I’ve been a vegetarian since birth. I personally don’t think it’s a big deal, but the way people react to this statement is astonishing. If I were to describe their reaction in a nutshell, it would go something like this; eyes widen in horror. Jaw drops considerably. Brows furry in confusion. Then, the furious line of questioning: ” You mean, you’ve NEVER EVER tasted meat before? But, where do you get your nutrients from? Is there a reason why you put yourself through this?” And of course, the inevitable concluding statement: “You don’t know what you are missing out on.”
All this before I reveal that in fact, in my household, we also do not consume eggs, onions or garlic! God knows what sort of reaction I would get then…I guess somethings are best left unsaid.Thankfully, these days, the vegan diet is very much in vogue and people are beginning to realise that it is quite possible to survive without eating meat.
Because vegetarianism had always been a part of my life , I didn’t put too much thought into why meat was not a part of my diet, or why all my family members were vegetarian. It was only during my teenage years, when I was subjected to the line of questioning mentioned above, that I began reading into why a huge chunk of the Indian population is vegetarian.I suspected that vegetarianism was prevalent in India because, much like every other element of Indian culture, it was a tool that would aid spiritual progress. I was right.
For starters, Indian culture recognises that every person has three bodies; sthula(gross), sukshma(subtle) and kaarana(causal). When the physical body is fed with pure food obtained without harm to a conscious, living being, the subtle body which contains the mind, is satiated with pure desires. In turn, the causal body which represents the antahkarana(conscience) becomes the birthplace of sacred thoughts.
In essence, we take the “you are what you eat” adage pretty seriously. This is not to say that all vegetarian food is pure. Food is actually divided into three categories;
Sathvic: Food that strengthens the mind and the body ( not too salty, sweet or hot- all elements are present in moderation)
Rajasic: Food that excites or intoxicates( too salty, too sweet, too hot, too sour, too odorous)
Thamasic: Food that promotes dullness of mind( meat, processed food, old food etc)
Consumption of Sathvic food is highly recommended for one who is pursuing the spiritual path. The importance of the types of food we consume is even expounded in the Bhagavad Gita, where it is said:
tri-vidhâ bhavati s’raddhâ
dehinâm sâ svabhâva-jâ
sâttvikî râjasî caiva
tâmasî ceti tâm s’rinu
This verse alludes to the fact that holy,passionate and dull qualities within us are affected by our food intake and that it would be advisable to regulate the type of food we consume, so as to limit animalistic tendencies and promote holy ones.
Looking at it from a Vedic view-point, refraining from meat-eating is due to Dharmic law, as non-violence is seen as an obligation to God and His creation. Karmic laws also suggest that we accumulate karma through directly/indirectly inflicting harm to another being via the consumption of meat.
Of course, all this does not mean that being vegetarian automatically renders one with the spiritual awareness of a saint. If in fact, one is so highly spiritually evolved, then what one eats does not matter in the least. Vegetarianism is just a small step in the spiritual journey of those who are still subject to the dictates of the body and the mind.
As for me, I think I’ll take all the help I can get as far as spirituality is concerned. And really, being vegetarian is not at all difficult. There are so many varieties of vegetarian food that you really do not feel like you are missing out on anything. Also, to all those who worry about our nutrient intake, trust me when I say that we do just fine. Some of us can even afford to lose a few kilos. Sigh.
Have you ever had any interesting experiences with vegetarianism? Leave a comment below!
Glossary: Bhagavad Gita (holy text),Vedic(Body of Hindu Sacred writings ), Dharmic(righteous ), Karmic(pertaining to the law of Karma)
I am a 20 year old University student living in Australia. I am no expert in Indian culture, but my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences and interactions with friends. Happy reading! – Divya