The Mother Divine
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by Swami Abhedananda
(A direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna)

Part II

Some people say that in the economy of nature the struggle for existence demands that one animal shall live upon another, as birds of prey live upon other birds, as carnivora live upon other animals; and that we are therefore perfectly justified to live upon animal flesh. It is true that in nature we find the expression of such a law. It is a law that governs the lower animal. We may call it a brutal law. But there are other laws which govern our better nature. These are moral and spiritual laws which do not express themselves in lower animals but in human beings alone. If we do not recognize these higher laws we shall never rise above the animal plane. Man stands at the head of the animal kingdom not because he possesses in a highly developed form the same qualities that the lower animals have, but because he is capable of subduing the animal nature by the moral and spiritual.

A man lacking this moral and spiritual nature is in no way better than the lowest order of brutes. Human beings have the power of degrading themselves to the lowest animal plane as well as of raising themselves to the highest plane of spiritual enlightenment. They can manifest perfectly their divine nature. In short, they can live on earth as embodiments of all good. The same human being may carry destruction, havoc, disharmony, and inhuman cruelty wherever he goes, or he may bring help, good-will, peace, love and blessings. The same energy when guided by animal nature creates havoc and becomes diabolical; when directed by higher nature and love it brings happiness to all.
Think of the moral degeneration of the slaughterhouse butchers. The continuous contact with slaughter blunts their higher feelings and at last makes them brutal. They do not hesitate to drive the same knives with which they kill helpless beasts into the hearts of their fellow-men. Chicago has the largest slaughter-houses in the world. Many thousands of animals are killed there every month by trained butchers. Most of the murderers in Chicago come from the butcher class. Who is responsible for their moral degeneration and for the crimes committed by them? Do the meat eaters ever think of this phase of flesh eating? They neither like to hear such facts nor to think of them, because it shocks their sensitive feelings. They want to close their eyes and ears to such sights and sounds. But the truth is that meat eaters are responsible. They are indirectly the causes of all the wicked deeds done by those butchers; they are the causes of their moral degeneration. If there be no meat eater, there will be no butcher. A refined woman would shudder at seeing a red-handed butcher, but she should remember that she must share the responsibility of brutalizing and degrading him. If she killed the animals by her own hands, for her own food, it would be better, for this would save another from becoming an inhuman slayer for her.

In every country butchers are considered as heartless and feelingless. In India they are debarred from the society of gentlemen, and the Hindus think that there is no stronger curse than to call a man a butcher. In the United States in some commonwealths no man connected with this trade is allowed to sit in a jury for trying a murder case, because it is recognized that the mind, feelings and whole moral nature become blunted by association with the slaughter of animals. If the process of furnishing flesh from the slaughter-house to the kitchen were remembered when sitting at table with a savory piece of steak before them, I dare say two-thirds of the meat eaters who have any feeling at all would give up meat eating without delay. A young American of my acquaintance who visited the slaughterhouses in Chicago was so deeply affected by the brutality, cruelty and inhuman atmosphere of the place that he never touched any meat from that day. No individual who eats animal flesh can avoid moral responsibility. He must necessarily take a share in the cause of the moral degeneration of his brethren.
Various objections have been raised by meat eaters against vegetarianism. Some say if animals are not used for food they will overrun the earth. The same argument applies to animals which are not eaten, such as horses, donkeys, dogs, cats and rats, as to sheep, cattle, pigs and poultry. In India the Hindus do not kill cows, but they are not overrun by them.

The Hindus did not have any slaughter-houses until the British Government established them. In the states that are still governed by the Hindu Rajas the wild animals and birds are protected by strict laws. But these states are not overrun by wild animals, nor are the inhabitants driven out by them.
An American who recently made a short visit to India, Dr. J. H. Barrows, formerly of Chicago, said in a lecture in New York that he saw in the streets of Benares some oxen lean and poor as compared with those which are fattened for the Chicago slaughterhouses. His heart melted with kindness and pity at the sight, and he said it is much more kind to kill cattle for food than to allow them to live half-fed or ill-fed. What a curious notion of kindness is this!

Dr. Barrows also said that if we do not eat fish the seas and oceans will soon become a solid mass of fish. Any efforts of man to keep down the number of fishes would be vain without the operation of nature’s laws, which regulate production and preserve a proper ratio. But this sort of statement and argument is not uncommon from friends of the flesh-eating habit.

Others hold that unless they eat animal flesh they will be weak and useless for work and will lack bravery and courage. This is a great mistake. You have heard of the Hindu Sikh soldiers in India, who are the bravest and strongest fighters in the British army. They never turn their back to an enemy in the battle-field. One Sikh soldier can stand against three beef-eaters in hand-to-hand fight. But these soldiers never touch meat, nor fish, never drink wine, nor smoke tobacco. They are strict vegetarians. Millions of Scotchmen have become healthy, strong, hardy and intellectual while living on oatmeal. In a running race of seven athletes in Germany, amongst whom there was one vegetarian, it was shown that a vegetarian can win over meat eaters even in athletic sports.

A vegetarian diet gives great endurance and makes one even-tempered. People generally mistake a ferocious, restless and rash temper for courage and strength. These say that a tiger or a wolf is stronger than a horse, a buffalo or an elephant. They make ferocious nature the standard of strength. It is true that a tiger can kill a horse, but has he the muscular strength which enables a horse to draw a heavy load a long distance? A tiger can kill an elephant, but can he lift a cannon weighing hundreds of pounds? Ferocity is one thing and muscular strength is another; we ought to distinguish one from the other. The source of strength lies in the vegetable kingdom and not in flesh and blood.

As in the animal kingdom the carnivora are more restless than the herbivora, so amongst men we find that meat eaters are more restless and less self-controlled than vegetarians. As a peaceful, well-poised and self-controlled nature is the first sign of spiritual progress, it is plain that animal food is not the most helpful diet for spiritual development. It is for this reason that meat eaters find it so difficult to concentrate their minds on one particular object. It is impossible for them to meditate on their spiritual and divine nature. Therefore the Hindus, who understand the secret of spirituality, object to meat eating.

The Hindus who devote their whole life and mental energy to the attainment of spiritual perfection are called Yogis. According to them the non-killing of animals is one of the conditions of spiritual progress, and killing any animal, either for food or pleasure, is a great stumbling-block in the path of spirituality. Again, they classify the killing or injuring of animals in three divisions —“committed,” “caused,” and “approved of.” For instance, I may kill an animal myself; this will be, according to the Yogis, “committed.” Secondly, I may cause another to kill; and thirdly, I may approve of the killing committed by another person, as by buying the flesh from a butcher. According to a Yogi, he who wishes to practise non-killing must not kill; must not cause another to kill; and must not approve of the killing done by another. When this non-killing or non-injuring is perfectly established in a Yogi, he receives injury from none, not even from tigers nor from snakes. Tigers and snakes injure us because we have the feeling of injuring them. In fact the Yogis in India have carried the golden rule to its extreme and applied it to lower animals even, thus succeeding in making it a universal law. In the presence of Yogis ferocious animals become peaceful and render them great service. Such a state is idealized in the images and pictures of the greatest men and women Yogis in ancient India. The great Yogi Siva has most venomous snakes as ornaments on his neck, head and body. The great woman Yogi Durga stands on the back of ferocious tigers and lions. Truly speaking such Yogis have no enemies in the world.
Another reason why a spiritually advanced Hindu does not like meat, is that eating flesh and drinking wine go hand in hand. It is a well-known fact that many people acquire the habit of drunkenness in trying to digest animal food with the help of liquors; and as drinking leads to all sorts of other vices, a Hindu believes that one can most easily be free from those vices by being a vegetarian. The Hindus are strongly opposed to drinking wines or liquors. Hindus cannot understand how a civilized nation can approve of liquor trade and opium trade; can seek to demoralize sober people by opening saloons in villages, and inducing the poor laboring classes to acquire habits of drunkenness by offering them strong liquors at no cost.

Lastly, a Hindu is a vegetarian from the standpoint of love. Love means the expression of oneness. The Hindus love lower animals because of oneness. Their ideal is to realize that one spiritual Being is manifesting through all living creatures. The divine Spirit which is dwelling within us and illuminating our inner nature with the light of intelligence and consciousness is also dwelling in lower animals. Their ideal is not a vague, indefinite and meaningless word, such as “brotherhood.” They wish to realize that we are one in Spirit with the lower animals, one with every living creature. Their religion teaches: “Love every living creature as thy Self,” because the same Self or Spirit is in all. “Realize the Self or Spirit within you; then you shall be able to see the same Spirit everywhere. He, who realizes the one universal Spirit everywhere, cannot kill Spirit by Spirit.” He becomes truly unselfish. He is ever ready to help all. Whenever we kill any animal for our food or pleasure we are selfish. It is on account of extreme selfishness that we do not recognize the rights of other animals and that we try to nourish, nay, even to amuse ourselves, by killing innocent creatures or by injuring them, or by depriving them of their rights. This kind of selfishness is the mother of all evil thoughts and wicked deeds. That which makes us selfish and helps us to cling to our lower self is degrading and wicked; that which leads us towards unselfishness is elevating and virtuous. That which prevents us from realizing the oneness of Spirit is wrong; that which opens our spiritual eyes and helps us to see that Divinity is expressing itself through the forms of lower animals, and makes us love them as we love our own Self, is godly and divine.

Every kind of food which we take into our bodies produces changes in our system, both physical and mental. Those who have carefully examined the changes that are produced in their minds by meat diet and who have struggled for self-control, will find it extremely difficult to govern animal passions, violent nature and restless condition of mind without giving up animal food. Thus, looking at the food question from various standpoints, a Hindu is a vegetarian and cannot advocate the eating of animal flesh.

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