International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India


GREED - THE SERVANT OF HIMSA

Naturopathy has much to teach the world of the "natural way" of living : the need for fresh air and sunshine and bare-foot walking on fresh earth; the value of eating natural food fresh from the garden and orchard. The naturopath never wishes to store the food or medicines he uses but rather to take life at its highest vitality directly upon plucking. The path of naturopathy leads eventually to unfired food, for its advocates feel that cooked food has lost some of its vital essence, and their contentions are supported in the case of most foods by scientific research, though it has been found in the case of some foods (the soy bean is a notable example) that taken raw it actually inhibits growth but cooked is well utilized as a body-builder.

But the thoughtful person will not confuse "hurtless living " (ahimsa) with natural living. For example, if it could be demonstrated that all man's food could be made from some form of mineral essence, as it has so amply been demonstrated that the so-called "vitamins" are actually minute forms of minerals that can now be made synthetically, the strict follower of ahimsa would stop taking his sustenance from the vegetable kingdom and immediately begin to live only upon these mineral essences. But the naturopath would oppose this type of diet as absolutely unnatural.

The Touchstone of Ahimsa

The following striking letter from Sri Purushottamdas Tandonji, Ex-President of the Indian National Congress, and a life-long apostle of Ahimsa, written in 1956 to Sri A. S. K. Chari, clearly shows the touchstone or test given by a true follower of Ahimsa to any problem that arises. He thanks Sri Chari for wishing to dedicate to him his book on Veganism but states : "It is possible that what you have heard about me may be somewhat exaggerated.

"It is true that I was born in a vegetarian family and so it was no particular virtue in me that I never tasted flesh-meat of any kind.

"In 1907 in connection with the opening of a slaughter-house near a tirth - a sacred place - the knowledge came to me that cows and their progeny were slaughtered not merely for their flesh but more often for their hides. The slaughterhouse was a case in point. There was not much of a Muslim population round about, which would be likely to consume the flesh of butchered animals. It could not fetch any appreciable price, but the sale of hides would be profitable. I then felt, as a young man with an emotion against taking the life of the meanest animal, that in using the leather for our shoes and other purposes, we were indirect partners in the business of slaughtering animals for our small benefits. I then decided to give up the use of leather obtained by slaughtering animals. But I do occasionally use shoes and slippers made out of the leather of animals which die a natural death when I am sure of that fact.

"In regard to silk, when I came to know years ago, that good quality of silk was obtained by boiling the cocoon and not allowing the insect inside it to fly away after piercing it. I gave up the use of such silk. But there are two varieties of silk, viz. the 'Andi' of Assam and the 'Metka' 'produced at a few special places, perhaps in Bengal', which are produced by spinning the material left after the silk-worm, developed into a moth, flies away from the cocoon. These varieties I have occasionally used myself and also purchased for my family.

"I am also against the use of honey, however much it may be proscribed by the medical fraternity, particularly Ayurvedic, for I know for a fact that honey is the food of bees. They lay by honey in a particular season and then eat up the whole thing, if not disturbed or robbed. In the process of taking away honey from the bee-hives, our people kill thousands of them.

"In the case of milk also I developed the feeling some years ago that it was the food of the calf, and man in appropriating it for himself, was depriving the young one of what was his food. I feel that milk is the food of the young one of the animal concerned. My mother's milk was my food, but the milk of the buffalo or the cow or the goat is not meant for me. Thus, for years I have avoided the use of milk. But occasionally I must admit that there have been lapses on my part in this matter.

"So far as wool is concerned, I have never had the feeling of injuring an animal for making myself comfortable. My inquiries have brought me the information that in certain months the shearing of the goat brings relief to it and provides the stuff out of which the wool is made. I have had no scruples up till now in using articles made of wool. You have included wool among the articles which should be given up. I shall be thankful if you will explain to me the reasons of your including wool in your list.

"Years ago, I gave up the use of bristles and products made with them, because I came to know that they were obtained by treating hogs and bears cruelly. Bristles are pulled out of the bodies of these animals. In the case of wool, the process of obtaining the hair is that of shearing and not pulling.

"You will thus see that I do not come up to the standard which you and other friends of your cult seem to have placed before yourselves, though in some matters I may be one of you."

In other words the one measure that this venerable warrior sets before himself is : If I use this or that substance for my comfort, what suffering is there concomitant with its production ? He is willing to use cast-off animal products but refuses to rob an animal.

Is Honey a product of Himsa?

Several excellent points are made - that bees are killed by the process of taking honey from the hives ; that we eat the food meant to keep the bees from starvation. The eating of honey is strictly prohibited to both ascetics and laymen by the Jain Scriptures which state that it involves both theft and murder, the latter, "Because each drop of honey is won by the murder of innumerable creatures." Also that "The guilt incurred by reducing to ashes seven villages, even that same is fixed for having eaten a drop of honey."

It seem very obvious that these verses were directed against the cruel practice of knocking down a nest of bees and extracting the honey therefrom. This type of honey sells very cheaply and is called "wild or forest honey." Apiary honey is a very different story. The bee-keeper coaxes - you cannot drive a bee - a swarm of wild bees into a nice home prepared for them. Comb-frames are therein placed that reduce their labour considerably. When the flowers are not in bloom they are fed with jaggery - a highly nutritious sugar. They are protected from the many enemies, human and animal, that seek to rob them for their sweet stores or perhaps kill them when they happen to nest too near human habitations in the eaves of some school or hospital. The bee-keeper removes the top combs. An apiary cannot be compared with a dairy or poultry farm, because the bees and their queen, by the very nature of their work cannot be confined or imprisoned against their will. If robbed or ill-treated, they will certainly swarm and leave the hive. Many keepers move freely along the bees with no veils on-so friendly are they to him. The flowers gave the bees the free largess of their sweetness for their cooperation. The bees pass that largess on to man who has cooperated in their work.

But what about some of the other products - milk, eggs, and even plant-life itself?

Greed is the chief servant of Himsa or Hurtfulness. We have the gentle cow loved and worshipped in India; and in many other lands where greed does not yet rule, she is a member of the family, She gives her surplus milk - and if she is not milked she suffers and cries to be relieved of her milk, for she gives in abundance. Her time for bearing her young is respected and she is allowed to become naturally "dry" and "fresh." Her daughters in their turn give milk - her sons till the fields. And she lives protected in her old age. Then greed sets in and her sons are sent to the butchershop and her daughters and herself are forced through man's insatiable lust to bear more and more children, so that she never has her "dry" rest-period but becomes a mere milking-machine. Even then some modern dairies make a pretence of saving "contented" cows and put gramophone music in her stalls, so she may be induced to produce more and richer milk. If and when she does not measure up, she too goes to the inevitable death chamber.

We have poultry, say, as in Burma, where they are not killed for food - in fact when Europeans try to buy a fowl, some pious Burman immediately offers double the money, releases the fowl, leaving it to live out its life in carefree happiness. Then greed steps in. Not content with separating the fowl family, cock from hen, so that the hen does not go broody and want to nest, greed puts them into batteries in intolerable conditions under strong lights and dopes them, so that they will go on laying day and night. Needless to say the male creatures, the sooner the better, are sold to the butcher-shop.

It is greed that fattens the Strassburg goose and other animals until the animal is diseased with obesity; it is greed that runs or flogs an animal to death, so that its meat, charged with lactic acid will taste the better. It is greed that rips the egg-sacks for caviar out of an eight-hundred year old sturgeon. It is greed that hunts the noble whale to death.

In humbler kingdoms, it is greed that forces plants, trees, and flowers to bear beyond their strength. In our gardens. the jasmine happily yields her fragrant loveliness to man's hand. The florist strips the leaves from the jasmine, and by starving it forces it to flower the more, It is greed for some heavenly bliss that ruthlessly strips flowering trees of their blooms to offer them on some altar to a God who surely scorns an offering that will wither and die in an hour or two. It is greed for earthly gain that pulls off the unripe fruit from the trees and then puts them through artificial and chemical ripening processes with the resultant tasteless fruit put on the market. Taste the same variety of fruit, for example the banana, as offered in your market and as plucked from your own garden when at least one fruit on the bunch is turning and see the difference.

It is greed that knocks down the nest of bees from the trees, rightly called b y followers of ahimsa a murderous act. It is greed that taps the noble rubber and maple-trees for their life blood, or strips the barks of trees for medicine.

We make much of the use of atomic energy for war - we should be much more fearful of its use for economic purposes, for even no that is becoming most difficult to control, because of the difficulty of disposing of atomic waste. Yet greed will still the pens of those who would protest or turn them off into other channels. Until we replace the profit motive of greed by the divine motive of compassion for all life, we will continue on every side to be surrounded by products of himsa, and those products like milk, eggs, even vegetables and fruit, which once were himsa-free will become impregnated by himsa, so that they are no longer fit for human consumption.

Lord Buddha in the Mahabijita Jataka describes a sacrifice in which He Himself in a previous life had been the sacrificer. No living creature - neither goats nor sheep, nor cocks, nor swine, were killed for this sacrifice. No tree was cut down to make a platform for the sacrifice - nor was even the grass likewise cut for the sacrificial altar. Of what was the sacrifice made? Clarified butter or ghee, oil, curd, and honey. Today in Buddhist temples are to be found little dishes of water so that the flowers brought for the Altar of the Prince of Ahimsa may live likewise to worship Him, for, as is held in the Tendai Sect "Even a flower will some day become Buddha." The Teachers of every great Faith have warned men against Greed, knowing that until man has rid himself of this cardinal sin, no creature on earth in any kingdom is safe from him. Nor can man himself tread the path to the Highest when self-fettered and chained by Greed - the Chief Servant of Himsa or Hurtfulness.

So in every detail of life, let us ask ourselves: What am I doing now that causes suffering - we may have to cause this suffering if we are the heads of families which must be protected from injury. But he who injures another living creature even for the highest motive must some day reap the consequences of that act - the law is inevitably just - by the deadening in his sensibilities of God's Highest Virtue - Compassion.

- "Janus"