“Arrogance, pride, anger, conceit, harshness and ignorance—these qualities belong to those of demonic nature, O son of Pritha.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.4)
All individual souls are equal in their constitutional position. Similar to how we are advised to not judge a book by its cover, the outer dress of the spirit soul is misleading with respect to identification and attribute possession. The spirit soul – an entity which is anatomically independent and yet dependent on the divine will at the same time – forms the basis of identity in all forms of life. This soul is so amazing that its presence can only be realized through outwards symptoms such as the movements and growth cycles of material bodies. The presence of the soul is best exhibited during the events of birth and death, wherein the soul respectively enters and exits its temporary apartment. Once this dwelling is entered, it starts to grow and leave byproducts. Upon the exit of the soul from the dwelling, the same body immediately starts to decay. Therefore it can be concluded that the soul itself is the master of the house, the guiding force behind the changes we see around us.
Though the soul is powerful and naturally knowledgeable, when it gets placed into one of these temporary homes, its natural splendor is hidden. This is similar to how darkness prevails over the land when the sun sets. The sun really hasn’t gone anywhere, for the earth’s rotation has caused it to be temporarily taken out of sight. Darkness is simply the absence of light, the covering up of the immense spark known as the sun. When the soul is covered up by material elements, the natural propensity for knowledge is similarly shrouded, with the most obvious indication of this cloak being the false identification that is adopted by the majority of the conditioned souls. This false identification can take many forms but it begins with the use of the terms “I” and “Mine”. “I” is taken to be the body, and anything it interacts with and enjoys is considered to be “Mine”. In reality, these external objects are merely manifestations of material elements, those created by divine beings. The soul has no more possession of these objects than does the matter itself, which is by constitution lifeless and incapable of action. One may own a particular car, but it would be silly to say that the person is the car. Saying that “I am the car” is as silly as the car saying “I am you.” Yet this is precisely what occurs with the false identifications that manifest through the practices of nationalism, racism, and sectarianism.
In its constitutional position, the soul is a lover of God. The spiritual spark is simply an emanation from the original source of energy that is God. Since the energy and the energetic are linked in terms of makeup, there is an inherent relationship between the two entities. Naturally the more powerful entity will take on a prominent role in the relationship, with the inferior entity offering its service and loving sentiments. This isn’t to say that either party is superior in the grand scheme of things, for if both parties adhere to their roles, there is oneness in the emotions that are exchanged. The energetic party, represented by God, never changes its makeup, but the energy expansions have a choice in where they reside. When the consciousness of the spiritual spark is pure, the individual remains in the company of the energetic and thus takes part in the bliss experienced through sharanagati, or complete surrender. When the individual instead takes to pleasing itself, the connection with the Divine Being is broken, and the soul is cast off into a temporary realm where knowledge of its relationship to its eternal lover is forgotten.
Dharma, or religiosity, is instituted in the temporary realm as a way to allow the wayward soul to reassume its natural position in the spiritual sky as servitor of the Supreme. Abiding by dharma is not easy, so steadfast dedication to rules and regulations, along with adherence to the practice of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is required. The highest dharma, or system of religion, is a discipline involving positive and negative activities, with the restricted activities often receiving more attention than the assertive ones. The positive activities of devotional service involve hearing, remembering, worshiping, and surrendering unto the lotus feet of the Lord, who appears in the temporary world in various non-different forms. Of all His forms that are perceptible to the conditioned entity, none is more powerful than the sound vibration representation. This audible form can be regularly created and honored by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
The assertive aspects of devotional service are quite harmless and easy to follow, but the restrictive actions are more likely to be the subject of controversy. Though there are a variety of sins and restricted activities, the Vedic seers have highlighted the four most dangerous ones: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. These four activities stand out above all the rest because they prove to be the most effective at maintaining the cloud of ignorance that envelops the conditioned soul. Every living entity possesses the same level of knowledge and love for the Supreme Lord. But in the conditioned state, there are differences in the density levels of the clouds that surround the soul. The path to liberation is found through taking to activities which help remove this cloud of ignorance. The four pillars of sinful life are the most dangerous because they help increase one’s ignorance, and thus keep the individual firmly grounded in material life. One’s stay in the temporary realm doesn’t end with the death of the body or the destruction of the universe. Reentry into the spiritual world is not so simple. The conditioned living entity remains separated from its divine lover for as long as it desires to. If this desire remains at the time of death, the spirit soul is again cast into the ocean of nescience, wherein they are again given a temporary body which clouds their natural intelligence.
The sincere souls will gradually make progress in their spiritual pursuits, taking to various aspects of devotional service and making a good-faith effort to refrain from the most sinful of activities. There are others, however, who are so clouded in ignorance that not only will they shun devotional service, but they will actively seek to thwart the activities of those who are trying to return to the spiritual world. Attacking the positive activities of devotional service is a little difficult to do, as they are harmless in and of themselves. How can one argue against chanting and dancing in transcendental ecstasy when similar activities are already adopted by the non-devotees? No, the asuras, the demoniac non-devotees, will focus their criticisms on the restrictive aspects of devotional service, especially that of no meat eating.
Those who are unfamiliar with Vedic traditions will certainly find the restriction on meat eating a little strange at first. Anytime we encounter a new tradition or way of life, we are sure to find it odd. Many people who take to devotional service are actually so enamored by the restriction on meat eating that they will divert their attention towards advancing the cause of vegetarianism. While it is certainly noble to lead the crusade against the practice of unnecessary animal killing, it should be noted that the constitutional position of the soul and its relationship with the Supreme Lord have nothing to do with any positive and negative activities, or the piety and sin related to any action. Rather, the soul’s nature is to be a lover of God, so any activity which can maintain this bond of affection, and which at the same time doesn’t deviate from the Lord’s wishes, is deemed worthy of adopting.
“The animals are also making progress in their evolutionary life by transmigrating from one category of animal life to another. If a particular animal is killed, then his progress is checked. If an animal is staying in a particular body for so many days or so many years and is untimely killed, then he has to come back again in that form of life to complete the remaining days in order to be promoted to another species of life. So their progress should not be checked simply to satisfy one’s palate.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 16.1 Purport)
The restriction on meat eating is simple enough to understand. Since every individual is a soul at the core, all forms of life must be treated with respect and love. This includes the animals. A cow or a chicken may not be as intelligent as a human being, but it still eats, sleeps, mates, and defends. It has a spirit soul inside of it, and it is simply going through its life cycle of karma, gradually ascending to the human species. Only the human being is capable of understanding the soul, dharma, and bhakti. When an animal is killed unnecessarily simply for the satisfaction of the taste buds of the killer, the activity certainly can’t be considered a religious one. Not only is the natural progress of the animal checked, but the laws of karma will force the killer to suffer in the future. While a government may be lax in its administration of justice and fairness, karma spares no one. It is completely fair and just, so if we kill another entity without cause, we will surely suffer the same fate in the future. In addition, eating meat keeps one attached to the sense demands brought forth by the taste buds. If this attachment remains at the time of death, liberation cannot be achieved.
The asuras, those who don’t believe in a soul or a God, have no problem eating meat. They think that everything begins and ends with the current life, so the natural occupation is to try to enjoy the senses as much as possible. Luckily, this line of thinking, which is completely rooted in ignorance, doesn’t resonate well with others. But the asuras are not so faint of heart; they have a deep attachment to their sinful way of life. In order to convince others of their ways, the asuras will take to criticizing the Vedic traditions and the various incarnations of Godhead who have appeared on earth. One area of criticism focuses on meat eating, wherein the asuras claim that Shri Rama, a famous incarnation of the original Divine Being, roamed this earth and killed many innocent animals and then ate them. Raising this apparent contradiction, the asuras hope to convince others that Rama cannot be God and that meat eating is certainly not a problem. It is not uncommon to find such persons at social gatherings, where wanton talk of all subjects flows very freely. Such people, who are usually unabashed smokers, drinkers, and meat eaters, hold much anger and resentment towards Shri Rama, Lord Brahma, and other popular figures of the Vedic tradition. Their criticisms directed at worshipable divine figures certainly can dishearten those devotees who are not familiar with the full breadth of Vedic instruction. This is precisely the intention of the asuras, for they themselves are lost in a sea of ignorance, and instead of trying to elevate themselves to safety, they would rather take everyone else down with them.
Lord Rama appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga in the guise of a warrior prince, one of the kshatriya order. During His time, pious kings would regularly perform grand sacrifices as a way of blessing their kingdom and its inhabitants. Many of these sacrifices involved the killing of animals. This shouldn’t be mistaken to mean that the kings were avid meat eaters or that they were attached to violence. These animal sacrifices were religious functions, wherein the souls of the animals would automatically be promoted to a higher species in the next life. The kings were also in charge of protecting the innocent, so they had to be expert fighters. In order to become an expert bow warrior, one has to regularly practice. This practice came in the form of hunting, wherein deer and other animals were killed in the forest and then offered up as sacrifice. Again, there was no sense gratification involved in such activity.
There is some controversy as to whether or not Lord Rama and His three younger brothers ate meat or not. From the Valmiki Ramayana, the original composition describing the life and pastimes of Shri Rama, we see that the Lord on several occasions had to shoot deer in the forest. One of the most notable time periods of Rama’s life was His fourteen year exile in the forest, where He had to live as a recluse with no claim to the regal life. Prior to leaving, Rama made mention of the fact that He would have to live without eating nice food, including meat. Taking His younger brother Lakshmana and wife Sita Devi with Him, Rama embarked on His journey. Early on, the group created a cottage in an area pointed out to them by the sage Bharadvaja. Prior to entering this newly erected cottage, Lakshmana went out and shot an antelope with an arrow. The antelope’s meat was then cooked and offered up to various demigods [celestials in heaven in charge of various departments of material nature] so that they would bless the new establishment. Later on in their journey, Rama and Lakshmana met a Rakshasa named Kabandha, who advised the brothers to visit a lake called Pampa. In describing the lake, the Rakshasa said that there would be many wonderful fish in the lake for Lakshmana to take and offer up to Rama.
Based on these descriptions, it would be reasonable enough to assume that Rama and Lakshmana ate meat from time to time. They were after all members of the royal order, so they certainly took part in many sacrifices. Reasonable arguments can also be made supporting the contrary opinion which states that there is no evidence of Rama ever actually eating meat. When He visited the Nishada chief Guha in the forest, Rama was offered every nice type of food and drink available, but He declined to take part in them due to His vow of asceticism. There is also another incident where Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Rama, mentions that the Lord had not reduced Himself to drinking liquor or eating animal flesh while residing in the forest.
“Raghava [Rama] is not enjoying animal flesh, nor even giving service to liquor. He always eats in the evening whatever food has been well provided by the forest.” (Hanuman speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 36.41)
In either case, there is no duplicity on the Lord’s part. Even if Rama did eat meat, there is no violation of the rules against violence towards animals or the eating of animal flesh. God is the object of dharma, the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Dharma is the set of law codes instituted to allow a person to purify their consciousness. The laws themselves are not the objects of pleasure or ultimate destination. Dharma is simply a guideline for how to do something properly. Just as there are included instruction manuals advising one how to construct an exercise machine or piece of office furniture, dharma provides a how-to guide for spiritual success. Yet the knower of God has no need for the instruction manual; they are already connected with Supreme Spirit. If the pure devotee transcends all rules and regulations of dharma, surely the Supreme Lord must as well.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
In addition to refraining from eating meat, devotees are advised to offer food in the mode of goodness to Shri Krishna, the original form of Godhead, or one of His non-different expansions, and eat the remnants of the offered food. These remnants are known as prasadam, which means the Lord’s mercy. It should be noted that Krishna does not accept any meat items. Even during His time on earth as Lord Rama, God never accepted meat offerings from anyone. When He visited the female sage Shabari, Rama accepted the nice berries and fruits offered to Him. The grand animal sacrifices that were performed were all for the benefit of various demigods, celestial figures who are not as powerful as God. A demigod can be thought of as a government minister, a representative of the chief. The representative isn’t the same in power or stature as the chief, and they only concentrate their efforts on various workings of the government. The demigods are in charge of things like weather, good fortune, bad fortune, and illness. Sacrificed animals were never offered to Lord Krishna or His direct expansion of Lord Vishnu.
The asuras, nevertheless, will continue to point to Rama’s activities involving the killing of animals as a sign of contradiction. While these non-devotees are enamored by Rama’s violent activities, they completely ignore all of the Lord’s other features and qualities. If the asuras want to imitate Rama’s purported meat eating, why not imitate His benevolent behavior towards brahmanas and other pious entities? Why don’t the asuras try to take on 14,000 of the most powerful miscreants in the world and come out successful? Why don’t they remain steadfast to dharma and the injunctions of the Vedas? Why don’t they honor their mother and father in every possible way? Why don’t they renounce all opulences and amenities in favor of serving parents and elders? Why don’t they imitate Rama’s equal disposition towards all the citizens that lived in His kingdom of Ayodhya? Why don’t they imitate His behavior towards exalted sages such as Valmiki, Bharadvaja, Agastya, and Atri, wherein the Lord prostrated Himself before them and offered to serve them with every fiber of His being?
Maya, the illusory energy pervading the material world, is certainly a cruel mistress. The demoniac are the most scorned of lovers, for their loveable object is illusion. Unable to derive any happiness from unrequited love, the asuras take to criticizing those who have found the only source of pleasure in both the material and spiritual worlds. The demons will always try to create dissension by raising doubts in the minds of the pure-hearted devotees. The asuras are slaves to illusion, so naturally they will concoct unfounded theories and ideas about Shri Krishna and His various avataras. Yet just as the evil elements headed by the demon Ravana were defeated by Shri Rama and His sincere Vanara servants, the demons of today can be quickly cast aside by regularly remembering the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord and His powerful emissaries like Hanuman.
Categories: meat eating