In ancient times the Pythagoreans and Therapeutae, as also the Essenes/Nazarenes followed a vegetarian diet. It is said that as part of this group of Essenes, Jesus Christ, his brother James and Apostle Matthew did not eat flesh, nor did Jesus’ first followers. The Gospel of the Holy Twelve (rediscovered in 1888) is the main scripture of the Essenes; it portrays Jesus as a strict vegetarian. Jewish Christian Ebionites were also vegetarian.


In remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion to this day religious Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays. The Eastern Orthodox Church forbids consumption of meat on Fridays and Wednesdays; and encourages weeks of fasting which involves abstaining from flesh, fish, eggs, dairy, oil and wine. However, the Seventh Day Adventist Church is the only Christian sect which actively promotes vegetarianism today. And, the vegetarian Catholic monastic orders are Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappists, Carmelites and Franciscans – St Francis of Assisi’s love of animals is known by all. Every Catholic and many others are well aware that Pope Francis chose his papal name Francis in honour of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Also most followers of the Rastafarian religious movement are vegetarian or vegan because they feel having meat is touching death and a violation of their Nazirite oath; they further believe that abstaining from meat and dairy cleanses the body. In Lithuania, St Mark is considered the guardian of earth and harvests. In order to have a good harvest, to this day, there is a ban on eating meat on 25 April the feast of St Mark. People also give the earth a rest before planting.


The Vedic scriptures of India stress non-violence as the ethical foundation of vegetarianism. The Manu-Samhita, the ancient Indian code of law states: ”Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to the attainment of heavenly bliss: let him therefore shun the use of meat.”

Many Neopagan communities follow a vegetarian diet on ecological and compassionate grounds. Taoism rejects meat, eggs and milk but includes oysters. The Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – do not promote vegetarianism per se, but there are small groups within their folds that encourage it.

Religion is probably the most important reason that supports and protects vegetarianism in India. All the religions born in India — Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism — preach, in greater or lesser degrees, ahinsa and reverence for all life as principles to adhere to in the conduct of life, and hold diet as very important to the spiritual development of humans and make strong recommendations for lacto-vegetarianism. In general, they prescribe certain guidelines for diets appropriate to each person’s goals in life. However, of these religions, only Jainism and Buddhism hold non-injury toward animals as a fundamental creed to be followed unconditionally for its own sake, not as a means to other ends. Buddhism does not prohibit meat eating, while Mahayana Buddhism encourages vegetarianism as beneficial for developing compassion.

Some other denominations that advocate a fully vegetarian diet include the Vaishnavas, Bishnois, Agarwals, Amritdhari Sikhs, Saivas, Vellalas, and followers of the Radha Soami faith.

It matters little if camels, goats or cows are killed for Bakri Idd, or if goats, chicken and buffalo calves are sacrificed in Hindu temples to appease deities such as Samantdada, Manju Bhog, goddesses Hadimba Mata, Ekvira, Kamakhya, Mahalaxmi and Kali, at festivals like the Biroba Jatra, or the captured wild fox, sheep and goat sacrifices which take place at Makara Sankranti. It is brutal killing of animals and birds which can only be stopped by enlightened religious leaders as was done in 1989 when Beauty Without Cruelty persuaded the Catholic Church to permanently stop the age old barbaric custom of teenage boys biting a piglet to death at Terekol, Goa in celebration of St John’s Baptism. In 1998 BWC activists also succeeded in getting the residents of Udbur village in Mysore district of Karnataka, to forever forsake their practice of ritual animal sacrifice inside their temple during the Sankranti festival.


Unfortunately, bali or ritual animal sacrifice is common at the Sakta shrines of the Goddess Kali and some other Hindu temples as mentioned above. The meat of the animals killed is consumed as prasad.

Some major paths of Hinduism hold vegetarianism as an ideal. Meat is completely proscribed for Hindus on their religious festivals and occasions. Meat may not be served at weddings, for example. There are three main reasons for this: the principle of non-violence (ahinsa) applied to animals; the intention to offer only “pure” (vegetarian) food to a deity and then to receive it back as prasad; and the conviction that non-vegetarian food is detrimental for the mind and for spiritual development. Non-violence is a common concern of all the vegetarian traditions in Hinduism; the other two aspects are relevant for those who follow special spiritual paths.

Based on the effect foods may have on individual personality through chemical action on the brain, Hinduism classifies foods in three groups: taamasik, raajasik and saatvik. The last category which is considered pure, light and simple vegetarianism is recommended.

 

Similarly non-vegetarians due to some other religious associations turn saatvik or fast on particular days of the week. Some believe in consuming a pure vegetarian diet on certain days of the Hindu calendar (purnima, ekadasi, shivratri, karwa chauth) whereas others turn vegetarian during Navaratri or for the entire month of Shravan. However, we often hear of people on Gattari amavasya, a day before Shravan month begins, and again after the month of is over, eating meat, fish and eggs with a vengeance, yet declare they positively felt better when they had abstained earlier! It is said that sales of non-vegetarian items in restaurants dip by 30% during the month of Shravan.

The basis of being vegetarian is vrata or sacrifice for attaining spiritual advancement, during which time the person is required to keep the body clean so it necessitates celibacy, truthfulness, forbearance and the observance a pure vegetarian diet. Nowadays people fast not only for religious, but also for health reasons.


What ever be the reason, it is good that many totally refrain from non-vegetarian items and do not even eat any thing prepared outside their homes (least it not be strictly vegetarian) on particular days throughout the year.


Hindu Mythology informs us of the Dashavatars of Vishnu, the god of preservation:

1. Matsya or fish from Satya Yuga. The first class of vertebrates evolved in water.

2. Kurma or tortoise from Satya Yuga. Amphibious that lives in both water and on land.

3. Varaha or wild boar from Satya Yuga. Wild mammal that lives on land.

4. Narasimha or half man & half animal from Satya Yuga. Indicative of emergence of human thoughts and intelligence.

5. Waman or dwarf from Treta Yuga. Premature humans.

6. Parshuram or warrior with axe from Treta Yuga. Humans in forests using weapons.

7. Rama the Prince of Ayodhya from Treta Yuga. The beginning of civil society.

8. Krishna the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudev from Dwapara Yuga. Practice of animal husbandry by humans.

9. Buddha – the founder of Buddhism from the Kali Yuga. Humans searching for enlightenment.

10. Kalki – destroyer of filth. Will appear atop a white horse and his sword will be drawn blazing like a comet, at the end of the Kali Yuga, our present epoch. In short, advanced humans with great powers to destroy.



Buddhism, although holding love and respect for all creatures as one of its strongest creeds, does not match the Jain religion in the sincerity of its followers to the cause of ahinsa towards animals.


Buddha did not make any comment discouraging Buddhists to eat meat nor did he make any rule or prohibition in his religion on any thing. His teachings simply say that “taking a life of a living thing either by killing or letting someone kill it in your place or by supporting such a sinful act you will be making a great sin but anyone is free to choose what his path is.”


In Mahayana Buddhism, there are several Sanskrit texts where the Buddha instructs his followers to avoid meat. Mahayana Buddhism advises monks to be strictly vegetarian and it is recommended for lay-people, but not required.

 

Vegetarianism is largely absent among Buddhists outside India and even here its followers are not found to adhere to the principle as strictly as Jains are, except may be Mahayana Buddhists since their sutra strongly prohibits meat eating. Buddhists living in coastal regions commonly eat fish. Others are known to eat meat on the excuse that it is killed by others, not them, so they are not guilty of the crime of killing!

 

Unfortunately, the prescription of the ‘middle path’, or madhyam marg, by the Buddha to his followers, intended probably in the context of avoiding extremes of austerity, self-denial of physical comforts, has been interpreted by its weak-willed followers as a sanction to eat meat and eggs under certain circumstances.



No products obtained from dead animals are allowed. Jains hold vegetarianism as the ideal diet in a similar fashion to Hindu traditions but with emphasis on their principle of all-round non-violence (ahinsa). Jainism is undoubtedly the most explicit and forthright in preaching ahinsa and reverence for life and holding it central to one’s philosophy and conduct of life. In this regard, Jainism stands alone and matchless. Jainism, which originated hundreds of years ago, places ahinsa and reverence for life as foremost among the laws of life. Mahavira (599–527 BC), the last of the Jinas (enlightened masters) said: “Unless we live with non-violence and reverence for all living beings in our hearts, all our humaneness and acts of goodness, all our vows, virtues and knowledge, all our practice to give up greed and acquisitiveness are meaningless and useless.”


He realised, more than twenty five hundred years ago, that “all of life is just like me. I want to live. So do all souls, all living beings. The instinct of self-preservation is universal. Every animate being clings to life and fears death. Each of us wants to be free from pain. So let me carry out all my activities with great care not to be harmful to any living being.”

Ahinsa Paramo Dharmah, the foundation-stone of the Jain faith, forbids inflicting harm upon all living beings (human & animal) and is linked to the theory of karma.

(The Sanskrit word ahinsa or ahimsa means avoidance of hinsa or himsa which is violence. The origin of the concept of ahinsa is unknown but references are found in the text of historical Vedic religion. The idea of good karma through practice of ahinsa is evident in the Mahabharata and Manu Smriti.)


Followers of the Sikh religion are divided in their opinion on whether their religion opposes meat consumption for Sikhs. Although many Sikhs do eat meat, some initiated Sikhs or Amritdharis that belong to Sikh Sects (e.g. Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Namdhari, Rarionwalay, etc.) abstain from the consumption of meat and eggs. Mainstream Amritdhari Sikhs (i.e. those that follow the Sikh rehat Maryada), are not compelled to be meat free.

Sikhism allows non-vegetarianism for the warrior class but only under conditions of potential starvation and then only if the persons who are to eat the meat kill the animal themselves and thus demonstrate moral courage and accept full responsibility for the act. As can be imagined, today’s conditions of consumerism have made this way of obtaining meat fiction. (Except may be Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg who claims to eat only those animals he has killed – he does slaughter and consume chickens, pigs and goats.)

Interestingly, the community kitchens called langars which the Sikhs operate frequently from their Gurudwaras are always vegetarian; and only vegetarian food is served on all religious occasions.

Namdhari Sikhs are strict pure vegetarians, and abstain from alcoholic drinks, tobacco and snuff. They are not even allowed to serve such items to their nearest and dearest relatives or friends. They are lacto-vegetarian and consume simple food sparingly, avoiding wastage. Their lifestyle is such that they do not even spend money on marriages or funerals because they believe the future of the world lies with men of sober habits. In fact they believe that every saviour of humanity was a vegetarian.



Like the Jains, there is yet another sect of the Hindus, called the Bishnoi, whose name is synonymous with the practice of vegetarianism. The Bishnois believe in non-injury to and non-killing of all living beings, green trees included. Of their twenty-nine religious principles, three directly enjoin their followers to practise compassion, not to fell trees and not to rear goats, the last being with a view to pre-empt any possibility of the goats eventually landing up in butcheries. Their history is replete with hundreds having sacrificed their lives for the sake of protecting wild life and trees. Even now, every couple of years, someone falls victim to a poacher’s bullet while trying to stop the illegal killing of wild animals.

Worshipers of Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna offer strict vegetarian food to their deities before eating it as prasad.

The Agarwals, who are proudly lacto-vegetarian, hail from the kingdom of Agroha (Haryana today) established in 3200 BC by their King Agrasen who gave up the Kshatriya/warrior tradition and took to trading. The sentiments expressed by their valiant, yet compassionate King Agrasen, the founder of the community, during a yagnya (following a crucial battle fought & won) in which he realised that if man could not give birth, or life to an animal, he had no right to snatch it away and so ordered that no animals be sacrificed in his kingdom, have so profoundly impacted the Agarwal community that they unwaveringly continue to abstain from killing and non-vegetarian food. Moreover, by fining people for hunting deer, King Agrasen successfully curbed it; he was also known to worship snakes. Many gaushalas have been set up by the community because it was King Agrasen who cast the cow in the sacred role of a Mata so it would be looked after well. In the case of Jain-Agarwals (they are broadly categorised under Jains and Vaishnavs) a magnified sense of compassion makes them not consume onion, garlic, potato, and other underground produce.

The intelligent and spiritually advanced Saiva community of South India have always been strict vegetarian and this is the reason why the words saivaism and vegetarianism are synonymous. Ancient Tamil books mention groups of Tamils such as Aravor, Anthanar and Parpar who were and are all strict vegetarians. Also, there are some among Vellalas who enjoy a high status in community due to their virtue of being hereditary vegetarians; they never marry non-vegetarians or even those who have recently converted to vegetarianism.

The Bahá’í Faith believes that the produce of the land will be the foods of the future and a time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Therefore, most followers prefer to be vegetarian.

Many people are permanently vegetarian on religious grounds. Others observe vegetarianism on certain occasions and for particular durations. It is significant that abstinence from meat is regarded as one means of achieving spiritual purity. Non-vegetarian Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Sindhis might ask themselves why this aspect of achieving purity must be restricted to only about one month a year and why some thing that is blasphemous on certain days becomes all right on others.

During the 40-day period of Lent extending from Ash Wednesday through Easter, a vegetarian diet (no meat, eggs or hard liquor) is mandatory upon Christians; and in remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion to this day religious Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays. To help the devout, Beauty Without Cruelty has since 2009 been producing and distributing via the Catholic Churches in India delicious vegan recipes compiled into leaflets entitled Veg @ Lent.

The followers of Zoroaster abstain from meat for one month (Bahman) of the year and on particular days during other months. According to the Parsi Vegetarian & Temperance Society founded in 1907, Iranian history records that the first man to consume meat was Zahhak, Iran’s tyrannical monarch. Firdowsi, the immortal bard of Iran wrote in his epic the Shahnameh that during the reign of Shah Jamshed both father and son looked alike, were healthy and lived long lives because they were vegetarian. Legend says that Ahriman (Iblis or the devil incarnate), disguised as a cook, brought Zahhak under his control by feeding him meat dishes. King Jamshid was overthrown by Zahhak and Aryan lands fell on evil times. It is also believed that Zoroaster’s parents were lacto-vegetarian and thus the body of the Prophet was not imbued with flesh of animal creature. No where in the Gathas does it say that it is permissible to eat meat, whereas not to kill any animal has been stated.

Chailo or Chailo Sahib is a 40-day vegan (no consumption of non-vegetarian food, any milk products or use of leather) period for the Sindhi community.


Islam and Judaism

Halal, Haram, Kosher, Pareve, and Terefah are different words used to describe products that conform to Muslim and Jewish religious dietary principles. Products marked Halal, Kosher and Pareve are mainly meat and even if not flesh, rarely vegetarian.


Their definitions follow:

 

Halal in Arabic means lawful. It refers to things or actions allowed under Shariah law. It is used to describe something that a Muslim is permitted to eat, drink or use. The criteria for all consumables: foods, drinks, medicines, cosmetics, and toilet preparations, etc. is the same. In short, only the meat of animals slaughtered in a particular manner in the name of God is allowed.

 

Haram is the opposite of halal and therefore unlawful or prohibited. Pork, blood and alcohol fall in this category.

 

Kosher foods are those that conform to Jewish dietary law. The meat of those species of “clean” animals that chew the cud and have cloven hooves (e.g. cow, goat, lamb) killed in a particular manner are acceptable. Fish having fins and scales are also acceptable. Honey is also considered Kosher.

 

Terefah is the opposite of Kosher – forbidden, not fit, and not proper. Meat of animals such as pig, horse, camel and rabbit is not permitted. Meat and dairy are not allowed to be mixed. Due to the ambiguity over the source of gelatine it could fall into this category but it’s not always so.


Pareve as per Halakha law is meant to indicate that the product contains no milk or meat, but eggs are acceptable, as is honey. Under this category poultry and fish are also considered acceptable by some Jews. Particular products marked Pareve could, but rarely turn out to be vegan.



Ancient Ayurvedic Proverb: When diet is wrong medicine is of no use. When diet is right medicine is of no need.

Ancient Buddhist text by Surangama Sutra:
If one is trying to practice meditation and is still eating meat, he would be like a man closing his ears and shouting loudly, and then asserting that he heard nothing.

Ancient Chinese Verse at Gold Mountain Monastery: For hundreds of thousands of years the stew in the pot has brewed hatred and resentment that is difficult to stop. If you wish to know why there are disasters of armies and weapons in the world, listen to the piteous cries from the slaughterhouse at midnight.

Bhagavad Gita: The wise see with equal vision a learned and gentle priest, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcaste.

Guru Nanak: The highest religion is to rise to universal brotherhood; and to consider all creatures your equals.

King James Bible (Psalm 145:9): The Lord (is) good to all: and his tender mercies (are) over all his works.

Lord Krishna: Kindness to animals is the highest religion.

Mahaparinivana Buddhism: The eating of flesh extinguishes the seed of great compassion.

Mahavira: Ahinsa is the highest religion. All beings are fond of themselves, they like pleasure, they hate pain, they shun destruction, they like life and want to live long. To all, life is dear; hence their life should be protected.

Manu-Samhita: Having well considered the disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of corporeal beings, let him entirely abstain from eating flesh.

Muslim Teaching: The Holy Prophet (“Salam” – meaning peace be upon him) narrated a vision in which he saw a woman being chastised after death because she had confined a cat during her life on earth without feeding and watering it, or even letting it free so that it could feed itself.

Shri Swami Sivananda: There is one religion – the religion of love, of peace. There is one message, the message of Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a supreme duty of man.

Sri Rama: That devotee is dear to Me who is a servant of all creatures and all things that are. He lived in the realisation that God is the one Master of all that lives and moves in time and space.

St Francis of Assisi: If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.

Swami Vivekananda:
Sir, so long as even a dog of my country remains without food, to feed and take care of him is my religion, and anything else is either non-religion or false religion.

The Bible – New International Version (Isaiah 11:6-9): The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will pay near the cobra’s den, the young child will put is hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

The Buddha: He, indeed, is wise who does not hurt any creature, whether feeble or strong, who does not kill nor cause slaughter.

The Dalai Lama: Life is as dear to the mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not to die, so do other creatures.

The Prophet Mohammed:
Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself.

The Qur’an 6:38: There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.
Page last updated on 10/01/22