Should Hindus Be Vegan?
Case Study: The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
The Hindu Teachings on Nonviolence, Karma, Reincarnation and the Sacred Status of the Cow, All Indicate Veganism is a Realistic Response to Cow-Killing
1. Mohandas Gandhi, India's great apostle of nonviolence, flirted with
In his article "Gandhi and the Launching of Veganism ," John Davis writes:
"...in 1888 the London Vegetarian Society split from the original UK society, based in Manchester, to form a second national group. In 1891 Gandhi was a law student in London and joined their committee for a while, later describing this in some detail in his autobiography.
"On leaving India the young Gandhi had made a religious vow to his mother not to eat meat while he was in London, and he kept to it with great difficulty. One day he found a vegetarian restaurant and on the way in picked up a booklet by Henry Salt entitled A Plea for Vegetarianism (1885) which persuaded Gandhi that being vegetarian was important in its own right : and in which Salt wrote: 'even dairy produce is quite unnecessary.'
"Salt's next book, in 1892: Animals' Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress is generally recognised today as groundbreaking.
"In 1931 Gandhi, now world-famous for his non-violent resistance in India, went to London to meet the government, and while he was there agreed to give a talk for the London Vegetarian Society, with the title of 'The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism.'
"...Gandhi at that meeting, next his old friend Henry Salt who had founded the Humanitarian League and written forty books to promote his ethical ideals. By 1931 Gandhi wanted something different, after some opening remarks he said:
"'Forty years ago I used to mix freely with vegetarians... I notice also that it is those persons who became vegetarians because they are suffering from some disease or other - that is from purely the health point of view - it is those persons who largely fall back. I discovered that for remaining staunch to vegetarianism a man requires a moral basis.'
"Whether Gandhi was statistically correct in this claim is still the subject of much debate today. But he wanted to go farther:
"'I would give up milk if I could, but I cannot. I have made that experiment times without number.'
"He also wrote elsewhere: 'Milk is an animal product and cannot by any means be included in a strictly vegetarian diet... I am convinced that in the vast vegetable kingdom there must be some kind, which while supplying those necessary substances that we derive from milk and meat is free from their drawbacks, ethical and other.'
"But Gandhi had been just warming up in this talk to the London Vegetarian Society, finally making his point: "'...the only basis for having a vegetarian society and proclaiming a vegetarian principle is, and must be a moral one.'"
Bill Shurtleff of the Soyfood Info Center in California writes:
"Few people are aware of Gandhi's interest in and work with soyfoods in India.
"On 24 February 1929 George Washington Carver (Tuskegee, Alabama) wrote a letter to a Dr. Charles Freer Andrews, an Anglican minister who worked closely with Gandhi, first in south Africa and later in India. He concludes: 'A peanut emulsion can be made in the same way as that recommended for the soy bean, and is a little richer in food nutrients.'
"Andrews had previously visited Carver in Tuskegee in Feb. 1929 for 10 days and learned how to make soymilk and how to develop a healthful [vegan] menu that contained soymilk.
"Carver apparently introduced Gandhi to soyfoods. By Feb. 1929 Gandhi almost surely knew about soymilk and had probably made and tasted it in India.
"Gandhi first began to write about soyfoods, in order to introduce them to India, in September 1935, in Harijan.
"He wrote about soyfoods in articles and books from Sept. 1935 to 1949, four articles in Harijan and sections in two books: (1) "Food Shortage & Agriculture" (1949), and (2) "Diet and Diet Reform" (1949).
"Throughout India (which is now the world's fifth largest soybean producing country), Gandhi is considered to be "the father of soyabeans in India."
2. Srila Prabhupada Said Abortion and War are the Collective Karma for Killing Cows and Other Animals.
The Mahabharata warns that cow-killers must suffer torment in hell for as many lifetimes as there are hairs on the body of each cow killed.
On November 7, 1966, in Delhi, 200,000 Hindus rioted, demanding an immediate ban on government cow slaughter. The rally was spearheaded by sadhus, or Hindu holymen.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which he'd founded just a few months earlier, preaching in the Bowery in New York City, approved of these protests against cow-killing in India.
How can vegetarians tell the meat-eaters not to kill cows and other animals if the vegetarians themselves are killing cows (by purchasing dairy products from the commercial dairies)? Even if the vegetarians are killing cows indirectly and unintentionally, will the meat-eaters take them seriously?
Karma affects all parties involved, and not just the person who kills the animal; just as a person who purchases or even receives stolen goods is just as guilty as the person who stole them.
According to the law of karma, all who are connected to the killing of an animal are liable -- the person who gives permission for the killing, the person who kills, the person who helps, the person who purchases the meat, the person who cooks the flesh, and the person who eats it.
(These six guilty parties are enumerated in the Manu-samhita, ancient India's book of civic and religious codes.) In a court of law all who conspire in a murder are considered responsible, especially the party who purchases the assassin's services.
Agrarian India IS an animal-dependent culture! Pro-life and pro-animal advocate Jeremy Rifkin wrote in his 1992 bestseller, Beyond Beef:
"To a great extent, the very survival of the Indian population depends on the contribution of this most useful of animals. The cows provide most of India's dairy requirements. The ox provides traction for sixty million small farmers whose land feeds eighty percent of the Indian population. Indian cattle excrete seven hundred million tons of manure annually, half of which is used as fertilizer to maintain the soil. The rest is burned to provide heat for cooking.
"Harris has estimated that cattle dung provides Indian housewives with the equivalent of 'twenty-seven million tons of kerosene, thirty-five million tons of coal, or sixty-eight million tons of wood.' Cow dung is even mixed with water and used as a paste to make household flooring... a variety of household uses."
As early as 1966, Srila Prabhupada commented about those who kill cows: "There are very severe (karmic) reactions awaiting all of them (in the afterlife, that is, in future lifetimes). Cattlemen, cow butchers, transporters, restaurant owners and consumers. Even the dishwasher."
This is a point Krishna devotees have made repeatedly to pro-lifers, in secular political language, as well as in biblical theological language: we reap what we sow. Abortion, like war, is the collective karma for killing animals. The slippery slope, the mentality which makes abortion possible -- the strong exploiting the weakest and most vulnerable among us -- begins with humans exploiting animals.
And the industrialized West is not agrarian India!
"When we turn to the protection of animals, we sometimes hear it said that we ought to protect men first and animals afterwards...By condoning cruelty to animals, we perpetuate the very spirit which condones cruelty to men."
The fate of the animals and the fate of man are interconnected. (Ecclesiastes 3:19) A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada said in 1974:
"We simply request, 'Don't kill. Don't maintain slaughterhouses.' That is very sinful. It brings a very awkward karmic reaction upon society. Stop these slaughterhouses. We don't say, 'Stop eating meat.' You can eat meat, but don't take it from the slaughterhouse, by killing. Simply wait (until the animal dies of natural causes) and you'll get the carcasses.
"You are killing innocent cows and other animals--nature will take revenge. Just wait. As soon as the time is right, nature will gather all these rascals and slaughter them. Finished. They'll fight among themselves--Protestants and Catholics, Russia and America, this one and that one. It is going on. Why? This is nature's law. Tit for tat. 'You have killed. Now you kill yourselves.'
"They are sending animals to the slaughterhouse, and now they'll create their own slaughterhouse. You see? Just take Belfast. The Roman Catholics are killing the Protestants, and the Protestants are killing the Catholics. This is nature's law. It is not necessary that you be sent to the ordinary slaughterhouse. You'll make a slaughterhouse at home. You'll kill your own child--abortion. This is nature's law.
"Who are these children being killed? They are these meat-eaters. They enjoyed themselves when so many animals were killed and now they're being killed by their own mothers. People do not know how nature is working. If you kill you must be killed. If you kill the cow, who is your mother, then in some future lifetime your mother will kill you. Yes. The mother becomes the child, and the child becomes the mother.
"We don't want to stop trade, or the production of grains and vegetables and fruit. But we want to stop these killing houses. It is very, very sinful. That is why all over the world they have so many wars. Every ten or fifteen years there is a big war -- a wholesale slaughterhouse for humankind. But these rascals--they do not see it, that by the law of karma, every action must have its reaction."
3. In Her 2008 book, Yoga and Vegetarianism, Sharon Gannon, Who Attended Catholic School till the Sixth Grade, and Now Follows a Deeper Spiritual Tradition, advocates veganism:
"In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali presents an eight-step plan for liberation called raja-yoga. The first step is yama, which means restraint. It consists of five ethical guidelines regarding how yogis should treat others, all of which clearly support a vegetarian diet. The first yama Patanjali gives is ahimsa, or nonharming... Stop perpetuating violence and it will cease...
"Billions of animals are killed every year for human consumption after living confined in horrible conditions on factory farms and enduring untold extremes of suffering. This fact alone is good reason for any yoga practitioner to adopt a vegetarian diet.
"Meanwhile, from the individual health perspective, a vegetarian diet has been proven to prevent and even reverse heart disease and cancer, two of the leading causes of human death in our world today.
"The terrible toll that eating meat, fish, and dairy takes on our planet's air, water, soil, and whole ecosystem is another reason for yogis, who have traditionally cultivated a close relationship with nature, to consider vegetarianism... Extending compassion towards animals purifies our karmas, creating an internal state of being conducive to enlightenment."
According to Sharon Gannon, the single most important part of one's yoga practice is the strict adherence to a vegetarian diet--a diet free of needless cruelty, harm, and injustice. Gannon offers truth and wisdom from a tradition of spiritual practice thousands of years old and explains how to apply these practices to our modern lifestyles.
Along with David Life, she is the creator of the Jivamukti Yoga method, a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings. Blessed by her teachers Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, Swami Nirmalananda, and SriK.Pattabhi Jois, she is a pioneer in teaching yoga as spiritual activism. Vegetarianism is a core principle of the Jivamuki Yoga method.
Gannon is the author of many books and the producer of numerous yoga-related DVDs and music CDs. She is the recipient of the 2008 Compassionate Living Award. Vanity Fair gives her credit for making yoga cool and hip.
4. Shankar Narayan of the Indian Vegan Society Writes:
"I always believed there is a connection between not eating meat/milk and our spiritual advancement as we have developed the habit of exploiting animals for over a million years.
"A spiritual guru, based in Bangalore, was recently introduced to me. After a while I spoke to him (a lacto-vegetarian) about cruelty in milk. He not only immediately stopped use of milk but also wrote to all his followers about milk. He even forwarded me the replies of his followers who also followed his suit.
"Another religious guru Sri Rahaveshwara Bharathi Swami with large base and following is also saying that keeping cows is not for milk. Sri Sri Ravishankar of Art of Living with worldwide reach also (one of his followers told me) says in his literature that milk is to be avoided. Maybe there is a link between these two cases and our Indian Vegan Society efforts in reaching the message of veganism to them.
"In addition, Jain spiritual leader Sri Chitrabhanu also advocates veganism and converted many of his followers to veganism.
"Well, the spiritual movement is turning vegan. I wish the vegan movement also turns spiritual so that we have a solid platform. For me veganism is more than not using animal products, see my veganism at
5. There Is No Such Thing as Cruelty-Free Milk in the U.S.
Vegan animal activist Sandra Kirchberger wrote in 2006:
"And in regards to the milk issue, I hate to break the news to you, but from what I understand there is no such thing as cruelty free milk in the U.S. In order for cows to produce milk they have to be continuously pregnant, their babies are kidnapped from them and usually sold to other farmers, and even with organic milk , there is no way to know for sure what happens to the bull cow at that point, they could have gone on to produce beef or veal. Usually there is no way to know for sure...
"So there is no doubt, if you are buying milk right off the shelf at a store, you are taking part in producing veal or beef or both and you are also responsible for kidnapping the baby cow from its mother so that you can drink her milk.
"There is almost nothing more sad than a cow who is in search of her baby, she will moo and knock over fences looking for the baby, and all the cows used to produce dairy are slaughtered after they are spent, usually with udders all swollen, and emotionally abused in every way, shape and form.
"So, it is hypocritical for a Hindu to claim that the cow is sacred to them, but drink their milk at the same time..."
Sandra is correct!
"Cows are amongst the gentlest of creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them."
--Thomas de Quincey
Establishing Krishna-conscious farms where the cows and other animals are not killed or even mistreated IS a genuine alternative, response and solution to the cow-killing, factory-farming and meat-eating in the West.
But Srila Prabhupada's teachings on nonviolence (and the heavy karma involved in cow-killing and meat-eating in general!) would carry greater weight from vegans than from vegetarians.
Religious institutions are slow to change, even when the hypocrisy is in front of them.
Literature from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a secular organization, similarly says "Good intentions are not good enough."
In his 1982 edition of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Dr. Richard Schwartz makes a case for Jewish vegetarianism, noting that throughout the Bible, Israel is repeatedly called a "land flowing with milk and honey." (Exodus 3:8,17; Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 13:27, 14:8; Deuteronomy 11:9, 26:9,15, 27:3, 31:20; Baruch 1:20; Ezekiel 20:15)
Dr. Richard Schwartz advocates strict veganism in his 2004 edition of Judaism and Vegetarianism, but admits 90 percent of American vegetarians do consume dairy products and eggs. Animal activists like Sandra Kirchberger and others must realize, the religious community can hardly be blamed in this regard!
Again, religious institutions are slow to change, even when the hypocrisy (e.g., eight) is in front of them.
6. Devotees of Krishna and Hindus in General Should Consider These Points:
a) Srila Prabhupada has written, "If people are to be educated in the path back to Godhead, they must be taught first and foremost to stop the process of animal-killing."
b) Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 - 1534) made vegetarianism central to the sankirtan (“God-praise”) movement when He brought up the subject of meat-eating with the Chand Kazi of Navadvipa, a local Muslim ruler, learned in the Koran. And Srila Prabhupada followed our Lord's example by repeatedly bringing up the subject with people of other faiths ("Thou shalt not kill").
c) In a purport from the First Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada writes: "It is nonsensical to say that the killing of animals has nothing to do with spiritual realization."
d) In his purport to the Srimad Bhagavatam 6.10.9, Srila Prabhupada writes:
"One cannot continue killing animals and at the same time be a religious man. That is the greatest hypocrisy. Jesus Christ said, 'Do not kill,' but hypocrites nevertheless maintain thousands of slaughterhouses while posing as Christians. Such hypocrisy is condemned..."
e) Srila Prabhupada even candidly told a Catholic priest in London in 1973, that, "Animal-killers cannot understand God. I have seen this. It is a fact."
f) Elsewhere Srila Prabhupada has written:
"If one kills many thousands of animals in a professional way so that other people can purchase the meat to eat, one must be ready to be killed in a similar way in his next life and life after life. There are many rascals who violate their own religious principles. According to Judeo-Christian scriptures, it is clearly said, 'Thou shalt not kill.'
“Nonetheless, giving all kinds of excuses, even the heads of religions indulge in killing animals while trying to pass as saintly persons. This mockery and hypocrisy in human society brings about unlimited calamities; therefore occasionally there are great wars. Masses of such people go out onto battlefields and kill themselves.
“Presently, they have discovered the atomic bomb, which is simply waiting to be used for wholesale destruction." (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 24.251, purport).
g) "To be nonviolent to human beings and to be a killer or enemy of the poor animals is Satan's philosophy. In this age there is enmity towards poor animals, and therefore the poor creatures are always anxious. The reaction of the poor animals is being forced on human society, and therefore there is always the strain of cold or hot war between men, individually, collectively or nationally." (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.10.6).
h) The Srimad Bhagavatam quotes King Pariksit as having said, "only the animal-killer cannot relish the message of the Absolute Truth." And Srila Prabhupada himself said in conversation with Christians, "If the Christians want to love God, they must stop killing animals." Srila Prabhupada taught that nonviolence is the first principle in spiritual life (Letter to Bhakta das, August 3, 1973).
Srila Prabhupada not only opposed killing animals for food, he also opposed dissection, animal experimentation and killing animals for "sport."
i) In the Lilamrita, for example, Satsvarupa Maharaja records an incident where an Indian graduate student tells Srila Prabhupada he is studying biology. Srila Prabhupada responds: "...poor frogs!" His challenge to the dissectors and vivisectors: "Would you give your body to science for the advancement of knowledge?"
Similarly, in a 1976 interview, when the editors of Back to Godhead told Srila Prabhupada:
"...Another point in the Declaration of Independence is that all men are endowed by God with certain natural rights that cannot be taken away from them. These are the rights of life, liberty, and..."
Srila Prabhupada immediately interjected: "But animals also have the right to life. Why don't animals also have the right to live? The rabbits, for instance, are living in their own way in the forest. Why does the government allow hunters to go and shoot them?"
The editors of Back to Godhead told Srila Prabhupada: "They (America's founding fathers) were simply talking about human beings."
Srila Prabhupada replied: "Then they have no real philosophy. The narrow idea that my family or my brother is good, and that I can kill all others, is criminal.
“Suppose that for my family's sake I kill your father. Is that philosophy? Real philosophy is suhridam sarva-bhutanam: friendliness to all living entities.
"Certainly this applies to human beings, but even if you unnecessarily kill one animal, I shall immediately protest, 'What nonsense are you doing?' "
Srila Prabhupada’s words above debunk the argument that because animals are not part of our “human family” (whatever that means) we have no duties toward them.
j) On numerous occasions, Srila Prabhupada taught that even rodents and insects have rights, and (like Pythagoras) he even opposed the unnecessary destruction of trees.
These facts indicate that devotees of Krishna are vegetarian out of compassion for animals, and not merely because meat, fish and eggs are unofferable to Lord Krishna.
k) It is a significant fact that Srila Prabhupada did not reject any of his fallen disciples, as long as they did not return to flesh-eating.
Like Lord Chaitanya's dialogue with the Chand Kazi, this underscores the importance of vegetarianism to the sankirtan movement.
l) If Srila Prabhupada's only concern was merely that his disciples merely abstain from rajasic and tamasic foods in the lower modes of nature, like onions, garlic, mushrooms, vinegar, etc. (i.e., follow a peculiar set of "dietary laws"), because of the possible effect such foods might have on their consciousness, or because they are unofferable to Lord Krishna, he would not have opposed killing animals for sport, nor would he have opposed dissection, nor animal experimentation.
Nor would Srila Prabhupada have repeatedly said that if the karmis (nondevotees) want to eat meat they can wait until the cows (and other animals) die of natural causes, before eating them. ("Slaughterhouse Civilization," Back to Godhead, 1979).
It's clear Srila Prabhupada was morally opposed to taking the life of a fellow creature. These facts and points indicate devotees of Krishna are vegetarian first and foremost out of nonviolence toward and compassion for animals.