|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
18th World Vegetarian Congress 1965
THE VEGETARIAN MOVEMENT AND 18th
WORLD CONGRESS, 1965
Part 1: Historical Vegetarianism
We suggest that our frugivorous anatomy cannot be lightly shrugged away in considering the diet best suited for our needs. Had we evolved as flesheaters we should have a carnivorous digestive system, supported with claws and teeth to enable us to catch and devour living prey - like other flesheaters. Had we been omnivorous or herbivorous we should have the physical and biological equipment which goes with these dietetic habits.
It is easy to see how an Ice Age would introduce cannibalism and flesheating for survival. The same thing would happen again if a series of atomic explosions destroyed our agriculture and food organisation. It is easy to see that the Eskimos retreating with the ice cap, and our butchery shops and slaughterhouses are grisly relics of those days. The practice and deepest beliefs in vegetarianism have persisted in the Eastern tropical belts where the Ice Ages may not have been so severe.
We do not dispute that humanity fell into the barbarous hunting ages called Neolithic, Iron and Bronze, and that agriculture had to be learned step by step. We deny the assumption by pre-historians that these must represent the beginning of Man - the idea is patently absurd - and, little by little, archaeological evidence is being produced to indicate that in the very earliest times there were men with the same brain development as ourselves, the significance of which has not yet impinged on the minds of our anthropologists. If the evidence of anatomy is not sufficient, we have the persistent memory of a Golden Age surviving the catastrophic descent of men into barbarity.
Racial memories are very resilient - they may one day be regarded as more important and more significant than the physical debris from occupation levels.
So far as the Western world is concerned, advanced thought was again current hundreds of years before Christ - thousands of years in the East. Initiates of the Orphic Societies had an ascetic rule of living in the eighth century B.C., and Hesiod, according to Howard Williams in The Ethics of Diet, was extolling the virtues of vegetarianism to those addicted to luxurious living with:
The immortals of Olympian stature are represented as feasting on a pure and bloodless food - a God can hardly be associated with butchery by anyone but a savage - and even present-day priests have a conscience about putting a juicy steak on the altar, preferring wheat and fruit!
One of the first recorded societies with a definite "anti-flesh-eating" clause was founded by Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C., with a group of about 300 young men chosen from the most influential families - women were also admitted and some have left their marks on history - in Raphael's Vatican fresco is Theano, said to have been Pythagoras's wife. Hypatia outshone her male contemporaries in the later Platonic offshoot.
Their rules throw an interesting sidelight on the barbarous age in which they lived. They were forbidden to make living sacrifices, and only cake and fruit could be placed on the altars. They were commanded not to kill or injure innocent animals, and even to be careful not to injure plant-life unnecessarily, a directive which, if followed in more recent times, might have spared us the Sahara. widespread deforestation, and dust-bowls. Pythagoras taught that abstinence from meat led to peace, because those accustomed to abominate the slaughter of animals, as being unjust and unnatural come to think it even more unjust and more unnatural to kill human beings.
In the East, at almost the same time, Gautama, an Indian prince founded Buddhism, with its recognition of the sacredness of all life, and the obligation to be just and compassionate to all beings - the Way being embodied in The Noble Eightfold Path with right views, aims, speech, conduct, livelihood, non~hurtfulness, and so on. . . . It is an inspiring thought to recall that there were once millions of vegetarians following these precepts.
It may seem strange that it was necessary to re-affirm such principles in a Hindu country, for the basic philosophy of Hinduism went back something like 1000 years B.C. - The Laws of Manu, first man in Hindu mythology, declared:
But over long periods when organizations have priests or religious leaders, with what become vested interests of power and riches, standards are gradually lowered so that the richer and weaker brethren can contribute to the funds and give nominal allegiance to a way of life beyond their attainment. Akhnaton broke with a depraved Egyptian priesthood nearly 1400 years B.C., and his altars are depicted only with the bounty of nature. The forces of barbarism overwhelmed his project to establish a compassionate way of life, and the same forces are still operative even if they are sometimes more subtle. Buddhism was a revolt against a fallen standard. The same thing was happening all over the world - Zarathrustra established Zoroastrianism in Persia, Leo Tze and Confucius led reforms in China, Mahavira started the strictly vegetarian Jain sect in India - it was like a spring time in human aspiration, a concentrated effort to break through the veils of blood which kept Man in the realms of brutality.
Empedokles was an emphatic vegetarian in the fifth century, exhorting the world to abandon the foul diet of blood, as he called it: "Will you not put an end to this accursed slaughter? Will you not see that you are destroying yourselves in blind ignorance of soul" Plato followed Pythagoras in his dietetic principles - the practice of vegetarianism must have been well known and widespread among the more enlightened thinkers of those days.
In the third century B.C., about 300 years after Buddha, when priests were beginning to lean towards corruption, the Emperor Asoka stopped the dilution at a Council which fixed the Buddhist Canon, and saw that Buddhism was propagated in its purity all through his Indian kingdom. Trees were planted and wells dug along the main roads. He established a vast system of Nature Cure medical aid centres for men and animals throughout the country. Buddhism spread to neighbouring lands, where it persisted longer than in the country which gave it birth.
Some time before Christ the priesthoods and general beastliness seem to have engulfed the nobler aspirations of humanity. Ovid tried to revive the Pythagorean philosophy, and even the Roman Cicero wrote against the prevailing cruelties, but it was a very brutal age in which the Gods of War were worshipped with living sacrifices. Mithras was supreme. There were small break-away sects like the Assyrian Jewish Essenes, and the Nazoreans, whose inner groups were vegetarians. Some students believe that Christ was one of their initiates since He is traditionally depicted in the seamless robe, did not cut His hair, and accepted water baptism, which was their ceremony of initiation. Some of the Master's close associates were vegetarians, including His brother James - it is thought to be unlikely that "a perfect Man" would have been less of a humanitarian than His friends. It is revealing that Paul, on whose betrayal of Christian principles the Church is largely founded, ranted fiercely at the disciples for their vegetarianism.
The Jewish Old Testament, however, is full of references to vegetarianism, and the Israelites were constantly upbraided for eating meat and making animal sacrifices. Genesis starts off with a very plain indication that Man's diet should be vegetarian - fruit, grain, leaves - "I have given every green herb for meat." No injunction could be plainer.
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel have many references to things suitable for food: bread, unleavened bread with olive oil, pottage, milk and honey, olives, fruit, fine flour, grapes, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic, coriander seed, pomegranates, figs, raisins, wheat, barley, corn, wine, meal, beans, lentils and pulses. The Israelites are said to have "lusted" after flesh, and Isaiah has it: "He that killeth an ox is as he that slayeth a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb as he that breaketh a dog's neck, he that offereth an oblation as he that offereth swine's blood yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations." It is not very difficult to pick out the priestly interpolations which justify flesh-eating, not that vegetarianism is based on the Bible, we mention its contents to show that when Christians become so minded they will find just as much textual support for vegetarianism as for eating dead animals.
It is clear that both the worldly Jewish priests and the fleshpot loving Romans would have been only too anxious to get rid of a Messiah teaching love, compassion and asceticism. When a leader is too good for a nation, its communal spirit finds a weakness through which to operate. Gandhi was too good for India, Kennedy was too good for Americans, neither really wanted a good man.
During the first century, Seneca, chief adviser to Nero and the greatest of the Stoics, wrote: "Man alone supports himself by the pillage of the whole earth and sea. . . . If these maxims are true, [the Pythagorean], then to abstain from the flesh of animals is to encourage and foster innocence; if ill-founded, at least they teach us fugality and simplicity of lving. And what loss have you in losing your cruelty. I deprive you of the food of lions and vultures. Moved by these and similar arguments, I resolved to abstain from fleshmeat, and at the end of a year the habit of abstinence was not only easy but delightful."
In the years which followed the trampling of Christianity only a few faint voices dared plead for humanitarian things - some of the early Christian Fathers tried in the second and third centuries - Origen, Tertulian.
With the Christian persecution, many adherents fled to Europe, and many to England, where their asceticism is traditional. When the Roman version of Christianity followed them, they fled into Wales, where vegetarianism was continued - there is now no doubt that St. David, Patron Saint of Wales, was a vegetarian. The Pythagorean tradition and philosophy was continued in a dedicated way by the Neoplatonists - Philo, Plutarch, Plotinus and particularly Porphyry.
In the middle of the second century A.D., in the Clementine Homilies (founded on the teaching of Peter, an intimate of the Master), we have: "The unnatural eating of flesh-meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and its unpure feasts, through participation in which a man becomes a fellow-eater with devils."
After the Emperor Constantine embraced a version of Christianity which included the Roman fleshpots, the Christian Bible being edited for this purpose at the Council of Nicea (fourth century), which he convened, the Dark Ages enveloped the West.
Any who spoke daringly against the Creed were killed as heretics; any with psychic powers who might conceivably reveal the truth about life and death were burnt as witches. The flower-ng of human thought, which started in Greece and acknowledged vegetarianism as a basic way of life, was crushed in a completely ruthless machine of fixed and erroneous thought, which conditioned he minds of men for so many disastrous generations that many are still bound by it - frightened to think for themselves, not even wanting to think for themselves; preferring a religion which does all their thinking for them.
We are, in fact, only just beginning to emerge from the Dark Ages. The vast majority of people are still in them, unaware of the deadening grip which perpetuates killing as a method of settling international differences, to killing unnecessarily for food and to satisfy a gluttonous appetite.
In the thirteenth century A.D. there was an abortive effort by the Medieval Puritans (Kathari) to institute dietetic reform to counter the gross feeding habits of those times - they did not eat fleshfoods, but allowed a little fish. When they fell into the hands of the Roman Catholic Church they were made to eat flesh as a sign of recantation.
It was left to the old reprobate Henry VIII to break the over-riding power of the Roman Church to suit his lustful appetites, and thereafter it very gradually became possible to think heretically. The first Nature Cure exponent was Luigi Cornaro, born in 1465, and who lived for 101 years after suffering from gross living in his early life and then turning to vegetarianism.
We then come to a spate of intellectuals postulating the necessity of vegetarianism, if not in their own lives, at least in any ideal state - Thomas More, Montaigne, Gassendi, John Evelyn; staunch vegetarians like Tolstoy, Milton, Pope, Isaac Newton - there was a big Diet Reform movement started in Italy in about 1700 - David Hartley wrote on the Callousness of Carnivorism in 1748 - Rousseau started his natural life movement in 1760 - Voltaire expounded his humanitarian philosophy - Goldsmith with "No flocks to slaughter I con-demn" - Shelley was vegetarian for a time, even Byron tried it.
Gleizes, Michelet and Thoreau knew all about its desirability. John
Wesley achieved health with it, Swedenborg believed in it - the list
is endless. Some saw the desirability of vegetarianism - Dean Inge and
Einstein. Others like Schweitzer practise it when they can. Bernard
Shaw was one of the more outspoken advocates.