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Is eating animals the same as eating plants, because plants too have life?
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
26 min
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Eat that in which you are causing minimum damage to consciousness.

So, eating an apple and eating an animal are not the same thing.

The less you love yourself, the more likely it is that you will be a flesh eater;

The more you love yourself, the more you know your welfare;

The more determined you are to help yourself out of this mess,

The more loving and more compassionate you will be towards all conscious beings.

Questioner (Q): Then an old man, a keeper of an inn, said, Speak to us of Eating and Drinking. And he said: Would that you could live on the fragrance of the earth, and like an air plant be sustained by the light. But since you must kill to eat and rob the newly born of its mother's milk to quench your thirst, let it then be an act of worship.

And let you board stand an altar on which the pure and the innocent of forest and plain are sacrificed for that which is purer and still more innocent in man.

When you kill a beast say to him in your heart,

“By the same power that slays you, I too am slain, and I too shall be consumed.

* For the law that delivered you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand.

Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.”

And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart,

“Your seeds shall live in my body, and the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart.

And your fragrance shall be my breath, and together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”

And in the autumn, when you gather the grapes of your vineyard for the winepress, say in your heart:

“I too am a vineyard, and my fruit shall be gathered for the winepress, And like new wine I shall be kept in eternal vessels.”

~ Khalil Gibran

Acharya Prashant (AP): The issue of eating an animal vs. eating an apple—because Gibran seems to have put both these on the same plane. He says, “When you slaughter an animal, then you say these things to the animal, and when you eat an apple, you say these things to an apple.”

So, to a common reader it might appear that even Gibran is validating that eating an apple and eating an animal are both similar acts. Well, they are not, let me assure you, not at all. This has to be understood.

Who are we? It all begins from there. We are not just bodies that need to be fed. You can feed the body of a madman very nicely. You can give him the best kind of foods that are available. And if those foods are guaranteed, would you want to have the life of the mad man, of the psychotic, of the mentally deranged person? The best of foods have been assured. Would you like to now shift to a mental asylum? You won't. Because it is not for food for that man lives, it is very obvious to you. It is so common sensical that if the body is alright, but the mind is in disarray, mind is in chaos, then life is not at all worth living, right? Therefore, a well-fed madman is not at all someone you would want to be.

So, what is it that then we really value, all of us, universally? We all want peace of mind, don't we? Even having good food is a way to keep the mind quiet, because if the body is hungry, the mind starts shouting. Even the food is not so much for the body but really for the mind.

So, as I am fond of saying that we are incomplete, hungry, thirsty, seeking consciousness—that's what we really are. Our bodily identity is marginal. I am not denying it, I am just keeping it in its right place. It does exist, but it is not our primary identity. And I am not stating a principle; I am stating a fact. I am not describing a utopian destination; I am just describing the day-to-day fact of our lives. A well-fed body having all the bodily comforts is no good if the mind is yelling and shrieking, right? That is a day-to-day experience. I am talking about that. So, we are mind.

Man is a consciousness seeking completion, seeking dissolution. Whatsoever is there in consciousness is noise. That is why man enjoys deep sleep the most; there is no noise then. This-that, happiness-sadness, light-darkness, right-left, up-down, profit-loss—they are all burdens upon the consciousness. And they are the stuff, the content of consciousness. The content of consciousness is itself the pain of consciousness. And man does not want to live in pain.

We seek therefore completion, which in other words is dissolution. There is always something missing in life. We are always feeling incomplete, and this incompleteness is the content of consciousness. Man is seeking somehow to go beyond the pain of not being full. That's why we all aim and target and desire and run around, because we want something that would give us fullness. That's our condition. Now, from this condition let's proceed to see what our food must be.

Once one sees that one is consciousness, one also sees that elevation of consciousness is one's only saviour. What do I mean by elevation of consciousness? Consciousness that understands, consciousness that is free, consciousness that has love; that is what brings peace—heights of consciousness. One starts seeing that it is not the world that would be of much use to you, but consciousness itself. You want to then serve it, raise it, elevate it, fulfil it. No point running after this material or that thing, this food or that drink, if it does not elevate your consciousness, right? So, one requires reverence towards consciousness. One requires to have a continuous remembrance that one's saviour is nothing but consciousness. One requires to repeat it to himself constantly: what will save me? Not money, not food, not drinks, not house—not anything in the world but consciousness itself.

So, that is the only thing that is valuable. What is valuable then? Consciousness! Not money, not food, not drinks, not this. What is valuable? Consciousness is valuable. What is valuable? Consciousness is valuable. What is valuable? Consciousness is valuable.

If consciousness is valuable, now tell me what do we eat? And given my physical composition, given who I am as a body, something has to be eaten. What do I eat? I will have to eat something that elevates consciousness, or at least brings minimum damage to consciousness itself.

And remember that the way to salvation is to be deeply-deeply respectful of consciousness as such. Not my own consciousness; consciousness as such. Because if I respect only my consciousness, then I am respecting my personal current state of consciousness. And if you respect that, you will never be able to go beyond that. To respect consciousness is not to respect your personal consciousness, but to respect, I am saying, consciousness as such. And if you respect consciousness as such, how will you kill a conscious being? He is the same as you!

He is the same as you! Then you will say, “Are not the plants we kill to eat the same as us?” Yes, they are. What do you do? You are born with mouth, teeth, stomach, intestine; born with a body that requires energy—you will have to eat something. But if you have to eat something, then how do you decide what to eat? Eat that in which you are causing minimum damage to consciousness. So, eating an apple and eating an animal are not the same thing.

The apple is not crying for salvation; the apple is not crying for freedom—but the animal hates to be caged. Do you see the difference in consciousness between the two of them? If you cage an apple tree, probably it will give you more apples. It will love to be safe from the birds and such things, animals. But if you cage an animal, he does not like it. You too do not like to be caged. There is something in the animal’s consciousness which is just the same as yours. And if you respect your consciousness, how can you then kill the animal who then, in this respect, becomes your conscious brother? He wants the same thing as you do. He too loves freedom. He too loves to be loved, just like you. And that will tell you why man does not eat man. Because among the sentient beings, man is the most conscious. If to eat an apple is the same thing as eating an animal, then eating Baba Adam too should be the same thing, no? The apple, the animal, and Adam, they all must be put in the same plane. But why don't we eat human beings? Because they are most conscious. And even among human beings, to kill a highly conscious human being is a greater crime than killing someone who is asleep and lost and unconscious.

In general, human beings are not cannibals. We do not eat other men and women, do we? Why don't we ask ourselves: “Why don't we eat other men and women? If flesh is what we want to eat, then why kill animals?” There are many who say, “Eating flesh is alright.” If eating flesh is alright, why is it not alright to eat human flesh? It is not alright to eat human flesh. A line is drawn between the human being and the animal. You say, “No, the human being cannot be eaten because he is highly conscious.” I want you to draw the line between the apple and the animal. You are anyway drawing a line. It's not that you eat flesh wherever it is available.

A new-born has no defences at all; you can easily kill it and eat it, can’t you? I am talking of a new-born human baby. Why don’t you kill a human baby if flesh is all that you want? Why don't even habitual flesh eaters eat human babies or human beings? It does not occur to them, right? I am asking them to introspect—why don't you eat human beings? You don’t eat human beings because human beings are conscious, because human beings are hungry of liberation. And consciousness is your only hope and consciousness is your only saviour. Therefore, you do not want to disrespect consciousness by killing a conscious being.

Even the most ardent supporters of flesh-eating do not become cannibals. They do not eat human beings. They do draw a line. I am asking: If you are drawing a line, why must only human beings be beyond the line? Why cannot you be more discreet in keeping somebody out of bounds? Right now, you are drawing the line in such a way that animals are within the edible territory, and human beings are outside the line, they have been exempted. Now, draw the line with more discretion, more compassion, more consciousness.

Keep even animals outside the line, which means that you will still be killing someone to eat. And who would that be? You would probably be killing plants; you would probably be killing grass. And now that you are killing creatures, beings, things that are less conscious, see whether you still keep being more discreet. Is it really impossible to eat without killing a plant? It is possible, at least it must be tried. If you cannot altogether avoid killing plants, see whether you can minimize it. I understand that even the best of your efforts would not fully succeed. Some plants would probably always need to be killed for human consumption, and that would mean that something conscious is still being killed. But that is the maximum you can do.

Now, in fact, it is not violence because it is the very constitution of your body that is acting. Violence is only when you deliberately kill. If killing is happening because it is unavoidable, then it is not violence. Your entire intestine is home to countless fungi and bacteria. And even as they are taking birth, they must be getting killed as well. Some food that you are taking might be acidic or alkaline, and it is killing a lot of micro-organisms in your system. You are not responsible for those deaths, because your very body is designed in such a way that those deaths are going to happen. So, you cannot call that as violence, you cannot feel guilty about those things.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna calls all that as akarma. He says it is not even action, it is akarma. It is something you didn't do; it just happened. So, how are you to feel guilty over it? You breathe in and certain microorganisms travel into your respiratory tract, get trapped and get killed. You are not responsible. And that is non-violence. So, let nobody say that because somebody eats an apple hence somebody else is entitled to eat an animal. No, eating an apple and eating an animal are not the same thing. And if eating an animal and eating an apple are the same thing, then eating an animal and eating a human being are the same thing by the same logic, extending the same logic. So, if someone comes to you quoting this kind of a logic that “you know, if I am eating the goat or the chicken then you too are eating the rice grain and the wheat grain, and the rice plant and the wheat plant have been slaughtered. So, if I am guilty of violence then you too are guilty of violence because you have killed rice and wheat. And if you will continue to eat rice and wheat then I will continue to eat goat and chicken.” Then ask the fellow to extend this logic: “If apple and animal are the same thing, then animal and human being are the same thing. Eat the human being as well! And if you do not eat the human being, then extend the same logic to not to eat the animal as well.” The best thing, the dream, the utopia would be a situation in which man can survive without even killing a single plant—fruits, vegetables and leaves suffice. But given the configuration of our planet now, given our population, that is what I just said—it is a utopia. But still, that is what you must teach your kids, that not only must you not kill animals, you must also try to avoid killing plants. That would be the best. And if you can somehow come up with a way in which even plants are not to be killed for human consumption, that would be heavenly.

But if plants continue to be eaten by human beings, that does not justify the consumption of animal flesh. This should be made clear.

Q: Acharya Ji, taking Khalil Gibran's reference, it was told that we hold consciousness precious, that's why we don't kill animals. So, we can take it the other way around also, that if we are killing the animals, that means we are also killing our consciousness in some way. Because there is a co-relation that if there is meat consumption, then there is alcohol being consumed too. So, it implies that we don't love our consciousness and that is why we do what we do.

AP: True. The less you love yourself, the more likely it is that you will be a flesh eater, and the more you love yourself, the more you know your welfare. The more determined you are to help yourself out of this mess, the more loving and more compassionate you will be towards all conscious beings.

Q: So, we can say that in a way spirituality, when the mind is at rest and the mind is more loving towards consciousness, then that is a more permanent and a right solution to not only get rid of animal cruelty, but other cruelties also. Because rape is also such a cruelty where the consciousness is not valued.

AP: Correct. And there is a definite correlation between these things. All kinds of cruelty come from the same source. Be it rape, be it debauchery, be it environmental damage, or be it flesh consumption, or be it dairy consumption, all of them are correlated. They all have a central route which is lack of love, which is lack of awareness, which is a lot of ignorance. And when they go away, it is quite likely that all of them will altogether in a bundle disappear.

Q: So, to see the bigger picture, spirituality is the only solution?

AP: Spirituality is the only solution to everything. Spirituality is the only solution to the one we are. It is not merely a solution to our problems; it is the solution that dissolves the one we are.

Q: This logic is given quite often for eating animals. In coastal regions they say that they only find fish there, so what else they can eat.

AP: You find your family members regularly in your house. Why don't you eat them? This is nonsensical logic. If you say that in the coastal regions you find fish, then in your house you daily find your wife and your kid and your parents—why don't you eat them up? It's not about what you easily find, what you can easily lay your hands on. Then there is the very common argument of flesh-eating being physically natural to man. People come up and say, “You know, all our ancestors were flesh-eaters. When man used to live in the jungle, he was a flesh-eater, so why are we doing something so unnatural today? Why are we saying that we don't need to have flesh?”

This is quite interesting; more ridiculous than interesting, but still interesting. If you talk of Prakriti and if you say, “In Prakriti, man has been a flesh-eater and therefore we must continue eating flesh”, then we must also continue living on trees. Man has left Prakriti far behind. Now, why do you want to opportunistically quote Prakriti in order to just justify appeasing your taste buds? If living in a Prakritik way is so dear to you, then you go back to the jungle. If you say that man used to live in the jungle, he used to eat flesh, so he must continue eating flesh, then I will say: “We must continue living in the jungle.”

You didn't bat an eyelid leaving the jungle. Leaving the jungle was so much alright with all of us, right? Then we didn't say, “Oh, it is anti-nature to leave the jungle.” In the jungle, did you have houses of brick and concrete? Did you have? No. So, why are you having it? In the jungle, did you have the institution of marriage? In the jungle, did you have a language? In the jungle, did you have money? In the jungle, did you have air conditioners? In the jungle, did you have science? Prakriti does not give you any of these. Prakriti gives you no science, no social institutions, no money, no knowledge, no language. So, you have already left Prakriti behind. Man's center is no longer Prakriti. So, why are you unnecessarily quoting Prakriti to say, “When we used to live in the jungle, then we used to have flesh, so let's continue to have flesh.” I repeat, if you want to continue to have flesh, then go back to the jungle.

Man's center is no longer Prakriti. Man's center must ideally be Atma (Truth), but a great tragedy has befallen. Prakriti, we have left far behind. Atma, we have not reached. Our center is now Ahankaar (ego).

And this ego sometimes quotes Prakriti, sometimes quotes Atma, as per its own conveniences. Brushing your teeth is highly unnatural; why do you do it? Getting your kids vaccinated is highly unnatural; why do you do it? Saying 'good morning' to someone is highly unnatural; why do you do it? Going to your job is highly unnatural; why do you do it? None of that used to happen in the jungle. You have left the jungle far behind. Why are you quoting the laws of the jungle, the ways of the jungle to justify eating flesh? When you have left everything behind in the jungle, then please leave flesh-eating also behind in the jungle. Operate from a better center; you are no longer the animal.

In the jungle, you were the animal, so flesh-eating could have been justified. Are you still the animal? No, you are the human being; the human being who has left the jungle far behind. So, please discover what it means to be a human being. Please discover your right centre.

Q: The whole issue is because we are stuck in the middle.

AP: The whole issue is because you have left the jungle and yet not reached where you set out to reach. In between, you are stuck. Man is in a very precarious position. Animals are well settled. The free ones, the Buddhas are also well settled. Man is unsettled. Animals are not restless; they are well settled in the jungle. The liberated ones, the sages and the fakirs and the saints and the gurus; they are also well settled. But the world's population, man in general, is highly unsettled and restless. He is neither in the jungle, nor in the place he left the jungle for; he is in the city.

Q: There is one very interesting thing that happens; they say that producing babies is natural and you must do that. But at the same time, they use all kinds of artificial means to produce.

AP: Producing babies is natural, but then it is not natural to produce babies only with your wife. In the jungle that does not happen. If you say, “It is natural to have babies”, then it is not natural to have babies only with one woman. Nature does not say, “Have babies only with one woman or one man.” If you want to quote nature, then go ahead and have babies with everyone you can find. You cannot selectively quote Prakriti and what is happening in the jungle. Either you become totally Prakritik, and then you will have to go back to the jungle, or you say the jungle is now behind us and our center is now not the body, not Prakriti, not the jungle—our center is the illumination and from there we operate.

Q: Being with limited consciousness just like every other being, how I am going to judge whether the other beings want help?

AP: Using whatever limited stuff you have. You are limited and that's why you are restless. Using this limitation, you see that the other one too is limited and restless. And you don't like being restless. You want to be helped. Just as you want to be helped, help the other one as well. It does not help the other one to slaughter him. The other one is just like you; he too is feverish, struggling consciousness. If you have no compassion for somebody who is just like you, it only means you have no love for yourself. If you cannot help your mirror image, are you helping yourself?

The other conscious and struggling being is your mirror image; just like you, different only in the trivial externalities: name, shape, form, age, species. In all these matters, the other one is probably different than you. But essentially, he too is a consciousness clamoring for, longing for a final rest. Now, do you want to bring him to the final rest, or do you want to slaughter him and give him rest? Look at an animal; the animal is so much like us. We are an animal. In slaughtering the animal, you are only proving that you do not care about yourself at all.

Look at the animal's eyes. Is there really a difference between your eyes and the animal's eyes? Look at the expectation in the eyes of the animal. Look at the fear. The animal in fact really wants exactly the same thing that you want. It's just that he is far behind you and he is therefore far less likely to get what you might get. But he is in the same queue but way behind; wanting the same thing but far less likely to get it. But the queue keeps moving. One day the animal too will get it. But not if you slaughter him. In slaughtering the animal, you are reducing the animal’s chances and your own chances.

You see, you want redemption, don't you? And you say, “I am suffering, somebody please help me.” Now, look at what you are saying. You are saying, “If somebody is suffering, he needs to be helped.” That's your argument, is it not? When you say, “I am suffering, I need help”, what you are actually saying is, “I am suffering, I deserve help.” So, the principle you are operating on is: if you are suffering, you need to be helped.

Now, look at the animal and apply the same principle. And if there is a principle, the principle has to be universal. You cannot say that principle is there, but it applies only to me. Now, the same principle works on the animal as well, right? The animal too is suffering; what it needs is help. It needs your embrace; it does not need to be on your plate.

You see, when I speak all this, I know that a lot of this will not cut ice with many a people. I know that a lot of this will just not make sense to a lot of people; it won't just reverberate with them. Only those who already carry some empathy will know what I am saying. Others will conveniently find loopholes. And loopholes there are many. You can quote this, you can quote that, you can quote some scriptures, you can quote some practice, you can quote some research paper to disprove what I am saying and you can very easily do that. You don't even need to work hard. If you just want to discredit me or disprove me, do not even bother coming up with a proof. Just say, “I don't want to believe”, and that is sufficient. Because that's the intention.

If the mind is already made, why do you need to look for proofs? Proofs are needed when one is honestly exploring for the Truth. If you are already listening to me with a set mind, with preconceived notions, with prejudices, with the decision already being made, then there is no need to waste time in fetching proofs. Just say, “No, I want to kill animals, I love eating their flesh”, and that is sufficient. You can continue doing that.

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