259 – Abstinence from Non-Vegetarian Food

National Integration Through Thirukkural And Sanskrit

Abstention from Non-Vegetarian Diet

Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive or experience, subjectively. Eighteenth-century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think (reason) from the ability to feel.

Eastern religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism recognise non-humans as sentient beings based on the concept of ahimsa (nonviolence) toward other beings.

Abrahamic faiths like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism believe that humans are completely justified in their treatment of animals, both theologically and philosophically. It has been claimed that animals are of an inferior order of being in comparison to humans. This being the purported case, it is perfectly permissible for humans to kill animals for consumption, or for any other purpose they deem appropriate.

Sanatana Dharma opines  that if we are, indeed, superior to other life-forms, we should clearly exhibit that superior nature precisely in our actions towards them.

Vegetarian diet is gaining popularity across the world due to various factors like medical advice, ethical and moral concerns, animal right activism, environmental reasons etc.

Sanatana Dharma advocates vegetarianism from a spiritual perspective.

One of the central tenets of Sanatana Dharma philosophy is the concept of ahimsa, or non-violence. While many ethical systems espouse some form of non-violent ethic or another, what makes the Vedic practice of ahimsa radically unique from other systems is the universal scope of its concern. For most ethical schools of thought, the concept of ethical concern extends no further than the human race. The criteria for whether or not a being is worthy of being the object of compassion is determined by the species of the being involved. For Dharmis (followers of Sanatana Dharma), on the other hand, all living creatures are worthy of respect, compassion and ethical concern, regardless of whether they are human or non-human.

All living beings, regardless of their physical form, are atman, or individual units of consciousness, in their innermost essence. The attributes of atman are satchit and ananda, or being, knowledge and bliss. The atman is the ultimate experiencer (drashtur) of all that occurs to the body, either good or bad. That being the case, causing any suffering to any living being is considered to be the greatest offense. If any being is capable of experiencing pain, regardless of what species that being is a member of, it is immoral to needlessly inflict pain on that being.

An animal may not be able to express itself rationally in a human dialect. But, by expressing a clearly and universally recognizable verbal sign of suffering as a scream when we abuse, torture or kill it, a conscious being is pleading with us to cease its suffering. The entire realm of living beings thus falls within the scope of moral concern. It is in keeping with this ethic of valuing all life that thoughtful Dharmis follow a strict vegetarian diet, a diet which seeks to reduce suffering to its minimal level.

In Couplet 259 Thiruvalluvar suggests that, abstaining from eating meat is much more virtuous than making 1000  offerings of Havis (or rice) in the yagnas.

அவி சொரிந்து ஆயிரம் வேட்டலின் ஒன்றன்
உயிர் செகுத்து உண்ணாமை நன்று.

Avi-sorindhu aayiram Vettalin Ondran
Uyir-seguthu un-naamai Nandru

In this Couplet, Thiruvalluvar makes direct reference to the yagnas and establishes that the Vedic culture was very well established even during the Sangam period. The word Havis or Avis refers to the offerings of rice and ghee in fire in a Vedic sacrifice. This couplet is very similar to the following verse (5.53) in Manu Smruthi.

வர்ஷே வர்ஷே (அ)ஶ்வமேதே⁴ன யோ யஜேத ஶதம்  ஸமா꞉
மாம்ஸானி ச ந கா²தே³த்³ யஸ்தயோ꞉ புண்ய ப²லம்  ஸமம்

Manu declares the merits of being a non-meat eater . One who avoids meat and remains as a vegetarian (and also avoids the prohibited food items from the Shastras) is rewarded with the fruit of performing Aswa Medha Yagnam each year for a period of 100 years.

பரிமேலழகர் உரை: 

அவி சொரிந்து ஆயிரம் வேட்டலின் – தீயின்கண் நெய் முதலிய அவிகளைச் சொரிந்து ஆயிரம் வேள்வி வேட்டலினும், ஒன்றன்உயிர் செகுத்து உண்ணாமை நன்று – ஒரு விலங்கின் உயிரைப் போக்கி அது நின்ற ஊனை உண்ணாமை நன்று. (அவ்வேள்விகளான் வரும் பயனினும் இவ்விரதத்தான் வரும் பயனே பெரிது என்பதாம்.}

Sanskrit Translation by  Shri S. N. Srirama Desikan

நானா யாக₃ விதா₄னேன ஜாய மானாத் ப₂லாத₃பி |
மாம்ஸா ஹார பரித்யாகா₃  ச்ச்₂ரேய: ப₂ல மவாப்யதே ||