To the Divine and Respected,
It was fourth grade and I’d just started my journey in the New World. Brought up in a traditional, orthodox Hindu family, it was not until I started attending elementary school I’ve started to question the importance of being a vegetarian. My fellow classmates used to ridicule me, “Hey Sai, look, I’m eating your cow.”
I used to simply smile and eat my Paratha with potato spices. Then they would watch me in shock as I would quietly close my eyes, turning inward. I would pray meditatively, “Brahmarpanam Brahma Havir, Brahmagnau Brahmana Hutam, Brahmaiva Tena Ghantavyam, Brahmakarma Samadhinaha: The act of offering is God (Atma-the Self), the oblation is God (Atma-the Self), By God (Atma-the Self) it is offered into the Fire of God (Atma-the Self), God (Atma-the Self) is That which is to be attained by him, Who sees God (Atma-the Self) in all.”
I still remember the days when my classmates questioned why I was a vegetarian. I really didn’t have an answer. Like the rest of the world, I was brought up around a community and a family that conditioned my mind to follow a certain life style. After all, the mind is nothing but an agglomeration of thoughts. Our mind is constantly influenced by other people’s actions and thoughts.
From the day we enter this world, our parents teach us what to live like. Then our friends tell us what to be like while our teachers teach us what we should or shouldn’t learn. From all of this, our mind learns to build an ego that defines our identity and our physical form. Thus, we continue to concern our lives with building up the greatest ego, stand out from the crowd, and define ourselves as someone or something. All identification that is created is for the physical body and thus we get caught up in this action of creating an identity.
But is this really the goal of life? I mean, we only live a maximum of a hundred years and through it all are we just trying to create an identity? After all, “Sai” was just a name given to me by my parents but who am I…really?
Well, that is quite a deep question I’ll leave for another article, but what I am trying to say is that while we build our ego, there is one way we can dismantle our ego or control it. That is in living a life with a selfless attitude. One of the first steps that we can all take as conscious, intelligent, and civilized human beings is seeing other forms of life as part of the Divine.
You don't have to be religious for this, by the way. This notion seems to be missing from today’s world. Somehow humans are all of a sudden “superior” than animals. This idea baffles me. Just because we are “intelligent” human beings does not mean we have right to take other lives, not just human life but animal life and every other form of life for that matter. There are so many religious people who define themselves as “God-conscious,” they preach through a text, live by the text, and use the text to promote their own interpretation… further conditioning their mind and conditioning other people’s mind. But not once do they question the text nor do they practically apply the text.
When I turned eighteen and I started to question the concept of vegetarianism, my parents gave me the option of eating meat. They said, “Look you live in America. Everyone here eats meat and if you feel like it is the right thing to do then do it, but as a civilized human being, understand the importance of life, the life we gave to you and the life you give to others.”
I’ve realized that as an adult now, I don’t have to be conditioned anymore and that it is up to me to question the world and seek answers to "truths" that are heavily put in practice. I’ve obviously never touched meat but I questioned the Vedas, the earliest of Hindu Scriptures that speak of "Ahimsa."
They say, “himsAm na kuryAt- do not cause injury.” Then I looked at history of Hinduism and the various Saints and Sages who echoed this message. Divine spiritual masters, one after the other, made it a mandatory prerequisite that in order to achieve Liberation from the cycle of Life and Death, the first step in the path is to give up all meat and cause no harm to anyone or any living thing.
Then there was a very lean man in the 20th century who decided to take the saying "Ahimsa Paramoh Dharmaha- Non-Violence is a Supreme Virtue,” talked about in the Bhagavad Gita, and put it in practice. “Maha” – the Great, “Atma” –the Self (a title bestowed upon him), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi proved to the world that having moral strength is more important than physical strength to fight wars. For the first time, we saw a man who fought a battle with his morals and ethics and bought a nation, robbed of its wealth, culture, and principles by many rulers, to independence.
Unfortunately, many of us living today are stuck in a dualistic illusion. “I” am different and separate from you, therefore, I am better than you. All religions preach that there is One Truth and One God but not all emphasize the concept of non-violence strictly as an ethical practice.
In my opinion, ANYONE who claims to have any religious authority must first give up all harm they are inflicting on any living form and follow the principle of non-violence. Every religion claims that the entire universe is the creation of the Creator. But the followers of those very religions barbarically kill and eat the creation of the Creator. Tell me, people of the worlds’ religions, why would the Creator create such a creation? So it could be consumed, slaughtered, and ravaged? Animals are pre-programmed to fulfill their stomach and find shelter, but don’t humans, who claim they are so superior to other life forms, know any better? The more barbaric we are, the closer we become to the animal kingdom and the farther we are from living a human [e] life. When humans acknowledge that other living beings have the same right to life as humans do, the human consciousness rises. When this occurs, we just might stop fighting with each other.
Furthermore, somehow killing an animal for giving food to the hungry is justified? This is very mind boggling and pure nonsense. Uncivilized thinking in religions comes when one justifies that man must kill animals to survive. In the Hindu tradition, we consider a cow to be sacred of all living animals. We drink her milk; therefore, she is our mother. What is sinful is to kill the mother that gives us milk. To believe that lower species of life do not have a Atman (self) like the human beings is absolute foolishness.
Swami Srila Prabhupada of the Krishna Consciousness Movement once said in a conversation with Cardinal Danielou, “the animal eats to maintain his body, and you also eat in order to maintain your body. The cow eats grass in the field, and the human being eats meat from a huge slaughterhouse full of modern machines. But just because you have big machines and a ghastly scene, while the animal simply eats grass, this does not mean that you are so advanced that only within your body is there a soul and that there is not a soul within the body of the animal. That is illogical. We can see that he basic characteristics are the same in the animal and the human being.”
If we wanted to eat animals, God can provide us with claws and fangs. God will give us that ability. But there is a reason for being human, to embrace and love other living things that do not have the same ability to question the metaphysical search for the meaning of life. This is why God has created us so that in our own quest to understand God, we can also understand the creation of God.
In conclusion, regardless of the religion you follow, kindness is a universal ethic. The greatest devotion of "God" or the Cosmic Manifestation, is to not just preach religion and the word of God through an external manifestation (forced religious conversion, proselytizing, acquiring material benefits, waging "Holy War") but by introspective invocation of the Divine potential that resides in all of us. Through this we can all grow towards compassion, love, harmony, and peace with one another. Live and let live.
I will leave you, the reader, to explore the benefits of pursuing a vegetarian diet, the ethics behind it and the spiritual progress that it supplements. If one’s physical body cannot allow for a vegetarian diet (for deficiency reasons), then one must at least resort to performing a prayer before they eat inciting that they are eating as a necessity to live among other living beings. Such a prayer will bring humility to oneself and respect the food that is provided to him/her through whatever means. By being vegetarian we can reduce the amount of violence we cause to other living beings and thus, work towards our own progress of understanding each other.
For any comments or questions: saisantoshkolluru [at] gmail [dot] com. Anyone interested in joining a Hindu-Dharma Faith Based Think-Tank, please contact Sai Kolluru.