|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
whole; it includes both science and ethics, which are complementary
one to the other. There can be no real conflict or antagonism between
them ; so that what is scientific* is right and what is right is scientific,
So long as we realize that both science and ethics are aspects of the
one Truth we may for convenience of argument discuss vegetarianism from
either angle. Sometimes one is asked: do you feel you are healthier
for being a vegetarian? The answer of course, is : how could I be otherwise?
In India this logical reply would readily be appreciated ; probably
it will hardly be credited how in most Western countries it would call
for long and tedious explanation. Indeed, the question is sometimes
put to one over here ; would you still be a vegetarian if it made you
less healthy? One answers: yes, certainly, and then tries to explain
how meaningless the question really is, for it presumes one law for
spiritual health and another, and a conflicting one, for physical health.
The ethical basis of vegetarianism is unanswerable: it has been stated
over and over again by religious teachers and philosophers for ages
past both in the East and in the West. The scientific basis is, naturally
more complicated, but should not on this account be neglected. One can
say, I think, without any hesitation that the more scientific observation
proceeds and experiment elucidates the more convincing do the arguments
in favour of a vegetarian diet become.
Moreover, scientific thought has within recent gears reached a point
where its leading exponents have envisaged concepts of such a profoundly
significant and philosophic nature that they may be said to have bridged
the gulf between the matter-of-fact mentality based upon outer experience
and the spiritual mentality which derives its power and function from
inner illumination and perception - from that inherent faculty of human
consciousness that is usually termed the intuition, or insight. It is
when this hitherto baffling gulf has been bridged and the two levels
of human mentality - sometimes referred to as higher and lower-integrated
and made one that the essentiality of ethics and scientific thought
becomes obvious and one is made vividly aware that any apparent conflict
between the two is an illusion.
The Doctrine of Holism
I refer, of course, to the emergence and development of the doctrine
of Holism or Wholeness which. although of great antiquity. was re-introduced
into the Western world about thirty years ago by the late Field Marshall
Smuts and was enunciated almost simultaneously in America by biologists,
notably by Professor Ludwig von Bertalanffy, of the University of Ottawa,
Canada. The doctrine of Holism or, as it was termed by Bertalanffy.
the Organismic theory, may briefly be described as the conception of
every organism or entity as being greater than the sum of its component
parts and as having a structure in virtue of which it possesses greater
potentialities and capacities than a mere aggregation of similar parts
would exhibit. This principle applies to conditions as simple as the
combination of atoms and molecules, to the integration of cells into
tissues and organs, and, in the human body, to the fusion of these into
one personality ; while at loftier levels still, it applies to the fusion
of all living beings into one all-embracing Life - as Emerson would
say, in one Oversoul. Alexander Pope, with a poet's insight, expressed
this concept in the lines : "All are but parts of one stupendous
whole, whose body Nature is and God the Soul."
In recent times this concept has been extended into the psychological
field, to include groups of people thinking and acting harmoniously
along similar lines so that group-consciousness has been accepted as
a practical working unit capable of exhibiting functions of a higher
order than those attainable by the individuals composing the group.
It would not be untrue to say that we are being forced at the present
time to envisage a unified world. The phenomenal development of scientific
knowledge and technical skill with reference to rapid travel and communication
has played a leading part in causing humanity to take step after step
towards the realization of the Brotherhood of mankind.
A Boundless Ethics
It is only a step further than this - and some scientists have already
begun to strike it - to realize the need for a philosophy which looks
upon man himself as integrated into a greater Whole, which includes
within it all his fellow-beings of the animal kingdom and even of the
plant kingdom. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a medical scientist as well as
philosopher, theologian, and musician, has stressed this in moving and
forcible language. To quote a passage from his writings : "All
life is holy, to the truly ethical man, even that from which the human
standpoint seems to be lower life." And again : "We need a
boundless ethics which will include the animals also." Reverence
for life in all its forms is the keynote of his philosophy, the first
principle which should determine our conduct in relation to all living
Professor Bertalanfly, a biologist purely and simply, views the process
of evolution in terms of a sequence of ever larger and more complex
Wholes, moving and progressing in a spiral ascent through time, and
giving expression to ever more and more subtle and lofty grades of consciousness,
He goes so far as to suggest that this laborious journey of the gradually
unfolding consciousness within the forms may be explained as a process
by which God becomes aware of Himself.
Now, this view of the world and universe in which we live has a direct
and important bearing upon the problems of health and disease, and,
in consequence, upon our habits, including the diet we adopt for the
nourishment of the bodies wear. This is, of course, closely related
to our attitude to the animal kingdom and to the One Life of which we
all form a part.
Already, some thirty years ago, Dr. H. P. Newsholme, one-time Medical Officer for Health for Birmingham, laid down three conditions for the maintenance of health :
(1) Balance of action between the individuals cells constituting the
It now seems clear that as part of that greater Whole in which we live and move and have our being, it becomes necessary, if we are to maintain our own health and happiness, that we should live in a harmonious relationship with other living things which also form part of the Whole, just as, in a similar way, the organs of our physical bodies need to act in concert and co-operation if physical health is to be maintained. For, in order to secure a harmonious balance between the activities of our spiritual selves and our psyches and our bodies, it is essential that the inherent qualities of that spiritual nature should find free expression; and of those qualities none is more characteristic or more compelling that that of compassion.
As Sir Francis Bacon wrote: "Nature has endowed man with a noble an excellent principle of compassion, which extends itself also to the dumb animals - whence this compassion has some resemblance to that of a prince towards his subjects." Here, then, we can see that we have bridged the gap which is supposed to separate science from ethics, material benefit from spiritual welfare, and find that the highest morality is alone scientifically sound as a basis for conduct - whether that conduct be in the realm of thought, emotion, or physical activity - which will establish and maintain health and happiness: mens sana in corpore sano.
It is not only a pleasure but, I feel, a great privilege to send a message of greeting to the 15th World Vegetarian Congress which is being held in India. Though prevented by circumstances from being present, I am encouraged to feel, from the many expressions of appreciation and kind invitations I have received, that I have already made many close friendships with my Indian brothers.
I am convinced that not only is the cause of vegetarianism and the Way of Life it represents strengthened by the bonds being made through international co-operation, but that the essential Brotherhood of mankind is brought nearer to practical realization through our work together in a cause which is bound up with the spiritual progress of humanity.
* Unfortunately, much that is considered scientific, such as animal experimentation, is entirely unscientific.