Transcendental Higher Life

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Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion

Transcendental Higher Life

Claudette Vaughan, Editor of Abolitionist Online, interviews Olga Parkes, May 2007

Kurma Dasa is one of the world’s leading proponents of pure vegetarian cuisine. Dubbed “Australia’s Vegetarian Guru,” Kurma has been writing cookbooks, teaching students and hosting internationally broadcast TV shows for over thirty-five years. Kurma’s innovative cooking continues to shake off the outdated notion that vegetarian food is lackluster. We at the Abolitionist are great fans of his because every recipe book works – like magic! Even some of the supposedly complicated recipes like breads are easy to follow with Kurma’s recipes and every recipe is a success. All Kurma’s dishes are consistent with the concept of Indian Ayurveda – this means no meat derived products, no fish, eggs, garlic, onions or mushrooms. Vegan soy milk can easily be substituted when required by a recipe. His cookbooks won’t let you down!

Kurma Dasa lives in Perth, Australia. He has written four cookbooks to provide an adventure in world culture, taste and nutrition. He has also published two recipe card sets, “Quick Vegetarian Cards” and “Cooking With Kurma Vegi Cards”. For more info visit him at www.kurma.net

Abolitionist: What is the Hare Krishna’s contribution to animal rights?

Kurma: The Hare Krishnas have contributed enormously to the rights of animals ever since the inception of the Krishna Consciousness Movement over 40 years ago, specifically in the following ways: distributing literally millions of books in over 38 languages, encouraging people to become vegetarians; establishing farming communities all over the world where animals are allowed to peacefully live out their natural lives; and cooking and distributing tens of millions of plates of pure vegetarian food in all our restaurants, temples and festivals.

Abolitionist: The Animal Rights Movement fights for one right for God’s animals and that is the right for all animals live out their natural lifespan and that this natural lifespan, like a human’s, must not be truncated by humans as all species exist and from that then all are entitled to a right to life. What’s a Hare Krishna’s understanding, Kurma Dasa?

Kurma: We agree. All creatures are sons and daughters of God. So the animals are our brothers and sisters. We have no right to kill and eat our brothers and sisters.

Abolitionist: What is spiritual food to a Hare Krishna devotee?

Kurma: Way back in 1966, Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, himself a wonderful cook, showed us how to hold regular 'Love Feasts' every week. He said that such feasts for the public should become an important part of the Hare Krishna movement. "Vegetarian food offered to Krishna becomes spiritual", he said, "and whoever eats the food - called prasadam - receives great spiritual benefit."

So cooking can actually be yoga - bhakti-yoga - "the yoga of love".

One of the main elements of bhakti-yoga, is the preparation of sacred foods, foods fit for God. For thousands of years, priests in temples throughout India had prepared divine vegetarian offerings for the Supreme Being, known by names such as Krishna and Rama. These offerings were saturated with love and devotion.

The Sanskrit word 'yoga' carried the meaning of "connection," {the English word "yoke", referring to the brace that oxen wear to plough the fields, comes from Yoga}.

Specifically the connection refers to that which exists between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. That connection has now been broken, and yoga is a means for re-establishing it.

The idea of spiritual food is based on ones consciousness, on love. It is not a mechanical thing. If we love someone, we want to do things for them, and a very common thing that people do for those they love is to cook for them.

Practitioners of bhakti-yoga prepare offerings for God, Krishna, in this same spirit of love. This love is manifested at every stage of the cooking process - from the purchasing of the ingredients to the final offering of the sacred meal to the object of one's devotion.

Abolitionist: What did Srila Prabhupada say when asked if it is necessary to follow certain eating habits to practice spiritual life?

Kurma: Srila Prabhupada told us that real spiritual life means purifying our existence, physically, mentally and intellectually, and ultimately pleasing God.

It is hypocrisy to think one can practice spiritual life and at the same time pollute or bodies and minds by the heinous murder of our brothers and sisters. How will The Father be pleased if we kill our brothers and sisters, God's intellectually less-developed children? Without pleasing God, we can make no spiritual advancement.

Abolitionist: What did Srila Prabhupada say when asked to interpret the Christian” Thou Shalt Not Kill” commandment?

Kurma: Prabhupada spoke to numerous clergymen, Bishops and priests and never compromised on this point. He explained that "Thou Shalt Not Kill" not only refers to humans, but to all creatures, especially the more sentient animals.

Furthermore, in Melbourne he explained to the Reverend Gordon Powell, head of the Scots' Presbyterian Church, that even being a vegetarian was not enough, since there is still some karma even in killing vegetables. Best, he said with a grin, that we should become 'prasad-arians', and only eat sanctified vegetarian food.

Abolitionist: “Do Unto Others.” How do you interpret that Kurma Dasa?

Kurma: Would we like to live in horribly cramped conditions, and finally transported in trucks, slipping on our own excrement, then executed, our throats cut, and our blood drained out?

Would we do it to our children, our loved ones? To our pets?

We talk endlessly of those that lost their lives in The Holocaust yet every day millions of animals similarly lose their lives in hellish slaughterhouses. And we lament war, which is a direct karmic result of animal slaughter, yet we gorge ourselves on the dead.

If we don't want pain to befall us, stop killing other creatures.

Abolitionist: From what I have read I think a Hare Krishna devotee believes fully that animals have souls. There’s no argument there – is that correct?

Kurma: Correct. All living things that exhibit the six symptoms of life - birth, growth, development, reproduction, dwindling and death - are alive. Life is the symptom that the soul, the living force, is present, in all these varieties of life. It is more accurate to say they ARE souls, living out their lifespan in the dress of whatever body they may inhabit this time around, whether it be plant, insect, bird, aquatic, beast or human form.

Abolitionist: Tell us about your cooking books because they are all no eggs veggie recipes, very easily adaptable to suit vegan tastes.

Kurma: I have written four cookbooks. My first, Great Vegetarian Dishes, was written in 1989 and is a bit of a classic, having been re-printed seven times, and still in the shops. My next book was Cooking with Kurma, then came Quick Vegetarian Dishes, and lastly (for now) Vegetarian World Food. The recipes are all strictly vegetarian. There are now close to 1 million of my books in print.

Vegans, who don't indulge in any dairy or animal-origin food find the recipes very easy to adapt, almost without exception.

Abolitionist: Did your cooking talents emerge out of all those wonderful Hare Krishna Sunday feasts?

Kurma: Yes, and also my 10-year stint in the kitchen at Gopal's Restaurant in Swanston Street, Melbourne, where I started cooking seriously for 500 patrons a day throughout the 1980's.

Abolitionist: What’s your latest work called and how did it come about?

Kurma: My latest work is a new version of a classic Hare Krishna Cookbook and guide to Karma-free living entitled "The Higher Taste". We distributed over 3.7 million copies of the first edition. The new version not only has over 50 of my recipes, but also has the latest information on important subjects as health and a meatless diet, the hidden cost of meat on the environment, factory farming and compassion.

Abolitionist: What animals are you particularly close to?

Kurma: I am particularly fond of cows. I regard the cow as my mother, and feel very blessed when I can have her company.

Abolitionist: Tell us your understanding of why a cow must be protected?

Kurma: All animals must be protected, and especially the cow. Just like our mother provides us her breast milk when we are babies, and nourishes us, the cow also provides her milk freely for humans to partake of. By nature's arrangement, under normal conditions (not in today's ghastly factory farm hell), the cow will provide much more milk than her calf can drink. This residual milk is, we believe, for the human beings to use.

Killing cows is like cutting the throat of our mother - a horrible crime.

Abolitionist: What about people who slaughter for a living. What is a Krishna devotees views on that?

Kurma: There is absolutely no worse occupation to have than being a slaughterman. The destiny of a butcher is beyond description.

Abolitionist: Is it possible to liberate an animal from their lot in life?

Kurma: Animals who are allowed to live out the terms of their natural life will naturally progress upwards, gradually, over many lifetimes. If we give them spiritually sanctified food and expose them to sacred sound, they will be liberated from their animal cycle.

Abolitionist: Is factory farming practices and developing a Krishna Consciousness a contradiction in terms?

Kurma: 'Factory farming' is an oxymoron. Krishna Consciousness means a God-centred life in harmony with natural laws. Factory farming breaks all the natural laws and brings ruination upon all.

Abolitionist: Do you think humans have lost their religious reverence, respect and love for all life forms in the “ordinary” world Kurma Dasa?

Kurma: Unfortunately this is the tendency, yes.

According to the ancient Vedic Sanskrit texts, this age is called Kali Yuga. It is the final 432,000 year season, the Winter Age if you like, in the ever-rotating cycle of the four seasons of the universe.

Symptomatic of this time is a decline in Godliness, and a decline in following (God's) natural laws. As a direct result, we suffer in many ways due to breaking these laws. We defile and pollute our living place, this planet, and wonder why things become so unpleasant.

Lack of water, environmental catastrophes, disease and poverty, unrest and war are all a direct result of disobeying the laws of nature.

If we want to revive our respect and love for each other and for our fellow creatures, we must revive our connection with God, and naturally we will again become soft-hearted, non-violent, compassionate and loving, our natural position.

Abolitionist: Many animal rights people eat from the Hare Krishna’s ‘Food For Life’ van when it rolls up Monday to Friday especially here in Sydney where the devotees are sensitive and cook with vegetable oil for us to eat. What’s the philosophy behind feeding humans veg food?

Kurma: 'Food' infers vegetarian food. Partaking of body parts and organs hardly qualifies as food for humans.

Specifically, non-vegetarian animals are equipped physiologically to eat meat, they require it, and they accrue no karma in eating it. Humans, however, are designed to be vegetarian. We can live long, natural healthy lifes eating vegetarian food.

Eating animal food leads to disease, shortens our life and pollutes our bodies. As a direct result it dulls our finer perceptions and leads to a cruel mentality. Furthermore, eating animals is bad karma. Those that regularly eat animals will have to become animals in future lives and be eaten themselves.

Abolitionist: What’s happening in your world? Are we going to see another TV programme from you?

Kurma: I continue to teach cookery classes as my main interest in life. I conduct classes all over the world, around Australia, and here in Perth, in cooking schools, colleges, peoples homes and my home. see www.kurma.net/classes.

Also I really enjoy writing, especially my blog and website.

Perhaps there will be another TV series also. And there will be more cookbooks. I'm working on one right now!

Abolitionist: What about those gorgeous Vegi-Cards of yours that would make a terrific gift for a loved one.

Kurma: The vegi cards are two sets of 52 gorgeous, laminated recipe cards with full-colour photos in sturdy boxes. One set is a selection of quick recipes, and the other is a selection from my second book "Cooking with Kurma."

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