Moral and Spiritual Aspects of Vegetarianism
By Shree Chitrabhanuji
The instinct of self-preservation is universal. Every animate being clings to life and fears death.The universe is not for man alone. It is a field of evolution for all living beings . Live and let live is the process of evolution. Life is sacred irrespective of caste, creed, colour, or nationality. It is sacred to all living beings at all levels right down to the tiny ant or the humble worm. There is not an inch of space in the universe where there are not innumerable, minute living beings . A man cannot even sit quietly and breathe without harming life around him. Then, the question arises-"How can man live in this world without taking life?" An answer is given in the jain Agamas as follows: "Carry out all your activities but with great care" It demands constant vigilance. When an action is performed with due care so as not to hurt anyone, no violence is committed. The emphasis has been laid on the word, "Care" Man, in his desire to continue his life so that he may do the highest good while living here, is bound to harm life; but the fewer and lower forms he destroys, the less harmful karmas or deeds he generates. This leads to strict vegetarianism. The doctrine of Ahimsa is not merely a matter of profession, but of constant, scrupulous practice of very individual who aspire to live a loving life. The practice of Ahimsa is both an individual and collective virtue. The principle of Ahimsa has great potential significance, because it is basic in concept and universal in its moral principle.
A great Jain scholar of the 10th century, Acharya Hemachandra, said in the Yogashastra: "In happiness or suffering, in joy or grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self. We should, therefore refrain from inflicting upon others such injury as would appear undesirable to us, if inflicted upon ourselves. Therefore, it has to be our effort, our endeavour to kindle warmth for life. Man has to identify himself with his fellow beings, whether human or otherwise. He has to realize his link with the rest ot the creation. When we talk of Ahimsa or non-violence, we do not mean merely abstinence from violence. We also mean the ability to see ourselves in others in ourselves. We must see the link between ourselves and the humblest of creatures. If we see this link, then violence against even the smallest of creatures means the violation of a basic moral law. That is why vegetarianism is important in our lives. Vegetarianism is not just a dietary fad, it is a moral imperative that follows our acceptance of the sanctity of life. If we believe in love and compassion, then we cannot negate these principles in any area of life. For the sake of our food, for the pleasures of our palate can we allow ourselves to be inconsistent? Those who want to lead holistic life, a life of moral consistency, vegetarianism is inevitable.
Food is for the sustenance of life. our diet should be such that the body remains clean, the senses retain their ability to perceive what is aesthetic; the mind is at peace, and the soul is not hindered in its pursuit of the sublime. It is the food we take that sustains the body, and it is the body that houses the mind and the mind which gives birth to our thoughts. If the body is sustained by meat and other food which are the product of violence and bloodshed, how can we expect our mind to generate thoughts which are pure and noble? Besides, a vegetarian diet keeps the body clean, so it is easy to digest and is at the same time nutritive. Is it suprising then that doctors recommend their patients to eat fruits rather than meat? This is because there are more decay-prone bacteria in meat and more harmful elements in non-vegetarian food.
Vegetarianism is a step on the ladder of civilisation. It is a step in the direction of sensitivity. When we climb that step, we leave cruelty behind us. Vegetarianism is not a negative virtue which involves an act of self-denial. It is a positive act, an expression of our concern and feeling for our defense-less fellow creatures. Human beings always ask mercy of their creator: but with what face can a man who has mercilessly lived on the flesh of animals all through his life, ask for mercy from God? May I suggest that we all keep in our minds these famous lines of the immortal Coleridge:
"He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small,
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all"
Let the vibrations which were voiced 2500 years ago by Mahavir bless us all :
Let there be happiness for all,
Let all be spiritually prosperous,
Let all perceive only that which is good,
Let there be no pain and suffering in all life.
Source : Journal of Asian Jain Conference ( March 1990)
Organised By Singapore Jain Religious Society