Many people consider veganism—the practice of not eating or using any animal products—an ideal, healthy, nonviolent diet. Some vegans avoid milk for health reasons, while others do so as a reaction to the suffering of cows, and they boycott the meat and dairy industry. Some even say it's unnatural for humans to drink the milk of another animal.
Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad-gita that ahimsa, nonviolence, is most perfectly applied according to spiritual principles. For example, Krishna encourages Arjuna to fight—despite Arjuna's pacifist protests—
by reminding him that freedom from negative karma comes only by acting according to the directions of the Supreme.
The teachings of Krishna consciousness emphasize the many transcendental benefits of milk. The Vedas say the cow is one of the mothers of mankind; cow's milk and its many preparations are a key part of the recommended diet for human beings. Milk is considered essential for the proper development of the human brain, enhancing our ability to understand and apply spiritual knowledge.
Srila Prabhupada, founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was aware of the exploitative nature of the modern dairy industry. In his books and lectures, he repeatedly condemned the slaughterhouse economy as the crux of all the world's problems and urged his followers to establish self-sufficient, agrarian economies centered on cow protection.
Is there an absolute “best” way to eat? One that tastes great, makes us feel good, doesn't destroy the Earth, doesn't inflict unnecessary suffering on other living creatures, and isn't harmful to our health?
How about vegetarianism? Veganism? Lacto-vegetarianism? Raw food-ism? Juice fasting? Should we just do whatever feels good? Modified ovo-cannibalism? Maybe total fasting is the way to go?
What makes one way of eating (or non-eating) “better” than another? And who decides what’s “best,” anyway?
Making choices can be hard sometimes—especially if we don't have any handle on what the Absolute Truth is (or don't believe there is one)—and eating is just too important to put off making decisions about.
Plus, considering that:
1. We can’t remain in these bodies forever—no matter how nutritious our lunches are, and
2. All living being subsist on other living beings (no matter what),
Why not check out some practical eating advice that Krishna (described in the Vedas as the Absolute Truth In Person) offers:
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.”
(Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 9.26)
“Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform -- do that, O son of Kunti, as an offering to Me.” (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 9.27)
Here’s another one:
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 3.13)
Someone who sincerely wants to do the best thing, and accepts—even theoretically—that Krishna is who the Vedas say He is (the Supreme Being), may want to look into the science of prasadam, the art of offering food to God.
For a whole lot more info, check out food.krishna.com
"In that kingdom of perfect peace, where the knowledge of God will dissolve all evil, we won’t kill animals for food, because our food will be provided by God Himself."
by Kenneth Rose
The Bible and Vegetarianism
A traditional proof-text for Biblical vegetarians is Genesis. 1:29 where God says,
Behold. I have given you every plant yielding seed which isupon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; youshall have them for food. (Revised Standard Version)
This was a universal vegetarianism, not limited to human beings, as the next verse” (Gen. 1:30) indicates. In the beginning, when the Lord had created the heavens and the earth, the relationship of predator and prey did not exist. Flesh was not a lawful food for any creature. The careful student of the Bible, however, is aware that after the great flood. God revised His earlier prohibition against eating flesh. As the flood waters receded. God said to Noah and his offspring,
The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth… , Into your hand they are delivered, Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you [in Genesis 1:29] the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat the flesh with its life, that is, its blood. (Gen. 9:2-4)
For the vegetarian looking to the Bible for guidance, this passage is a source of perplexity, whereas for the nonvegetarian, it is a divine warrant for eating meat. Both of these views, however, fail to comprehend the scope and complexity of the Bible’s outlook on the history of human corruption and redemption.
According to the Bible, the disobedience of Adam and Eve destroyed the peace of the first human society, the Garden of Eden. Since God was, in the beginning, the central interest of all the inhabitants of the Garden of Eden, human beings and animals could live at peace there. But true and lasting peace—whether individually or collectively—is possible only when there is no taint of selfishness. Therefore, when Adam and Eve broke God’s commandment against eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the peace of the garden was destroyed (Gen. 3:17). This was the beginning of the conflict between human beings and animals (Gen. 3:15).
After falling into sin, human society, which began rapidly growing, became increasingly violent. Animal sacrifice began (Gen. 4:4), the skins of animals began to be used as clothing (Gen. 3:21), and human beings began to murder one another (Gen. 4:8, 4:23). This violence increased to such a degree that God was sorry He had created humankind (Gen. 6:13, 6:16). So God decided to destroy the human race. God’s wrath, however, is always tempered by mercy, so He chose Noah and his family to survive the great flood (Gen. 6:8).
After the flood, God revised His original ban against eating flesh (Gen 9:3). Human beings since the fall into sin had proved incapable of obedience on this point. Since the consequence of disobedience to God’s will was death (Gen 2:17), and since God’s aim for human beings was their ultimate restoration to perfect obedience, God resorted to an expedient so that sin-weakened human beings might learn at least some degree of obedience. This expedient was a less stringent version of the original commandment. The amended commandment, though less strict, is still redemptive insofar as it is obeyed, for in obedience to God’s will does the ultimate welfare of human beings lie. But despite God’s lessening the rigor of the original commandment. His ultimate desire for peace between animals and human beings remained unchanged.
In other words, God allowed flesh-eating, but only as a temporary measure, to redeem humanity from the consequences of disobedience. Full obedience, however, will ultimately require full renunciation of the predatory principle. Until this occurs, the kingdom of God cannot be established. God has made known through the prophet Isaiah what this kingdom will be like:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the falling together,
and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp.
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
In that kingdom of perfect peace, where the knowledge of God will dissolve all evil, we won’t kill animals for food, because our food will be provided by God Himself. In the coming kingdom of divine peace, a river “bright as crystal” and carrying the water of eternal life will flow from the throne of God. On both sides of the river will grow “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelations 22:1- 2).
This peace will be based not upon human caprice, but upon God’s will; therefore, it will be universal and enduring. All of God’s creatures will be included in it:
And I will make for you a covenant on that day [when the Lord renews the earth) with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow. the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you [all creatures] lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. (Hosea 2:18-19)
Despite the general human forgetfulness of God’s original desire for peace between humankind and the animal kingdom, some memory of it was maintained by Israel’s prophets. Animal sacrifice was a part of the ancient religion of Israel, but the prophet Isaiah reminded the Israelites of God’s ancient vision of justice and peace by vehemently criticizing these bloody acts of “worship”:
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of he-goats. (Isaiah 1:11)
And the prophet Amos speaks similarly:
I hate, I despise your feasts… .
The peace offerings of your fatted beasts
I will not look upon, …
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing
stream. (Amos 5:21-24)
At present vegetarianism among those who base their lives on the Bible is quite rare. Nevertheless, vegetarianism remains God’s ultimate will. Through the practice of vegetarianism in obedience to God’s will as revealed in their scriptures, the devotees of the Krishna consciousness movement are being true to a long-neglected aspect of Biblical revelation.
Since, according to the Bible, the goal of history is the transformation of the predatory principle into the principle of universal love, it seems reasonable to suppose that people who take the Bible seriously should strive to bring their lives into accordance with the righteousness and nonviolence that will prevail in God’s kingdom. Surely we can’t in this life fully escape the consequences of the Fall, but we can try, with God’s grace, to live in accordance with God’s perfect will as expressed in the above-quoted passages.
Some might challenge this view by citing the following passage from the New Testament:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (I Timothy 4:1-2)*
[*It should be noted that this passage gives evidence that there were, at the time ot its writing, groups of Christians who did not eat meat.]
To use this passage to discredit Christian vegetarianism, however, is really a misapplication of these verses, since the issue here is not food but Christian freedom.
Most Christians over the centuries have not believed that what they eat has any effect upon their salvation. They have believed that they are redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from the observance of any body of specific rules and regulations, such as the law of Moses (Ephesians 2:8). It would be an unusual Christian teacher indeed who insisted that what one eats or doesn’t eat affects one’s salvation (Colossians 2:16, Matthew 15:11), especially considering that, as we have already discussed, Genesis 9:3 indicates that God was willing to ammend His original commandment regarding meat-eating to a lesser one, which human beings in their weakness have a better chance of obeying.
Nevertheless, no rational or scriptural reason can be discovered that would prohibit the teacher of Christian truth from encouraging believers to go beyond the concession to human weakness granted in Genesis 9:3 so that even now, before the full dawning of God’s kingdom of peace, they may begin living according to the ethics of that kingdom. To live in this way must be considered as part of God’s ultimate intention for humanity, for how else can one account for the fact that the Bible both begins and ends in a kingdom where the sound of slaughter is unknown?
Despite the certainty that this is God’s ultimate plan, the fact remains that most of those who base their lives on the Bible are eaters of animal flesh. This, I think, is due to the ambiguity of the Bible on this issue. For just as the Bible reveals God’s vision of a peaceable kingdom free from predators, so also does it contain justifications for continuing the practice of eating meat.
Vaishnavism Points Beyond Biblical Ambiguity
Vaishnava devotees of Lord Krishna find no ambiguity on this issue. They base their vegetarianism on the Bhagavad- gita (9.26), where Krishna says,
If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, speaking out of the Vaishnava tradition, explains,
One who loves Krishna will give Him whatever He wants, and he avoids offering anything which is undesirable or unasked. Thus meat, fish, and eggs should not he offered to Krishna. If He desired such things as offerings, He would have said so. Instead He clearly requests that a leaf, fruit, flowers, and water be given to Him, and He says of this offering, “I will accept it.” Therefore, we should understand that He will not accept meat, fish, and eggs. Vegetables, grains, fruits, milk, and water are the proper foods for human beings and are prescribed by Lord Krishna Himself.
Srila Prabhupada’s comments follow logically from a story in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, a scripture of central importance for Vaishnavas. In Chapter Seventeen of the First Canto, a righteous king of ancient India. Parikshit Maharaja, happens upon an evil king, Kali, who is beating a cow and a bull with a club on the bank of a sacred river. In this story, the cow stands for the earth (the giver of the necessities of physical existence), the bull for dharma (true religion), and Kali for the degradation (adharma) of our current age of slaughter—the Age of Kali.
All Vaishnavas agree on countering the mercilessness and violence of the Age of Kali, and so they practice strict vegetarianism. Rather than succumb to the cruel dietary preferences of the age, they look to Krishna, the restorer of true religion in times of religious decadence (Bg. 4.8), to instruct them concerning what to eat. As we have seen, Krishna has clearly indicated the foods He will accept: vegetables, grains, fruit, milk products, and water.
Clearly, on this issue the Vaishnava tradition does not suffer from the ambiguity that afflicts the Biblical tradition. So since the Supreme Lord of the universe speaks to the human race through all of the world’s genuine religious traditions, perhaps we can overcome the Biblical ambiguity about eating meat by bringing the Biblical tradition into dialogue with the Vaishnava tradition. Just such a dialogue took place in 1973 between Srila Prabhupada and Jean Danielou, a French cardinal [see BACK TO GODHEAD, Vol. 19, No. 10].
The issue of vegetarianism in the Biblical tradition arises when Srila Prabhupada charges that by killing animals, Christians are regularly disobeying Jesus’s commandment “Thou shall not kill” (see Matthew 5:21, where Jesus alludes to the Mosaic commandment stated in Exodus 20:13). Danielou counters Srila Prabhupada by asserting that only human life is sacred. But Srila Prabhupada dismisses this interpretation and affirms that Jesus’s words refer to all life. A few moments later, Danielou claims that what one eats is not “an essential point. The important thing is to love God. The practical commandment can change from one religion to another.” Srila Prabhupada brushes this assertion aside: “In the Bible. God’s practical commandment is that you cannot kill; therefore killing cows is a sin for you [that is, for all Christians].”
This disagreement over how broad is the scope of the commandment—whether it is limited to human beings or should extend to all living beings—finds its source in the divergent values placed on life in the
Biblical and Vaishnava traditions. For most Jews and Christians, only human beings, who are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), share in the divine nature. Therefore, animals have no claim to the rights such as the right to life, accorded to beings made in God’s image. Animals have value only insofar as they serve human interests (Gen. 1:28- 29).
This is also Danielou’s view. He denies that animals have souls and asserts that human hunger justifies the eating of animal flesh. But Srila Prabhupada cites a passage in the Bhagavad-gita (14.5) that affirms a totally different view of the sacredness of life:
It should he understood that all species of life are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.
In this view, the parental care of God extends to all living beings, from the highest to the lowest. The seed of divine life has been placed in human beings and animals alike; to eat an animal, therefore, is no less sinful than to eat a fellow human being.
The argument between the cardinal and Srila Prabhupada continues through a few more rounds. Ultimately, Danielou tries to place the blame for meat-eating by humans on some fault in the creation, whereas Srila Prabhupada sees meat- eating simply as our own moral failing. Danielou argues that human beings may eat animals because some animals do so, but Srila Prabhupada replies that if human beings want to act like carnivores, God will give them fangs and claws in another life to fulfill that desire. Srila Prabhupada seems to be asking. How shall we act: like savage beasts or divine children of God? I feel that Srila Prabhupada gets the better of the argument.
The primary result of this dialogue between the Biblical and Vaishnava traditions is the insight that the scope of the commandment “Thou shall not kill” should be widened to include all living beings. If we apply this insight to the Biblical tradition, then its ambiguity on the issue of vegetarianism will be transformed into loving concern for all life. For those of us who take the Bible seriously, our obedience to God will then become greater as it aspires to live out the vision of the peaceable kingdom the Bible points to. Then we will be strong enough to forsake the concession to human weakness granted in Genesis 9:3. To the degree that we stop slaughtering innocent creatures for food, to that degree we will nullify the predatory principle, a principle that structures the injustices characteristic of this fallen age. And seeing all creatures with equal vision (Bg. 5.18) we will enter more deeply into the kingdom of God.
Preparing and offering food to the Lord shows Him our devotion and gratitude. Krishna doesn't need to eat, of course, but He accepts the love with which we offer food to Him.
As far as possible, use fresh, natural ingredients for cooking. Krishna accepts only vegetarian food, and packaged, store-bought products may contain meat, fish, or eggs. So read labels carefully.
Cleanliness is important in cooking for Krishna. Wash your hands before you begin. And don’t taste the food while cooking; the meal is for Krishna’s pleasure, so He should taste it first.
It’s best to have a new set of dinnerware used only for Krishna’s offerings and not used by anyone else.
Place the plate in front of Krishna and ask Him to accept the offering. Then, in a mood of assisting the pure devotees, offer the preparations to Krishna while reciting the following prayers:
nama om vishnu-padaya krishna-preshthaya bhu-tale
srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine
namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracarine
I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet. Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami. You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Chaitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism.
namne gaura-tvishe namah
O most munificent incarnation! You are Krishna Himself appearing as Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden color of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You.
govindaya namo namah
My Lord, You are the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas, and You are the well-wisher of the entire human society and world.
You can also chant the Pancha Tattva and Hare Krsna mantras three times:
sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrinda
“I offer my obeisances to Sri Krishna Chaitanya, Prabhu Nityananda, Sri Advaita, Gadadhara, Srivasa and all others in the line of devotion”
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
Leave the plate there for a few minutes, just as you would if a loved one was eating.
Remove the plate, transfer the food to a serving plate, and wash Krishna’s dinnerware. The food is now prasadam, or “mercy” from Krishna.
While you eat, consider the spiritual value of the food; because Krishna has accepted it, it is spiritually identical to Him. Therefore by eating prasadam you become purified.
Everything you offer Krishna becomes spiritualized prasadam—flowers, incense, water, food. All prasadam should be respected and shared with others. Spread the mercy around.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
When our oldest son was less than three, he and I were once in a supermarket when a woman passing out samples handed him a cookie that looked like ones made at our temple. He was several yards away from me, and I was apprehensive he’d automatically put the cookie into his mouth. Instead, he ran over to me and asked, “Prasadam? Prasadam?” I said no, it hadn’t been offered to Krishna and couldn’t be. He smiled and gave up the idea of eating the cookie.
Training our children to be strict vegetarians can be difficult. Giving them enthusiasm for further restricting themselves to prasadam, food prepared for and offered to Krishna, can be even more challenging.
Devotees of Krishna strictly avoid meat, fish, and eggs, and though a growing number of food products don’t contain any of these, many products have onions or garlic, which devotees also consider unfit to offer the Lord. Devotees try to avoid commercially prepared food altogether. Krishna is hungry for our devotion, not the food we offer Him, so we need to take time to prepare Krishna’s meals ourselves, with love for Him.
Not only the cooking, but also the offering of food to Krishna should be done with love. An ideal offering involves setting up at least a simple altar, putting the food on a plate reserved for Krishna’s use, and reciting prayers asking Krishna to accept what we’ve prepared.
While following the rules for a prasadam diet seems troublesome to nondevotees, taking trouble for a loved one is a great source of pleasure. And serving Krishna, the supreme lovable person, gives the greatest pleasure. Children easily feel the happiness of love for Krishna even when very young. As they watch us in the store, we can show them how we read the labels. By age ten, a child can learn to spot listings of meat products such as rennet and choose only suitable food. We can explain to our children how we try to pick the best and freshest items for our Lord.
Most children love to help in the kitchen. While cooking we can create an atmosphere of devotion by singing the Lord’s holy names or listening to a recording of devotional singing. As our children help, they learn that Krishna is the first to eat—no tasting while cooking! They can become excited about pleasing Lord Krishna.
As our children mature and gradually learn to prepare varieties of full meals on their own, they are equipping themselves for a life of cooking for Krishna. If, on the other hand, they don’t learn cooking skills, they may grow up to think that buying foods that nondevotees have prepared is a necessity.
In the temple, devotees follow a strict schedule for offering meals to the Deities. At home there can be some leniency, but a schedule of offerings reminds us we are cooking for the pleasure of Krishna, rather than simply for our own hunger and desire. Can children wait to eat until after an offering? Yes, if we feed them at reasonably regulated times, from when they first start to eat solid food, and make sure meals are both sufficient and frequent enough for their needs. “Wait until Krishna eats!” should be exciting, a spiritual game, rather than an austerity.
As we bow before Krishna’s picture or Deity and ask Him to accept our offering, even our toddlers can bow next to us. By age ten or so, a child can learn the standard prayers and offer food without adult help.
We should also show our children how to offer food when away from home. Many devotees carry small pictures of Krishna and their spiritual master and can set up a simple “altar” almost anywhere.
Being away from home or a temple is one of the most difficult times for sticking to a prasadam diet. We adults may be willing to wait until we get home and cook. But children on an unexpectedly long shopping trip may feel that avoiding all but properly cooked and offered food is impossible. Sometimes we can bring prasadam with us, but other times we are caught unprepared. At such times, we may be able to buy fruit and make a simple offering. If we absolutely must buy prepared foods, we should strictly avoid grains that nondevotees have cooked. Lord Krishna in His form as Lord Caitanya has told us that such foods make the mind wicked. A devotee must strive to keep the mind pure, so that it will be a suitable place for thoughts about Krishna.
by Rohininandana Dasa
Vegetarians are just self-righteous vegetable-killers, some people say, and their milk-drinking implicates them in violence.
Nowadays vegetarianism is becoming popular for various economic, health, and ethical reasons; but spiritual reasons are more difficult for people to comprehend. Some people ask, “What’s the difference between being a vegetarian and being a meat-eater? An animal has a soul, and a plant has a soul, and if you’ve got to kill the plant, then why not kill an animal? It’s the same. You just killed a carrot. The carrot’s dead, and the animal’s dead. So what’s the difference?” Suppose you’re trying to convince somebody to become a vegetarian, and he says that to you. What are you going to say?
Response: There are spiritual reasons, and there are also material reasons. The spiritual reason is that you cannot offer meat to Krishna, and materially, you can argue that vegetables are not as developed.
Rohininandana dasa: Yes. The carrot has a less developed consciousness than an animal. So the amount of inconvenience you put a carrot through is considerably less than that of an animal. That’s clear. You could also reply. “Well, why don’t you eat a human child? If there’s no difference between killing a carrot and killing a cow, then why not eat a human baby?”
Seriously, if you look at a small human baby, there is not much difference between it and an animal, is there? The animal feels a bit of pain, and the baby feels a bit of pain, so we might as well eat the human baby. But of course nobody wants to eat a human baby. “No, no, I couldn’t eat a human baby. They’re very different from animals. They’ve got different potential.” So if there is such a great difference between a human baby and an animal, how much more is there between a cow and a blade of grass or a carrot? Obviously, then, there is a difference in consciousness.
The other reason is that we’re “Krishna- tarians.” We eat only what we offer to Krishna. We’re not exactly vegetarians. We find out what Krishna wants us to offer Him. He says He wants a leaf, a fruit, a flower, or water. This means that vegetables, fruits, nuts, milk, juice, and all kinds of produce can be offered to Him and then eaten.
Question: The Bible says you can offer meat to God.
Rohininandana dasa: Not always. In Isaiah 1.11, the Lord says. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of your fed beasts: and I delighteth not in the blood of bullocks or of lambs or of goats… . Bring no more vain oblations… . Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth… . and when ye spread forth your hands. I will hide Mine eyes from you. Yea, when you make many prayers. I will not hear, for your hands are full of blood.” And in Isaiah 66.3:“He that killeth an ox is as he that slayeth a man… . Yea they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.”
You may cite other verses, where the Bible appears to recommend animal sacrifices, but could it not be that the Bible sanctions animal sacrifices for the die-hard flesh- eaters?
It’s very clear, at least in the Vedic literatures, that God doesn’t want us to offer Him flesh and blood, and even the Christians sense that because if you go to church on Thanksgiving you’ll see wheat, apples, oranges, grapes, and other produce. You never see decorations of intestines and sheep’s heads on the altar. You never see that.
But why not? It means that they can’t think animal- killing is really wonderful. People sing, “We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land.” You go into the church, and there are flowers and all kinds of pleasant things. People in church don’t sing. “We butcher the beasts and spill their blood”! Those unpleasant things—the decaying flesh and the screams—are out of sight and mind, far away in some secluded slaughterhouse.
Now, somebody could say. “Well, you Hare Krishna people are drinking milk, eating butter and cheese, and using ghee for cooking. In a factory farm, when the cow can’t give milk anymore, she is slaughtered for her meat. By drinking milk you are supporting this system. Therefore you should become a vegan like me.” What would you say then?
Response: To get the milk doesn’t mean you have to kill the cow.
Rohininandana dasa: But the vegan will say, “The cow’s milk is meant for her calf, and you’re taking it.” What do you say then?
Our explanation is that if you offer that milk to God, the cow benefits spiritually, even though she’s living on a factory farm. From the Vedic point of view, it is important for human beings to have animal protein, especially if you want to cultivate spiritual life. And that animal protein comes in the form of cow’s milk. Milk is actually the blood of the cow miraculously transformed into milk. The cow eats grass, the grass becomes blood, then the blood becomes milk, which we can drink as it is or prepare in many different ways.
Milk is the most miraculous of all foods. According to the Vedas, milk is meant for consumption by human beings. In fact, the Vedas say that five thousand years ago, cows gave more milk than they do today. It’s incorrect to think that our breeding practices have enabled cows to produce more milk. No, it’s their nature to produce much milk. The calf needs perhaps a tenth of the milk in the udder. And cows can give eight to ten gallons of milk a day. That’s a lot of milk! This extra milk is meant for human consumption, to help develop fine brain tissue.
In Vedic society, every brahmana would have not only a cow but also a bull for plowing the land to produce grains. The cow is like a mother because she gives us milk. She should be protected and taken care of. In the Krishna consciousness movement we have farms, and we look after the cows with great care. In the summer we let them roam in the woods and pastures, and in the winter we house them in barns and take care of them. We don’t kill them.
The Vedas describe the relationship between cows and humans. That relationship is God’s arrangement for human society. If we try to figure things out for ourselves, well get so many imperfect solutions. What is the cow going to do if you don’t milk her? Shell suffer great pain and eventually die. because she must be milked. A cow is actually dependent on human beings.
In the spiritual world, Krishna is taking care of the cows. One of Krishna’s names is Gopala. “He who protects the cows.” Another of Krishna’s names. Govinda, means “He who gives pleasure to the cows.” There is a natural relationship between God and the cows, and also between mankind and the cows.
In the Krishna consciousness movement we live in cities not because we want to. for no one who practices spiritual life likes to live in the middle of a city. We prefer to live in a very simple place, like the villages of India. At least I do! But the reason we’re here is that we’re trying to tell other people about Krishna. And therefore we have to drink the milk that’s coming to us from the factory farms. We don’t agree with their methods at all, but we’re using their products to help bring down materialistic selfishness. And we are confident that the poor cows are greatly blessed when their milk is offered to the beautiful Deities. Sri Sri Radha-Kunjabihari [the Deities in the Detroit temple]. Does anyone have a question or a comment?
Question: Why not be vegans if we’re living in the city?
Rohininandana dasa: That’s a good point, but it’s enough austerity just to live in these cities. We have to compromise in so many ways. Just to drive a car you’ve got to have tires, which are made with animal products. Practically speaking, even though you think that you’re wearing vegetarian clothes, and that everything you have is vegetarian, if you analyze you will find that there are animal products in almost everything you have. The film in your camera is made from gelatin. Even vegetables are fertilized by animal bones. So there comes a point where you just have to not be too fanatical about it.
What we are basically trying to do is remove a thorn with a thorn. We’re using modern technology to change modern technological society. So sometimes we have to compromise by drinking store-bought milk. But by our preaching in the cities, many people are becoming vegetarians, and therefore many cows are being saved. If you convince just one person to be a vegetarian, you’re saving many animals every year.
How many animals and birds do you think an average American eats in a year? Let’s say he eats twelve chickens. Does this sound reasonable? No? More? Double, then? OK. And how many pigs each year? Will he finish a whole pig? Probably. Let’s say he gets through one pig. How many fish? Thirty? How many sheep? Two? How many cows? One whole cow? Two sheep, one pig, a couple of turkeys, twenty-four chickens, thirty fish, and one cow. And he may eat more bizarre things than that! Maybe you’re also saving a few snails, a horse, some squirrels, and a monkey.
If by your influence someone becomes a vegetarian, in one year you’ve saved all these animals. What if that person stays a vegetarian for the next thirty years? How many creatures are being saved? To be really effective we’ve got to situate ourselves in the cities; otherwise, if we were tucked away in the country somewhere, we would only influence a few people. But we do both. We’re in the cities and also in the country. And vegetarianism is just one benefit of our work, because if a person is Krishna conscious, he’s automatically going to be kind and gentle and possess all good qualities.
Question: What’s wrong with eggs?
Rohininandana dasa: Well, first, they’re not the most pleasant things to eat when you think about what they are: female chickens’ menstrual waste products. It’s not such an edible food. Of course, modern nutritionists may say how wonderful eggs are, but eggs are not the most elevated food. And in their natural condition, they should be fertilized anyway. Go to one of these factory farms and see how the chickens are suffering. Sometimes the hens are so cramped in their cages that their claws just grow around the wire. When the “farmers” come to get them out of the cages, they find that their feet are firmly clamped to the wires. And they’ve got so many diseases; it’s an abominable life. I used to work in a place like that. I tell you, it’s abominable.
Comment: Some people call eggs “liquid flesh.”
Rohininandana dasa: Yes. Of course, eating eggs is not as bad as eating flesh, but it’s bad enough. I remember when I was giving up eggs, it was tough because I used to like omelets. I was camping on the side of a mountain, and I got down to my last egg. I thought “Whew! What am I going to do?” I suddenly felt a surge of strength coming—“I’ve got to give this up!”—and I took the egg and I slung it down the mountainside. And I’ve never eaten another egg since. I felt very pleased after that. If you try, Krishna will help you. You’ll get enough protein, you’ll get enough strength, you’ll be able to do it.
Especially nowadays, there are so many vegetarian cookbooks; there are so many ways of understanding good eating. How to mix your grains together—if you mix rice with dal, it increases the potency of both. It is a science. By eating meat and eggs, you get too much protein. Too much protein is bad for you.
Does that answer your question? You can’t offer the egg to Krishna. We’re Krishna-tarians; we offer Krishna only what He wants us to eat. We’re trying to awaken our love for Krishna, which is really the important thing. It’s not whether I’m a vegetarian—that’s coincidental—but whether I am trying to serve God, to please God.
In the ultimate issue, if there’s nothing else to eat, you can eat meat If you’re starving and there’s an animal, you can kill the animal and eat it. This is stated in the shastras. or lawbooks. Human life is actually more important than that of an animal, only because human life enables us to practice self-realization. Of course, if we’re not practicing self-realization, then human life doesn’t have any more importance than animal life.
Srila Prabhupada would often say that without rationality man is just an animal. But if the human being is trying to cultivate spiritual life, then his life is more valuable. If a tiger comes at you, you can certainly defend yourself; Krishna consciousness is practical.
But here in the United States there’s no food shortage. We grow so much grain every year. In her book Diet for a Small Planet, Francis Lappe, a nutritionist, gives amazing statistics about how much grain we grow each year to feed livestock. You have to give the animal thirty pounds of grain to get one pound of flesh. You could eat the thirty pounds of grain quite easily. So it’s very practical. But in today’s discussion we want to concentrate more on the spiritual side of vegetarianism.
Once Srila Prabhupada took a gulabjamun in his hand—gulabjanums are ball-like sweets made out of milk powder that are fried and then soaked in a solution of rose water and honey or sugar. They are very sweet. He popped it into his mouth and said. “We’re eating our way back to Godhead.” So by eating, anyone can make spiritual advancement. That’s a fact.
So try to give all your friends some prasadam [food offered to Krishna]. If you’ve got a grandmother who’s dying in the hospital, take her a little prasadam, and make sure she eats it. It’s said that whoever eats prasadam is guaranteed a human body in the next life. If somebody is destined to become an animal, he will get the opportunity of another human body.
And if you give an animal some prasadam, then that soul will be elevated very quickly through the different animal species back to human life again. If a soul loses his human form, it’s very troublesome for him, because he must go through the different species, and it may be a long time before he gets back to human life. So if you have some leftover food, give it to the birds and other creatures in your backyard. Sometimes we take the water we’ve offered to Krishna on the altar and pour it on the base of a tree so it w ill benefit.
People may think this is madness, but no, it is spiritual. For one in material consciousness, spirituality seems like ignorance, and for one who is spiritually awake, material consciousness is seen as ignorance. In simple words, they say we’re crazy, and we say they’re crazy. So the question is, “Who is crazy?” That’s the question we have to ask—who is actually crazy? Krishna says, “What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled, and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.”
People who don’t offer their food to Krishna have to accept karmic reaction. even if they just kill a carrot. Even if they’re vegetarian, when they kill a carrot they’ve inconvenienced that soul. Maybe in a minor way, but still there’s some inconvenience. Therefore, they have to suffer a karmic reaction. That carrot was living. It had a right to live, and I killed it for my own sensual pleasure, so I’m simply eating a sinful reaction.
No one should be proud: “I’m a vegetarian; I’m OK.” Even a monkey is a vegetarian.
Being a vegetarian is not the Absolute Truth. It doesn’t even save you completely from karma. You will save yourself from a tremendous amount of karma by being a vegetarian, because you won’t have to suffer a reaction for every hair on the cow’s body, but there is still a small reaction for killing a carrot. Offer that carrot to Krishna, however, and there’s no reaction for you at all. The carrot benefits and everyone who eats your offering will benefit. Krishna says. “Whatever reaction there is. Hi take it, because you’re doing it under orders.”
When a soldier kills in war there’s no question of any penalty, because he acted under orders. He might even get a medal. Even if the fight was a mistake—his officer made a blunder—the soldier is not punished, because he acted under superior orders. This is an analogy. We are not saying that soldiers are free from karma, but they are free from the social consequence of their actions. But if a soldier kills somebody in peacetime, he must suffer the penalty, because he has taken the law into his own hands.
Similarly, if we act under Krishna’s direction, and eat only those things He recommends, there’s no karmic reaction, and everyone benefits. Whereas if I start making up my own ideas, even if I’m a vegan trying to do the right thing. I’m still going to create karma. Even a vegan is still eating and therefore creating karma. He may not be inconveniencing cows, but he’s inconveniencing vegetables, which are also living beings. He may also indirectly support animal slaughter by buying food from a store or company that sells animal products. But a person who follows the Lord’s direction by preparing his allotted quota of food and offering it to Krishna benefits everyone.
Why stop at human beings or cows? If you’re going to be humanitarian, why not think of the animals? If you’re going to think of the animals, why not think of the fish’.* If you’re going to think of the fish. why not think of the plants? They re also living. They also feel pain. In India, if someone is building a wall and a tree stands in the way. it’s quite common to build around it. In the West, we just mow anything and everything down. Isn’t that right? If a tree is growing in front of our window and is blocking the sunlight we just cut it down.
But in India, only uncivilized people do such a thing. Sometimes people build their houses around a tree. They make a courtyard for the tree with an open roof for it to get sunshine. The tree also has a right to a little space to live, a little air and sunlight. That’s culture. Why kill anything unnecessarily? And we cut down whole forests in Brazil just to get beef. Whole forests so we can print Playboy magazine and The New York Times. And people chew half of a hamburger and read one or two pages of a fifty-page newspaper and just chuck it all away. No thought of any responsibility! Just by buying a materialistic magazine you’re going to get a karmic reaction for all the trees that have been killed. But if you cut a tree down and you make a book about Krishna, the soul in that tree will benefit, because its wood has been used in Krishna’s service.
And the book is kept Very often in India, the books are wrapped in silk cloth and kept on the altar, and when people want to read they unwrap them very carefully and offer prayers before they begin reading. And those books are passed down from one generation to another.
Does this philosophy sound reasonable? It is reasonable. A religion without reason is just a sentimental thing—”Oh, you’ve got to believe in this. If you don’t believe in this, you’re going to burn.” It becomes fanaticism. But religion must have some philosophy behind it.
Similarly, philosophy on its own is just mental speculation, as when you try to figure things out on your own and become a vegan. It’s a speculation, not based on any scriptural evidence, and therefore it’s not perfect. It may have some degree of truth—there’s something good about most things—but if you want something to be absolutely perfect, then you’ve got to get it from a bona fide scripture, under the guidance of a bona fide guru.