|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
Vegetarian World Forum
THE significance of this Session must not be judged from our number. If at all, it has to be judged from this great and momentous fact that in this huge world of people regarding meat-eating as just natural and a matter of course, there is a distinct section determinedly doing its mighty bit to bring about a revolution all-round on this most fundamental score.
It is common knowledge that by far the greater number of humankind is meat-eating in the normal way. Millions of innocent lives are daily slaughtered cruelly and mercilessly just to satisfy the cravings of the palate and the needs of the belly. All these people, countless and of various nations, colours and cultures as they are, adduce all kinds of arguments in support of their practice. What is more, this evil practice dates back to the hoariest past. It is this deep-rooted, almost primordial, human nature that we have now to fight and change through kindling in every heart the lasting light of compassion for all life and true non-violence in thought as well as in deed.
This is no fight of man against man; no, not even the semblance of that. This is the sublime emotion of love and mercy coming to replace the primitive instinct of "killing to live" in civilised man. It should be obvious even to the least imaginative that this is a truly great and holy cause, and merits the all-out effort on the part of each one of us. This is not a cause aimed against any caste, religion or nation. This is a cause against a barbarous and debasing tendency that has got rooted in human nature. And all those who are working towards this end are persons who have the divine light in their heart and godly compassion in their deeds.
Since the object of the World Vegetarian Congress is thus, to realise the truest welfare and happiness of the entire human race, indeed of all living creatures, I regard this Session as of greater significance than that of any other political, economic or social body. This Session in fact is a challenge to all our loud professions of universal peace and love and justice. We who are assembled here must therefore conduct our deliberations with the seriousness that the issue deserves.
NOT a man but who doesn't seek and endeavour to gain peace and justice for himself. Yet this same man, avowing one religion or the other all the time, would most calmly lay his knife on the neck of dumb and mute animals who, themselves living on grass and garbage, yield milk and go under the plough for him. This inhuman, veritably primitive, aspect of his life, man has to forswear. Until he rids himself of, it, biding thought of peace and justice could not find place in his heart and he will not have the face to talk of those exalted virtues. To talk of peace and amity on the one hand and to ceaselessly run this slaughter of living beings on the other is the height of anomaly and incongruity. This is an ugly stigma on his soul and a denial of his reason. Man has got to abjure it. And the aim of this Congress of World Vegetarians is to deliver the human race of this sin.
It's a travesty of truth to hold that all men will not be vegetarian and hence it would be futile to make efforts in that direction. This is like saying that all of us would not be learned ones, why then take pains to propagate education! To all people of this thinking I would say: we belong to the human kind, it is essential that a huge majority of our race should be vegetarian. Meat-eating is a relic of our pre-civilized and barbaric past. It is an evil tendency, alien for human nature. For do we not universally place the saviour higher than the killer? If all men took to meat-eating, virtues will vanish and that equilibrium disappear from life and society which is their corner-stone That this may not be so, we should see that this tendency in him to kill other living beings is checkmated and replaced by the humane one. We will not have our race to be a race of killers. It must be a race where by far the greater number is of saviours.
Nothing would be more diabolical than to put our selfishness on the supreme and to that end deprive other living beings of their right to live. It is these and similar sentiments that darken and poison human conscience. Emergence and resuscitation of feelings of mercy and compassion would be the greatest and the sublimest revolution that could be achieved in individual and social life. Revolution is not the laying of prodigious schemes for social progress or sectional aggrandisement True revolution consists in the changing of heart, in the good taking the place of the evil, in the sublimation of man's sentiments and emotions. And, needless to say, vegetarianism in practice will go a very great length in the realisation of this revolution.
Because as is our food, so is our life. Man's thoughts and deeds are inevitably affected and moulded by his diet. It will be the dawn of a new culture, truer and lasting when man abjures meat and adopts vegetarianism. To usher in that dawn of our practical dreams is the prime object of this Congress of the World Vegetarians. We have to endeavour that meat-eating goes: that is, those who are not meat-eaters, do not become so now, and those who are, take now to vegetarianism. And the realisation of this objective is truly desirable both from the point of view of the individual's interest and from that of the society's.
By nature man is not a meat-eater. The vast literature that this Congress has published will bear this out beyond the faintest shadow of doubt. Certain people think that if man gives up meat-eating, he will become weak, and eventually the entire nation will degenerate and fall into the bondage of other meat-eating strong nations. This is a wrong notion altogether. Instances abound, on individual as much as sectional and regional bases, where vegetarianism has not only, not caused weakness or lower vitality but produced stronger bodies and greater stamina: Of course those who do not take meat are unexceptionally calmer of spirit and more Peace-loving in behaviour. But this forsooth would not mean that they are cowards or poor of physical strength.
FROM the point of view of social value, vegetarianism is no less important. It is the harbinger, the fulcrum of universal welfare. No nation of the world can truly avow peace and justice unless her people have adopted vegetarianism as the practical rule of their conduct. Such a people will never think of meaning ill to others. They will instead till the land for their needs and make the earth beautiful and bountiful with green orchards and golden fields. The little birds of the skies will then become his brethren, and the animals of the land his companions. It requires no imagination to see how, with a simple stroke, vegetarianism will usher in universal peace and natural brotherhood of all living creatures.
Saints and savants of the past have incessantly mobilised their energies against this heinous practice of meat-eating. Our history is replete with instances. Indeed, love for all living beings and compassion for all are some of the fundamentals of our culture. And here may be had the explanation of how and why countless people of this land are strictly vegetarian by nature! During the past few decades the attention of the West and of the Far East also has come to dwell on this subject. Many people of those lands realized the values and the virtues of vegetarianism and adopted it. To-day, there is quite an impressive number of social bodies and institutions working for the popularisation and wider adoption of vegetarianism in every land of the civilized world. I am happy, we should all be happy, to have some of their representatives in our midst here to-day.
Every school of Indian philosophy has done its mighty bit for the propagation of vegetarianism; and Jain Tirthankars have done so in particular. I cite below a couple of instances showing how deeply and fully the ancient Jain Shastras have pondered over this vital matter:
It cannot be gainsaid on any grounds that the first step to humanism is abstinence from all violence. We must therefore bring home to people here and elsewhere not to harm any living creatures and to take to vegetarianism to that end. On this occasion of the inauguration of the 15th Session of the World Vegetarians Congress to-day would appeal to our national government also that they do not allow encouragement to meat-eating. To protect and preserve the country's culture is the charge of the government. Our culture, which carries the halo and glory of ages is averse to violence to animals. The policies of our Government must reflect this culture duly. If animals are killed for meat in India herself, she can hardly have the moral justification to preach to the world the gospels of Ahimsa and Love.
I MUST also address a word to the Government of West Bengal since this momentous Session is being held on their soil. Meat-eating is more universal and more prominent in this State than perhaps anywhere else in the country. The practice of sacrificing living animals to deities is also widely prevalent here. Indeed, many religious rites and ceremonies are performed which necessarily involve violence to animals. Lest people conclude otherwise, I would like to make it known to all that even here non-vegetarianism was never a practice with the learned ones or an ideal with the common folk in the past. There have been a number of saints who raised their voices, too, against meat-eating. The name of Shri Chaitanya Mabaprabhu is the most outstanding. So is that of Shri Ram Krishna Paramhansa. The Government of West Bengal would do well to give widest publication to the relevant parts of the preachings of these two saints who are greatly revered by people even to-day.
I have travelled all over India, covering no less than 5000 miles on foot, and this includes many parts of this State also. I often heard people of these parts remarking that fish-eating is no sin here. And this led to a free license for all to go non-vegetarian. This belief is not only capricious, but positively incorrect. Poison will remain poison and will produce its mortal effect whether it is taken in west or east. I would in particular request the ascetic and saintly classes of Bengal to apply themselves whole-heartedly to inculcate vegetarianism in the hearts of the people. The people of this State are endowed with some very special virtues. They are receptive and responsive. If the Sadhu class took some pains, the evil will be eradicated.
I must thank with all the warmth of my heart every one of these welcome guests of ours, who are votaries of humanism and who have brought the great message of mercy, compassion, and "live and let live" to this ancient soil to-day. I extend to them our most cordial welcome. I must also thank those persons who invited the Session of the Congress to this city and have spared no efforts to make a success of it.
Before I sit down I would like to offer one suggestion for the consideration of the Congress. These parts have no organisation such as this Congress or other bodies have established in various other parts for the propagation of vegetarianism. It would be meet and only too proper to start one here also.