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Meat Eating Versus Vegetarianism by Paramhansa Yogananda
Inner Culture, April & May 1935

The problem of meat-eating and vegetarianism is a very complicated and controversial subject; hence, I shall present the various arguments offered by the followers of the meat-mongers and vegetarian cults, ultimately adding my own views, if possible, about them. What I shall say will be governed by present world needs, and I believe that no absolute view can be given which would be good for all times and all people.

The Origin Of Meat-Eating

In the fact that the big fish eats the little fish, and the new-born lizard jumps upon and swallows the little worm, and the strong tiger and the lion prey upon little animals, man saw the index finger of Nature and started eating the meat of animals that suited his taste.

The elephant and the rhinoceros are equally as strong as lions and tigers, and still they are vegetarians. Man learned to eat vegetables and develop the vegetable-eating instinct from Nature’s vegetable-consuming children.

As in Nature, we find more carnivorous animals than vegetarian animals, so we find that more people subsist on meat than on vegetables alone. Many people say that meat eating produces cancer and shortens life. I believe that overeating of meat tends to produce more disease than overeating of vegetables.

The elephant and the tortoise, who live on vegetables, live a long time. Cows live on vegetables, yet they die early, and dogs live on vegetables, but mostly meat, and they are short-lived also. Yet the crocodile lives sparingly on meat and fasts for long periods of time and lives to be 600 years old or more. Some Yogis, who have lived on vegetables, and who have known the super-art of living, are said to have lived longer than 600 years.

Longevity depends not only upon proper eating, but also upon breathing less, not overworking the heart, proper elimination, control of sex-force, and proper recharging of the body from the Divine Source.

The Interdependence of Life

In Nature we find that the vegetables eat the earth chemicals, and the birds, beasts, and human beings eat the vegetables and animals. The vegetables like a meat fertilizer, such as the dried blood and bones of the putrefied bodies of animals, while animals eat human flesh. Human beings eat the animals, vegetables, and earth chemicals through food and medicine, and the grand old earth is always hungry and is cannibalistic, since out of its womb all the chemicals composing living organisms came, and into its all-devouring stomach all vegetables, animals, and men must return. This shows that the greedy earth, the vegetables, the animals, and human beings are both vegetarians and carnivorous.

The Difference Between Vegetables and Meat

Vegetables and animals are different only in the degree of manifestation of life. Prof. J.C. Bose, of India, has proved that vegetables have a nervous system responding to favorable stimuli through pleasure and to unfavorable influence through pain. They have heart-beat, circulatory system, sap-pressure, and a central life in certain cells in the roots–the brain of the vegetable. Cut off a finger and you do not die, and cut off a limb and the plant does not die; but cut off the human brain, and the body containing it will be dead, just as when you cut the roots the plant dies.

Just as animals respond to certain caretakers, so vegetables grow abundantly under certain benign human vibrations and wither or grow stinted [sic] when cultivated by people with wrong vibrations. A plant can be chloroformed, made to feel pleasure and pain, or can be poisoned and killed. You chop off the head of the cauliflower the same as you chop off the head of a lamb. Fine instruments developed by Prof. Boos tell us of the pangs of pain and the throes of death of tortured or dying plants. A piece of tin may feel pleasure and pain, and can express its emotions through a man-made sensitive instrument. The slaughtered cauliflower can only express its pre-death agonies through Prof. Boss’s instruments. The tortured metals and plants cannot talk. Some fish express their agonies through squeaks. Birds and beasts manifest their troubles through different specific sounds. Man takes advantage of the fact that he does not know the language of animals, and he kills them against their willingness.

Civilized man has no right to kill animals or savages just because he does not understand their language. But, from the standpoint of appeal in response to pain, man is the most sensitive manifestation of life. Next to man, from the standpoint of sensitivity come the different grades of animals, fish, plants, and minerals. The lamb and the chicken, when being killed, suffer less the resisting, resenting bull or pig. Most fishes give up quickly when being killed.

There is no doubt that man has the most sensitive nervous system, through which he can keenly receive and respond to stimuli in the form of pain and pleasure. The animal is far less sensitive and feels much less pain than man during death. The plant nervous system is much duller than the nervous system of animals. Minerals are less sensitive to stimuli than plants. A hammer blow will kill a plant, an animal, or a man, but cannot easily expel the Life Force from the tenacious, less sensitive metal. By repeated pounding, however, even metals lose their tenacity or living worth-while qualities. Therefore, from the standpoint of expression through noise and sensitivity of nervous system, it can rationally be said that man suffers most when killed; the ox under the ax suffers more than the lamb or chicken, that the fish under the knife suffers less than the lamb, and that the vegetables when pared suffer much less than the fish, animals, or man.

Cannibalism exists not only in man but also exists among plants, birds, and animals. Wolves eat wolves. The Jivarro Indian eats his prisoners of war and saves the cost of maintenance and the expense of buying meat. He shrinks the heads of his enemy prisoners to the size of tennis balls and saves them as war trophies, just as hunters mount the animals they have killed.

Meat eating cannot, of course, be condemned from the standpoint of killing, for all eating of vegetables and fruits involves the taking of life, only it is palpable that our conscience and human sensitiveness are roused much more by the killing of animals than by the slaughtering of vegetables and the skinning and munching of fruits. Most beef and steak eaters would desist from eating beef if they had to kill to get their meat, but no vegetarian would mind peeling vegetables and chopping off the heads of carrots, or dressing any vegetables. The spilling of blood and the administering of pain in the killing of animals clearly testifies that the animals are our kinsmen and are approaching near to human beings in the scale of evolution.

Extraordinary comparisons about the above two topics will be offered later, from which the reader will be able to draw his or her own conclusions.

[May issue starts here]

The vegetables utter no cry of pain, nor do they spill any horrifying blood when killed. From the standpoint of human sensitivity, we may say that it is less painful to kill vegetables than animals. Advanced Souls sometimes hesitate even to behead the roses from their plant bodies blooming in home gardens, just as other Souls hate to kill their animal pets for meat.

Meat is concentrated food and is strengthening, but it is highly constipating and acts as a retainer of body poisons and a harbinger of disease.

Vegetables have to be eaten with more patience and are not as concentrated as meat, and hence the improper eating of vegetables does not produce strength. Vegetables and fruits, having a natural laxative action, are conducive to health and to the elimination of diseases.

The yogis of India speak against meat eating, while the Tantric worshippers advocate its use. Meat-eating races are usually politically free. Vegetarian India has not been strong enough to dispel continuous foreign aggressions. Americans are suffering from obesity due to the eating of an over-abundance of the various forms of proteins, such as meat, milk, and nut proteins. Americans should become vegetarians. Hindus have almost no protein to eat, and due to fanaticism they indulge in a starch-predominant diet and therefore die thin and early in life. Animals live longer than human beings in India.

As a means to an end, or as a temporary measure, present day India needs to eat lamb, goats, and fowl until she can get enough milk or meat substitutes. The Hindu spiritual life, even if sustained by meat-eating, would do greater good in the world than the dumb animals that are allowed to live doing nothing. Man’s life is more valuable and serviceable to all living creatures than is the life of animals. If the choice must be made as to whether man should eat meat in order to live, or whether man should die without meat-eating, and the animals should live and not be eaten by man, I would say that man should live at the expense of the animals.

No one can escape. As animals are unwillingly killed to feed man, so, unwilling, man has to die and offer his flesh to replete the chemical hunger of the all-devouring Mother Earth. Fifteen hundred millions of people of the earth, multiplied by one hundred pounds of chemicals, which are taken out of the earth in the form of vegetables every sixty years to feed the people, must, at the interval of about every sixty years, be paid back to sustain the health of Mother Earth. If the bodies of fifteen hundred million people, instead of mixing with the earth, were to evaporate in the ether every sixty years, then, at the end of a few thousand years, the earth would grow thin and weak and be just a lump of barren soil inhabited by the ever-growing, ever-devouring ant-like human beings.

Chemical tests of introducing the blood of certain meat into human beings show that some people can eat only certain kinds of meat. This is a modern scientific way of ascertaining what specific meat will harmonize with each specific individual. Neither are all vegetables and fruits suitable to all people. Some fruits cause rashes on certain individuals. Some people get sick from eating onions. Potatoes sometimes cause constipation. Some people get violently sick from eating beef, and others suffer from acidity from eating chicken. Most people respond favorably to lamb meat. Lamb has been found to agree better with the chemical elements in man’s body than any other form of meat.

In cold countries, like Alaska, the people drink seal oil and blood to keep themselves warm. They live on fish, seal, caribou, and walrus meat. Just as some people eat dried vegetables and fruits, the Eskimos live on dried meat when a fresh supply is hard to procure. It is said that many Eskimos die of tuberculosis due to the extreme cold. Some people say that they die because of their mono-meat diet, while others ascribe their early death to the fact that they try to live the unnatural life of the white man.

We find, by studying, that both vegetarians and meat eaters have lived long and healthy lives. Jesus, Buddha, and St. Francis ate meat; whereas Shankara, Chaitanya, and some great Christ-like Saints of India, did not eat meat. In a vision, Peter was shown some animals and asked to kill them and eat. “Thou shalt not kill” was meant to apply to man and not to animals. Moses and Jesus both ate meat, and Moses was the giver of the Ten Commandments.

Life evolves itself in different ways in the different stages of life. It is manifest in the minerals, but their tissues are hard and have to be powdered and conditioned before they can be absorbed into the human system. Minerals are emulsified and changed to an organic form in the vegetable life, so that they can be consumed by other soft-bodied vegetables, animals, or human beings. The vegetable tissue is soft but rarely shows the presence of a strong nervous system; and when the vegetables are slaughtered with knives, they never utter cries of pain or spill red blood. Their blood is a white viscous fluid called sap.

Life evolves the tissues of the fish to a more complex degree than that of the vegetables. Fish meat is usually white. Fish have blood and a nervous system, but very few fish make any noise or loud protest when they are killed. Life evolves more complex forms still in the animals, hence their tissues are different from the fish. Animals protest loudly during the process of being killed. The bull and hog, having highly developed, pugnacious nervous systems, feel greater pain during any travail they undergo and loudly protest any attempt to kill them. They protest more violently than does the lamb. This shows that, although the animals cannot talk intelligibly, like humans, yet they are evolved enough to protest by sounds that they feel pain and do not like to be killed.

Man is not killed and eaten by his own kind except by ignorant cannibalistic tribes, because he can protest against his killing by intelligible sounds. Man would not think of killing animals if they could protest against their slaughter by speaking his language or by intelligible writing before a law court. Though dogs are eaten in certain parts of the world, still nobody thinks of killing an intelligent, almost human pet dog for the ghoulish table of greedy men. Hence, it is evident, from the point of view of sound protestation, that man is the first creature who refuses to be killed, and hence should not be killed.

Next come the bulls, oxen, cows, hogs, and others that protest loudly enough that they do not like to be killed–that they have evolved enough mind and consciousness to understand the love of self-preservation and the injustice of inflicting pain, and therefore they should not be killed. It looks as if the dumb vegetables, fish, and meek animals are intentionally given by Nature an undeveloped nervous system which does not register much pain or bring forth reactionary protests in the form of sounds during pain. This may be one reason why these lower forms of unevolved life are made to sacrifice their lives for the maintenance of the higher forms of life.

[Although “To Be Continued” appears at the end of this section, no other article on this subject appears on the list for the next six years]