No. We are not advocating meat-eating here. We are dead against that. Eating meat destroys the saintly quality of compassion or mercifulness, which is one of the four pillars of religion, the other three being truthfulness, cleanliness and austerity (voluntary acceptance of inconvenience for a spiritual purpose, such as fasting on Ekādaśī, etc.). These three are destroyed by indulging in gambling, illicit sex (sex outside of marriage ties) and intoxication respectively. By indulging in any or all of these four sinful activities, one remains in the base modes of ignorance and passion, and will be unable to rise to the mode of goodness, which is the basis on which Kṛṣṇa consciousness, or God consciousness, can develop.
But what about vegetarianism and veganism? They have now achieved a worldwide movement status. Their patrons do a lot of propaganda against cruelty towards animals and promote a peaceful vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Well, being a vegetarian is certainly more natural than eating meat considering our human anatomy which resembles that of a herbivore or a plant-eater. It is certainly better than eating meat because vegetarian food is predominantly in the mode of goodness and there is far lesser intentional violence involved. But there is more to it than meets the eye.
Objectively speaking, often times plants are either pained or killed for food too. Moreover, so many life forms like rats, worms, insects, etc. are killed in the process of harvesting crops. Of course, the scene of killing a plant does not look gruesome like that of an animal. And fruits that are fully ripe or fruits that have fallen off cause little, if any, pain to the plant. But when there is killing involved, life is life after all.
Every form of life has the right to live and can perceive pain and pleasure, whether it be a tiny microbe or a large tree or a whale for that matter. As long as there is a soul present inside the body, there is perception of pain and pleasure. So, how does killing of a plant, or the unintentional killing of rats, insects and worms during harvest, differ from the killing of an animal? Killing is killing after all. Is it not?
On the other hand, we cannot abstain from killing and subsist on stones and sand. We have to eat other living organisms to survive. That is how nature is designed by the Lord. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (1.13.47) states jīvo jīvasya jīvanam: the general rule holds that one living being is food for another. So either by being a vegetarian or a nonvegetarian, one is implicated in sinful life due to killing.
So what is the way out of this predicament? What is correct and what is wrong? What is the standard? If we argue from a material point of view, there cannot be a foolproof answer to this problem. This is where we need the guidance of Lord Kṛṣṇa, our supreme well-wisher. Let us unpack His perfect solution to this problem.
Firstly, He declared in Bhagavad-gītā (3.13):
bhuñjate te tv aghaṁ pāpā
ye pacanty ātma-kāraṇāt
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.”
The performance of yajña (sacrifice) for the sake of Lord Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa is the key to this whole problem. Yajña does not just mean the sacrificial fire ceremony. Yajña, in general, means to offer the results of all our work to Kṛṣṇa.
yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
“O son of Kuntī, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” [Bhagavad-gītā 9.27]
yajñarthāt karmaṇo ‘nyatra
loko ‘yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya
“Work done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kuntī, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” [Bhagavad-gītā 3.9]
evaṁ pravartitaṁ cakraṁ
moghaṁ pārtha sa jīvati
“My dear Arjuna, a man who does not follow this prescribed Vedic system of sacrifice certainly leads a life of sin, for a person delighting only in the senses lives in vain.” [Bhagavad-gītā 3.16]
To satisfy Lord Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa by our actions is called yajña. In our present condition, we are trying to satisfy either ourselves or our extended selves in the form of our families, societies, countries, species, etc. We have to transfer our motive from satisfying ourselves and extended selves to satisfying Kṛṣṇa. That endeavor is called yajña. It is very simple. But we should know what Kṛṣṇa wants of us. Then only will we be able to please Him by our actions.
We now understand that we have to offer the food to Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa and partake of the remnants called prasādam. Now, the next question is what is the type of food that can be offered to Him? We cannot offer Him something that we like to eat. We have to offer Him what He likes to eat. That is Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ
yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
tad ahaṁ bhakty-upahṛtam
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a ﬂower, a fruit or water, I will accept it.” [Bhagavad-gītā 9.26]
Here, it is clear that He only wants food in the vegetarian category. And of course, He also likes to have dairy products like milk, butter, etc. He showed that by His personal example by playing the role of a cowherd boy and eating dairy products.
But the main ingredient in such an offering of food is the love and devotion, not the foodstuff itself. One therefore has to first become a devotee of Kṛṣṇa under the able guidance of a bona fide spiritual master and then cook and offer vegetarian food to Kṛṣṇa without tasting it first. Kṛṣṇa will not accept even the most sumptuous vegetarian food if it is offered by a non devotee, or a person not situated in the devotional standard of life.
Since He did not ask us to offer Him meat, it is absolutely prohibited. We can therefore offer Him food in the vegetarian category and partake of the remnants and thus eat sinless food. If one thinks there is any sin in killing the vegetation for this purpose, that sin will be absorbed by Kṛṣṇa and we will remain sinless.
Authorized action is sinless
A good analogy will explain this point even more clearly. Suppose a country declares a war with another country. Now, all the soldiers are ordered to open fire at the opposing troops. In such a situation, if a particular soldier kills one hundred opposing soldiers, he might be rewarded with a medal of honor by the government.
But, if he thinks that the more he kills, the more he will be honored and if he thus goes out onto the street and kills even one innocent civilian out of his own accord, he will be immediately punished for the act of murder or terrorism. He cannot argue in the court saying, “You have awarded me a gold medal for killing a hundred men on the battlefield but here I have killed only one man on the street and you are punishing me?
Both are killing after all; why are you rewarding me for one and punishing me for the other?” The answer is that one killing was on the order of the government and the other one was not on the order of the government. That authorization or the lack of it makes the whole difference in the result. But superficially, both acts of killing may appear the same.
Similarly, since Kṛṣṇa ordered us to offer Him food in the vegetarian category and then partake of the prasādam, all the apparent sinful activity of killing that is inherent in the process is completely counteracted and the performer of such yajña stands immune to all contamination and is rewarded with devotion to Kṛṣṇa.
But without following this order of sacrifice, both vegetarian and nonvegetarian food is sinful and the one who eats such food will have to pay for it in accordance with the law of karma. Therefore, vegetarianism by itself has no solid basis.
In other words, eating only Kṛṣṇa prasādam and nothing else is the only way to eat sinless food. In fact, all the plants which are used in the process of cooking for Kṛṣṇa are also purified and get the chance of taking birth in at least a human form in their next life.
It is important to understand that an action is not to be judged on its own merit. It is important to see whether such an action is sanctioned by Kṛṣṇa or not. Ultimately, whatever He says is law and whatever He prohibits is unlawful. He delineates all these laws in authoritative scriptures like Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and other Vedic literature. We should take guidance from these śāstras under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master and then we can remain completely safe in this otherwise dangerous material world and eventually return home back to Godhead after this life. [End]