are other worldviews, where the divine is a remote Sky Daddy, laying out ultimatums and demanding total allegiances, in it the world and its creatures are meant for the man to exploit, animals are merely food. So when we indulge in meat, dairy or anything, what is the attitude we take towards it, that of Rama, Shiva or that of the desert cults?
Today, most of our lifestyles make it unnecessary and even dangerous to indulge in meat or dairy products. There are cases like soldiers, sportsmen, hard labourers, specific sadhanas which would need the use of mamsa, but otherwise, it is an indulgence.
Both to personal health and to the health of the environment. The dairy and meat farming industry, is disastrous to the ecology. And our consumption keeps making it worse. So it is dharmic for us, to reduce our intake slowly and for that, the Shastras show the way. Make meat a dish for special occasions, ensure you buy the meat from native breeds and farms, instead of mass-produced poultry or meat. Avoid the cruelty of Halal meat. Milk products as well, the value of calcium goes down beyond an age, so can be reduced.
Dharma would be know all these and to follow what is optimal to our contexts.
References / Footnotes
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