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


VEGETARIANISM TRANSCENDENT
Alexander Markey

A World Vegetarian Congress seems to me a misnomer. A much more apt designation I believe might be: "World Humanitarian Congress," for Vegetarianism is at best but a limited aspect of a code of ethics that transcends mere flesh. A rhinoceros is a vegetarian, so was Hitler. A professional boxer in America went on a vegetarian diet and did furious yoga exercises, because someone convinced him that it would enable him to knock his opponents more surely senseless.

Infinitely more important than pre-occupation with what we eat or do not eat is what we think with our minds and what we feel in our hearts.

If we are vegetarians and hate non-vegetarians, our abstinence from meat will not be of much service to us or to anyone else. If we are kind to animals and indifferent to our neighbour's predicament, our solicitude for animals will be but a barren gesture. If we agitate in public for world peace and friendly co-existence, then go home and snarl at our wife or husband, at our children or mother-in-law, we will contribute precious little towards a more peaceful world.

It seems to me that Ahimsa is not enough. Divine compassion in all our thoughts and deeds for all living creatures, including our opponents and ill-wishers, should be the goal of all true vegetarians. If I am right in interpreting its deepmost meaning, the ancient Indian word Karusa most aptly expresses this all-embracing concept of humanity.

True enough, there are many mundane phenomena associated with the murder and torture of animals, which should be seriously discussed at the Congress and given the widest possible currency. I shall mention but one striking example from my own experience.

Some thirty years ago we were faced with the task of ascertaining why Chicago, of all places, had the highest per capita rate of crime and murder in the world. Prolonged research gave us the conclusive answer: the subtle, unrecognised cause was traced to the stockyards of Chicago, where more helpless animals were murdered every day than in any other city on earth. These two sordid phenomena were inextricably interlinked, enhanced by the added gruesome fact that Chicago is in the forefront of world medical centres where vivisection has been practised for decades on a vast and cruel scale. Our instruments found the whole atmosphere of Chicago and its environs saturated with the agonized death vibrations of the thousands of innocent animals that are slaughtered there and experimented on in cold blood every day. Brutality in human life, on a scale unprecedented, was the inevitable harvest of the seeds of cruelty sown in the stockyards and vivisection chambers of Chicago.

I should like to see the very concept of vegetarianism lifted above the nadir of the waistline. The splendid Polynesians of the South Seas might give us the right cue. Their women, who prepare the fresh baskets and mats which are used by them in place of plates and trays, accompany their weaving with beautiful hymns, in which they dedicate their hard work to the glory of Io - the All-Father - from whom all blessings emanate. The people who prepare the food and bake it on hot stones in the earth, covered with fragrant leaves, also chant exquisite songs, in which they give thanks to Io for the priceless gift of life and His compassionate care for His children's welfare. Then when they sit down to the meal, which is brought, on the fragrant trays and in the sweet-smelling basketry by singing maidens, they all give silent thanks for the spirit of the great God that enters their being with every morsel of food and every crystal drop of liquid. A unique custom that highlights these meals is that the King invariably waits until everyone is served adequately before he takes his share.

When the meal is finished and there is any food left over, they take it in beautiful dance rhythm to the Pataka, their sacred carved food house, built on pontoons. Every crumb of food that is left over is put into this Pataka, and then it is taken down to the shores of the "Sea of a Thousand Winds", where they live, and launched on the waters, over the oiled backs of young stalwarts, accompanied by a great Karakia - sacred chant - of their Tohunga, priest physician:

"Mighty Io of the world's infinite firmament, guide this Pataka of our heart's fashioning to the shores of a community that is this day short of food! May its find its way, by Thy Grace, to fellow human beings most in need of it, to assuage their hunger! And may our blessings that accompany this food, lift their spirit closer to the Light of Thy Throne!"

And the incredible fact is that throughout the centuries of this tradition, these pilotless Patakas have always found their may to the shores of the most needy.
This beautiful ritual, so noble an aspect of the daily life of these splendid people, is I believe, in the true tradition of what in India has from time immemorial been called Karuna. It is on this level - and above it - that the vegetarian ideal, which was seeded in ancient India, comes into full flowering.