“Hi. That was an interesting post. On the topic of vegetarianism, how can you say that you are not causing greater pain to the plants when you kill them for your sustenance? We eat a plant by tearing it limb from limb. Who’s to say this is not barbaric? What is the difference between eating animals and plants? Just asking that’s all…- Tim”
Few articles ago, I received the above comment from a reader to one of my posts. I shall attempt to provide some answers based on my understanding of the subject matter so far and hope I am in a position to answer Tim properly. If you have any insights, analogies, realizations for Tim to understand the difference, please post them for him.
Dear Tim, here we go….
On Planet Earth, as you know, there are living and non-living beings. Amongst the living beings, we have a wide variety such as animals, birds, reptiles, aquatics, insects, plants, microbes etc. And of course, humans. One of the biggest priorities of all living beings is survival. The main activity in survival is consumption of food besides other occupations such as defending, mating and sleeping.
Plants are photoautotrophic which means that they carry out photosynthesis to acquire energy. Basically, they need to “eat”, carbon dioxide, water and sunlight for their sustenance.
Humans and animals are heterotrophs which means that they need organic substrates to get its energy. They need to consume other autotrophs and heterotrophs to get its energy. In this material world, every item is food for another living being.
The human body does not have the facility to survive on such bare essentials as plants. And neither do they have the facility to hunt and eat flesh like the wild animals such as lions. If you look at the physiological comparisons, there is much similarity between a herbivore and a human being in terms of teeth, intestinal tract and strength of stomach acid compared those in meat-eating animals. We have a much better facility for a vegetarian consumption than meat. Our dear science has proven this. Compared to plants, the animal world has a more closer life style and biological make up to humans. By this I mean that they too eat, mate, sleep, defend and possess systems such as circulatory, respiratory, reproductive, excretory and nervous systems. As a result, its easy for us to understand the pain of animals because we ourselves can experience it. When a dog breaks its bone, the master immediately is upset because he can relate to the pain and the sounds of agony. But naturally, we do not feel any such emotions when a stem is broken of a plant.
Most people admit that they eat meat for the taste of the tongue. Some say that they are used to eating meat because they were introduced to it right from a very young age and never thought of the act as barbaric. It’s become more of a habit now. Many people are also ignorant of the many varieties of wonderful dishes that can be prepared from vegetable sources which completely eliminates the need to eat the dead bodies of animals. Nowadays, humans are ready to eat meats of all kinds. They want them all !
In a food chain there is an intricate relationship between the animal that is feeding and the animal who is fed upon. Recent studies are commenting that if you remove humans completely out of this planet, it will not damage the ecosystem at all. Plants will just grow over what man has created and one will never know if he ever existed. However, if you remove a single species of an ant, the ecosystem will start to collapse. Therefore, in order to maintain the fragile ecosystem, we must not disturb the setting through our acts of violence on animals and birds. Also taking into account the weak consciousness and zero capacity for animals to practice farming methods, we may conclude that its perfectly alright for wild animals to feed on other animals without the guilt of causing pain to the other. But that doesn’t mean we can too. We have higher intelligence which can be used to ban our ugly desire to kill.
The dictionary defines the word, PAIN as:
1) a sensation of hurting, or strong discomfort, in some part of the body, caused by an injury, disease, or functional disorder, and transmitted through the nervous system
2) the distress or suffering, mental or physical, caused by great anxiety, anguish, grief, disappointment, etc.
Slicing the throat of a cow or immersing a chicken in boiling water or letting a fish die of suffocation is not the same as peeling a carrot or chopping up coriander leaves or steaming beans. Animals experience far more pain due to their complex and extensive biological make-up which I listed before. Plants respond to touch, heat and light and in some cases sound. But due to the absence of the biological make up like those of animals, they do not experience the same level of excruciating pain seen in animals. A visit to an animal slaughter house and to a vegetarian cooking class will give you some idea as to what I mean. But then, the next statement can be, “but that’s because plants don’t have mouths to scream!”. No comments.
Many experiments have been conducted the world over to figure out if plants feel pain. Evidence suggests that plants do respond to threats and in some cases they found that they have the ability to “inform” other plants as well. Scientists have published evidence of an electrical signalling system in plants similar to the epithelial conduction system found in several “lower” animals (NATURE 360:62-65; 1992). They say that this response can be considered somewhat equivalent to the word “pain” used by humans. Does that mean we stop eating plants and just thrive on water and air?
Why doesn’t a panther think twice about the pain of the anxious deer in the distance before mercilessly bringing it down after a strong chase? Why doesn’t a sea gull prefer to fast unto death instead of stealing a fleshy fish from the cold sea? Because they can’t. Humans have a higher state of consciousness compared to plants and lower animals. We are able to comprehend the importance of life of other species and even have the ability to protect them. Eating plants and animals does involve killing them but having plants as the sole and nominated food for humans for their survival is correct. We are selecting that food type which causes the least “harm, pain and agony” to a living entity. Moreover, a vegetarian diet is not about chopping down a tree or removing the plant species from this planet. The very nature of responsible farming and responsible consumption would ensure the proper survival of man and abundance of vegetable matter.
(1) A devotee of the Lord or in this case, a Hare Krishna devotee has another perspective. They have an unflinching faith in Krishna (God) and His words. They live by these teachings. The scriptures that he follows do not prescribe him to have meat as his food. Hence, he refrains from eating the bodies of animals. The scriptures advices him to thrive on milk, fruits, vegetables, water etc. And so he happily follows this.
(2) A devotee understands the presence of soul in all living beings and the working of the laws of karma (activity) in nature. He understands that Krishna is the Supreme Controller. In the human world, if a man kills another, then the justice system kills the guilty party. Similarly, when man kills animals, God ensures his punishment. Humans are obligated to be both informed and obedient. There is no excuse for not sitting down and studying the impact our actions can have on all those around us.
In the introduction to Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada says the following about the living entity (soul): ” The living entity forgets what to do. First of all he makes a determination to act in a certain way, and then he is entangled in the actions and reactions of his own karma. After giving up one type of body, he enters another type of body, as we take off and put on new clothes. As the soul thus migrates, he suffers the actions and reactions of his past activities. These activities can be changed when the living being is in the mode of goodness, in sanity, and understands what sort of activities he should adopt. If he does so, then all actions and reactions of his past activities can be changed.”
(3) We understand that regular killing of animals and their consumption of meat causes a rise of negative personality traits within oneself such as hostility, cruelty, depression, arrogance, apathy, insensitivity, anxiety and envy. Whereas a vegetarian diet maintains the human in the mode of goodness.
(4) A devotee knows that all living beings have life. Even plants. They understand that cooking of vegetable matter involves the termination of this life and eating for the purpose of enjoyment puts him on the path of producing an unfavourable karmic reaction. Krishna advices in the Bhagavad Gita that humans must prepare vegetarian food for His enjoyment instead. Krishna is fully spiritual. He is above all karmic influences and does not need us to feed Him for His “survival”. But out of compassion, He eats our food for our own elevation. And anything He comes in contact with also becomes spiritual. Hence, Hare Krishna devotees lovingly cook food preparations in complete love and devotion for the satisfaction and enjoyment of Krishna. They do not even taste the food before it is offered to Krishna. And we simply eat the remnants of what Krishna has eaten. Because, now it is spiritual. And we are freed from the karmic reactions that would have otherwise arisen. We go unpunished. Such food is what we call prasadam.
(4) As mentioned before, we follow the words of Lord Krishna and also the different ways in which devotees from the past served Him in various capacities to please Him. We consider this to be the highest of service, the ultimate purpose of human existence and the solution to all worldly issues. In the “Bhoga-arati” prayers held during lunch time, followed at ISKCON temples, verses 3-13 of a total of 17 verses gives us a very strong idea as to what the Lord relished as food during His time on earth:
“On the direction of Nanda Maharaj, Krsna, the holder of Goverdhan Hill, sits down, and then all the cowherd boys, along with Krisna’s elder brother, Lord Balaram, sit down in rows to take their lunch.
They are then served a feast of sukta and various kinds of green leafy vegetables, then nice fried things, and a salad made of the green leaves of the jute plant. They are also served pumpkin, baskets of fruit, small square cakes made of lentils and cooked-down milk, then thick yoghurt, squash cooked in milk, and vegetable preparations made from the flower of the banana tree. Then they received fried squares of mung dahl patties, and urad dahl patties, chapatis and rice with ghee. Next, sweets made with milk, sugar and sesamum; rice flour cakes; thick cooked-down milk; cakes floating in milk; and sweet rice. There is also sweet rice that tastes just like nectar due to its being mixed with camphor. There are bananas, and cheese which is nectarean and delicious. They are also served twelve kinds of sour preparations made with tamarinds, limes, lemons, oranges and pomegranates. There are puris made with white flour and sugar; puris filled with cream; laddus; and dahl patties boiled in sugared rice. Krisna eagerly eats all of the food.
In great ecstasy and joy, Krsna eats the rice, curried vegetables, sweets, and pastries cooked by Srimati Radharani. Krsna’s funny brahmana friend Madhumangala, who is very fond of laddus, gets them by hook or by crook. Eating the laddus, he shouts, “Hari Bol ! Hari Bol !” and makes a funny sound by slapping his sides under his armpits with his hands. Beholding Radharani and Her gopi friends out of the corners of His eyes, Krsna eats at the house of mother Yasoda with great satisfaction. After lunch, Krsna drinks rose-scented water. Then all of the boys, standing in lines, wash their mouths. After all the cowherd boys wash their hands and mouths, in great bliss they take rest with Lord Balarama. The two cowheard boys Jambula and Rasala then bring Krsna, paan made with betel nuts, fancy spices and catechu. After eating that paan, Sri Krsnacandra (Krsna) then happily goes to sleep.”
This gives us an idea as to the kind of food, which the Supreme Lord accepted and relished. And this is what the Hare Krishna kitchens at temples, restaurants and households follow. There is no mention of bacon and eggs, double breasted chicken fillet sandwich, fried fish fingers, roast duck, grilled hamburger with extra mayonnaise and tumblers of wine, beer and other types of alcohol. Only tasty vegetarian food preparations meant for all mankind.
By the way, there are plenty of articles on the internet regarding Vegetarianism Vs Non Vegetarianism, importance of protecting animals, the spiritual reasons, whether plants experience pain etc. I suggest that you spend a good time reading these materials. There is also a book called, “Higher Taste – A guide to gourmet vegetarian cooking and a karma-free diet” based on the teachings of the founder-acharya of the Hare Krishna movement, Srila Prabhupada. You can get this from any of our temples and restaurants. Do go through it for more detailed explanations. It covers the following aspects in easy to understand style :
1. Health and a Meatless Diet
2. The Hidden Cost of Meat
3. Factory Farming and Compassion
4. Karma and Reincarnation
5. Beyond Vegetarianism
Thats it !
Tim, this is the best I can guide you with regards to your question. if you are really concerned about the pain caused to plants, then I am assuming that you have completely understood the pain caused to animals. And if you have understood this, then I am very happy and concluding that you are now relying on vegetarian options only. But if you have asked me your question just to fight our stance on vegetarianism and spirituality, then it has caused me much pain.