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Eating of flesh – Merits and Demerits


From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva, Section CXVI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli


Yudhishthira said: Alas, those cruel men, who, discarding diverse kinds of food, covet only flesh, are really like great Rakshasas (demons)! Alas, they do not relish diverse kinds of cakes and diverse sorts of potherbs and various species of Khanda with juicy flavour so much as they do flesh! My understanding, for this reason, becomes stupefied in this matter. I think, when such is the case, that, there is nothing that can compare with flesh in the matter of taste. I desire, therefore, O puissant one, to hear what the merits are of abstention from flesh, and the demerits that attach to the eating of flesh, O chief of Bharata’s race. Thou art conversant with every duty. Do thou discourse to me in full agreeably to the ordinances on duty, on this subject. Do tell me what, indeed, is edible and what inedible. Tell me, O grandsire, what is flesh, of what substances it is, the merits that attach to abstention from it, and what the demerits are that attach to the eating of flesh.

Bhishma said: There is nothing on earth that is superior to flesh in point of taste. There is nothing that is more beneficial then flesh to persons that are lean, or weak, or afflicted with disease, or addicted to sexual congress, or exhausted with travel. Flesh speedily increases strength. It produces great development. There is no food, O scorcher of foes, that is superior to flesh. But, O delighter of the Kurus, the merits are great that attach to men that abstain from it. Listen to me as I discourse to thee on it. That man who wished to increase his own flesh by the flesh of another living creature is such that there is none meaner and more cruel than he. In this world there is nothing that is dearer to a creature than his life. Hence (instead of taking that valuable possession), one should show compassion to the lives of others as one does to one's own life.


Meat sanctified with Mantras

Without doubt, O son, flesh has its origin in the vital seed. There is great demerit attaching to its eating, as, indeed, there is merit in abstaining from it. One does not, however, incur any fault by eating flesh sanctified according to the ordinances of the Vedas. The audition is heard that animals were created for sacrifice. They who eat flesh in any other way are said to follow the Rakshasa practice.

It has been said that that religion which has acts for its indications has been ordained for householders, O chief of Kings, and not for those men who are desirous of emancipation. Manu himself has said that meat which is sanctified with mantras and properly dedicated, according to the ordinances of the Vedas, in rites performed in honour of the Pitris, is pure. All other meat falls under the class of what is obtained by useless slaughter, and is, therefore, uneatable, and leads to Hell and infamy. One should never eat, O chief of Bharata`s race, like a Rakshasa, any meat that has been obtained by means not sanctioned by the ordinance. Indeed, one should never eat flesh obtained from useless slaughter and that has not been sanctified by the ordinance. That man who wishes to avoid calamity of every kind should abstain from the meat of every living creature.

Desirous of benefiting all men, the high-souled Agastya, by the aid of his penances, dedicated, once for all, all wild animals of the deer species to the deities. Hence, there is no longer any necessity of sanctifying those animals for offering them to the deities and the Pitris. Served with flesh according to the ordinance, the Pitris become gratified.

One who has abstained from meat (under any vow) should not take meat even if it be sanctified with mantras from the Yajurveda. One should also avoid the flesh about the vertebral column (of any animal) and the flesh of any animal not slain in sacrifices.

There is complete happiness in abstaining from meat, O monarch. He that undergoes severe austerities for a hundred years and he that abstains from meat, are both equal in point of merit. In the lighted fortnight of the month of Karttika in special, one should abstain from honey and meat. In this, it has been ordained, there is great merit. He who abstains for the whole month of Karttika from meat of every kind, transcends all kinds of woe and lives in complete happiness. He who abstains from meat for the four months of the rains acquires the four valued blessings of achievements, longevity, fame and might.

Those righteous men who, from the time of birth, abstain from honey and meat and wine, are regarded as Munis. That man who practises this religion consisting of abstention from meat or who recites it for causing others to hear it, will never have to go to hell even if he be exceedingly wicked in conduct in other respects. He, O king, who (often times) reads these ordinances about abstention from meat, that are sacred and adored by the Rishis, or hears it read, becomes cleansed of every sin and attains to great felicity in consequence of the fruition of every wish. Without doubt, he attains also to a position of eminence among kinsmen. When afflicted with calamity, he readily transcends it. When obstructed with impediments, he succeeds in freeing himself from them with the utmost ease. When ill with disease, he becomes cured speedily, and afflicted with sorrow he becomes liberated from it with greatest ease. Such a man has never to take birth in the intermediate order of animals or birds. Born in the order of humanity, he attains to great beauty of person. Endued with great prosperity, O chief of Kuru’s race, he acquires great fame as well.

From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva, Section CLXII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Addressing King Yudhishthira, Bhishma said:
One does not incur any fault or stain by eating the meat of animals slain in sacrifices with the aid of Tantra from the Yajur Veda.
The flesh of the back-bone, or that of animals not slain in sacrifice, should be avoided even as one avoids the flesh of one's own son.


Religion of compassion

There are four kinds of compassion or abstention from injury. If even one of those four kinds be not observed, the religion of compassion, it is said, is not observed. As all four-footed animals are incapable of standing on three legs, even so the religion of compassion cannot stand if any of those four divisions or parts be wanting. As the footprints of all other animals are engulfed in those of the elephant, even so all other religions are said to be comprehended in that of compassion. A person becomes guilty of injury through acts, words and thoughts. Discarding it mentally at the outset, one should next discard in word and thought. Listen to me, O king, as I tell thee what the faults are that attach to the eating of meat. The meat of other animals is like the flesh of one’s son. That foolish person, stupefied by folly, who eats meat, is regarded as the vilest of human beings. The union of father and mother produces an offspring. After the same manner, the cruelty that a helpless and sinful wretch commits, produces its progeny of repeated rebirths fraught with great misery. As the tongue is the cause of the knowledge or sensation of taste, so the scriptures declare, attachment proceeds from taste. Well-dressed, cooked with salt or without salt, meat, in whatever form one may take it, gradually attracts the mind and enslaves it. They who eat meat applaud it highly, suffering themselves to be stupefied by its taste which they pronounce to be something inconceivable, indescribable, and unimaginable. Such praise even of meat is fraught with demerit.

The Self-born Manu has said that that man who does not eat meat, or who does not slay living creatures, or who does not cause them to be slain, is a friend of all creatures. Such a man is incapable of being oppressed by any creature. He enjoys the confidence of all living beings. He always enjoys, besides, the approbation and commendation of the righteous. That man who having eaten meat gives it up afterwards, acquires merit by such an act that is so great that a study of all

the Vedas or a performance, O Bharata, of all the sacrifices, cannot bestow its like. It is exceedingly difficult for such a person to observe the high vow of abstention from meat, a vow that assures every creature by dispelling all fear.

That man who abstains from meat is never put in fear. All creatures seek his protection. He is an object of confidence with all creatures. He never causes any anxiety in others, and himself has never to become anxious. If there were nobody who ate flesh there would then be nobody to kill living creatures. The man who kills living creatures kills them for the sake of the person who eats flesh. If flesh were regarded as inedible, there would then be no slaughter of living creatures. It is for the sake of the eater that the slaughter of living creatures goes on in the world.

Since, O thou of great splendour, the period of life is shortened of persons who slaughter living creatures or cause them to be slaughtered, it is clear that the person who wishes his own good should give up meat entirely. Those fierce persons who are engaged in slaughter of living creatures, never find protectors when they are in need. Through cupidity or stupefaction of the understanding, for the sake of strength or energy, or through association with the sinful, the disposition manifests itself in men for sinning.

That man who seeks to increase his own flesh by (eating) the flesh of others, has to live in this world in great anxiety and after death has to take birth in different races and families. High Rishis devoted to the observance of vows and self-restraint have said that abstention from meat is worthy of every praise, productive of fame and Heaven, and a great propitiation by itself.

He who purchases flesh slays living creatures through his wealth

He who eats the flesh of animals that are desirous of living but that have been killed by either himself or others, incurs the sin that attaches to the slaughter for his this act of cruelty. He who purchases flesh slays living creatures through his wealth. He who eats flesh slays living creatures through such act of eating. He does not himself eat flesh but approves of an act of slaughter becomes stained with the sin of slaughter. By abstaining from meat and showing compassion to all creatures one becomes incapable of being molested by any creature, and acquires a long life, perfect health, happiness. The merit that is acquired by a person by abstaining from meat, we have heard, is superior to that of one who makes presents of gold, of cows, and of land.

One should never eat meat of animals not dedicated in sacrifices and that are, therefore, slain for nothing, and that has not been offered to the gods and Pitris with the aid of the ordinances. There is not the slightest doubt that a person by eating such meat goes to Hell. If one eats the meat that has been sanctified in consequence of its having been procured from animals dedicated in sacrifices and that have been slain for the purpose of feeding Brahmanas, one incurs a little fault. By behaving otherwise, one becomes stained with sin.

That wretch among men who slays living creatures for the sake of those who would eat them, incurs great demerit. The eater’s demerit is not so great. That wretch among men who, following the path of religious rites and sacrifices laid down in the Vedas, would kill a living creature from desire of eating its flesh, would certainly become a resident of hell. That man who having eaten flesh abstains from it afterwards, attains to great merit in consequence of such abstention from sin. He who arranges for obtaining flesh, he who approves of those arrangements, he who slays, he who buys or sells, he who cooks, and he who eats, are all regarded as eaters of flesh.

In this way, O monarch, the religion of compassion is surrounded by four considerations. I have thus declared to thee that religion which comprises all other religions within it.

Listen to me as I tell thee what the ordinance is that has been laid down for the Kshatriyas. They do not incur any fault by eating flesh that has been acquired by expenditure of prowess. All deer of the wilderness were dedicated to the deities and the Pitris in days of old, O king, by Agastya. Hence the hunting of deer is not censured. There is equality of risk between the slayer and the slain. Either the animal is killed or it kills the hunter. Hence, O, Bharata, even royal sages betake themselves to the practice of hunting. By such conduct they do not become stained with sin. Indeed, the practice is not regarded as sinful.

There is nothing, O delighter of the Kurus, that is equal in point of merit, either here or hereafter, to the practice of compassion to all living creatures. The man of compassion has no fear. Those harmless men that are endued with compassion have both this world and the next. Persons conversant with duty say that that religion is worthy of being called religion which has abstention from cruelty for its indication. The man of cleansed soul should do only such acts as have compassion for their soul. That flesh, which is dedicated in sacrifice performed in honour of the deities and the Pitris is called Havi (and as such, is worthy of being eaten).

That man who is devoted to compassion and who behaves with compassion towards others, has no fear to entertain from any creature. It is heard that all creatures abstain from causing any fear unto such a creature. Whether he is wounded or fallen down or prostrated or weakened or bruised, in whatever state he may be, all creatures protect him. Indeed, they do so under all circumstances, whether he is on even or uneven ground. Neither snakes nor wild animals, neither Pisachas nor Rakshasas, ever slay him. When circumstances of fear arise, he becomes freed from fear who frees others from situations of fear. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a gift that is superior to the gift of life. It is certain that there is nothing dearer to oneself than one’s life.

They that are covetous of meat are seen to be repeatedly cooked in the hell called Kumbhipaka. They are assailed and slain, and in this way have to travel repeatedly. There is nothing so dear to one as one’s life when one comes to this world. Hence, a person of cleansed soul should be compassionate to all living creatures. That man, O king, who abstains from every kind of meat from his birth, without doubt, acquires a large space in Heaven. They who eat the flesh of animals who are desirous of life, are themselves eaten by the animals they eat, without doubt. Even this is my opinion. Since he has eaten me, I shall eat him in return- even this , O Bharata, constitutes the character as MANSA of Mansa. (Mansa is flesh. Mam = me, sa = he. Me he eateth, therefore I shall eat him.) The slayer is always slain. After him the eater meets with the same fate. He who acts with hostility towards another (in this life) becomes the victim of similar acts done by that other. Whatever acts one does in whatever bodies, one has to suffer the consequences thereof in those bodies.

Abstention from cruelty is the highest religion . Abstention from cruelty is the highest self-control. Abstention from cruelty is the highest gift. Abstention from cruelty is the highest penance. Abstention from cruelty is the highest sacrifice, the highest puissance, the highest friend, the highest happiness. Abstention from cruelty is the highest truth, the highest Sruti. Gifts made in all sacrifices, ablutions performed in all sacred waters, and the merit that one acquires from making all kinds of gifts mentioned in the scriptures; all these do not come up to abstention from cruelty (in point of merit that attaches to it). The penances of a man that abstains from cruelty are inexhaustible. The man who abstains from cruelty is regarded as always performing sacrifices. The man that abstains from cruelty is the father and mother of all creatures. Altogether, the merits that attach to abstention from cruelty are so many that they are incapable of being exhausted even if one were to speak for a hundred years.


By Sant Vinoba Bhave

Food should be pure and clean. The food that a man eats can never be too pure. Our society has performed enough tapas (austerity) for the sake of purity in food. In India, many efforts have been made towards this. Thousands of years have passed in this experiment. We cannot tell how much tapas has gone into them. It is only in India that many entire communities have freed themselves of meat-eating. Even those who eat meat give it a secondary place and do not take it every day, they even feel that they are doing something improper; these too have in their minds given up meat.



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This article was published on Wednesday 27 September, 2006.
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