Sacrifice, Non-violence and Abstention from Meat in Epic Hinduism

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Sacrifice, Non-violence and Abstention from Meat in Epic Hinduism

Presented at Christian Vegetarian Association UK Conference - Nature, Creation and the Peaceable Kingdom Conference -  August 2010
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By Mikel Burley (©)
September 2010


For the purposes of comparison and discussion, this paper presents an alternative, non-Christian perspective on sacrifice, non-violence and abstention from meat. After providing some historical background, it focuses on two discourses from the thirteenth book of the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata.

In these discourses, offered to the king Yudisthira by the god Bhraspati and the dying heroic warrior Bhisma, the spiritual importance of non-violence is stressed, yet the ancient Vedic practice of animal sacrifice is also declared to be spiritually edifying.

The paper considers whether there is a tension between these two forms of practice, and proposes that, although the test does not straightforwardly confront older Vedic norms, it does represent a transition towards a stronger emphasis on renunciation of worldly desires. This renunciatory spirit is epitomized by abstention from animal flesh.

Read the entire presentation (PDF) here.