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Winning the Everest, without killing || Acharya Prashant, conversation (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
51 min
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Questioner (Q): My name is Kuntal Joisher, I am a mountaineer. Sir, so glad to meet you again. I still remember our last panel discussion and we had a long conversation about the climate crisis and a lot of those topics. I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of your insights during that conversation and am really happy that you have invited me again to come to your show.

Acharya Prashant (AP): I am so glad to be talking to you once again, Kuntal.

Q: Thank you so much, sir. So, I wanted to recount where I started my journey from. So, I have been now a vegan for the last 20 years. But at some point, in October of 2010, I discovered the biggest dream of my life, which was climbing Mount Everest.

And I still remember announcing it to my friends, and family, and the mountaineering community that I am going to climb Everest as a vegan because, of course, naturally, I was a vegan. And I remember an instant pushback from the mountaineering community that no vegan has ever climbed Everest before, that you need meat, that you need dairy, that you need cheese, that you need all these things to kind of build stamina and to even sustain on the top of Mount Everest.

And I remember, like, why are they saying those things? And I promised myself that day that I am going to climb Everest as a vegan, or I am not going to do it at all. And then I went on the journey of last decade or so. And I have now ended up climbing Everest two times, one from the south side, which is the Nepal side; and one even from the Chinese side, which is the northern side.

AP: How many people have managed this kind of feat so far?

Q: So, in my research, there are three Indian civilians, out of which I am one of them who have reached the top of Everest from both the sides. There are many Indians who have climbed Everest from just the south side, but there are only three who have climbed it from both sides.

And if I have to build a list of top hundred things that are some of my biggest challenges on the Everest journey, I can assure you that veganism was not even the hundred and first challenge on that journey. Yet when people know me, or people meet me, they say, "Hey, here's the first vegan in the world to climb Everest," or "He climbed Everest, even though he was a vegan or despite of his veganism," or so many of these things, as if veganism is kind of a handicap.

And I always look back upon my journey, very surprised that why are these people thinking that veganism is a handicap. I never felt it was a handicap. I didn't even have to actually bother working around veganism to go climb Everest. It just came naturally.

And to give you a background, it's not like I am some mountaineer or come from a mountaineering family; I come from a Gujarati business family. So, it's not like I have any genetic gift of climbing mountains. In my mind, it was never a handicap. But yet, till date, I have people in my Instagram DMs, people all the time asking me, "Kuntal, where do you get your protein from? Kuntal, how are you building this strength?" It's just mind-boggling to me that people think that this is a handicap.

AP: So, there is the perception that when it comes to mountaineering, veganism is a handicap. Then there is a rebuttal that no, being vegan is not a handicap. Can I extend it to say that being vegan is actually an asset, or an advantage when it comes to physically taxing adventures?

Q: I definitely agree with that.

AP: Would you honestly say and strongly, that being a vegan actually helped you climb the Everest twice?

Q: Did Vegan actually help me climb Everest twice? I am going to ask this question myself as if I was a vegetarian, would I have still climbed Everest? I would have still climbed Everest. Yes, that is there. But as a vegan, I do think there were two points that definitely helped me climb Everest, probably a little better than others.

And in short, a couple of points were, number one—my recovery was far superior than my co-climbers who were potentially eating animal products. And, of course, plant-based products have been shown to help recover better. So, that was completely in my advantage. It's not like you are a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian, or you can't still eat plant-based products; you could still eat them and get the same amount of recovery. But I thought there was one little bit of an advantage.

But I think the second one, which I feel was more from a mental aspect from my side. I felt that I could go to sleep with a clear conscience that I was not harming anyone for my dream. And that I felt was giving me a mental edge. Maybe it was just within my context, maybe not over others. But that allowed me that mental edge, that gave me a sense of purpose as I was climbing and going towards my goals. Those two things, I feel, gave me a lot of edge. Would I have had this edge if I was a vegetarian? I don't know, it's difficult to compare.

AP: Probably a good insightful question to consider would be—would our dreams remain the same if we are violent and inconsiderate and cruel? So, you wanted to do something, being a vegan. The question we would think of is, had you not been a vegan, would you have wanted to do the same thing? And that's a broader question applied to everybody.

Is it just an ideology, or a dietary choice, or just a way to behave, a kind of culture? Or is it something at the very being, very core of the person? Does it help you achieve your dreams? That's one question. Does it help you have better dreams? That's another question. I think probably it does help you have better dreams, because the quality of the dream matters. One could have a very conditioned, distorted, and ugly kind of a dream and achieve it using all kinds of methods possible. What's the value of that achievement?

On the other hand, if I am a person with, as you said, ‘a clear conscience’, won't I have a different dream altogether? Or, to put it a bit differently, won't I dedicate my dream to a greater purpose? For example, I know well that your fame from your expeditions has been useful towards furthering the vegan cause. In some sense, you have devoted, surrendered the product of your dream, the output of your dream, the output of your success to a great cause.

And I cannot help thinking of Kṛiṣhṇa’s Niṣkāma karma at this point, where he says, "The right action is only the one that is devoted to the right cause." If you act just to consume the fruit of the action, it's not much, and it means nothing. If the fruit of your action is devoted to a higher cause, that's what wisdom is; that's what makes you a real man.

Interestingly, when you became vegan, at that time, I had hardly even heard the term. So, twenty years back, year 2002, I was in campus then. I am not sure I had known the term even. I am relatively a recent vegan, just eight or nine years. So, it's very remarkable that you chose to do it at that time. And that poses a question to all those who are watching us. If it could be done so successfully, so meaningfully, and so courageously at that time; what stops people from doing what is obviously right today? Because today not only the importance, but the very centrality of veganism has been factually established beyond doubt.

Twenty years back, it might not have been the case. Not so much literature was available, internet was not so rich, so flush with data and observations. We didn't have so many vegan success stories. Today we have all of that. Then how do people still manage to evade doing the right thing? It's a very interesting question. What arguments do people have in favour of continuously, brutally exploiting animals? What argument can you have?

Q: Right. I mean, one of the most common arguments that I constantly keep hearing, at least in the Indian context is that— Kṛiṣhṇa has said that you can drink milk. And the gods have said that you can do it—like people use milk on top of the statues and all of those things. So, I am not talking about meat consumption. A lot of them say, “Okay, we will not consume meat, but we still continue consuming milk,” even though they know what is happening in the dairy industry and how cruel it is. So, I also wanted to get your sense of, since you come from a spiritual background, and this is what your expertise is, what are your thoughts around this?

AP: See, the first thing is, you do not even need to be spiritual to ask a basic question. “What happens to the cattle, the female mammal, the cow, the buffalo, the goat once it stops yielding milk?” Is that not a very basic, common-sensical question to ask?

Just as the human female lives for around eighty years, but is able to bear kids only for around half that duration, right? Women cannot usually conceive beyond the age of forty or forty five. So, that's approximately half of their lifetime. The same thing, approximately the same thing, applies to all mammal species. So, the cow or the buffalo would stop yielding milk at the age of six to eight, maximum nine, usually seven or eight. And it continues to live for another six to eight years—that's the biological rule, that's how it happens.

Now, what happens to that animal once it is not useful to the farmer? What happens to it? What do we think? And why shouldn't we ask that obvious question while holding our glass of milk? Today, the buffalo is yielding this milk; tomorrow, she won't. What happens to her then? So, when, as you said, people say, “We don't consume meat, but we take milk.” It's a simple, straightforward thing to ask, "Is not milk a clear precursor to meat?" The same animal that was used for milk today is slaughtered tomorrow because it is of no use to the dairy farmer once it cannot give milk. So, it goes to the slaughterhouse.

The farmer cannot economically keep the animal with himself, even if he wants to. As a farmer, what will I do with an animal that is of no use? And the animal weighs some four hundred, six hundred kilograms; it eats a lot. How will I justify the economics if I keep feeding the animal without getting anything from it? So, what do I do? The day I discover that the animal cannot yield any more milk, I sell it to the slaughterhouse. So, that's how India becomes such a huge meat-producing and exporting country; not so much a huge meat-consuming country, but still a huge meat-exporting country. And again, the connection is so obvious, is it not? We export so much because we don't consume much.

See, the cattle are there. Why? Because you consume milk. Now, because we consume milk, therefore the cattle are artificially produced and raised. Let it be very clear that the cows and buffaloes that we see are not products of natural organic breeding or reproduction. It's not as if a cow and a bull just happen to meet and mate. That's not how it is happening. I don't know how we can afford to remain so ignorant about the basics.

The cow is in ninety nine percent cases—the cow, the buffalo, and all milk-yielding animals—the cow is in ninety nine percent cases artificially inseminated, because the farmer has to justify the economics. The farmer cannot wait for the cow to happily one day when she is in the mood to get pregnant. So, that artificial insemination is one hell of an in-dignified, humiliating thing. To treat a conscious female that way is horrifying. And you talked about the PETA undercover videos. There are a lot of videos today, I suppose thousands, thousands, where you'd be able to see how a buffalo or a cow is inseminated.

And once you see that, I am not sure whether you would feel more saddened or more ashamed. So, I saw a few of them and then I stopped watching; couldn't bear it. And those were not slaughter videos, mind you, just insemination, just insemination. But even that insemination is just so devoid of dignity, just simply shameful. And we do that to the cow that is respected so much in this country. The holy cow. And we still do this kind of thing to the cow. So, that's the first thing.

Now, coming to the aspect that Shri Kṛiṣhṇa used to drink milk. See, with all honesty, in great bliss, I think I can loudly say, “I love Shri Kṛiṣhṇa like very few people do.” I am totally enthralled by his Gītā , Gītā is extremely close to my heart. I teach Gītā , I teach several other scriptures as well. But Gītā is just special—Magnum opus. So, now, that's the message of Shri Kṛiṣhṇa , and that is what is supposed to be eternal.

You see, let's say you, with your great intentions and a clean heart become somebody who is admired, respected, loved, and you live for eighty years, and obviously then you go. Three hundred years down the line, after your death, what am I supposed to remember about you? The fact that you kept a beard? The fact that you wore a cap? Is that what I was supposed to remember about you? Or the fact that you had something very timeless to say? This pair of jeans, this T-shirt, that watch, I mean, the chair you are using, this technology we are using, all these are products of time—they will get outdated, they mean nothing. Right?

Today, we eat flat bread, flat bread—Roti, right? Is it necessary that three hundred years later, people would still enjoy the same kind of geometrical formation made out of the same kind of grains? The roti is actually a cylinder with very little height. And there is nothing special about the geometry of a cylinder compared to the geometry of a triangle, or cone, or anything else. Or it could be spherical, who knows? So, what should I remember Kuntal as? A roti lover? Is the flat bread the central message of Kuntal?

Or is it something that he used to have because that was the culture of his times? He was an Indian, he was a Gujarati and being a Gujarati, obviously, you would be having very, very Gujarati preferences in many ways, right? Dhokla? I am not sure. So, does the Dhokla become a marker of enlightenment? Three hundred years later, when I want to remember and celebrate Kuntal, I start consuming Dhokla? So, today is International Kuntal Day and how do we mark and celebrate it? By having copious amounts of Dhokla. Sir, he was born in Gujarat. What else can he have? What else can he have?

Similarly, the eternal message of Shri Kṛiṣhṇa is the Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā . All else is just time-bound stuff, all else is simply time-bound stuff. And most of that time-bound stuff comes more than a thousand years after Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā . Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā is five hundred to eight hundred years before the Christ. And all the lore, the legend, the stories about Shri Kṛiṣhṇa , they come four hundred to eight hundred years after the Christ.

Q: Wow. So, we don't even know if a lot of them are true.

AP: Yes. There is really no factual connection between the Shri Kṛiṣhṇa we find in the great Bhagavad Gītā and the Shri Kṛiṣhṇa we find in the Paurāṇika stories later. They are spaced a thousand years apart. And yet we choose to remember the stories rather than the philosophy, the message, the Truth.

And if you want to follow all aspects of Kṛiṣhṇa’s behaviour and his personal choices, then why don't you wear the same dress that he did? Why don't you speak the same language he did? Why don't you have the same kind of relationships that he had? I invite them to raise the entire mountain on their little finger as he did, I invite them to perform all the miracles that he did. Why don't you copy and emulate all that? I mean, if you want to go by the stories, we have just so many stories about Kṛiṣhṇa . Right?

Every small aspect of his personality has been detailed, elaborated. So, everything is available. Emulate everything. Why not emulate everything? Why are you just picking on milk? And please remember where he was raised—in a clan of milkmen. What else would he do as a kid? Is Kṛiṣhṇa the grown one, ever seen as advocating milk? I am asking. Does the Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā advocate milk consumption as a central tenet of Kṛiṣhṇa’s philosophy? Does it do that? Does it come anywhere close to that? Is Shri Kṛiṣhṇa even bothered about what you eat and all that? Is that what he is detailing to Arjuna ?

AP: No. But we don't want to read the Gītā . We just don't love Kṛiṣhṇa enough to read the Gītā . What do we occupy ourselves with? The lore and the legend. And there, we find something very convenient to our taste buds—milk. It's just convenience. It's not merely convenience, let me please say—it's also a very cunning exploitation of the holy name of Shri Kṛiṣhṇa .

You are using the highest name just to achieve a very lowly purpose. What is your lowly purpose? You want to have lassi, you want to have ghee, you want to have milk and paneer. And to that end, you are exploiting the name of Shri Kṛiṣhṇa .

Q: I had a recent debate on Instagram where someone wrote back to me saying, “I am going to artificially inseminate the cow. But after that, when the cow becomes pregnant, first I am going to let the baby drink all the milk. Whatever little is left, I will take. I will love the cow, I will keep it with me and let it go to the end of life. Can I still drink milk?”

AP: This is so utopian. This fellow knows neither economics, nor agriculture. First of all, the calf can have two genders, male and female, right? You can have the male calf, you can have the female calf. The female calf is obviously useful. It will become a cow. A milk-producing machine. What do you do when a male is born?

Q: You slaughter it potentially.

AP: You have to slaughter it. Because the male is a good two hundred kilograms heavier than the female. How does it gain all that weight? By eating. And who will feed him? You cannot feed him. Economics doesn't allow that.

Q: And there are not enough gauśālā , or there are not enough people to take care of it.

AP: Obviously. And cows are cows, they will not preferentially give birth to females. So, males will be born as per the natural order; and when they are born, they are slaughtered. Let everybody know that, let everybody know that there is no option but to slaughter them. And there are several products that come from a young calf's body. Some of them are used to make vaccines, some of them go towards research, and a lot of that goes towards delicacies.

Q: Veal, which is one—white meat.

AP: Also, the leather is tender and that is very expensive. Do you think the farmer will rather raise the calf and allow it to become a bull? That's a lot of bullshit.

Q: Yeah, I completely agree. So, I think a lot of these arguments like Kṛiṣhṇa said it, I think it's just around convenience and apathy to a great degree.

AP: I keep inviting everybody, "Please, please come to the Gītā ." And even if you want to make sense of the Paurāṇika stories, you have to first understand the Gītā . I have been trying that since so many years now, been a decade, actually. Mostly, what I find is apathy.

But when it comes to just enjoying and interpreting the stories as per convenience, and by the way, people do not know too many stories either. It's not as if they are not reading the Gītā , but are enamoured with the Purāṇas . No, that's not the case. They don't read the Gītā , and most of them also have not read the Bhāgavata Purāṇa . All that we know of is some five to ten stories that have been circulating by word of mouth. Or we have seen those stories on the TV.

If I ask people, have you really gone through the Bhāgavata Purāṇa or the Harivamśa Purāṇa or two, three other major Purāṇas out of the eighteen major ones? No, people won't even know the names. Just as I keep saying that people cannot tell the names of three or four important Upaniṣads . The same thing actually applies to Paurāṇika literature as well, people will not know the names of the Purāṇas either. But they know the stories, some five stories.

If you say you are a Hindu, you know some five stories about Kṛiṣhṇa . And using those five stories very smartly, rather cunningly, you justify whatever you want to do.

Q: So, I had this question. Three years ago, we had a daughter. And it was, of course, through a vegan pregnancy. My wife has been a vegan for the last five years, and we decided that when we wanted to have a kid, we would have a vegan pregnancy, and we would raise the kid as a vegan.

But when we were doing that, or when we decided that we will raise a kid as a vegan, or we will go through a vegan pregnancy; again, there was a lot of pushback from my family, from my close relatives. Some of them were calling up and telling me, "Kuntal, you are making a very big mistake. You are hedging the future of your to-be kid. And what if something goes wrong? What if things fall apart?" And a lot of those kind of things.

And even after our baby was born, they were like, "No, please give the baby milk. Milk is a required thing. And otherwise, our baby will have issues." And those kinds of things they continued. And so, there was a lot of struggle with the family around this topic, where we want to be vegans, and we are not trying to change you. I mean, if you want to change, we are here to help, and we are here to guide you.

But we, as a family of three, would like to make our choice and be vegan, and not harm anyone, and not harm any other sentient being for our existence. So how, what do we do? I am sure a lot of your audience would also be in a lot of these kinds of dilemmas where they are struggling with their family and friends. So, how do we deal with them?

AP: I don't know how we are able to just suspend our common sense when it comes to these simple, obvious things. I mean, the baby obviously does require milk, her mother's milk. And nature has provided for it. Nature has her own intelligence. Prakṛiti knows how to take care of her kids, be it the human kid or the kids of the millions of other species that are there. They exist because they have been taken care of. Right?

Think of this. The atmospheric pressure is just about very rightly tuned with your blood pressure. That's the kind of consideration an invisible force has for you. In fact, the very concept of Īśvara is nothing but Prakṛti . Prakṛti herself has also been called as Devi and also as Īśvara . So, we couldn't have been sitting here had the atmospheric pressure been any lower. Blood would have been sprouting out of our veins and noses, and we would be bleeding through our mouths and all the places. Equally, if the blood pressure, if the atmospheric pressure increases, we would collapse. The heart would not be able to tolerate the kind of resistance it would face.

This body is a product of this universe and more specifically, the planet Earth. We are provided for. We are cared for. We do not need to act additionally, so very smart. So, there is this beautiful one by the great saint poet Tulsidas; he says it is done by the Lord—take that as Prakṛti . He talks of the Amarabela . Why are you so bothered and anxious? Amar beli binu mool kī, pratipālat hai tāhi. (Amarbela is without the root and it is protected by him). (Note this is by Rahim and not Tulsidas)

So, there is this creeper, Lata, that supposedly has no roots, and still it lives. It lives by drawing nutrition from huge trees. It just attaches itself in a symbiotic way to their large trunks and survives and lives. And it is an existing species, I think. I do not know the details, but get the drift, please. Why are you so anxious? It just happens. I want to ask, is there any species in the entire existence that thrives on others milk? When you say milk—means mammals. Think of any other mammal that is built to live on and be nurtured on some other mammal's milk.

Q: Not one.

AP: Not a single one. Then how are our bodies in requirement of buffalo, or goat, or cow milk? In fact, it rings an alarm. If that's not what nature, Prakṛti , wanted us to have, is it not possible that it is actually harmful? That when you consume any kind of milk other than your mother's milk, it is actually harming your body, is it not possible?

And to the extent I have read and I have tried to read in a fair bit of detail, milk consumption is actually harmful. Because our bodies are really not designed to absorb, digest, metabolize beyond a certain age. The kid has the enzymes that can break milk down, the milk enzymes, the lactose. As you grow up, you simply have no chemical inside to deal with the fluid called milk you are ingesting. So, what does it do to you? It remains undigested. Also, it causes a lot of diseases, gastric problems—flatulence.

So, we have no dearth of intelligence in this country. We are so smart when it comes to designing bridges, writing codes, even sending rockets and satellites into the space and then into the orbits—we are very smart people. But when it comes to fundamental issues like these, we just suspend our thinking faculty.

Is it not a question that even a six-year-old would ask? The kitten does not go to the female dog, and that's an observation even a six-year-old girl would have. There is the kitten, and the kitten is not going to mama dog; the kitten is going to mama cat. The lion can kill the camel, but we will not find lion kids drinking the lady camel's milk. Never been seen, never been seen. If they are powerful enough, they will kill her. But in no situation are they going to milk her.

How are we then doing it continuously and never investigating what we are doing? Just because it happens to be a very old tradition. Does that make it right? Does that make it useful? Ethics apart, is there even any utility in it? We don't want to ask these questions. And it's a very surprising thing.

Q: It's even to a point where if my daughter sometimes sneezes or has a mild fever, people say, "You know, she has mild fever because she's a vegan." And I am like, "Okay, don't kids have fever? Don't kids sneeze? Isn't it their building immunity process is what I think it's called?" But this is how even to me, right? "Oh, you had fever because you are a vegan." Oh, but you didn't see that I didn't have fever for the last five years. I just had fever right now.

So that's something that I keep seeing that happens to vegans a lot, where anything happens to us, we are almost living under a microscope all the time. That something goes wrong, veganism caused it. So, why is that?

AP: In general, when you have some feeling for the Truth, some respect for the Truth; firstly, you have observations, then you have arguments, and then you have conclusions. That's the right sequence. You have observations, then you have arguments, and then you have conclusions. But when you have no feeling for the Truth, all you want to respect and protect is your own shady ego, then the sequence is reversed.

The conclusion is already there. You want to then build arguments to support your conclusion and also fabricate observations so that the argument may stand. That's how usually the wrong kind of argumentation works. And that's what we find in most debates, irrespective of whether they are within the family, or international fora, within communities anywhere.

The ones who are debating are already deeply entrenched in their positions. They are not discussing so that they may reach a fresh position, so that they may discover, unravel the Truth. No, that's not the intention. The intention is this is my opinion, this is my position and I stick to this position because my ego loves this position; because my conveniences are tied to this position; because I am afraid, if I quit this position, something unthinkable may happen.

So, I have all kinds of dubious reasons to stay at my position; but still, I choose my position. I continue to do that and then I come up with arguments. And I also, then, very selectively may pick observations from here and there. You see, if you are hell-bent on seeing something, you will find that thing happening somewhere or the other. The universe is vast, right? If I want to prove that vegans remain unhealthy, I will definitely be able to locate two, four, ten vegans somewhere who are unhealthy and I can pick them up very selectively and use that to establish what is already established in my mind.

Cherry-picking. And this is just not a logician's way; this is the bullshitter's way. This is not how you proceed through honest debate and good logic; this is simply bad logic. One has to deal with the right sample sizes, one has to use statistical tools, one has to bring out correlations and probabilities, and then one may talk.

How are you able to push your conclusion ahead with a sample size of one, or one and a half, or two? "You know, Mrs. Joshi in the neighbourhood." What does that solo case prove? What's the probability of that happening? Let's have some sense, some mathematics at least. And that's a burden we all have to bear, you see. If you walk an un-walked path, you would be scrutinized at every step. People are just waiting to pounce at you. You make one mistake, and that's used to prove that your entire journey is fundamentally wrong.

Q: To that point, I still remember in 2016, I summitted Everest on May 19th. And sure, it made some news. People were like, "Oh, first vegan summitted Everest." And this, that, it went viral on social media, not a very big deal. Two days later, another vegan, an Australian female doctor, died on Everest. And if you go today and just type Everest vegan death, there are literally half a million articles on her talking about that—how a vegan died on Everest and that's why people should not be vegan, or that vegans are weak.

And it just reflects back upon what you were saying is that how people will just choose that. They didn't write about me, "Hey, that this vegan climbed on Everest and that there were three hundred other non-vegans who have died on Everest." But they didn't die because of their non-veganism. They just died because of altitude sickness, which could be the case with this vegan as well, right? It's a common thing on mountains.

So, I wanted to point out one thing that you just said about how our ego comes in the way. And so, is there a connection between us surrendering to veganism or moving towards veganism and also working on shedding that ego? And is there a spiritual angle to veganism, or is vegan spiritualism like what's the connection?

AP: I think there is a very fundamental connection. In fact, I have said on record that you cannot really be vegan without being spiritual. And if you are a vegan and have not declared yourself to be spiritual, then you are covertly spiritual. Even you might not know that you are a spiritual being, but you are actually spiritual.

Veganism, I say, is the most contemporary name for compassion in today's times. What is veganism? It's not an ideology. It's obviously not just a dietary plan. It's something that emanates from your core. If you are really a human being, how can you tolerate? How can you justify to yourself that you are killing others, other sentient beings, for reasons that are totally avoidable? It's as simple as that. Do I really have to kill or torture others just to live?

I don't have to. So that's veganism, compassion, karuṇā . And therefore, in India's context, veganism is obviously nothing new. You see, had Shri Kṛiṣhṇa, or the great sages of the Upaniṣads , or Gautam Buddha, or Vardhaman Mahavira; had they had similar conditions as prevailed today in their times, I am very, very honestly, and deeply sure they would have been huge proponents of veganism.

It's just that in their times, because human population was far, far lesser, and the relationship between man and nature was much more harmonious, in fact, benevolent from man's side, therefore, it was culturally okay to just take milk. And therefore, they did not speak too much on this issue. They said, "Well, there are more central issues to talk of."

But in their times, had dairy industry been the same way as it is today, what do you think Gautam Buddha would have said the first thing? He would have said, "No, no dairy, please." Because that's the biggest horror on the planet today, along with animal agriculture, animal slaughter, and all those things.

What do you think? When the very central message of Mahavira is Ahiṃsā , Jīvadayā, Karuṇā*, had Mahavira been born today, alive today, would he have tolerated what is happening in the name of milk, and dahi (curd), and paneer and other things? He would have very strongly stood up against all of this. So, India already has the groundwork done. We know compassion, we understand the centrality of compassion. And that is what has kept India vegetarian, largely vegetarian, for so long.

At the time of independence, no more than twenty-twenty five percent of India's population even touched meat. There were many reasons, and one reason is also that being so poor, they couldn't afford to touch meat. But still, there were reasons of religion and compassion as well. Even today, the per capita meat consumption in India is among the lowest in the world; and that is not purely for economical reasons. To put things in perspective, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh have almost similar per capita incomes as India, and still the per capita meat consumption in Pakistan is three to five times higher than that in India.

So, money is not the thing. Per capita income in Pakistan is actually now significantly lower than that in India; and still, the average Pakistani is consuming three to five times more meat than the average Indian. The same goes for the average Nepali also, and that comes as a surprise to many people. Because Nepal is a predominantly Hindu country. Nepalis are consuming per capita almost as much meat as Pakistanis.

Q: Wow. That I didn't know. That's a shocking statistic.

AP: As much meat as Pakistanis, almost, approximately. So, there is something about India that has kept it vegetarian. Thirty-Thirty five percent of India's population is strictly vegetarian, though that actually means lacto-vegetarian; so, they do take dairy. And this thirty percent vegetarian population, Indians, constitutes the bulk of the world's vegetarian population.

So, if there are ten vegetarians across the world, in the entire world, six to eight of them are Indians. Now, how is that possible? Why does that happen? Who did that? What's the reason? The reason is spirituality. So, you said, "Is veganism related to spirituality?" Please see that spirituality is deeply related to veganism's distant cousin, vegetarianism. And spirituality is not related directly, actually, to vegetarianism; it's related to compassion. And compassion made India vegetarian, compassion is what is keeping India vegetarian, and compassion is also what will make India purely vegetarian.

What is veganism apart from pure vegetarianism? When it comes to diet, please tell me. Because those who say they are vegetarians, they are not vegetarians, because milk is not a vegetable.

Q: It's not vegetable— shākāhār .

AP: Milk is not a shāk . So, those who say they are vegetarians, they are actually not vegetarians. Vegetarianism, in some way, suffices. Could we understand the real meaning of being a vegetarian, we won't even have needed to coin a new term called vegan. Let's be pure vegetarians. Let's be pure vegetarians. And pure vegetarian means abstaining from everything that does not come from a plant or a tree. Which means you cannot have your lassi, dahi, and milk. They don't come from plants.

So, if we could connect India more closely, more deeply to her spiritual core, veganism would be an organic fallout. It would just happen. Even without deciding to be vegan, people will become vegan. And that's what has happened to a lot of people associated with the foundation, or recipients of the work of our mission.

We get numerous stories every day where people have not even realized when they just dropped milk, it happened. It happened. Because if your consciousness is awakened, if you start thinking, if you start seeing that your ego, and your tendencies, and your habits are not really your friends; if you start seeing that, it becomes impossible to not to see that the stuff on your plate does not match with the stuff in your heart.

In the heart there is compassion and on the plate there is cruelty; there is a dissonance, these two can't go together. So, the stuff on the plate drops, as simple as that. So that's what is spiritual veganism. And spiritual veganism, one of the words, is redundant. We could simply say spiritual, and that would mean vegan. To the extent that when I meet a spiritual person who is not vegan, I can't help laughing. That's a sad kind of laughter, because I know what he is doing to a lot of sentient beings. How can you claim to be spiritual and have blood on your plate? The colour of the blood might be white, but still blood.

How can you say you are a spiritual being? You talk of elevating your consciousness, you talk of being a better person, you talk of being nonviolent, you talk of being loving, you say you have wisdom, you say you understand life; and then you are just chewing at the paneer. How can these two go together? Mystery.

So, the more people turn spiritual or are forced to turn spiritual, given the macro environment we are in and are coming to, the more veganism will become popular. If the earth has to survive, veganism has to prosper.

Q: So, I had two follow-up questions for you. So, one is—okay, I am spiritual, but I am going to become vegan. But if I am looking at paneer, it's just on my plate, but I am still not making the connection where the paneer is coming from.

So, I know we discussed about people would think about cattle and all of those things, but a lot of times, people may not. People may just think, “I just bought it in a store, it was nicely packed in a plastic bag, and I got it.” There's no cruelty behind it, because I am not directly seeing the cruelty, or I am not putting enough effort to see that cruelty. So, I understand the foundation is doing a lot of work around that, but how do we as lay people, kind of?

AP: This argument would have been tenable twenty years back when we didn't have so much social media and so much exposure. Not today. You are continuously scrolling your Instagram and Facebook feed, it's impossible to not to have come across videos talking of animal cruelty and such things. There are so many organizations today trying to spread awareness, raise the levels of consciousness. If someone says, "Oh, I didn't even know that paneer is a product of cruelty." The fellow is lying. You know, you know.

There are so many organizations that are working day in, day out; I can talk of my own. A huge proportion of our funds have gone just towards raising awareness—publicity is what we are continuously doing. Just on YouTube, to put things in perspective, we have close to ten crore unique users over the last three months, and that's just YouTube. You add Facebook and Instagram and other media to it, and print media, that's a bigger number. So, ten crore people have seen what we want to say at least once. Now, how can you now claim that you have not seen?

It's just that you are being dishonest. You have seen it and yet are deciding to pretend you haven't seen it. We are pushing the damn thing right to your face. How can you not see it? Obviously, you have seen it. We are not even allowing you to look the other way. If you look the other way, there is some other media there. Someone else is talking about it. Or we ourselves are present on all media. What else are we doing all the time? And we are talking about it.

In fact, from one of the prominent media platforms, the foundation's account got suspended multiple times just because we were talking of animals; and it was a Chinese-controlled thing. They didn't want unpleasant stuff on their platform. Additionally, meat consumption happens to be somehow an important part of the Chinese ethic. So, every time we would post something regarding this, first of all, there would be shadow banning, and then the account itself would be gone. It's another matter that that platform itself is now gone from India. I am talking of TikTok.

So, we have paid the price. We are continuously doing that. We fully well know that when we post animal rights videos, they do not become very popular. So, in that sense, again, we pay a price. We have to promote them harder, we have to push them with far more, far bigger amounts of money. So, we are reaching out and people know. Let now nobody come up with a straight face and say, “But I didn't know.” You know, sir, you know. Unless you are, as they say, living in a cave or under a rock. You know.

Q: And the second question was—in our last panel discussion, you had started the conversation by saying that we are in the middle of a mass extinction right now. And you had also mentioned that there's nothing we can really do about it. Do you think there's anything we can do through veganism? At least as lay people, can we make some tangible steps?

AP: Please understand, where has all this carbon come from? When we are talking of the sixth mass extinction phase, we already are into, it is a carbon dioxide led thing. Right? And of the previous five mass extinctions, three were caused by the same reason—carbon dioxide. There is nothing new, there is nothing you can contest. There is nothing you can doubt the validity or prospects of.

We know what happens when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises. It has happened before and thrice, and it's happening for the fourth time. Where is all this carbon coming from? Who is emitting so much carbon in the environment? Who is doing this? You have to understand. It's the darkness inside our minds that's emitting all the carbon. And I understand it’s sounding too poetic, but please stay with this.

Carbon emissions are coming from our ceaseless consumption. The more we consume, the more we emit carbon. In fact, everything that we take as important, everything that we take as a supplier of happiness, is very high on the list of things that emit carbon. Why do we want to endlessly consume? Be it a house, a car, the world, human beings, or animals. We want to consume them because we simply have ignorance within.

We are born with an innate dissatisfaction, and we think that a lot of consumption will take care of that dissatisfaction. That's a simple reason. Nothing very complicated, very spiritual in that. You are not feeling good, what do you do? You purchase something on Amazon, or you go watch a movie, or you go eat something out.

So, when do you feel the happiest? When you have a new four-wheeler, that's when you are congratulated a lot. Or when you have gone to a new exotic tourist destination, you post your pics—you are supposed to be happy, and others are supposed to congratulate; and that's what happens. And that's where all the carbon comes from. I am talking facts, not just poetry.

This is fact—carbon comes from air travel, carbon comes when you raise your comfort and convenience level. Carbon emission is the highest in the developed world, and even among the residents of the developed world, the top one percent to five percent in terms of economics, contribute way beyond their numbers. The more ambitious you are, the bigger a chaser of money you are, the more you are pushing the planet towards mass extinction. That's what is happening. It's as simple and as obvious as that. And see how wonderful it is that some people will still say, "Oh, I didn't know. Oh, I didn't know."

And each of us are micro mirror images of the ones who are contributing the maximum to climate change. It's just that they have the resources, the wherewithal to actually add a lot of carbon to the atmosphere; we don't have so many resources, but we have the same ambition—we want to be like them. They have a personal jet and you have reports available, public reports of celebrities using personal jets to cover a distance of thirty miles, forty miles, fifty miles.

Q: Because they can.

AP: That's a whim. That's a quack because I can. Else, how do I justify my life? Why else am I earning so much? The common man cannot match that. What does he do? He has to go to Jaipur from Delhi, he takes a flight. The highway is great, usually. Sometimes it's clogged, otherwise it's good. But then sometimes flights are also delayed. Sometimes flights can, in fact, just return to the base, given that the Delhi-Jaipur sector experiences heavy fog in winters. But that's what, some two hundred and fifty kilometres or something and people want to still.

So, it's the darkness in the mind that thinks that you are born to consume, and consumption will make you happy. The fundamental philosophy of mankind is flawed. We do not know who we are and why we are born; that's the problem. You are born suffering, so the first thing that comes to your mind is pursuit of happiness. And the market tells you that you can have happiness through consumption. “Come buy my stuff, it will make you happy.” And it does make you happy for a while.

It's just that happiness is in the first place no cure for suffering. Your problem is not that you do not have happiness; your problem is that you have suffering. And happiness is no remedy. First of all, happiness is no remedy. Secondly, happiness that comes from consumption, far from being a remedy, is a problem, is a huge, huge monster—mass extinction, for the planet itself.

And all that because we are spiritually illiterate. Because we do not know who we are in the first place. So, all we want to do is binge, binge, and binge. What do you think a person does once he gets some money? You didn't have money, you were sad all the time. Now you have a job and some money, what do you do with that? Do you use it to improve yourself, to raise your inner levels, to become a better person, to refine your mind? Do you use your money for that purpose? No. You go to the market. Binge, splurge.

“I have money. I can throw money. Let me have that one, this one, this one.” Why? Because I am a suffering being. I am a suffering being who is also ignorant, so he does not know why he suffers. And that is what has led to this mass extinction that we are into. And now, here I would be empathetic if someone says, “I do not know about mass extinction.” Yes, because that's not something that any media is highlighting.

Mainstream media would obviously never do that, but even social media is not taking this thing up. We have already entered the sixth mass extinction phase and I said that yesterday—the temperatures in India within the next ten to fifteen years would cross the human survivability limit.

Q: There was even recently a UN report, I think that came up or I think an economic report that came up saying that India is one of the first countries that's going to be badly affected.

AP: Badly affected by heatwaves. Roads will melt and the poor will bear the brunt. In India, still, seventy five to eighty percent of employed people do work that involves exposure to the sun. And that does not mean that you have to be a field labourer, or a labourer in a plant or at a construction site. You could as well be a salesperson, you are still exposed to the heat. You could as well be an auto driver, or a fruit vendor. Seventy five to eighty percent of the population is in jobs that involve exposure to direct sun, and they will be killed.

What's pathetic is nobody would know the right reason to blame. Somebody would blame the government, somebody would blame the luck, or the heatwave, or the floods. Somebody would simply say, "Oh, it's a chance thing." We would not know that the fundamental reason, the murderer is human ignorance. We did that, there's no chance in that. It's not that the system is responsible. The individual human being is responsible. The choices that we have been making since long—our pursuit of happiness, the way we think that more is better, stuff our homes with furniture, with this, with that. Do not think about utility, just think about quantity.

Q: So even if you are a vegan, but if you are binge consumers, we are not spiritual at all.

AP: That's what, that's what, that's what. Therefore, veganism has to be a far wider term. First of all, veganism cannot be a dietary thing only. "I don't take dairy. So, I am a vegan." Not possible, sir. Not possible. Veganism also cannot just be about using vegan products like non-leather belts, and shoes, and clothes, and such things. It has to exceed that as well.

Veganism has to be a certain philosophy of life. And if you don't have that philosophy of life, just not eating curd, etc. cannot make you vegan. I think of vegans who happily have three kids. How are you a vegan? Don't you know that when you procreate, it is the grossest kind of cruelty towards animals? Entire planet. How can you have three kids and you are celebrating?

You are creating consumers. The fellow that is born would need roads, would need hospital, would need school, would need a lot of stuff to consume throughout his life, and would in his life procreate and create more consumers. So, giving birth is the mightiest act of cruelty today. And yet we have vegans who are sending congratulatory messages to Didi. "Didi, congratulations. Such a cute bundle of joy." And you are a vegan. How is it possible?

So, veganism, anti-natalism, minimalism—they have to go together. And at the root of all of them is simple spirituality, which you could also call as common sense.

Q: Agreed.

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