‘Vegetarianism is not OK’ say some Hindus


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Some Hindus have a problem with vegetarian policy at new Hindu school

There’s been a kerfuffle in the media in the past few days over the entrance policy for the new Hindu school in Harrow. Various parties have submitted statements to newspapers and been interviewed on the radio.

The Krishna-Avanti Hindu School is to be built and run with money from central government and, like the name suggests, its a school for Hindu children. Unlike America and many other countries, the UK has a policy of supporting public schools where all the students profess one faith. The only criteria is that there is sufficient demand from local parents.

The ‘faith schools’ argument- some people like the idea because the schools seem to have better discipline and produce good exam results; some don’t like the idea because they are potentially socially divisive – has been going on for a year or two, fuelled by anxieties over growing fundamentalism in British society.

However, the recent media flurry – before a single brick has been laid – is about who gets to decide what Hinduism is and therefore which children get to become pupils. The school is already heavily over-subscribed because it is the first of its kind in this country and many of the 40,000 Hindus in the London borough of Harrow would like their children to go there next year.

As I have written elsewhere, the word ‘Hindu’ means many things to many people; and to some people it means subscribing to a vague, non-denominational, pick-and-mix type of faith largely based on the country of birth or ethnicity. But that’s the problem when you employ one term to fit the thousands of historical faith communities originating in India.

Many Hindu groups applied to the government to run the first ever Hindu school, but only one could be given the go-ahead. A group known as the I-Foundation won the bid, satisfying the government as to their suitability and competence for the job. Whilst in general most of the other Hindu groups did not take the success of this group to be the source of dismay – it was, after all, to be a school of their own faith – there were a few persons who did. And this week, when the school admissions policy was announced, and it was seen that the criteria included practising the Hindu faith at home and local temple, and being a vegetarian, it was enough to send those few persons to the media in protest.

Leaving aside the fact that the admissions policy to any similar faith school requires the fulfillment of similar criteria, (Catholic schools, for instance, ask that the child is actually a practising Catholic, and have certain conditions that need to be satisfied beforehand to prove it) the protesters seemed particularly annoyed that vegetarianism was included as a requirement.

ISKCON is the official ‘faith partner’ for this new school and, strange to say, the Hindus who complained felt that a certain sectarian bias was in evidence by this dietary requirement. Of course, as anyone who has read anything of Hinduism will know, ahimsa or non-violence, is a cardinal creed of the faith and it is only in more recent years that anyone has attempted to challenge this.

But let me stop here and share with you a letter sent to the main Asian newspaper here. Its from Nitin Mehta, a Hindu, the secretary of the Young Indian Vegetarians, who was recently awarded the OBE for services to his community. He was quite forthright in his rebuttal:

Dear Sir
Anuja Prashar’s article, ‘ Does Practise Make Perfect’? shows how confused
Hindus like her have become regarding this faith. Part of the problem is the
word ‘Hindu’ itself. While at one time it meant a people or a nationality, it
now means a faith. A faith has certain principles by which its adherents live,
it cannot mean that anything goes. The problem is that many Hindus and quite a
few Hindu leaders want their Hinduism without any annoying restrictions.
Dr.Gautem Sen of the London School of Economics whom Anuja quotes: ‘ I am sympathetic to giving vegetarianism a higher status within Hinduism, though not a vegetarian myself, but to use it to exclude virtually everyone is absurd’ is a good example of this thought process.

Dr. Sen is obviously a proud Hindu but it would be nice
to know what salient values of Hinduism he practises in everyday life. The
Krishna Avanti primary school is based on Hindu ethos and vegetarianism is a
very crucial part of this ethos–what problem do Anuja and other Hindu leaders have with it? Why do they want meat to be served in a school which is based on Hindu principles? Why did they feel the need to do go to the national press about this? Do they serve meat in Arya Samaj schools and colleges in India? The government wants every one to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day and what on earth could be the objection for the students to be served a healthy, sattvic lunch at this school? Anuja goes on to question the very notion that Hinduism can be practised! She lays the blame on ‘ the
Christian origins of most of the ISKCON followers’. This is an unfortunate slur on
millions all over the world who have come to Krishna.

ISKCON, whose founder was Srila Prabhupada, and whose teachings this movement follows, has nothing to do with the Christian origins of its adherents. Srila Prabhupada taught that it is not enough to be proud of your faith, you have to practise it. It is
therefore essential to differentiate between born Hindus and praticing Hindus. As a guide to who is a practising Hindu one has to look at the life of a Hindu monk. Certainly there is no Hindu monk I know of that eats meat, fish or eggs.

Anuja does not want a separation between a ‘ universal, all encompassing Hinduism and those that pratise their Hinduism.’ By that logic even beef would be OK and if it is not why not? There are, after all, no rules in Anuja’s view of Hinduism. Our young people are constantly mocked that our religion cannot be taken seriously because there are no core values that Hindus adhere to. Vegetarianism is in fact one of the greatest gifts of Hinduism to the world. Meat eating is destroying the planet, is the cause of many diseases and above all a cause of immense cruelty to animals. Instead of promoting this
great gift to the world, meat-eating Hindus want vegetarianism to become
irrelevant to the faith.

Anuja claims that ISKCON-Hindu school would sit, ‘uncomfortably with the Hindu integrative, democratic and egalitarian principles of a Dharmic world view’. ISKCON devotees distribute free food to tens of thousands of people in UK, they have translated the Bhagavad Gita in most of the worlds languages, and their egalitarian principles
extend to animals. It is no use saying how great our Dharma is and then have
chicken for dinner. Ahimsa and compassion are the greatest gems of our Dharma
take them and away and there is not much to differentiate us from other religions.

Nitin Mehta

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14 Comments

Filed under Animal Rights, Hinduism, ISKCON

14 responses to “‘Vegetarianism is not OK’ say some Hindus

  1. Martin

    Back in 1967, the Beatles latest (much reported) wheeze, was an active interest in Indian philosophy and culture.
    They had all, we were told, become vegetarians. This immediately sounded absolutely ‘right’ to me (then 13 years old fan, previously ignorant of this concept).
    My chance to exclude meat and fish from my diet came 4 years later when my girlfriend (now my wife), Rosie went on a vegetarian diet, and I jumped at the opportunity to join her. This lasted longer than her usual diets!
    Later our 14 year old daughter decided that eating eggs and dairy produce was also wrong, and a year or so later I joined her as a vegan. I feel that they were both meant to help me achieve what I lacked the strength to do alone.
    The point of this piece of family history is that our present healthy and ethical diet is directly traceable to the influence of Indian philosophy, and the principle of ahimsa. It is sad that some of those who have been privileged to live their whole lives in awareness of this concept have opted for selective blindness.
    Vegetarianism is an essential component of ‘humanity’ and could feed the human population of the world.
    Nitin Mehta is so right. Meat eating is destroying the world. Making the change to vegetarianism for many cultures will be very hard, but if those of Indian origin cannot take the lead and be true to their own traditional basic principles, what hope is there for mankind?
    Rant over!
    Hare Krishna.

  2. Ashwini Gupta

    It is indeed a matter of regret and shame that persons like Anuja and a so called professor from LSE do not know anything about values of Sanatan Dharma and aim of life. Instead of Supporting the Hindu school philosophy they are are making rift in the people. It seems that such people must have been secretly financed or instigated by other groups jealous of the glorious and perfect Vedic civilisation.
    All Glories to Lord Chaitanya worldwide Sankirtan Movement which is revolutionising the whole world. All glories to Srila Prabhupad , the Jagat Guru

  3. Being born a “hindu” does not exclude one from complete ignorance, materialistic desires or harmful tendencies. It is a damn shame that these so called “Hindus” like Anju and company, having been exposed to the world’s most complete spiritual tradition since birth, are completely blinded by their so called modern knowledge. I see that many “modern” Hindus are ashamed of or rejecting their lineage. Mostly due to criticism from westerners who have ignored the true Vedic culture for ages. They should not give in to peer pressure and have the brains and courage to defend truth and not go with “public opinions,” it seems to me that they are trying to be politicians.

  4. Arjuna speaking to Krishna in Bhagavad Gita: We are worthy of a nobler feat than to slaughter our relatives – the sons of Dhritarashtra; for, my Lord, how can we be happy of we kill our kinsmen? Although these men, blinded by greed, see no guilt in destroying their kin, or fighting against their friends. Should not we, whose eyes are open, who consider it to be wrong to annihilate our house, turn away from so great a crime? The destruction of our kindred means the destruction of the traditions of our ancient lineage, and when these are lost, irreligion will overrun our homes.

  5. Galia Yaksic

    Dear all,
    I am writing this message from Stockholm, Sweden. I am little bit confused about Hinduism. I know some Hindus here who eat all types of meat (cow, horse etc.). Also, they drink alcohol, smoke and are atheist, however they consider themselves Hindus. Can one be atheist and call oneself Hindu? I always liked Hinduism because I thought the followers of the Hinduism were vegetarians. Over the years, I have been reading in the Swedish press about how useful it is to be vegetarian for the sake of the planet, health etc. Anyway, I support completely the idea of vegetarian school. We have government supported Waldorf schools in Sweden and they serve mostly vegetarian meals.

    • Thank you for your question Galia. Its easy to be confused about Hinduism!
      That’s because there is not one religion called Hinduism, but many distinct traditions which, grouped together, are referred to as ‘Hinduism’. Although there are common elements, there are many differences between them. Secondly, Hinduism means ‘the religion of India’ but the word cannot be found in any religious book in India. It is a modern word.

      ‘Hinduism’ is like saying ‘Swedenism’ to describe all the different beliefs people of your country may have. In Sweden you have the Svenska Kyrkan, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, which many people belong to, but you also have the Roman Catholic church too, as well as other faiths. So to say that someone follows the religion of ‘Swedenism’ is to make a confusing and inaccurate statement.

      Finally, the original sacred teachings declare that not every person is expected to be a vegetarian. Even though it is recommended, still not everyone is a vegetarian. It is rare for someone who says they are a Hindu to eat the flesh of a cow, but still, there are some who do.

  6. dusyanta dasa

    The point i wanted to make was this major concept of violence and the connection with agriculture and food we eat.There are obviously different perspectives to take.The traditional views of food production and then the more modernistic techniques and applications.
    But first from Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 3 Chapter 29 Text 15.
    “A devotee must execute his prescribed duties,which are glorious,without material profit.Without excessive violence,one should regularly perform one’s devotional activities.”
    In the purport by Srila Prabhupada He particularly emphasises the word “natihimsrena” meaning with minimum of violence or sacrifice of life.
    We all have to commit violence ,this is a natural law,and He says that even eating vegetables is considered violent and vegetarians are committing violence against other living entities.
    Every living entity is food for another living entity so violence is impossible to avoid so for a human being that violence should be committed only as much as necessary.
    When we offer our food to Krsna one becomes freed from the sinful activity but the violence to the other living entities still has to be committed.But the violence we commit is not to be extravagant but only as much as ordered by Krsna,and this is called natihimsa,minimum violence.Not non-violence!
    In Iskcon we have been artificially attributing the word Ahimsa or non-violence to Food stuffs and Agriculture.Plainly this is not the correct conclusion according to Srila Prabhupada’s definiton and word useage and application in this context .
    I believe the word Ahimsa is defined in B.Gita and applied to the living entity in another capacity other than food and agriculture.
    If we cant apply the correct definition of minimum violence to foodstuffs,agriculture and conditional life then a certain type of confusion can arise amongst the general public,preachers,and practising devotees so that iskcon’s principles on these subjects can be percieved to be contradictory.Yes we commit violence,we are all forced to do that but we try to minimise that violence according to Krsna’s instructions and what our devotional practice may be.Some devotees may have to commit more violence than others and that is to be expected because of the natural law that we are all governed by,conditional life.
    In one sense ,because we all eat,we are all implicated into that violence but agriculturalists and food producers are at the cutting edge of actually committing that violence themselves.But that is their nature as Vaisyas and is their prescribed duties or activities under the direction of the spiritual master.
    Hoping this is of some use,Dusyanta dasa.

  7. Veg or Non Veg

    Not all Hindus are vegetarians. Some vaishnavas even eat fish in Bengal and Bangladesh. Was there ever a time in even Vedic culture when ALL people or all castes/varnas of people were strictly vegetarian? I’ve seen no proof of it.

    Yes there are some sects of Hindus that are very strict about a vegetarian diet, but not all. Its also seen as a primarily Brahmin tendency in South India.

    The solution is to have separate kitchens or separate sections of the kitchen – one veg and one non veg.

    It is very common in India for even vegetarians to eat eggs.

    I’m a vegan myself and my lacto-veg Hindu family thinks I’m nuts for giving up dairy but I did so on ethical grounds.

    Even then, I know through research that there has never been a time when the entire populations of Hindus have been completely vegetarian and I have several practicing Hindu friends who eat eggs and fish.

    • Prafulla Acharya

      The answer is simple and logical. We Vaishnavas belive that everything belongs to God (We call him Krishna, Rama or Vishnu). Even fish and eggs belong to the Supreme Lord. To hurt things that belong to the Lord make little sense if you wish to develop love for the Lord. Take the exmaple, if you love your child will you steal/hurt/damage his/her things for your own pleasure? Well, some might do! But this means the person is not a good, trustworthy father. So if you want to develop love for the Supreme you need to respect his things. Well, we need to eat to survive, but we can eat causing least damage and harm – animals cannot do that. If you put tonnes of bananas in front of a lion, he would die of stravation if he does not get meat- but not we human beings. This is the difference between human beings and animals. If some Vaishanvas do eat eggs or fish, they do it as a result of ignorance.

  8. Vivek Kaul

    ‘Yes I agree with you here. There is no evidence to support that there was time when the entire Hindu populations or even Brahmans were completely vegetarian. Read “Strategies of Conversion: The Emergence of Vegetarianism in Post-Vedic India” in the articles section on http://www.edwinbryant.org/ for more on this topic. Obviously, it is very hard for those of a non-agricultural society to have lived on vegetarian diet.

    • Prahaladanath A.

      that last statement does not make any sense. those of us that live in a nonagricultural society have all facilities to eat whatever we want (fruits, vegs, grains, etc.) what would make it difficult to be a vegetarian?

    • em

      If the humans had to eat the animals in the non-agricultural society, what I wonder, did the animals eat?

  9. Dalbir Singh Gosain

    Guru instructs his pupils the way of life the true followers should adopt in their routines. Srila Prabhupada the founder of ISKCON very clearly defined these rules to his followers:-
    A true Vaishnava should take the prasadam from the offerings to Lord Krishna/Vishnu. He can not eat anything else that is not offered to the Lord.
    Lord Krishna very clearly tells the world through Arjuna, that he accepts the patram, pushpum, falam, Jalam from his devotees; nowhere he mentioned any food produced from animal flesh.
    We can’t interpret the meanings to justify our own self lust/ego.

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