“In the Bhagavad-gita (9.26) the Lord directly states that He accepts vegetarian food from the hands of a pure devotee. Therefore a human being should not only become a strict vegetarian but should also become a devotee of the Lord, offer the Lord all his food and then partake of such prasadam, or the mercy of God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shri Ishopanishad, 1 Purport)
Ralph was very jealous. His elder brother Ed just got a new tape recorder for his birthday. Ed didn’t mind showing it off, either. He started taping everything, from conversations to music playing on the radio.
“Listen to this song, Ralph,” Ed would say. “I heard it on the radio before, and thanks to my new tape recorder, I can listen to it all the time.” The young Ralph wasn’t very amused. On the outside he looked on with quiet attention, but on the inside he wanted one for himself.
One day he decided to approach his father. “Dad, do you use that tape recorder that’s just sitting there on your desk? Ed has one, and I want one too.” “What are you going to do with a tape recorder?” asked his father. “Your brother already has one, so if you need to tape anything, just ask him to borrow it.”
A few weeks passed and Ralph kept nagging his father about the tape recorder. Finally, his father assented. His wall of opposition worn down from the many requests, the father said Ralph could use the tape recorder he asked of as he saw fit.
“So it’s really mine, Dad?”
“Yes, son, it is.”
“I can do whatever I want with it?”
“Yes, it’s all yours. Now go play in your room.”
Ralph was just a young child, so he didn’t really have much use for the device. He didn’t really have anything to record. He tended to follow his elder brother Ed, so whatever Ed was interested in Ralph was too. If Ed already recorded something, there was no need for Ralph to do the same.
One day Ralph decided to do a little experiment. He had seen his mother using a bottle of cleaning solution and spraying it throughout the kitchen. Ralph figured his tape recorder could benefit from the same treatment. Just as he was about to start, Ed happened to walk into the room.
“What are you doing, Ralph?”
“I’m going to try spraying this bottle of stuff on my tape recorder.”
“Are you crazy? You’re going to break it.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you will. Dad is going to be furious with you.”
“Well, he said it’s mine. I can do whatever I want with it.”
So Ralph went ahead and sprayed the solution all over the device. He sprayed the outside, the inside, and even the little holes designated for the microphone and earphones. Sure enough, the device stopped working. Ed couldn’t pass up the chance to look righteous, so he told their father what had happened.
“Ralph, did you spray cleaning solution in here?”
“Yes, Dad, I did.”
“I wanted to.”
“Well, you can’t do that. I think it’s broken now. These things are expensive.”
“Yeah, but Dad, you said that it was mine now, that I could do whatever I wanted with it.”
“That doesn’t mean you can go ahead and break it. That’s not what control means. I expected you to be responsible with it. Why would I give something to you if you only want to destroy it?”
Many years later, when Ralph was an adult, that incident came to his mind again. Ralph had his friend Marshall over to the house, and they were watching a football game on television. Marshall had just attended a wedding the night before, and so that came up in the discussion at one point.
“So, what kind of food did they have last night?” asked Ralph.
“The usual choices were there. I had checked off ‘chicken’ on the invitation card,” said Marshall.
“Oh, I see. Yeah, the last wedding I went to had the same card. My friend told me to not check anything off and that the venue would make something vegetarian for me.”
“Yeah? What did they make for you?”
“It was some avocado, potato thing. I have no idea what it was, but it didn’t taste too bad.”
“You vegetarians. It must be tough eating out.”
“It is. That’s why I usually eat at home.”
“So, what’s the reason for the vegetarian thing again? It’s just family tradition? It’s your religion?”
Ralph then explained that while his family was mostly vegetarian, the tradition had its roots in righteousness. The principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, especially with respect to unnecessary violence, was strongly adhered to in the Vedic tradition that Ralph’s family inherited.
“It’s more of a respect thing,” Ralph continued. “There’s no need to kill other animals for food, if you really think about it. The cow is especially dear since it is a mother. It creates milk simply out of love. It is considered very bad to kill a mother.”
“I see. But what about the concept of man having dominion over the animal kingdom? The animals kill each other, so why shouldn’t we kill them?” asked Marshall.
“Well, then I can ask why we should act like the animals, who are less intelligent than us. I see someone jumping off a bridge, does it mean I have to do the same? And dominion doesn’t give a blanket license to kill. It means that man has control over the animals, for the purposes of habitation and the like. If a bear comes to my home and attacks, I have a right to defend myself. If I want to cultivate the land and start a community, I am allowed to keep out wild animals for safety purposes. But dominion doesn’t mean that I have the green light to systematically round up all the creatures that taste good and then kill them.”
“I see. That makes sense. I mean it’s not like we kill all animals. We take care of cats and dogs, almost treating them like humans.”
“Yeah, exactly. So the Vedic idea is to extend that same compassion to all creatures, for every living entity is a spirit soul at the core. Dominion means responsibility. There is an incident from my childhood which sort of illustrates this point. One time I begged my father to give me a tape recorder…”
Ralph then proceeded to tell the story of how he had destroyed the tape recorder after it had been given to him.
“Oh man, I can’t believe you did that,” said a seemingly incredulous Marshall. “What did you think the cleaning solution was going to do? How did you think that it wasn’t going to break?”
“Hey, I was only eight years old, man. But anyway, that sort of explains how we should treat those we have responsibility over. In our family we don’t eat meat also for a larger reason. We try to offer the food that we eat to God first. He doesn’t need this from us, but He is kind enough to accept it. In the Bhagavad-gita, He says that He accepts fruits, flowers, leaves, or even a little water if it’s offered with devotion. He doesn’t accept meat. So if you really want to know, that is the origin of vegetarianism. It’s the natural diet of the yogi, or one who is trying to connect with the Supreme Absolute Truth.”
In this way Ralph continued describing the ins and outs of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, to his good friend. The afternoon was spent very happily, so much so that the football game on the television went practically ignored. And best of all, that embarrassing incident from his childhood ended up giving Ralph an opening for discussing his beloved Krishna.
Intelligence in man the highest,
Dominion over creatures to lowest.
But how such power to be used?
Kill any and all that one to choose?
Like over dependents to protect,
Compassion Supreme Lord expects.
Origin of vegetable diet this principle,
Offering to Krishna practice’s pinnacle.