Part 2:- Does Sanathana Dharma support eating meat? (Part 2)
Excerpted from Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva – chapter 113.
Yudhishthira said, Abstention from injury, the observance of the Vedic ritual, meditation, subjugation of the senses, penances, and obedient services rendered to the preceptors, which amongst these is fraught with the greatest merit with respect to a person' Vrihaspati said, All these six are fraught with merit. They are different doors of piety. I shall discourse upon them presently. Do thou listen to them, O chief of the Bharatas! I shall tell thee what constitutes the highest good of a human being. That man who practises the Dharma of universal compassion achieves his highest good.
That man who keeps under control the three faults, viz, lust, wrath, and cupidity, by throwing them upon all creatures and practises the virtue of compassion, attains to success. He who, from motives of his own happiness, slays other harmless creatures with the rod of chastisement, never attains to happiness, in the next world.
That man who regards all creatures as his own self, and behaves towards them as towards his own self, laying aside the rod of chastisement and completely subjugating his wrath, succeeds in attaining to happiness. The very deities, who are desirous of a fixed abode, become stupefied in ascertaining the track of that person who constitutes himself the soul of all creatures and looks upon them all as his own self, for such a person leaves no track behind. One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one's own self. This, in brief, is the rule of Righteousness. One by acting in a different way by yielding to desire, becomes guilty of unrighteousness. In refusals and gifts, in happiness and misery, in the agreeable, and the disagreeable, one should judge of their effects by a reference to one's own self. When One injures another, the injured turns round and injures the injurer. Similarly, when one cherishes another, that other cherishes the cherisher.
One should frame one's rule of conduct according to this. I have told thee what Righteousness is even by this subtile way' Vaisampayana continued, The preceptor of the deities, possessed of great intelligence, having said this unto king Yudhishthira the just, ascended upwards for proceeding to Heaven, before our eyes.
Excerpted from Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva – chapter 114.
Bhishma tells Yudhishtra:-
A person becomes guilty of injury through acts, words and thoughts. Discarding it mentally at the outset, one should next discard in word and thought. He who, according to this rule, abstains from eating meat is said to be cleansed in a threefold way. It is heard that utterers of Brahma ascribe to three causes the sin of eating meat. That sin may attach to the mind, to words, and to acts. It is for this reason that men of wisdom who are endued with penances refrain from eating meat. Listen to me, O king, as I tell thee what the faults are that attach to the eating of meat. The meat of other animals is like the flesh of one's son. That foolish person, stupefied by folly, who eats meat is regarded as the vilest of human beings.
The union of father and mother produces an offspring. After the same manner, the cruelty that a helpless and sinful wretch commits, produces its progeny of repeated rebirths fraught with great misery. As the tongue is the cause of the knowledge or sensation of taste, so the scriptures declare, attachment proceeds from taste. Well-dressed, cooked with salt or without salt, meat, in whatever form one may take it, gradually attracts the mind and enslaves it. How will those foolish men that subsist upon meat succeed in listening to the sweet music of celestial drums and cymbals and lyres and harps?
They who eat meat applaud it highly, suffering themselves to be stupefied by its taste which they pronounce to be something inconceivable, undescribable, and unimaginable. Such praise even of meat is fraught with demerit. In former days, many righteous men, by giving the flesh of their own bodies, protected the flesh of other creatures and as a consequence of such acts of merit, have proceeded to heaven. In this way, O monarch the Religion of compassion is surrounded by four considerations. I have thus declared to thee that DHARMA which comprises all other Dharma within it.
Excerpted from Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva – chapter 115.
“The merit acquired by that person, O Yudhishthira, who, with the steadiness of a vow, adores the deities every month in horse-sacrifices, is equal to his who discards honey and meat. The seven celestial Rishis, the Valakhilyas, and those Rishis who drink the rays of the sun, endued with great wisdom, applaud abstention from meat. The Self-born Manu has said that that man who does not eat meat, or who does not slay living creatures, or who does not cause them to be slain, is a friend of all creatures. Such a man is incapable of being oppressed by any creature. He enjoys the confidence of all living beings. He always enjoys, besides, the approbation and commendation of the righteous. The righteous-souled Narada has said that that man who wishes to increase his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures, meets with calamity. Vrihaspati has said that that man who abstains from honey and meat acquires the merit of gifts and sacrifices and penances. In my estimation, these two persons are equal, viz, he who adores the deities every month in a horse-sacrifice for a space of hundred years and he who abstains from honey and meat.
In consequence of abstention from meat one comes to be regarded as one who always adores the deities in sacrifices, or as one who always makes gifts to others, or as one who always undergoes the severest austerities. That man who having eaten meat gives it up afterwards, acquires merit by such an act that is so great that a study of all the Vedas or a performance, O Bharata, of all the sacrifices, cannot bestow its like. It is exceedingly difficult to give up meat after one has become acquainted with its taste. Indeed, it is exceedingly difficult for such a person to observe the high vow of abstention from meat, a vow that assures every creature by dispelling all fear. That learned person who giveth to all living creatures the Dakshina of complete assurance comes to be regarded, without doubt, as the giver of life-breaths in this world. Even this is the high religion which men of wisdom applaud.
The life-breaths of other creatures are as dear to them as those of one's to one's own self. Men endued with intelligence and cleansed souls should always behave towards other creatures after the manner of that behaviour which they like others to observe towards themselves. It is seen that even those men who are possessed of learning and who seek to achieve the highest good in the form of Emancipation, are not free from the fear of death. What need there be said of those innocent and healthy creatures endued with love of life, when they are sought to be slain by sinful wretches subsisting by slaughter?
For this reason, O monarch, know that the discarding of meat is the highest refuge of religion, of heaven, and of happiness.
Abstention from injury is the highest Dharma.
Flesh cannot be had from grass or wood or stone.
The deities who subsist upon Swaha, Swadha, and nectar, are devoted to truth and sincerity. Those persons, however, who are for gratifying the sensation of taste, should be known as Rakshasas wedded to the attribute of Passion.
That man who abstains from meat, is never put in fear, O king, by any creature, wherever he may be, viz, in terrible wildernesses or inaccessible fastnesses, by day or by night, or at the two twilights, in the open squares of towns or in assemblies of men, from upraised weapons or in places where there is great fright from wild animals or snakes.
It is for the sake of the eater that the slaughter of living creatures goes on in the world. Since, O thou of great splendour, the period of life is shortened of persons who slaughter living creatures or cause them to be slaughtered, it is clear that the person who wishes his own good should give up meat entirely. Those fierce persons who are engaged in slaughter of living creatures, never find protectors when they are in need. Such persons should always be molested and persecuted even as beasts of prey.
Through cupidity or stupefaction of the understanding, for the sake of strength and energy, or through association with the sinful, the disposition manifests itself in men for sinning. That man who seeks to increase his own flesh by eating the flesh of others, has to live in this world in great anxiety and after death has to take birth in indifferent races and families.
High Rishis devoted to the observance of vows and self-restraint have said that abstention from meat is worthy of every praise, productive of fame and Heaven, and a great propitiation by itself. This I heard in days of old, O son of Kunti, from Markandeya when that Rishi discoursed on the demerits of eating flesh.
He who eats the flesh of animals that are desirous of living but that have been killed by either himself or others, incurs the sin that attaches to the slaughter for his this act of cruelty.
He who does not himself eat flesh but approves of an act of slaughter becomes stained with the sin of slaughter.
Excerpted from Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva – chapter 116
Alas, those cruel men, who, discarding diverse kinds of food, covet only flesh, are really like great Rakshasas! Alas, they do not relish diverse kinds of cakes and diverse sorts of potherbs and various species of Khanda with juicy flavour so much as they do flesh! My understanding, for this reason, becomes stupefied in this matter. I think, when such is the case, that, there is nothing which can compare with flesh in the matter of taste, I desire, therefore, O puissant one, to hear what the merits are of abstention from flesh, and the demerits that attach to the eating of flesh, O chief of Bharata's race. Thou art conversant with every duty. Do thou discourse to me in full agreeably to the ordinances on duty, on this subject. Do tell me what, indeed, is edible and what inedible.
Tell me, O grandsire, what is flesh, of what substances it is, the merits that attach to abstention from it, and what the demerits are that attach to the eating of flesh' Bhishma said, It is even so, O mighty-armed one, as thou sayest. There is nothing on earth that is superior to flesh in point of taste. There is nothing that is more beneficial then flesh to persons that are lean, or weak, or afflicted with disease, or addicted to sexual congress or exhausted with travel. Flesh speedily increases strength. It produces great development. There is no food, O scorcher of foes, that is superior to flesh. But, O delighter of the Kurus, the merits are great that attach to men that abstain from it. Listen to me as I discourse to thee on it. That man who wished to increase his own flesh by the flesh of another living creature is such that there is none meaner and more cruel than he.
In this world there is nothing that is dearer to a creature than his life. Hence instead of taking that valuable possession, one should show compassion to the lives of others as one does to one's own life. Without doubt, O son, flesh has its origin in the vital seed. There is great demerit attaching to its eating, as, indeed, there is merit in abstaining from it. One does not, however, incur any fault by eating flesh sanctified according to the ordinances of the Vedas. The audition is heard that animals were created for sacrifice. They who eat flesh in any other way are said to follow the Rakshasa practice. Listen to me as I tell thee what the ordinance is that has been laid down for the Kshatriyas. They do not incur any fault by eating flesh that has been acquired by expenditure of prowess. All deer of the wilderness were dedicated to the deities and the Pitris in days of old, O king, by Agastya.
Hence, the hunting of deer is not censured. There can be no hunting without risk of one's own life. There is equality of risk between the slayer and the slain. Either the animal is killed or it kills the hunter. Hence, O Bharata, even royal sages betake themselves to the practice of hunting. By such conduct they do not become stained with sin. Indeed, the practice is not regarded as sinful. There is nothing, O delighter of the Kurus, that is equal in point of merit, either here or hereafter, to the practice of compassion to all living creatures. The man of compassion has no fear. Those harmless men that are endued with compassion have both this world and the next.
Persons conversant with duty say that that DHARMA is worthy of being called Dharma which has abstention from cruelty for its indication. The man of cleansed soul should do only such acts as have compassion for their soul. That flesh which is dedicated in sacrifices performed in honour of the deities and the Pitris is called Havi and, as such, is worthy of being eaten. That man who is devoted to compassion and who behaves with compassion towards others, has no fear to entertain from any creature. It is heard that all creatures abstain from causing any fear unto such a creature. Whether he is wounded or fallen down or prostrated or weakened or bruised, in whatever state he may be, all creatures protect him. Indeed, they do so, under all circumstances, whether he is on even or uneven ground. Neither snakes nor wild animals, neither Pisachas norRakshasas, ever slay him. When circumstances of fear arise, he becomes freed from fear who frees others from situations of fear. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a gift that is superior to the gift of life.
It is certain that there is nothing dearer to oneself than one's life. Death, O Bharata, is a calamity or evil unto all creatures. When the time comes for Death, a trembling of the whole frame is seen in all creatures. Enduring birth in the uterus, decrepitude and afflictions of diverse kinds, in this ocean of the world, living creatures may be seen to be continually going forward and coming back. Every creature is afflicted by death. While dwelling in the uterus, all creatures are cooked in the fluid juices that are alkaline and sour and bitter, of urine and phlegm and faeces, juices that produce painful sensations and are difficult to bear. There in the uterus, they have to dwell in a state of helplessness and are even repeatedly torn and pierced. They that are covetous of meat are seen to be repeatedly cooked in the uterus in such a state of helplessness. Attaining to diverse kinds of birth, they are cooked in the hell called Kumbhipaka. They are assailed and slain, and in this way have to travel repeatedly.
There is nothing so dear to one as one's life when one comes to this world. Hence, a person of cleansed soul should be compassionate to all living creatures. That man, O king, who abstains from every kind of meat from his birth, without doubt, acquires a large space in Heaven, They who eat the flesh of animals who are desirous of life, are themselves eaten by the animals they eat, without doubt. Even this is my opinion. Since he hath eaten me, I shall eat him in return, even this, O Bharata, constitutes the character as Mansa of Mansa The slayer is always slain. After him the eater meets with the same fate. He who acts with hostility towards another in this life becomes the victim of similar acts done by that other. Whatever acts one does in whatever bodies, one has to suffer the consequences thereof in those bodies.
Abstention from cruelty is the highest Dharma.
Abstention from cruelty is the highest self-control.
Abstention from cruelty is the highest gift.
Abstention from cruelty is the highest penance.
Abstention from cruelty is the highest sacrifice.
Abstention from cruelty is the highest puissance.
Abstention from cruelty is the highest truth.
Gifts made in all sacrifices, ablutions performed in all sacred waters, and the merit that one acquires from making all kinds of gifts mentioned in the scriptures, all these do not come up to abstention from cruelty in point of the merit that attaches to it.
The penances of a man that abstains from cruelty are inexhaustible. The man that abstains from cruelty is regarded as always performing sacrifices. The man that abstains from cruelty is the father and mother of all creatures. Even these, O chief of Kuru's race, are some of the merits of abstention from cruelty. Altogether, the merits that attach to it are so many that they are incapable of being exhausted even if one were to speak for a hundred years.
(1) Bheeshma upholds killing animals in yajnas and for Pitrs in the above passages. How it must be viewed is discussed in this article and its comment section:- Animal sacrifice – how Veda Dharma views it?
(2) There was a time sage Vishwamitra ate dog’s meat. The intricacies in that episode are discussed in this article:- What is ‘Aryan’ morality? – as told by a Chandala to Vishwamitra.