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Should Hindus Be Vegan?
Case Study: The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

Part 4
Interfaith Dialogue and Discussion

At a monastic retreat near Paris in July of 1973, the following conversation took place between A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and French Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean Danielou:
 
ACBSP: Jesus Christ said, "Thou shalt not kill." So why is it that the Christian people are engaged in animal killing?
 
CD: Certainly in Christianity it is forbidden to kill, but we believe that there is a difference between the life of a human being, and the life of the beasts. The life of a human being is sacred because man is made in the image of God; therefore, to kill a human being is forbidden.
 
ACBSP: But the Bible does not simply say, "Do not kill the human being." It says broadly, "Thou shalt not kill."
 
CD: We believe that only human life is sacred.
 
ACBSP: That is your interpretation. The commandment is "Thou shalt not kill."
 
CD: It is necessary for man to kill animals in order to have food to eat.
 
ACBSP: No. Man can eat grains, vegetables, fruits...
 
CD: No flesh?
 
ACBSP: No. Human beings are meant to eat vegetarian food. The tiger does not come to eat your fruits. His prescribed food is animal flesh. But man's food is vegetables, fruits, grains...So how can you say that animal killing is not a sin? Jesus Christ taught "Thou shalt not kill." Why do you interpret this to suit your own convenience? When there is no other food, someone may eat meat to keep from starving. That is another thing. But it is most sinful to regularly maintain slaughterhouses just to satisfy your tongue. Actually, you will not even have a human society until this cruel practice of maintaining slaughterhouses is stopped.
 
In 1974, near Frankfurt, Germany, a similar discussion took place with Father Emmanuel Jungclaussen, a Benedictine monk:
 
Father Emmanuel: We Christians also preach love of God, and we try to realize love of God and render service to Him with all our heart and all our soul. Now, what is the difference between your movement and ours? Why do you send your disciples to the Western countries to preach love of God when the gospel of Jesus Christ is propounding the same message?
 
ACBSP: The problem is that the Christians do not follow the commandments of God. Do you agree? 
 
FE: Yes, to a large extent you're right.
 
ACBSP: Then what is the meaning of the Christians' love for God? If you do not follow the orders of God, then where is your love? Therefore we have come to teach what it means to love God: if you love Him, you cannot be disobedient to His orders. And if you're disobedient, your love is not true...They have rubber-stamped themselves "Christian," "Hindu," or "Mohammadan," but they do not obey God. That is the problem...The first point is that they violate the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" by maintaining slaughterhouses. Do you agree that this commandment is being violated?
 
FE: Personally, I agree.
 
ACBSP: Good. So if the Christians want to love God, they must stop killing animals... This program follows the teachings of the Bible; it is not my philosophy. Please act accordingly and you will see how the world situation will change.
 
Srila Prabhupada said elsewhere: "...as far as meat-eating is concerned, every cow will die--so you just wait awhile, and there will be so many dead cows. Then you can take all the dead cows and eat...Don't kill. When the cow is dead, you can eat it." 
 
One of the first things new devotees learn from initiates is that Srila Prabhupada said this not only about cows, but about meat in general: if you want to eat flesh, wait until the animal dies of natural causes.
 
And the eating of carrion (carcasses from animals that died of natural causes) is clearly forbidden in Jewish and Islamic dietary laws.
 
This indicates that Srila Prabhupada was not thinking in terms of "dietary laws," or food in the mode of goodness, passion, or ignorance, but rather in terms of the moral wrong of taking the life of a fellow creature. The original intent of vegetarianism in the Krishna Consciousness movement really is the animals' right to life.
 
The Mahabharata (Santi-parva 141.88) similarly says that the eating of "unclean" food is not as terrible as the eating of flesh. (It must be remembered that the brahmanas of ancient India exalted cleanliness to a divine principle). 
 
Animal rights issues like circuses, fur, "sport" hunting, and vivisection (animal experimentation) have nothing to do with diet, eating, or food. The real issue is the animals' right to life.
 
Establishing Krishna conscious farm communities, where the milk is obtained humanely and nonviolently, IS a genuine solution to the issue of animal cruelty. But Srila Prabhupada's teachings on nonviolence would carry greater weight from vegans.
 
Which is the greater deprivation or harm: the "finer brain tissues" not developing due to a lack of dairy products, or remaining an animal-killer, a cow-killer, and not understanding God at all?
 
Bhakta Matias Carnevale Cano, sympathetic to veganism, wrote from Argentina in 2006:
 
"Also, because we are trying to follow Vedic culture in all of its aspects we don't avoid milk in our preparations, otherwise no halava, no khir, no lassi would be possible."
 
That may be, but contemporary Western social conventions and standards of morality, like dating, boyfriends and girlfriends, contraception and divorce were never part of the Vedic social system, either. And 5,100 years into the Age of Kali, these social conventions are becoming commonplace even in India.
 
The prasadam served in Krishna temples in the West often includes familiar Western vegetarian dishes, which weren't part of Vedic civilization thousands of years ago. 
 
During the college preaching programs at UC San Diego in the 1980s, devotees would say that Western vegetarian dishes can be offered to Krishna in place of rice and sabji (vegetable preparations).
 
Devotees of Krishna should not falsely claim that they are trying to bring back the ancient Vedic civilization, which even Srila Prabhupada said to Professor Kotovsky is impossible.
 
Gangeya dasa (Glen Smith), a disciple of Hridayananda dasa Goswami, was asked years ago if devotees offering dairy products to the Lord were doing so out of devotion or out of sense gratification. He diplomatically repsonded that would depend on the consciousness of the devotee.
 
Srila Prabhupada similarly opposed dissection, animal experimentation, hunting for "sport", etc. -- issues which have nothing to do with diet, eating, or food.
 
So it is clear devotees of Krishna are vegetarian first and foremost out of nonviolence toward and compassion for other living entities, rather than because mea, fish and eggs and even some vegetarian foods cannot be offered to the Lord.
 
Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita Puports Indicate Obtaining Food Nonviolently is the Overriding Concern.
 
Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to the Bhagavad-gita (Chapter 16, verse 3):
 
"Ahimsa (nonviolence) means not arresting the progressive life of any living entity. One should not think that since the spirit spark is never killed even after the killing of the body there is no harm in killing animals for sense gratification. People are now addicted to eating animals, in spite of having an ample supply of grains, fruits...
 
"There is no necessity for animal killing. This injunction is for everyone. When there is no alternative, one may kill an animal, but it should be offered in sacrifice.
 
"At any rate, when there is an ample food supply for humanity, persons who are desiring to make advancement in spiritual realization should not commit violence to animals. Real ahimsa means not checking anyone's progressive life. 
 
"The animals are also making progress in their evolutionary life by transmigrating from one category of animal life to another. If a particular animal is killed, then his progress is checked.
 
"If an animal is staying in a particular body for so many days or so many years and is untimely killed, then he has to come back again to that form of life to complete the remaining days in order to be promoted to another species of life.
 
"So their progress should not be checked simply to satisfy one's palate. This is called ahimsa."
 
In Bhagavad-gita (Chapter 17, verse 8), Lord Krishna says:
 
"Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness (sattva-guna) increase the duration of life, purify one's existence and give strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart."
 
Srila Prabhupada comments:
 
"The purpose of food is to increase the duration of life, purify the mind and aid bodily strength. This is its only purpose. In the past, great authorities selected those foods that best aid health and increase life's duration, such as milk products, sugar, rice, wheat, fruits and vegetables.
 
"These foods are very dear to those in the mode of goodness. Some other foods, such as baked corn and molasses, while not very palatable in themselves, can be made pleasant when mixed with milk or other foods. They are then in the mode of goodness. 
 
"All these foods are pure by nature. They are quite distinct from untouchable things like meat and liquor. Fatty foods, as mentioned in the eighth verse, have no connection with animal fat obtained by slaughter. Animal fat is available in the form of milk, which is the most wonderful of all foods. 
 
"Milk, butter, cheese and similar products give animal fat in a form which rules out any need for the killing of innocent creatures. It is only through brute mentality that this killing goes on. The civilized method of obtaining needed fat is by milk. Slaughter is the way of the subhumans. Protein is amply available through split peas, dahl, whole wheat, etc."
 
Srila Prabhupada's words indicate that milk products are considered "pure" (after all, the cow is sacred!), but they must be obtained nonviolently: "killing innocent creatures" is a "brute mentality" and slaughtering animals "is the way of the subhumans."
 
Thus, veganism is not ruled out. Indeed, veganism would appear to be a logical conclusion of (or at least consistent with) Srila Prabhupada's teachings on nonviolence (see above).
 
Dairy products, however, are not forbidden, either -- but they must be obtained humanely!
 
In A Vegetarian Primer (1983), Canadian tennis champion Peter Burwash (a long-time friend and well-wisher of the Krishna Consciousness movement) compares human anatomy with the other terrestrial vertebrates (carnivores; omnivores; frugivores [the primates, whom he refers to as our ancestors]; and herbivores), He concludes humans are suited for a plant-based diet.

Olive oil is popular with vegans looking for a cruelty-free alternative to butter and other dairy products. Agave nectar is popular with vegans as well, as a cruelty-free alternative to honey. Animal byproducts like milk and honey can be obtained nonviolently, but usually aren't!

And its doubtful if even animal byproducts could be produced cruelty-free on a massive scale to satisfy the demands of the world's affluent consumers, even if they can afford these luxuries. A transition to a vegan economy makes perfect sense.
 
Elsewhere in A Vegetarian Primer, Peter Burwash writes favorably of Gandhi and says the world's human population has long since passed the point at which everyone could be comfortably fed on a meat-centered diet, so it makes sense to eat lower on the food chain -- an argument first popularized by Frances Moore Lappe in her 1971 bestseller, Diet for a Small Planet.
 
Which is the greater deprivation or harm: the "finer brain tissues" not developing due to a lack of dairy products, or remaining an animal-killer, a cow-killer, and not understanding God at all?
 
Gangeya dasa (Glen Smith), a disciple of Hridayananda dasa Goswami, was asked years ago if devotees offering dairy products to the Lord were doing so out of devotion or out of sense gratification. He diplomatically responded that would depend on the consciousness of the individual devotee.

Go on to: Part 5, Here Are Quotes on Ahimsa or Nonviolence, from the Hindu Scriptures

Return to Part 1

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