|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
Vegetarian World Forum
INAUGURAL ADDRESS AT PATNA
I HAVE come here in compliance with your wish, but I feel that there is no particular need for having as many as four conferences of this kind in India! Commending vegetarian food may be necessary in some other countries, but in this country a congenial atmosphere for it has existed for a long time past. It is true that people were not then aware of facts with which Science has flow made us familiar. Words like protein, carbo-hydrate, hydro-carbon and vitamin were unknown in ancient India and no chemical analysis of foodstuffs was ever attempted. But the people bad certain notions about food which are worthy of being followed even to-day. Let me, by way of example, invite your attention to those stokas in the Bhagwadgita which deal, with "satvik" food. If we examine the analysis given in the stokas, we shall find that the description looks very much like that of vegetarian food. It would be wrong to say, that all vegetarians are saints and all non-vegetarians are wicked. 'I simply mean, that a particular kind of food tends to lead in a particular direction. To say that the development of personality is wholly dependent on diet is to fall a prey to gross materialism.
I personally believe that from the point of view of health, vegetarian diet is definitely superior to non-vegetarian diet. If the animal whose flesh is eaten had some disease, it is bound to enter our system along with the flesh. If the animal happens to be a mammal, its organic structure will be similar to our own and consequently its system will be liable, to have flaws similar to those which can exist in the human system. Diseases which find a nidus in its body can also find a place in our bodies. Similar chemical action can take place in our bodies as well and our nerves can be affected in a like manner. Thus the animal whose flesh we eat can influence our body and mind, and our physical and physiological activities. No special argument should be necessary in support of this statement. In advanced countries with well-organized systems, the animal is medically examined before being slaughtered and efforts are made to ensure that human food does not contain the flesh of diseased animals. The progress made by Science in modern times, however, warns us to be careful.
New disease-bearing germs, new causes of bodily ailments, are being discovered almost every day. It has been observed that many diseases lie dormant in the system and manifest themselves after a considerable time. The ordinary medical examination to which animals are subjected cannot in the circumstances be regarded as adequate precaution.
There is one more fact to be borne in mind. Life to-day is very different from what it used to be before. Things which formerly had little or no effect on men are capable of producing a deep impression on modern man. This is because the way he lives is far removed from the natural mode of living. The conditions under which the human body was moulded thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of years ago have disappeared. Artificial light, an almost constant impact of artificial sounds, conditions in which it is impossible to keep to the normal hours of going to bed and rising, social and economic conditions which prevent the satisfaction of natural yearnings regarding marriage, etc. - all these have combined to make our bodies and our nervous system sensitive to external influences and shocks of which men were not even conscious in days gone by. The various mental diseases we now come across are proof of this. It may well be that the articles of food which men could formerly consume without hesitation might produce serious consequences for the modern man.
IT is said that some amount of animal protein is necessary for health. We have no objection to accepting this. Everyone knows, however, that all the animal protein we require can be obtained from milk and milk products.
The question of meat-eating may have a religious aspect, too, but I do not propose to deal with it here. I know that there is no religion, except Jainism, which totally forbids non-vegetarian food. Even in ancient India people used to take meat. Of course, it was recognised at the same time that "man has a natural tendency towards meat-eating and drinking, but it pays to give them up." There are many things in which we do not follow those who have lived before us. That meat was eaten or not eaten in ancient times cannot be a valid argument in favour of or against non-vegetarian food. Nor would it be appropriate here to consider the matter on the basis of any authoritative book of any particular religion, as there can be no book which can be acceptable to all.
But there are certain things which can be said with definiteness. Meat-eating cannot be prohibited merely on the ground that the creature whose flesh is eaten also has life. The thing we call life pervades the entire universe. No human being can exist without eating, and whatever he eats will have life in it. That is why it is said: "life is also life's nourishment." It is also possible that every creature might experience some pain at the time when it is being killed. Dr. Jagdish Chandra Bose and other scientists doing research in this field have demonstrated that plants and trees, too, are affected by drugs and that they react in an abnormal manner when pierced or injured. But there is difference between one life and another. The feeling of pleasure or pain is dependent on the nervous system. The more developed and complicated the nervous system, the more widespread and sharply defined is the feeling. The nearer 'a nervous system is to that of human beings, the more capable it is of carrying sensations. Brains similar in construction to the human brain behave in the same way. It is obvious that, as compared to invertebrates, the vertebrates are closer to human bodies in construction. And among the vertebrates, mammals are closer still. That is why the feelings and sensations of mammals are more like ours. We have to eat something. But it would be more graceful for us to eat those things the eating of which involves the least pain to others. From this it is clear that it is better not to eat things which are ordinarily classed as living beings, i.e., animals and birds. And even among these, the more akin the creature is to human beings, the more unacceptable it should be, because its feelings of pleasure and pain will be similar to those of human beings.
WHY, it may be asked, should not an animal be eaten even if it causes pain to the creature? An answer to this question can be given only on the mental plane. The progress that man has made in the spheres of civilization and culture has largely been due to the fact that he has suppressed his natural instincts which are akin to animal instincts. The beast kills its enemy even if it does not eat it up. It does not protect the sick, the old and the weak. This could be the natural instinct of man as well. In many primitive societies the flesh of the enemy was eaten, and even though the flesh of weak and old persons was not eaten, still they were killed. But the- people who indulged in such practices could not progress. Those societies alone progressed which gave up these practices, abandoned brutality in favour of generosity and benevolence, and accepted that the weak, sick and old people had also a right to survive and that the enemy was also a human being. The advanced societies do not confine benevolence to man alone. Provision is made for the care of animals and birds as well. They are also provided with all the facilities of life. To contemptuously ignore the distress of helpless beings simply to satisfy one's hunger is to go astray from the path which has made man a human being.
There is one thing more. To give pain to someone, knowing that it distresses the victim, is to coarsen and pollute one's own mind. Those who have studied politics and history know that communities which conquered and ruled over other nations or enslaved others became degenerate. The slaughterer of an animal knows well that it distresses the animal, still he slaughters it. The animal becomes lifeless in a moment, but this act pollutes the mind of the slaughterer he becomes cruel by nature and has to suffer the evil consequences of it for ever. If the theory of metempsychosis is true, then the evil influence of this polluted mind would be carried after his rebirth into the next life - and vitiate it. It is a common experience that many of the meat-eaters are unable to bear the sight of animals being slaughtered.' But it is a strange irony that one does not do an evil act himself but permits others to do it, knowing well that an evil act is being done and is being done for him. It is an undeniable truth that an evil deed is evil, whether a person has done it himself or has got it done by someone else, or has acquiesced in its doing.
Body and mind are very intimately related. Many bodily ailments are cured by psychic treatment. Worries can cause many dread diseases like tuberculosis. In the same way, body affects the mental processes. A sick body not only induces anger and irritation, but also increases passion and greed and upsets the mental balance in respect of such things as truth, falsehood, fair play and the interest of others. Therefore, the question of food is concerned not only with the nourishment of the body and gratification of the palate, but with the whole life of man.
THERE is also an economic aspect of this problem and we shall have to consider it. If such a conference has to be organized in this country, then it should ponder all these questions. I know that there are many people for whom meat-eating is not unavoidable. If they like, they can have other articles of food; but they take meat just to satisfy their palate. The crime of such people is unpardonable. But there are others for whom meat is said to be cheaper. If it is true, it is a serious matter.
It will, have to be seen how, keeping in view the fundamentals of agriculture, good vegetarian food in sufficient quantity could be arranged for the growing population of the globe. I have used the word," good" advisedly. There are some advantages in non-vegetarianism. A number of food elements are obtained all at a time. But in vegetarian food careful balancing is essential. It is recognized that milk contains many of the food elements, but it is not possible for everybody to carry on with the help of milk alone. The necessary proteins, vitamins, etc., can be obtained only by taking a number of things together. It is not necessary to expatiate on vegetarianism before Indians. Many people know these things, but to-day their needs are not satisfied by vegetarian food. The fat which the body requires is almost scarce. Pure milk is unprocurable to a very large section of the population. The same is the case with ghee. Many cannot afford fruits. In the circumstances, some people find themselves forced in the direction of meat-eating. Some of my friends have told me that they had to give eggs to their children because they could not give them any other wholesome food. The egg has suddenly risen to prominence before our very eyes. Formerly even those who took meat did not touch eggs and the taking of eggs was regarded as foeticide. To-day, many count the egg among vegetarian foodstuffs. In many ailments the only nourishment for the patients which doctors seem to be able to think of is the egg. The whole question is a practical one. These problems will have to be solved. If proper steps are not taken to remove deficiencies and recourse is had merely to platitudes, vegetarianism cannot be saved. Many would adhere to vegetarian food even in the face of difficulties. That is praiseworthy. But ordinary individuals cannot go on in this fashion for long. People cannot be held back for long from killing animals when there is no other way open to them to save their own life and health, and .the life and health of members of their families. Nor can their doing so be said to be unpardonable. It is necessary, therefore, that everything possible should be done for the development of agriculture and cattle. The number of fruit trees should at the same time be increased and foodstuffs which may be vegetarian in character as well as wholesome, delicious and cheap, should be invented.
I hope that this conference will consider these practical problems and will arrive at conclusions which will be useful both to the Government and the people. Only in this way can vegetarianism receive support.