|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Vegetarianism is a doctrine which restrains man from inflicting
unnecessary and avoidable pain on lower forms of life for the sake of
his food. The theory and practice of this doctrine are of ancient origin.
They were respected by cultured people in Ancient India. and in certain
other countries like Greece. One of the cardinal doctrines of the Hindu
Vedas is that the greatest virtue is ahimsa or non-killing. Jainism
and ancient Buddhism followed this principle in the strictest measure.
Some unseen Power seems now to provide an urge for all good men once
again to take up the cause of Vegetarianism.
While this question can be dealt with from several standpoints,
like the philosophical, ethical, medical, economic, and individual,
an attempt will be made here to present in brief the philosophical and
ethical views of Saivaism on this subject. It may not be out of place
here to notice the opinions of two of the great scholars of the modern
age on this ancient religion :
(1) : "Among the many revelations that Mohenjo Daro
and Harappa had in store for us, none perhaps is more remarkable than
this discovery that Saivism has a history going back to the Chalcolithic
Age, or perhaps even further still, and it thus takes its place as the
most ancient living faith in the world."-Sir John Marshall.
(2) : There is no school of thought and no system of faith or worship that comes to us with anything like the claims of Saiva Siddhauta. This system possesses the merit of great antiquity. In the religious world, the Saiva System is heir to all that is most ancient in South India ; it is the religion of the Tamil people, by the side of which every other form is of comparatively foreign origin."Rev. W. J. Goudie.
Saivaism, as a very ancient religion, has naturally a
number of offshoots of religions thought and practice. Its philosophy
posits the existence of three Eternal Verities - God, Souls, and a Primordial
Substance, out of which God creates moulds and bodies for the progress
of the soul towards perfection. Since it clearly recognizes the fact
of difference in the degree of spiritual progress made by different
souls, it recognizes also the need for and validity of different forms
of worship. that is, for different religions and different names and
forms for the One Supreme Being Whom they worship at their stage of
evolution. The name "Saivaism" means literally that which
is related to 'Siva' - the 'Auspicious' and the 'Blissful' One.
Attention will be confined only to Saivaism as prevalent
in South India. while dealing with the present topic of Vegetarianism.
Total abstinence from flesh eating was practised for millennia by the
intellectually and spiritually advanced sections of the Saiva Community.
In the most ancient Tamil books extant we read of Aravor,' 'Anthanar.'
and 'Parpar.' These are groups of advanced sections among the Tamils.
They were all strict vegetarians. So also there were householders amongst
the Vellalas who had been and still are hereditary vegetarians. These
have for long enjoyed a high status in the community on account of this
virtue. These do not intermarry with non-vegetarians or recent converts
The lower strata took flesh-food, although they too refrained
from eating it on days of special religious significance. The Vedas
whose authority came to be recognized by all Hindu state categorically
that 'Ahimsa' (Non-Killing) is 'paramodharma' - the highest virtue).
Only for Veda Yaga (sacrifices) animal offering was permitted, and that
too under very difficult conditions. When people began to slacken those
conditions which ensured that the sacrificed animals had no sense of
fear or pain and that its soul reached swarga, sacrifices seemed to
have increased in number. Jainism and Buddhism effectively preached
against all animal sacrifices. It was then accepted that the Old Vedic
Sacrifices were not fit to be continued in the Kali Yuga. But ordinary
animal sacrifices for minor deities in their temples, big or small,
continued for a long time. Lord Buddha, it is needless to say, was a
After Lord Buddha, the great Tamil Sage, St.Tiruvalluvar
appeared in Tamil and in the first or third century B.C. His book Tirukkural
which is now a book of world-fame. exerted a tremendous influence for
good on the Tamils, and it continues so to do, even now. He is definitely
a Theist, and has a clear philosophy and definite ethics. He does not
identify himself with any one of the religions which were then prevalent
in Tamilnad, but gives the essence of all the great faiths of India
in his immortal work. The Hindus, the Buddhists, and the Jains claim
him as their own sage. The Saiva Siddhantin finds all his philosophy
and ethics embodied in this work, though without any Saivaite terminology.
This great personality condemns in powerful language all the practices
of causing pain or killing creatures of the sub-human kingdoms, either
for pleasure, food, or religious purposes. He proclaims, like the Vedas,
that the greatest of all virtues is Non- Killing, but makes no exception
in favour of animal sacrifices in yagas. The next highest virtue is
Truthfulness. We may here recollect Mahatma Gandhi's insistence on the
two cardinal virtues - Satya or Truth and Ahimsa or Harmlessness.
Tiruvalluvar says that even if a man was to forfeit his
life, he should not kill another creature. He asks : "How can one
have compassion, if he eats the flesh of another creature to fatten
his own flesh?" He points out a great moral law in operation in
the world when he says : ''The sufferings that people inflict on others
will recoil on themselves."
The Great Saint, Manicka Vacakar, the author of Tiruvacakam
(translated by Dr. G. W. Pope), says in his first poem: "My Lord!
I was born as grass, shrub, worm, tree, various animals, bird, snake,
stone, man, ghost. bhuthaganam, strong asuras, sages, angels - in all
these moving and non-moving forms - and was feeling tired and exhausted.
But now truly I have had vision of Thy Golden Feet and am released from
all these births and deaths."
A later Saiva work states that every soul is the Presence of the Supreme One, and every body is His Temple.
St. Tirumular (between the 3rd and 8th centuries, A. D.)
mentions non-killing as the first in the list of virtues which one should
possess to stand on the first step of the eight steps (astanga yoga)
which lead ultimately to God-Realization. He warns those who mercilessly
kill creatures that they will themselves be subjected to torture in
hell after their death.
The Poetess Avvayar of the post-Sangam Age ordains in one of her ethical works: "Avow flesh-eating and killing," and points out that "Vrata (a vow to fasting and prayer) consists in avoiding killing and eating flesh. These short verses in one of her four ethical treatises for the young have been taught to boys and girls ever since she wrote them, so exercising a beneficient influence on several generations in Tamil Nad. There are many such ideas in the Tevaram Hymns (7th to 9th Centuries, A.D.)
St. Pattinathar (10th Century A.D.) also puts killing a creature and eating its flesh as the first two of the evils from which men should save themselves with the grace of God.
The Siddhanta Sastras also, like Tirukkural and Tirumantram, insist on the observances of non-killing and vegetarianism on the part of every aspirant for entry on the Path of Piety and Wisdom. And no religious initiation (Diksha) into Daivaism will be given without the promise of the Candidate fully to observe the unwavering practice of pure vegetarianism. It is the first indispensable. Those who have realised Daiva-Achara - the God Within and Without, are full of love and compassion for all forms of life.
Then comes St. Tayumanva, the great Sivgnani (God-Realizing Man) of the 18th Century with his remarkable universal (samarasa) message full of philosophical devotion. He also exclaims, "O Thou Transcendental One, those who do not kill, they and they alone are good men. I do not know who the others are." Addressing God as His Master, he once sings: "O Thou, my Three-Eyed Guru, who reveals Himself to those who abode by the vow of Non-Killing." The importance they attached to real vegetarianism can be seen in the following prayer to the Supreme Being: "O Thou Transcendental Being, it is my desire to spread among all men the virtue of non-killing, so that this Vow may spread all over the world."
St. Santhalinga (17th Century A.D.) has written a separate treatise on "The Rejection of Killing." and his erudite and pious disciple, Chidambara Swami, has written an elaborate commentary on it (He quotes from thirty-three works.) The author answers several questions raised against the insistence on vegetarianism. A few of the several points made in this book may be noted: (1) As the one God is the parent of all living beings, including animals, birds, plants, etc., it is a sin to kill sentient creatures for one's own food or religious sacrifice. (2) Flesh-eaters tend to become indifferent to the sufferings of others. (3) If even a habitual vegetarian lacks in compassion he is to be considered only as an herbivorous animal - not a man; and (4) The practice prevailing in some parts of India of offering animal sacrifice to God conceived as Universal Mother or Shakti is revolting, irrational, and cannot be approved. To the question as to whether it is not a sin to eat vegetables also, seeing that they too have life, the author points out several differences between the members of the vegetable kingdom and those of the higher orders. One of these is that whereas leaves, flowers, branches, and fruits removed by man sprout again in the vegetable kingdom, no such resurgence of life is seen in animals and birds. He shows that with-out practising compassion towards the lower forms of life no progress can be made towards love for God or attainment of salvation.
The Christian Missionary's view presented in a work in Tamil by Rev. Beschi (1680-1746) has been criticized by Chidambara Swami in his practical work: "Yesu Matha Nirakaranam" (Rejection of the Christian Faith), and one of the chief points refuted is the belief that God created beasts and birds for human consumption.
Another great Tamil Saint,- Ramalinga - appeared in the
19th Century (1823-74). His hymns in simple and mellifluous Tamil are
soul-moving to the hearts of even the illiterate masses of Tamiland.
He, too, has strongly emphasizecl the supreme need for avoiding killing
and eating flesh-food. He avows that only in the hearts of those who
see no difference between one form of life and another, and love all
creatures like their own selves and feel happy in the thought that all
created beings have equal rights, does the Supreme One dwell and perform
the Rhythmic Dance. Universal Compassion shown in the avoidance of injury
to any form of life is the indispensable key to human salvation. In
many a moving hymn he has prayed to God for the spread of Compassion.
He has prophesied that after the first five thousand years of this Kali
Yuga, its cruelties will subside and gradually Vegetarianism will spread
all over the world.
Lastly, a brief reference may be made to the great Poet - a Saiva Saint of the present generation - Sri Kumaragurudasa Swami, popularly known as Pamban Swamigal (1853 to 1929). One of his many poetical works deals with the problem of Vegetarianism. He answers first fifty-four questions raised by the followers of various Indian religions against the doctrine of Vegetarianism, and then answers twelve more objections raised by other controversialists. He quotes from several authoritative books, including the Upanishads, Smritis, etc. He contends that pure vegetarian food is sufficient to meet the needs of hunger and and give health, strength, beauty, courage, and longevity.
He mentions three kinds of medical treatment :
(1) Deva Vaidya - curing by the use of metallic
(2) Manushya Vaidya - curing by medicines prepared
from drugs, and
(3) Rakshasa Vaidya - curing by the use of flesh (glands, etc.) involving vivisection and killing. He is against the last method. Another interesting kind of information he gives is that non-Vegetarian diet produces specific diseases. He catalogues nine varieties of beasts, eleven varieties of birds and nineteen kinds of fish, two kinds of crabs, the snail, and the eggs of fowls, which are eaten by different groups of non-vegetarians. Against each of these forty-three items, he mentions one or more diseases or the injurious effects produced in the human body. A mind and body are inter-related. Non-vegetarian food adversely affects man's mind and emotions also.
Such in brief is all outline of the attitude of Saivaism
towards Vegetarianism. Hence in common practice the word "Saivaism"
has come to mean "Vegetarian," e.g. a "Saiva Hotel.''
We may conclude with a note of hope for the future. The prophecy of St. Ramalinga has already been noticed. Swami Vivekananda has prophesied that in the Mother India of the future Rishis of nobler stature than those of earlier ages will appear. And Sri Aurobindo has declared that a spiritual civilization will soon replace the present materialistic one. The national Poet, Mahakavi Bharati, too prayed for the speedy dawn of the new age when all members of the vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms will enjoy peace and happiness.
Is it then too much to see in the starting of the International Vegetarian Union in 1908, and in the great work done by the various sessions of the World Vegetarian Congress the guiding hand of the Supreme Being, and the hope of the dawn of a real and sublime civilization in which the heart will keep pace with the head in their development, and all living beings will love and grow in love, harmony, place and Bliss (Ananda) ?