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.