“Those who are devoid of hands are prey for those who have hands; those devoid of legs are prey for the four-legged. The weak are the subsistence of the strong, and the general rule holds that one living being is food for another.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.13.47)
Friend1: Can you explain the vegetarian thing again?
Friend2: You don’t know what a vegetarian is?
Friend1: Duh! Obviously, I do. But don’t Krishna bhaktas, devotees of the Supreme Lord in His all-attractive and original form, claim not to be vegetarians?
Friend2: Right. They try their best to eat remnants of sacrifice.
Friend1: That sounds very medieval. Or ancient.
Friend2: Sacrifice is the translation for yajna. Yajna is another name for Vishnu, which is another name for God. Still with me?
Friend2: You perform a yajna, which is like a ritual or worship in honor of God the person. In that worship you make offerings. In the end, you get the offerings back, but they have added potency.
Friend1: What are the offerings?
Friend2: Different paraphernalia. Water. A lighted lamp. A fan. The vegetarian part enters with the food. You offer certain food items. The list comes from a verse in the Bhagavad-gita.
“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)
Friend1: Right. I know that. So from that list we see that those who perform yajnas for Krishna are automatically vegetarian.
Friend2: It’s a subtle distinction, but actually there is no desire to be a meat-eater or vegetarian. There is no such classification, because the devotee is simply following what Krishna desires. That is the meaning to bhakti, after all.
Friend1: Alright, fine. But why aren’t non-vegetarian items allowed? Is it because of violence?
Friend2: You can speculate as to the reason, but yes, that is certainly part of it. There is no reason to harm another living thing in order to eat. Still, it is the general rule that one living entity lives off another. There is a verse in the Shrimad Bhagavatam to this effect. Jivo jivasya jivanam. See, the Vedas talked about the concept of a food chain long before modern science discovered it.
Friend1: Wow, interesting. If it is the law of nature to live off other living things, what is wrong with killing animals?
Friend2: In emergency situations you have no other choice. But the human being has discrimination. Another issue to consider is pain. Does the animal feel pain when you kill it?
Friend1: Of course.
Friend2: And the animal is similar to the human being in that it also eats, sleeps, mates and defends. If the argument is made that there is no difference between killing a vegetable and killing an animal, then the same argument can be extended towards infants.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: Why don’t you kill your children for food? Why don’t you eat your cats and dogs?
Friend1: I see what you are saying.
Friend2: So the arguments from the opposition are silly. They just make up excuses to justify behavior to satisfy their senses. The enlightened human being tries their best to never cause anyone pain. It’s difficult to execute successfully, but there is no harm in the effort. Look at Arjuna. He had to fight in the ghastly Bharata War. It was part of his duty as a kshatriya, or warrior. Still, he had no desire to cause death. His elder brother Yudhishthira felt so bad after the war was over. Everyone told him that he hadn’t done anything wrong. Still, he felt like he had committed a great sin.
Friend1: Are you saying the vegetable doesn’t feel pain, then?
Friend2: If it does, it’s certainly not as much. Fruits, flowers, grains, water, and milk are sufficient for the human being to continue living. There is no shortage in this area. More importantly, the simple life is conducive to clearing the consciousness and having it focus on spiritual matters. That is the boon of the human birth. If the height of living were to eat animal flesh, then birth in a lower species would be preferable.
If in meat eating no shame,
Then consider just issue of pain.
How the animal at death to feel,
Not unfairly it’s life to steal?
For bhaktas purpose remaining one,
How Shri Krishna’s favor to be won.
In human being discrimination still,
Better without violence plate to fill.