More than 15 years ago, when I was Group Editor of a publishing house that brought out four defence publications, a retired Lieutenant General, who worked there told me a strange story. He said that he had been a staunch vegetarian all through his life, but had turned non-vegetarian on the advice of his spiritual guru Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi.
The general was seriously ill and doctors had given up hope. Nirmala Devi placed her palm on his spine and he was miraculously cured. She then put him on the path of self-realisation through Sahaja Yoga meditation. But Nirmala Devi, the founder of Sahaja Yoga, considered a saint, even an avatar by her followers, had a strange rider or condition for the general to continue to stay healthy. He should take up eating meat, regularly. When the general protested, saying that would go against his conscience and asked her the reasons, she replied with a mysterious smile, saying, “Please do as Mataji advises.”
Dr Lewis, one of the first disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda, a meat eater since childhood, turned vegetarian under the influence of the great yogi, who incidentally used to eat eggs and fish before he became a monk. It is said that some Bengalis consider fish a vegetarian dish and for Yogananda being a Bengali, fish was part of his diet before he reached self-realisation. I had a Bengali classmate and close friend named Somesh, who used to castigate me for being a Christian meat-eater. Then one day, he opened his tiffin and out popped a fish dish. I pounced on him and yelled, “What’s this, you vegetarian?” “Fish is vegetarian,” he said, cockily, as he devoured a big piece of the fish. “My secret of standing first in class is the fish that I eat,” he added cheerily. Fish is commonly referred to as jal tori by Bengalis.
Coming back to the story of Dr Lewis, sometime after he became a disciple of Yogananda, he began suffering from excruciating pain all over his body. He visited a number of doctors, who prescribed medicines, but the pain wouldn’t go away. Dr Lewis then consulted his spiritual doctor, Yogananda. He meditated for a while and promptly prescribed that Dr Lewis should consume a dish of lamb meat once a week. The prescription worked and Dr Lewis was cured of his pains.
From the foregoing stories, it may appear that I am a proponent of non-vegetarianism. That’s really not true. What I am trying to say is that food is not necessarily related to spirituality. Rather one should eat the food that is suitable to one’s constitution and what is good for an individual’s physical and spiritual health.
The propagators of non-vegetarianism say that Jesus Christ, St Francis, even the Buddha were non-vegetarian and now in modern times, the Dalai Lama, too, likes his fish meals. So non-vegetarianism is fine, even the right thing to do. I think this is taking a myopic view of the issue. The question is not about right or wrong, but the issue is about the right thing in the right place or a time and place for everything. Perhaps, I can understand why Christ and St Francis consumed meat ― because it was normal for their times, their culture and environment, and their constitution.
Christ was believed to have spent many years in India, studying under Hindu gurus. Was he then vegetarian or non-vegetarian? It would be interesting to find out. Also, as Christ preached non-violence or turning the other cheek if an enemy attacks you, shouldn’t he have practised ahimsa in his eating habits?
Those who practise vegetarianism cite violence against animals, more specifically their slaughter, as the reason for shunning meat. They argue that a slaughtered animal feels anger, fear and unbearable pain when killed and part, if not all of this, is transferred to the one who consumes the meat. Moreover, not only is meat difficult to digest, but it contains toxins that are harmful for the body and mind. Meat is also said to be the cause of cancer and now it is believed that Covid-19 wouldn’t have arrived if we were all vegetarian.
Those in favour of non-vegetarianism, on the other hand, quote Prof J C Bose, who has proved with experiments that vegetables have a nervous system, which responds to favourable stimuli through pleasure and to unfavourable influence through pain. Plants have a heart-beat, circulatory system, sap-pressure, and a central life in certain cells in the roots – the brain of the vegetable. And talking of toxicity, with so many chemicals and harmful fertilisers used in cultivating vegetables that are often genetically engineered, they are no more safe to consume. Non-vegetarians argue that chopping the head of a cauliflower, a carrot or cucumber is as cruel as chopping off the head of a lamb. This comparison to me, however, seems too far-fetched.
Personally, I have been through phases of non-vegetarianism, vegetarianism and veganism. Vegans argue that consuming milk products is akin to encouraging violence. Milk is meant for the young ones of the animals and not for human consumption. Man is the only creature who drinks the milk of another creature. So isn’t he a predator, staunch vegans argue.
From my own experience, keeping the spiritual aspect aside, I can tell you that I was the happiest and healthiest as a Vegan. But I couldn’t sustain my fully vegan diet for more than a year ― old habits, my taste buds, and most importantly, my will power, did me in. So, I can only conclude that to be healthy and happy, you got to have will power. And as I write these last lines, dinner is on the table ― it happens to be a vegan meal.
Oswald Pereira, a senior journalist, has also written eight books, including The Newsroom Mafia, Chaddi Buddies, The Krishna-Christ Connexion and Crime Patrol: The Most Thrilling Stories. Oswald is a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, and practises Kriya Yoga.
I feel that food and it’s effect depends on how you feel about it when eating. If you don’t feel guilty of eating meat then it cannot be bad for you. Same way vegetarians will never think that cutting the vegetables can be painful for them. If vegan feels that they are stealing the milk of calf by consuming milk or it’s products then, they will find it doesn’t harm them. I feel food is again a matter of choice by individuals and how they feel while eating it.
I agree, Nita Ji. Food should be a matter of one’s personal choice. Even in families, different members have different choices. The important thing is food should not only enrich the body but also the mind.
Agree. I tried to eat meat once or twice when I was in my playing phase but somehow never felt good having a single morsel. So remained vegetarian. But was surprised to see my son, when he was two years old, relishing some meat dish when I was in Moscow. He was a poor eater till then. So I made myself cook some chicken soup etc for him. He is a non vegetarian. Never stopped him from eating anything. Interestingly his wife is now a hardcore vegetarian :)so his consumption is limited to outside home.
Nita Ji, a lot depends on who one comes across in life and the path one takes. I came under the influence of His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Goswami Maharaj. He very gently persuaded me to not only turn vegetarian but also not allow onion and garlic to be used in cooking. Tea too was not allowed. I felt good with his dietary advice but without tea I would get splitting headaches. But since I was born into a household where non-vegetarianism is the norm, there were slippages. Then after I entered the path of Kriya Yoga, the energies are such that you develop an indifference if not dislike to non-vegetarian food. But our teachers advise us not to be rigid. Very evolved Kriya Yogis like Sri M and the late Lahiri Mahasaya have consumed fish on occasions.
I too agree with Nita Agarwal. I am supposed to be a vegetarian, given the family I was born in, but I love non-vegetarian food, particularly seafood & poultry. Its a matter of one’s choice and palate. I don’t think it influences one’s behavior. On the contrary, when one is satisfied of the food that one consumes irrespective of it being vegetables or meat, it raises the serotonin and oxytocin levels and helps derive pleasure. It has no bearing on one’s spiritual leanings
Agree Akshay, it’s a matter of personal choice. The gods gave us that choice and they, too, in their incarnations, ate according to their needs, the times and place.
The knowledge we find in our Vedas and upanishad is par excellence. The ancient rishis gave their final conclusion after much research. And the beauty of these ancient scriptures is that you can refute these conclusion but with valid reasons.
In Chandogya Upanishad it is stated that the finest part of our food constitutes the mind , the water we drink constitutes our Prana ,and the Agni in our food constitutes our speech. That definitely gives us an idea how the food that we eat is going to make our whole personality. They give an example to make us understand this . If curd is churned what rises is butter which is the finest part of milk. The same way the finest, subtlest part of our food constitutes our mind. Therefore whatever we eat is definitely going to have an effect on our body.
Scientifically also the amount of carbohydrates , proteins and other essential nutrients is going to determine your overall health
Secondly the ancient scriptures also states that the food we eat if earned by righteous mean is not going to harm us and if the same is done by not following the dharma it is definitely going to harm us. So if people living in Tundra region eat meat it is natural because vegetation is scarce there. That is why for Bengalis fish is Jal Tori . But if plenty of vegetables are available one is not bound to eat fish.
Control of senses is dharma in our culture . So just to satisfy if one is tormenting animals in slaughterhouse is it advisable ? In European countries meat becomes a necessity it is fine but it may not be suitable to a place where you plenty of vegen is available. Since we are bound to food habits via our religion we get tied to this perception of likes and dislikes . We cannot demand vegetables in Alaska ? Can we ?
I wouldn’t deny that religion and beliefs too are very essential in our outlook but we have to rise higher from our narrow persceptives and look for bigger ideals. If our religion allows it or one has developed taste buds for non-veg doesn’t mean one should think it as a right . Whatever we are eating should sync with our environment and immediate surroundings.
Well said, Seema. You have put the subject in the proper perspective.
Lovely comment Seema. Makes sense too.
Food is a matter of personal choice and to stay healthy a person must consume what suits his constitution.
Religion should not determine what a person should eat, if one is to truly believe that the mind and not the body is the way to god.
Being brought up in a non-vegetarian home, my body reacts positively to chicken, rather than dhal, which makes me bloat.
My mother had the same problem and could never digest dhal.
I think vegetables have as much life, as do animals and any gardener, who nurtures vegetables from seed to fruit or vegetable will vouch for this.
To put on a holier than thou attitude because you are vegetarian or vegan is a sham… because I believe God is in your mind and spirit and not in your physical body.
You have written a beautiful post. It has valuable inputs of our great saints. Earlier I had visited once while I was busy. I was confused reading Yoganand. Yoganand describes his own musings about fish in his book Autobiography of a Yogi. But what I remember, he too goes for a vegan food style.
My Guru Swami Muktananda strongly recommends vegetarian food.
In my family my two brothers are vegetarian while we elder two take nonveg few times in a year.
My wife is a complete veg. My son is non-veg and daughter is complete veg.
So it is a mixed up system in family.
I liked your honest articulation about your periodic avatar being complete veg.
Vegetable diets emit certain purity and affects mind’s extreme conditions.
What is your opinion Oswald ji? Has vegans live with a comparatively peaceful absorbing mind?
Dear Manas Das Jee,
I feel very happy and honoured whenever you comment on our website. Yes, Yoganandaji was a vegetarian, though before he became a monk he had consumed eggs and fish at home. I am a disciple of Paramhansa Yoganandaji and practise Kriya Yoga for the past two years. Kriya blesses you with positive energies, which helps in controlling one’s craving for meat and other things as well. Yoganandaji recommends vegetarianism for his disciples but he is not rigid about it. As you know, he has left behind a rich legacy and his teachers carry out his wonderful teachings excellently. However, many years before I became his disciple, a Hindu guru, had guided me on the spiritual path. He passed away a few years ago, at the age of 92. I had expressed to him my predicament that as I was born a Christian and followed Christ, but my soul yearned for Krishna. He said the relationship between Krishna and Christ was of father and son. So by worshiping the son I was worshiping the father. When I said that this didn’t solve the issue, he suggested that I chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra with devotion as often as possible and Krishna would come to me. It did work and now the Father and the Son are both part of my life. He had also guided me on the path of meditation and vegetarianism, and even suggested that onions and garlic should not be used in cooking.
Yes, it is true that vegetarianism is good for both the body and the mind and for its purity. My experience has been that Veganism, where you don’t even consume milk products makes one feel much better. I was a full vegan for more than a year but couldn’t sustain it. On some days, I still try to be vegan. However, I have friends, relatives and brothers and sisters, who are non-vegetarian and they are perfectly fine people. At weddings and parties, I wouldn’t shun non-veg totally. But we can consume it sparingly, as it is excess that can upset the chakras.
Autobiography of a Yogi is a wonderful book. In that book, Yogananda also describes his meeting with Mahavatar Babaji, also known as Babaji Krishna. We believe He is Krishna Himself. Among Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Friend Beloved God, we pray to Him and the lineage of other Masters as well, before the start of meditation. The Babaji Mantra is soul stirring.
Sir, please do write for our website.
I am happy to know that you are in Kriya Yoga. Whatever understanding you have developed shall lead you to your goal, with Guru’s abundant Grace.
One thing I have understood Oswald ji…. each one of us has our own understanding of Lord spiritual practices and Guru tatwa. Each understanding is precious.
As you sais Yogananda was in favor of vegetarian diet but was not very strictly administering that. This further fortifies my understanding.
There may be difference in our understanding, but we need not harp 0n that. Rather we must find where we are agreeing. Those points shall take us to a higher plane.
One who has a Guru in one’s life he or she is immensely blessed.
Implicit obedience to Guru’s command helps one to sustain one’s students hip and attain the intention of sadhana.
Your site is moving nicely with good posts.
I do not think any of my blogs shall be as noticeable as it should be. I shall tell you when I shsll be ready with a blog for this site. But I would request you to ask Soumya and Aditya to write. Ask Aditya to write on Maa Kali or Lord Hanuman.
Both of them can contribute excellent stories for the site.
Thank you Oswald ji for responding my observation.
You are right, Manas Das Jee, when you say “There may be differences in our understanding, but we need not harp on that. Rather we must find where we are agreeing. Those points shall take us to a higher plane.”
It is true that a Guru in one’s life, is indeed, a blessing. And that we need to obey our Guru to progress on the path.
Will keenly wait for your article when you are ready. Have already requested Aditya to write and will also request Soumya.
Thank you, Manas Das Jee.
I started to give up Non-veg food when i was 20 years old.I think vegetarian diet suited me. Oswald and Reena are known to us for around 22 years. You can also make out,I,m quite fine with this diet.CHEERS
This fine article and deeply-felt replies add subtle degrees of illumination to my understanding of ahimsa. Thank you all.
My experience is that when I even think of consuming chicken or fish, I see them in my mind’s eye being slaughtered and cannot become the cause of their agony. I do not consider the harvest of a cauliflower at all comparable to the slaughter of a tender lamb which has been snatched from its grieving mother. Yet, I know even my own houseplants have deep feelings and communicate, so gratitude for whoever’s life has given itself to sustaining mine – be it veggie, fruit, bean or grain, matters. Saying grace before meals add happiness. Also, thanks to the farmers, harvesters, truckers, and market vendors – not to mention rain, sun, and good earth – so much goes into our food! Especially now, during the pandemic, the efforts of all these farmers and the supply chain all the way to the check-out line is an act of courage on the parts of individuals whose faces we’ll never see. Thanks for your article, Oswald. Much appreciated.