A Leaf, A Fruit, A Flower—Part II
by Rohininandana Dasa
Vegetarians are just self-righteous vegetable-killers, some people say, and their milk-drinking implicates them in violence.
Nowadays vegetarianism is becoming popular for various economic, health, and ethical reasons; but spiritual reasons are more difficult for people to comprehend. Some people ask, “What’s the difference between being a vegetarian and being a meat-eater? An animal has a soul, and a plant has a soul, and if you’ve got to kill the plant, then why not kill an animal? It’s the same. You just killed a carrot. The carrot’s dead, and the animal’s dead. So what’s the difference?” Suppose you’re trying to convince somebody to become a vegetarian, and he says that to you. What are you going to say?
Response: There are spiritual reasons, and there are also material reasons. The spiritual reason is that you cannot offer meat to Krishna, and materially, you can argue that vegetables are not as developed.
Rohininandana dasa: Yes. The carrot has a less developed consciousness than an animal. So the amount of inconvenience you put a carrot through is considerably less than that of an animal. That’s clear. You could also reply. “Well, why don’t you eat a human child? If there’s no difference between killing a carrot and killing a cow, then why not eat a human baby?”
Seriously, if you look at a small human baby, there is not much difference between it and an animal, is there? The animal feels a bit of pain, and the baby feels a bit of pain, so we might as well eat the human baby. But of course nobody wants to eat a human baby. “No, no, I couldn’t eat a human baby. They’re very different from animals. They’ve got different potential.” So if there is such a great difference between a human baby and an animal, how much more is there between a cow and a blade of grass or a carrot? Obviously, then, there is a difference in consciousness.
The other reason is that we’re “Krishna- tarians.” We eat only what we offer to Krishna. We’re not exactly vegetarians. We find out what Krishna wants us to offer Him. He says He wants a leaf, a fruit, a flower, or water. This means that vegetables, fruits, nuts, milk, juice, and all kinds of produce can be offered to Him and then eaten.
Question: The Bible says you can offer meat to God.
Rohininandana dasa: Not always. In Isaiah 1.11, the Lord says. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of your fed beasts: and I delighteth not in the blood of bullocks or of lambs or of goats… . Bring no more vain oblations… . Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth… . and when ye spread forth your hands. I will hide Mine eyes from you. Yea, when you make many prayers. I will not hear, for your hands are full of blood.” And in Isaiah 66.3:“He that killeth an ox is as he that slayeth a man… . Yea they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.”
You may cite other verses, where the Bible appears to recommend animal sacrifices, but could it not be that the Bible sanctions animal sacrifices for the die-hard flesh- eaters?
It’s very clear, at least in the Vedic literatures, that God doesn’t want us to offer Him flesh and blood, and even the Christians sense that because if you go to church on Thanksgiving you’ll see wheat, apples, oranges, grapes, and other produce. You never see decorations of intestines and sheep’s heads on the altar. You never see that.
But why not? It means that they can’t think animal- killing is really wonderful. People sing, “We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land.” You go into the church, and there are flowers and all kinds of pleasant things. People in church don’t sing. “We butcher the beasts and spill their blood”! Those unpleasant things—the decaying flesh and the screams—are out of sight and mind, far away in some secluded slaughterhouse.
Now, somebody could say. “Well, you Hare Krishna people are drinking milk, eating butter and cheese, and using ghee for cooking. In a factory farm, when the cow can’t give milk anymore, she is slaughtered for her meat. By drinking milk you are supporting this system. Therefore you should become a vegan like me.” What would you say then?
Response: To get the milk doesn’t mean you have to kill the cow.
Rohininandana dasa: But the vegan will say, “The cow’s milk is meant for her calf, and you’re taking it.” What do you say then?
Our explanation is that if you offer that milk to God, the cow benefits spiritually, even though she’s living on a factory farm. From the Vedic point of view, it is important for human beings to have animal protein, especially if you want to cultivate spiritual life. And that animal protein comes in the form of cow’s milk. Milk is actually the blood of the cow miraculously transformed into milk. The cow eats grass, the grass becomes blood, then the blood becomes milk, which we can drink as it is or prepare in many different ways.
Milk is the most miraculous of all foods. According to the Vedas, milk is meant for consumption by human beings. In fact, the Vedas say that five thousand years ago, cows gave more milk than they do today. It’s incorrect to think that our breeding practices have enabled cows to produce more milk. No, it’s their nature to produce much milk. The calf needs perhaps a tenth of the milk in the udder. And cows can give eight to ten gallons of milk a day. That’s a lot of milk! This extra milk is meant for human consumption, to help develop fine brain tissue.
In Vedic society, every brahmana would have not only a cow but also a bull for plowing the land to produce grains. The cow is like a mother because she gives us milk. She should be protected and taken care of. In the Krishna consciousness movement we have farms, and we look after the cows with great care. In the summer we let them roam in the woods and pastures, and in the winter we house them in barns and take care of them. We don’t kill them.
The Vedas describe the relationship between cows and humans. That relationship is God’s arrangement for human society. If we try to figure things out for ourselves, well get so many imperfect solutions. What is the cow going to do if you don’t milk her? Shell suffer great pain and eventually die. because she must be milked. A cow is actually dependent on human beings.
In the spiritual world, Krishna is taking care of the cows. One of Krishna’s names is Gopala. “He who protects the cows.” Another of Krishna’s names. Govinda, means “He who gives pleasure to the cows.” There is a natural relationship between God and the cows, and also between mankind and the cows.
In the Krishna consciousness movement we live in cities not because we want to. for no one who practices spiritual life likes to live in the middle of a city. We prefer to live in a very simple place, like the villages of India. At least I do! But the reason we’re here is that we’re trying to tell other people about Krishna. And therefore we have to drink the milk that’s coming to us from the factory farms. We don’t agree with their methods at all, but we’re using their products to help bring down materialistic selfishness. And we are confident that the poor cows are greatly blessed when their milk is offered to the beautiful Deities. Sri Sri Radha-Kunjabihari [the Deities in the Detroit temple]. Does anyone have a question or a comment?
Question: Why not be vegans if we’re living in the city?
Rohininandana dasa: That’s a good point, but it’s enough austerity just to live in these cities. We have to compromise in so many ways. Just to drive a car you’ve got to have tires, which are made with animal products. Practically speaking, even though you think that you’re wearing vegetarian clothes, and that everything you have is vegetarian, if you analyze you will find that there are animal products in almost everything you have. The film in your camera is made from gelatin. Even vegetables are fertilized by animal bones. So there comes a point where you just have to not be too fanatical about it.
What we are basically trying to do is remove a thorn with a thorn. We’re using modern technology to change modern technological society. So sometimes we have to compromise by drinking store-bought milk. But by our preaching in the cities, many people are becoming vegetarians, and therefore many cows are being saved. If you convince just one person to be a vegetarian, you’re saving many animals every year.
How many animals and birds do you think an average American eats in a year? Let’s say he eats twelve chickens. Does this sound reasonable? No? More? Double, then? OK. And how many pigs each year? Will he finish a whole pig? Probably. Let’s say he gets through one pig. How many fish? Thirty? How many sheep? Two? How many cows? One whole cow? Two sheep, one pig, a couple of turkeys, twenty-four chickens, thirty fish, and one cow. And he may eat more bizarre things than that! Maybe you’re also saving a few snails, a horse, some squirrels, and a monkey.
If by your influence someone becomes a vegetarian, in one year you’ve saved all these animals. What if that person stays a vegetarian for the next thirty years? How many creatures are being saved? To be really effective we’ve got to situate ourselves in the cities; otherwise, if we were tucked away in the country somewhere, we would only influence a few people. But we do both. We’re in the cities and also in the country. And vegetarianism is just one benefit of our work, because if a person is Krishna conscious, he’s automatically going to be kind and gentle and possess all good qualities.
Question: What’s wrong with eggs?
Rohininandana dasa: Well, first, they’re not the most pleasant things to eat when you think about what they are: female chickens’ menstrual waste products. It’s not such an edible food. Of course, modern nutritionists may say how wonderful eggs are, but eggs are not the most elevated food. And in their natural condition, they should be fertilized anyway. Go to one of these factory farms and see how the chickens are suffering. Sometimes the hens are so cramped in their cages that their claws just grow around the wire. When the “farmers” come to get them out of the cages, they find that their feet are firmly clamped to the wires. And they’ve got so many diseases; it’s an abominable life. I used to work in a place like that. I tell you, it’s abominable.
Comment: Some people call eggs “liquid flesh.”
Rohininandana dasa: Yes. Of course, eating eggs is not as bad as eating flesh, but it’s bad enough. I remember when I was giving up eggs, it was tough because I used to like omelets. I was camping on the side of a mountain, and I got down to my last egg. I thought “Whew! What am I going to do?” I suddenly felt a surge of strength coming—“I’ve got to give this up!”—and I took the egg and I slung it down the mountainside. And I’ve never eaten another egg since. I felt very pleased after that. If you try, Krishna will help you. You’ll get enough protein, you’ll get enough strength, you’ll be able to do it.
Especially nowadays, there are so many vegetarian cookbooks; there are so many ways of understanding good eating. How to mix your grains together—if you mix rice with dal, it increases the potency of both. It is a science. By eating meat and eggs, you get too much protein. Too much protein is bad for you.
Does that answer your question? You can’t offer the egg to Krishna. We’re Krishna-tarians; we offer Krishna only what He wants us to eat. We’re trying to awaken our love for Krishna, which is really the important thing. It’s not whether I’m a vegetarian—that’s coincidental—but whether I am trying to serve God, to please God.
In the ultimate issue, if there’s nothing else to eat, you can eat meat If you’re starving and there’s an animal, you can kill the animal and eat it. This is stated in the shastras. or lawbooks. Human life is actually more important than that of an animal, only because human life enables us to practice self-realization. Of course, if we’re not practicing self-realization, then human life doesn’t have any more importance than animal life.
Srila Prabhupada would often say that without rationality man is just an animal. But if the human being is trying to cultivate spiritual life, then his life is more valuable. If a tiger comes at you, you can certainly defend yourself; Krishna consciousness is practical.
But here in the United States there’s no food shortage. We grow so much grain every year. In her book Diet for a Small Planet, Francis Lappe, a nutritionist, gives amazing statistics about how much grain we grow each year to feed livestock. You have to give the animal thirty pounds of grain to get one pound of flesh. You could eat the thirty pounds of grain quite easily. So it’s very practical. But in today’s discussion we want to concentrate more on the spiritual side of vegetarianism.
Once Srila Prabhupada took a gulabjamun in his hand—gulabjanums are ball-like sweets made out of milk powder that are fried and then soaked in a solution of rose water and honey or sugar. They are very sweet. He popped it into his mouth and said. “We’re eating our way back to Godhead.” So by eating, anyone can make spiritual advancement. That’s a fact.
So try to give all your friends some prasadam [food offered to Krishna]. If you’ve got a grandmother who’s dying in the hospital, take her a little prasadam, and make sure she eats it. It’s said that whoever eats prasadam is guaranteed a human body in the next life. If somebody is destined to become an animal, he will get the opportunity of another human body.
And if you give an animal some prasadam, then that soul will be elevated very quickly through the different animal species back to human life again. If a soul loses his human form, it’s very troublesome for him, because he must go through the different species, and it may be a long time before he gets back to human life. So if you have some leftover food, give it to the birds and other creatures in your backyard. Sometimes we take the water we’ve offered to Krishna on the altar and pour it on the base of a tree so it w ill benefit.
People may think this is madness, but no, it is spiritual. For one in material consciousness, spirituality seems like ignorance, and for one who is spiritually awake, material consciousness is seen as ignorance. In simple words, they say we’re crazy, and we say they’re crazy. So the question is, “Who is crazy?” That’s the question we have to ask—who is actually crazy? Krishna says, “What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled, and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.”
People who don’t offer their food to Krishna have to accept karmic reaction. even if they just kill a carrot. Even if they’re vegetarian, when they kill a carrot they’ve inconvenienced that soul. Maybe in a minor way, but still there’s some inconvenience. Therefore, they have to suffer a karmic reaction. That carrot was living. It had a right to live, and I killed it for my own sensual pleasure, so I’m simply eating a sinful reaction.
No one should be proud: “I’m a vegetarian; I’m OK.” Even a monkey is a vegetarian.
Being a vegetarian is not the Absolute Truth. It doesn’t even save you completely from karma. You will save yourself from a tremendous amount of karma by being a vegetarian, because you won’t have to suffer a reaction for every hair on the cow’s body, but there is still a small reaction for killing a carrot. Offer that carrot to Krishna, however, and there’s no reaction for you at all. The carrot benefits and everyone who eats your offering will benefit. Krishna says. “Whatever reaction there is. Hi take it, because you’re doing it under orders.”
When a soldier kills in war there’s no question of any penalty, because he acted under orders. He might even get a medal. Even if the fight was a mistake—his officer made a blunder—the soldier is not punished, because he acted under superior orders. This is an analogy. We are not saying that soldiers are free from karma, but they are free from the social consequence of their actions. But if a soldier kills somebody in peacetime, he must suffer the penalty, because he has taken the law into his own hands.
Similarly, if we act under Krishna’s direction, and eat only those things He recommends, there’s no karmic reaction, and everyone benefits. Whereas if I start making up my own ideas, even if I’m a vegan trying to do the right thing. I’m still going to create karma. Even a vegan is still eating and therefore creating karma. He may not be inconveniencing cows, but he’s inconveniencing vegetables, which are also living beings. He may also indirectly support animal slaughter by buying food from a store or company that sells animal products. But a person who follows the Lord’s direction by preparing his allotted quota of food and offering it to Krishna benefits everyone.
Why stop at human beings or cows? If you’re going to be humanitarian, why not think of the animals? If you’re going to think of the animals, why not think of the fish’.* If you’re going to think of the fish. why not think of the plants? They re also living. They also feel pain. In India, if someone is building a wall and a tree stands in the way. it’s quite common to build around it. In the West, we just mow anything and everything down. Isn’t that right? If a tree is growing in front of our window and is blocking the sunlight we just cut it down.
But in India, only uncivilized people do such a thing. Sometimes people build their houses around a tree. They make a courtyard for the tree with an open roof for it to get sunshine. The tree also has a right to a little space to live, a little air and sunlight. That’s culture. Why kill anything unnecessarily? And we cut down whole forests in Brazil just to get beef. Whole forests so we can print Playboy magazine and The New York Times. And people chew half of a hamburger and read one or two pages of a fifty-page newspaper and just chuck it all away. No thought of any responsibility! Just by buying a materialistic magazine you’re going to get a karmic reaction for all the trees that have been killed. But if you cut a tree down and you make a book about Krishna, the soul in that tree will benefit, because its wood has been used in Krishna’s service.
And the book is kept Very often in India, the books are wrapped in silk cloth and kept on the altar, and when people want to read they unwrap them very carefully and offer prayers before they begin reading. And those books are passed down from one generation to another.
Does this philosophy sound reasonable? It is reasonable. A religion without reason is just a sentimental thing—”Oh, you’ve got to believe in this. If you don’t believe in this, you’re going to burn.” It becomes fanaticism. But religion must have some philosophy behind it.
Similarly, philosophy on its own is just mental speculation, as when you try to figure things out on your own and become a vegan. It’s a speculation, not based on any scriptural evidence, and therefore it’s not perfect. It may have some degree of truth—there’s something good about most things—but if you want something to be absolutely perfect, then you’ve got to get it from a bona fide scripture, under the guidance of a bona fide guru.