Questioner (Q): Why in nature all living beings are not vegetarians? Why does life eat life? If killing is evil, then why do carnivores, lions, and wolves exist at all?
Acharya Prashant (AP): Please understand, it is not killing that is bad. Killing does not operate in a vacuum. The killer is the one in question.
Who is killing?
If the lion is killing then it is one thing, but if Man is killing then it is a totally different thing. Do not say that the moot question is ‘killing’. No. The moot question relates to—the killer, not killing per se. Is that clear? If you can understand this, then the rest of things will be very clear automatically.
The thing is not so much about killing. It is much more about—actually only about— the killer. So, there is a difference between when the lion kills the deer versus when the Man kills the deer. The lion kills the deer, the lion has no option. The lion is programmed to kill the deer; the lion kills the deer. The lion has no higher consciousness to attain by not killing the deer. The lion is not supposed to practice compassion. And if the lion will not kill the deer, the lion will die. The lion is almost like a machine.
Will you say that your car is killing the fuel? But that's how it happens, no? You put fuel in the car and what happens to the fuel? It is burnt, turned into smoke, gone, finished, killed. But do you call it violence? No. The relationship between the lion and the deer is a bit similar. None of them, rather neither of them are creatures of consciousness. In that sense, they are more similar to machines. They do have consciousness, but their consciousness is lower with respect to Man.
When you take Man as the benchmark, then both the lion and the deer are quite lowly in terms of consciousness. So, in that sense, I am comparing them to machines. They are like machines because they operate in very-very pre-scripted ways. They are pre-programmed to do what they do.
You don't have to teach the deer to eat grass. You don't have to teach the lion to not eat grass and herbs.
If you give meat to the deer, the deer will simply walk away. If you give grass to the lion, the lion will simply walk away. It's not a matter of ideology. It's not a matter of teaching or training. It is designed like that. It is a machine. It will not admit anything else.
So, machines, therefore, obviously, cannot be called ‘evil’. It would be stupid to call a machine evil. It would be equally stupid to call a machine virtuous. Machines are neither vile nor virtuous.
Now, come to Man. Man has consciousness. Man has decision-making ability. If Man compares himself to a lion or a wolf then he is debasing himself. Is he not?
You are a Man, you're a creature of high consciousness. Why do you want to follow the dietary pattern of a wolf, which is a creature of a low consciousness?
So, Man has a choice. Therefore, Man has to practice compassion, for his own sake. Man has to ask himself, “Is it the only way possible to feed my stomach? Do I really have to kill consciousness to sustain consciousness? And even if I have to kill consciousness to sustain consciousness, does it have to be an animal, which has a relatively higher level of consciousness compared to grass?”
Man is conscious, the animal is conscious, and the grass is conscious; all three are conscious, right? But Man's consciousness is extremely high, and it has the potential to go even higher, greatly higher. The sky, even the sky is not the limit, that high the Man's consciousness can go. So, Man is conscious. The animal is conscious. The animal consciousness is an in-between kind of consciousness. The grass too is conscious. The grass’s consciousness is very lowly, very basic.
So, if the Man's body is designed in a way that it has to have food and food will necessarily involve killing, you are very right as you said life eats life. You are very right that for one biological form to survive it has to consume another biological form. But I have the choice of which biological form do I kill for my physical sustenance, this or this. This is an animal, and this is grass (indicating their conscious level by hand respectively). Given the choice, I will choose not to kill a relatively higher form of consciousness. And in this, I fully admit that, even when I am eating the grass or the radish or the apple, violence is still involved.
But I am helpless. If I have to avoid even that level of violence, then I have to commit suicide or I shouldn't have been born. If the body is to be sustained, then the minimum level of killing has to happen. But what's important is the word ‘minimum’, keep it to the ‘minimum’.
It's not a matter of absolutes. It's not in binaries. You cannot say that “I will not kill a living being at all.” If you'll not kill a living being at all you won't survive, simple! And anyway, living beings are getting killed in your throat, in your gut, on your skin every moment. Even as you inhale, you take in so many microbes and they're all getting killed. You don't even know, you take in a fizzy drink and you do not know what kind of a slaughter it has done in your alimentary canal, from here till there (indicating from mouth to stomach) but that's the minimum. What do I do?
What do I do, even as I step on the floor, something is getting killed. I cannot avoid it but I should avoid what is avoidable; killing an animal is avoidable. I should avoid it.
By saying that I am not at all saying that I am not guilty of killing at all. Even the purest vegetarian or vegan is committing some level of killing but he can be exonerated if that killing has been kept to a minimum. That's the word – Minimum. Keep it to a minimum. Keep it to a level that is unavoidable. You could say, “This level, beyond this level, Sir I couldn't have gone and if I need to go beyond this level then I just need to give up the body.”
When you kill to eat, don't you have an option as human beings? The lion does not have an option. If you have an option, why don't you exercise it? You have to answer!
And science is totally out on this. There are no secrets left. When you eat flesh, you are doing great damage to even your own biological system, and you are doing great damage to this entire ecosystem. Still, you are hell-bent on killing. You are doing damage to both your consciousness as well as your body; and needless to say, to the environmental ecosystem. We have talked in detail on how flesh consumption is related to climate change.
You still want to kill? I can only squirm in pain!
Q: Sir, will the Veganism Movement be successful if that movement only talks about benefits of the body because the center is the same, unless…
AP: No, you see, you cannot have a Veganism Movement. You need to have a Spiritual Movement. Turning Vegan would then be a very smooth thing to do. But if you want to be a Vegan without being Spiritual, you will not be able to remain Vegan for long. So, forget Veganism; turn to real Spirituality and you will find that you have become a Vegan even without consciously deciding to be one.
If you are Spiritual, how will you decide to slaughter consciousness itself? The reason why Veganism is not very successful worldwide and especially in India is because it has no Spiritual moorings. Without a strong Spiritual base, Veganism is bound to fail.
For so long Indians have avoided killing to the best extent possible, you know. Even today, if you look at the total number of Vegetarians in the world, more than half of them are Indians and that is not because of some Vegetarian Movement or Veganism Movement; that is because of the Indic religions.
True Spirituality necessarily begets compassion.
There was no Veganism, and yet Indians were not known to massively kill. Obviously, there were sections of meat-eaters as well. I am not saying, “All Indians were abstaining from meat” but by and large, the Indian diet did not consist of flesh. Why? Because of Spirituality. Because India was a country deeply steeped in Religion.
Obviously, Religion has harmed India in a big way, in many different dimensions but when you are discussing Religion, you should not forget the massive contributions of Religion either. Where there is a fault, we must call it out. But where credit is due, we should not be found miserly, right? That's the basic requirement of honesty, or not?
So, Religion has inflicted quite a lot of problems on India, we admit that. But we must also admit that the Indian consciousness has, in many ways, benefited due to Religion. The benefits we must not only keep, but also increase. The faults, we must remove, reject, correct. That should be the right approach, no?