The word vegetarian, coined by the founders
of the British Vegetarian Society in 1842, comes from the Latin word
vegetus, meaning "whole, sound, fresh, or lively," as in
vegetus-a mentally and physically vigorous person. The original meaning of
the word implies a balanced philosophical and moral sense of life, a lot more
than just a diet of vegetables and fruits.
Most vegetarians are people who have understood that to contribute towards a
more peaceful society we must first solve the problem of violence in our own
hearts. So it's not surprising that thousands of people from all walks of life
have, in their search for truth, become vegetarian. Vegetarianism is an
essential step towards a better society, and people who take the time to
consider its advantages, will be in the company of such thinkers as Pythagoras,
Socrates, Plato, Clement of Alexandria, Plutarch, King Asoka, Leonardo da Vinci,
Montaigne, Akbar, John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Emanuel Swedenbourg, Voltaire,
Benjamin Franklin, Jean Jacques Rousear, Lamartine, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ralph
Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw,
Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, and Albert Einstein.
Let's examine some of the advantages of becoming vegetarian.
Health and Nutrition
Can a vegetarian diet improve or restore health? Can it prevent certain
Advocates of vegetarianism have said yes for many years, although they didn't
have much support from modern science until recently. Now, medical researchers
have discovered evidence of a link between meat-eating and such killers as heart
disease and cancer, so they're giving vegetarianism another look.
Since the 1960s, scientists have suspected that a meat-based diet is somehow
related to the development of arteriosclerosis and heart disease. As early as
1961, the Journal of the American Medical Association said: "Ninety to
ninety-seven percent of heart disease can be prevented by a vegetarian diet."
Since that time, several well-organized studies have scientifically shown that
after tobacco and alcohol, the consumption of meat is the greatest single cause
of mortality in Western Europe, the United States, Australia, and other affluent
areas of the world.
The human body is unable to deal with excessive amounts of animal fat and
cholesterol. A poll of 214 scientists doing research on arteriosclerosis in 23
countries showed almost total agreement that there is a link between diet, serum
cholesterol levels, and heart disease. When a person eats more cholesterol than
the body needs (as he usually does with a meat-centered diet), the excess
cholesterol gradually becomes a problem. It accumulates on the inner walls of
the arteries, constricts the flow of blood to the heart, and can lead to high
blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes.
On the other hand, scientists at the University of Milan and Maggiore
Hospital have shown that vegetable protein may act to keep cholesterol levels
low. In a report to the British medical journal The Lancet, D.C.R.
Sirtori concluded that people with the type of high cholesterol associated with
heart disease "may benefit from a diet in which protein comes only from
What about cancer? Research over the past twenty years strongly suggests a
link between meat-eating and cancer of the colon, rectum, breast, and uterus.
These types of cancer are rare among those who eat little or no meat, such as
Seventh-Day Adventists, Japanese, and Indians, but they are prevalent among
Another article in The Lancet reported, "People living in the areas
with a high recorded incidence of carcinoma of the colon tend to live on diets
containing large amounts of fat and animal protein; whereas those who live in
areas with a low incidence live on largely vegetarian diets with little fat or
Rollo Russell, in his Notes on the Causation of Cancer, says, "I have
found of twenty-five nations eating flesh largely, nineteen had a high cancer
rate and only one had a low rate, and that of thirty-five nations eating little
or no flesh, none had a high rate."
Why do meat-eaters seem more prone to these diseases? One reason given by
biologists and nutritionists is that man's intestinal tract is simply not suited
for digesting meat. Flesh-eating animals have short intestinal tracts (three
times the length of the animal's body), to pass rapidly decaying toxin-producing
meat out of the body quickly. Since plant foods decay more slowly than meat,
plant-eaters have intestines at least six times the length of the body. Man has
the long intestinal tract of a herbivore, so if he eats meat, toxins can
overload he kidneys and lead to gout, arthritis, rheumatism and even cancer.
And then there are the chemicals added to meat. As soon as an animal is
slaughtered, its flesh begins to putrefy, and after several days it turns a
sickly gray-green. The meat industry masks this discoloration by adding
nitrites, nitrates, and other preservatives to give the meat a bright red color.
But research has now shown many of these preservatives to be carcinogenic. And
what makes the problem worse is the massive amounts of chemicals fed to
livestock. Gary and Steven Null, in their book, Poisons in your Body,
show us something that ought to make anyone think twice before buying another
steak or ham. "The animals are kept alive and fattened by continuous
administration of tranquilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and 2,700 other drugs.
The process starts even before birth and continues long after death. Although
these drugs will still be present in the meat when you eat it, the law does not
require that they be listed on the package."
Because of findings like this, the American National Academy of Sciences
reported in 1983 that "people may be able to prevent many common types of cancer
by eating less fatty meats and more vegetables and grains."
But wait a minute! Weren't human beings designed to be meat-eaters? Don't we
need animal protein?
The answer to both these questions is no. Although some historians and
anthropologists say that man is historically omnivorous, our anatomical
equipment - teeth, jaws, and digestive system-favors a fleshless diet. The
American Dietetic Association notes that "most of mankind for most of human
history has lived on vegetarian or near-vegetarian diets."
And much of the world still lives that way. Even in most industrialized
countries, the love affair with meat is less than a hundred years old. It
started with the refrigerator car and the twentieth-century consumer
But even in the twentieth century, man's body hasn't adapted to eating meat.
The prominent Swedish scientist Karl von Linne states, "Man's structure,
external and internal, compared with that of the other animals, shows that fruit
and succulent vegetables constitute his natural food." This chart (under
construction) compares the anatomy of man with that of carnivorous and
As for the protein question, Dr. Paavo Airo, a leading authority on nutrition
and natural biology, has this to say: "The official daily recommendation for
protein has gone down from the 150 grams recommended twenty years ago to only 45
grams today. Why? Because reliable worldwide research has shown that we do not
need so much protein, that the actual daily need is only 35 to 45 grams. Protein
consumed in excess of the actual daily need is not only wasted, but actually
causes serious harm to the body and is even causatively related to such killer
diseases as cancer and heart disease. In order to obtain 45 grams of protein a
day from your diet you do not have to eat meat; you can get it from a 100
percent vegetarian diet of a variety of grains, lentils, nuts, vegetables, and
Dairy products, grains, beans, and nuts are all concentrated sources of
protein. Cheese, peanuts, and lentils, for instance, contain more protein per
ounce than hamburger, pork, or porterhouse steak.
Still, nutritionists thought until recently that only meat, fish, eggs, and
milk product had complete proteins (containing the eight amino acids not
produced in the body), and that all vegetable proteins were incomplete (lacking
one or more of these amino acids). But research at the Karolinska Institute in
Sweden and the Max Plank Institute in Germany has shown that most vegetables,
fruits, seeds, nuts, and grains are excellent sources of complete proteins. In
fact, their proteins are easier to assimilate than those of meat-and they don't
bring with them any toxins. It's nearly impossible to lack protein if you eat
enough natural unrefined food. Remember, the vegetable kingdom is the real
source of all protein. Vegetarians simply eat it "direct" instead of
getting it second-hand from the vegetarian animals.
Too much protein intake even reduces the body's energy. In a series of
comparative endurance tests conducted by Dr. Irving Fisher of Yale University,
vegetarians performed twice as well as meat-eaters. When Dr. Fisher knocked down
the non-vegetarians protein consumption by twenty percent, their efficiency went
up by thirty-three percent. Numerous other studies have shown that a proper
vegetarian diet provides more nutritional energy than meat. A study by Dr. J.
Iotekyo and V. Kipani at Brussels University showed that vegetarians were able
to perform physical tests two to three times longer than meat-eaters before
tiring out-and the vegetarians fully recovered from fatigue three times more
quickly than the meat-eaters.
Meat feeds few at the expense of many. For the sake of producing meat, grain
that could feed people feeds livestock instead. According to information
compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture, over ninety percent of
all the grain produced in America goes to feed livestock-cows, pigs, sheep, and
chickens-that wind up on dinner tables. Yet the process of using grain to
produce meat is incredibly wasteful. Figures from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture show that for every sixteen pounds of grain fed to cattle, we get
back only one pound of meat.
In Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappe asks us to imagine
ourselves sitting down to an eight-ounce steak. "Then imagine the room filled
with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls in from of them. For the 'feed cost' of
your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of cooked cereal
Affluent nations do not only waste their own grains to feed livestock, they
also use protein-rich plant foods from poor nations. Dr. Georg Borgstrom, an
authority on the geography of food, estimates that one-third of Africa's peanut
crop (and peanuts give the same amount of protein as meat) ends up in the
stomachs of cattle and poultry in Western Europe.
In underdeveloped countries, a person consumes an average of four hundred
pounds of grain a year, most of it by eating it directly. In contrast, says
world food authority Lester Brown, the average European or American goes through
two thousand pounds a year, by first feeding almost ninety percent of it to
animals for meat. The average European or American meat-eater, Brown says, uses
five times the food resources of the average Colombian, Indian, or Nigerian.
Facts such as these have led food experts to point out that the world hunger
problem is artificial. Even now, we are already producing more than enough food
for everyone on the planet-but we are allocating it wastefully.
Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer estimates that bringing down meat production
by only ten percent would release enough grain to feed sixty million people.
Another price we pay for meat-eating is degradation of the environment. The
heavily contaminated runoff and sewage form slaughterhouses and feedlots are
major sources of pollution of rivers and streams. It is fast becoming apparent
that the fresh water resources of this planet are not only becoming contaminated
but also depleted, and the meat industry is particularly wasteful. Georg
Borgstrom says the production of livestock created ten times more pollution than
residential areas, and three times more than industry.
In their book Population Resources, and Environment, Paul and Anne
Ehrlich show that to grow one pound of wheat requires only sixty pounds of
water, whereas production of one pound of meat requires anywhere from 2,500 to
6,000 pounds of water.
And in 1973 the New York Post uncovered a shocking misuse of this most
valuable resource-one large chicken-slaughtering plant in the United States was
using one hundred mission gallons of water daily, and amount that could supply a
city of twenty-five thousand people.
But now let's turn from the world geopolitical situation, and get right down
to our own pocketbooks. A spot check of supermarkets in New York in January 1986
showed that sirloin steak cost around four dollars a pound, while ingredients
for a delicious, substantial vegetarian meal average less than two dollars a
pound. An eight ounce container of cottage cheese costing sixty cents provides
sixty percent of the minimum daily requirement of protein. Becoming a vegetarian
could potentially save you at least several thousand dollars a year, tens of
thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime. The savings to America's
consumers would amount to billions of dollars annually. And the same principle
applies to consumers all over the world. Considering all this, it's hard to see
how anyone could afford not to become a vegetarian.
Many people consider the ethical reasons the most important of all for
becoming vegetarian. The beginning of ethical vegetarianism is the knowledge
that other creatures have feelings, and that their feelings are similar to ours.
This knowledge encourages one to extend personal awareness to encompass the
suffering of others.
In an essay titled "The Ethics of Vegetarianism," from the journal of
the North American Vegetarian Society, the conception of "humane animal
slaughter" is refuted. "Many people nowadays have been lulled into a sense of
complacency by the thought that animals are now slaughtered 'humanely', thus
presumably removing any possible humanitarian objection to the eating of meat.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the actual facts of life...and
The entire life of a captive 'food animal' is an unnatural one of artificial
breeding, vicious castration and/or hormone stimulation, feeding of an abnormal
diet for fattening purposes, and eventually long rides in intense discomfort to
the ultimate end. The holding pens, the electric prods and tail twisting, the
abject terror and fright, all these are still very much a part of the most
'modern' animal raising, shipping, and slaughtering. To accept all this and only
oppose the callous brutality of the last few seconds of the animal's life, is to
distort the word 'humane'."
The truth of animal slaughter is not at all pleasant-commercial
slaughterhouses are like visions of hell. Screaming animals are stunned by
hammer blows, electric shock, or concussion guns. They are hoisted into the air
by their feet and moved through the factories of death on mechanized conveyor
systems. Still alive, their throats are sliced and their flesh is cut off while
they bleed to death. Why isn't the mutilation and slaughter of farm animals
governed by the same stipulations intended for the welfare of pets and even the
Many people would no doubt take up vegetarianism if they visited a
slaughterhouse, or if they themselves had to kill the animals they ate. Such
visits should be compulsory for all meat eater..
Pythagoras, famous for his contributions to geometry and mathematics, said,
"Oh, my fellow men, do not defile your bodies with sinful foods. We have corn,
we have apples bending down the branches with their weight, and grapes swelling
on the vines. There are sweet-flavored herbs, and vegetables which can be cooked
and softened over the fire, nor are you denied mild or thyme-scented honey. The
earth affords a lavish supply of riches of innocent foods, and offers you
banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter, only beasts satisfy their
hunger with flesh, and not even all of those, because horses, cattle, and sheep
live on grass."
In an essay titled On Eating Flesh, the Roman author Plutarch wrote:
"Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstinence from flesh? For my
part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of mind the first
man touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead
creature, set forth tables of dead, stale bodies, and ventured to call food and
nourishment the pets that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and
lived... It is certainly not lions or wolves that we eat out of self-defense; on
the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without
stings or teeth to harm us. For the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of
sun, of light, of the duration of life they are entitled to by birth and
Plutarch then delivered this challenge to flesh-eaters: "If you declare that
you are naturally designed for such a diet, then first kill for yourself what
you want to eat. Do it, however only through your own resources, unaided by
cleaver or cudgel or any kind of ax."
The poet Shelly was a committed vegetarian. In his essay
A Vindication of
Natural Diet, he wrote, "Let the advocate of animal food force himself to a
decisive experiment on its fitness, and as Plutarch recommends, tear a living
lamb with his teeth and plunging his head into its vitals, slake his thirst with
the steaming blood...then, and then only, would he be consistent."
Leo Tolstoy wrote that by killing animals for food, "Man suppresses in
himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity-that of sympathy and pity
toward living creatures like himself-and by violating his own feelings becomes
cruel." He also warned, "While our bodies are the living graves of murdered
animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on earth?"
When we lose respect for animal life, we lose respect for human life as well.
Twenty-six hundred years ago, Pythagoras said, "Those that kill animals to eat
their flesh tend to massacre their own." We're fearful of enemy guns, bombs, and
missiles, but can we close our eyes to the pain and fear we ourselves bring
about by slaughtering, for human consumption, over 1.6 billion domestic mammals
and 22.5 billion poultry a year. The number of fish killed each year is in the
trillions. And what to speak of the tens of millions of animals killed each year
in the "torture-camps" of medical research laboratories, or slaughtered for
their fur, hide, or skin, or hunted for "sport". Can we deny that this brutality
makes us more brutal too?
Leonardo da Vinci wrote, "Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality
exceeds theirs. We live by the death of others. We are burial places!" He added,
"The time will come when men will look upon the murder of animals as they now
look upon the murder of men."
Mahatma Gandhi felt that ethical principles are a stronger support for
lifelong commitment to a vegetarian diet than reasons of health. "I do feel," he
stated, "that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease
to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants." He also
said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way
its animals are treated."
All major religious scriptures enjoin man to live without killing
unnecessarily. The Old Testament instructs, "Thou shalt not kill." (Exodus
20:13) This is traditionally misinterpreted as referring only to murder. But the
original Hebrew is lo tirtzach, which clearly translates "Thou shalt not
kill." Dr. Reuben Alcalay's Complete Hebrew/English Dictionary says that
the word tirtzach, especially in classical Hebrew usage, refers to "any
kind of killing," and not necessarily the murder of a human being.
Although the Old Testament contains some prescriptions for meat-eating, it is
clear that the ideal situation is vegetarianism, In Genesis (1:29) we find God
Himself proclaiming, "Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing tree, in which
the fruit of the tree yielding seed, it unto you shall be for meat." And in
later books of the Bible, major prophets condemn meat-eating.
For many Christians, major stumbling blocks are the belief that Christ ate
meat and the many references to meat in the New Testament. But close study of
the original Greek manuscripts shows that the vast majority of the words
translated as "meat" and "trophe, brome," and other words that simply
mean "food" or "eating" in the broadest sense. For example, in the Gospel of St.
Luke (8:55) we read that Jesus raised a woman from the dead and "commanded to
give her meat." The original Greek word translated as "meat" is
which means only "to eat." The Greek word for meat is
and it is never used in connection with Christ. Nowhere in the New Testament is
there any direct reference to Jesus eating meat. This is in line with Isaiah's
famous prophecy about Jesus's appearance, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and
bear a son, and shall call him name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat,
that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good."
In Thus Spoke Mohammed (the translation of the
Hadith by Dr.
M.Hafiz Syed), the disciples of the prophet Mohammed ask him, "Verily are there
rewards for our doing good to quadrupeds, and giving them water to drink?"
Mohammed answers, "There are rewards for benefiting every animal."
Lord Buddha is known particularly for His preaching against animal killing.
He established ahimsa (nonviolence) and vegetarianism as fundamental
steps on the path of self-awareness and spoke the following two maxims, "Do not
butcher the ox that plows thy fields," and "Do not indulge a voracity that
involves the slaughter of animals."
The Vedic scriptures of India, which predate Buddhism, also stress
nonviolence as the ethical foundation of vegetarianism. "Meat can never be
obtained without injury to living creatures," states the ,manu-samhita,
the ancient Indian code of law, "Let one therefore shun the use of meat." In
another section, the Manu-samhita warns "Having well considered the
disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of corporeal
beings, let one entirely abstain form eating flesh." In the
(the epic poem which contains 100,000 verses and is said toe be the longest poem
in the world), there are many injunctions against killing animals. Some
examples: "He who desires to increase the flesh of his own body by eating the
flesh of other creatures lives in misery in whatever species he may take his
birth."; "Who can be more cruel and selfish than he who augments his flesh by
eating the flesh of innocent animals?"; and "Those who desire to possess good
memory, beauty, long life with perfect health, and physical, moral and spiritual
strength, should abstain form animal food."
All living entities possess a soul. In the
describes the soul as the source of consciousness and the active principle that
activates the body of every living being. According to the
Vedas, a soul
in a form lower than human automatically evolves to the next higher species,
ultimately arriving at the human form. Only in the human form of life can the
soul turn its consciousness towards God and at the time of death be transferred
back to the spiritual world. In both the social order and the universal order, a
human being must obey laws.
In his Srimad-Bhagavatam purports, Srila Prabhupada says, "All living
entities have to fulfill a certain duration for being encaged in a particular
type of material body. They have to finish the duration allotted in a particular
body before being promoted or evolved to another body. Killing an animal or any
other living simply places an impediment in the way of his completing his term
of imprisonment in a certain body. One should therefore not kill bodies for
one's sense gratification, for this will implicate one in sinful activity." In
short, killing an animal interrupts its progressive evolution through the
species, and the killer will invariably suffer the reaction for this sinful
In the Bhagavad-gita (5.18) Krishna explains that spiritual perfection
begins when one can see the equality of all living beings, "The humble sage, by
virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle
brahmana (a priest), a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater
(outcast)." Krishna also instructs us to adopt the principles of spiritual
vegetarianism when He states, "Offer Me with love and devotion a fruit, a
flower, a leaf, or water, and I will accept it."
The Sanskrit word karma means "action", or more specifically, any
material action that brings a reaction that binds us to the material world.
Although the idea of karma is generally associated with Eastern
philosophy, many people in the West are also coming to understand that
karma is a natural principle, like time or gravity, and no less
inescapable. For every action there is a reaction. According to the law of
karma, if we cause pain and suffering to other living beings, we must
endure pain and suffering in return, both individually and collectively. We reap
what we sow, in this life and the next, for nature has her own justice. No one
can escape the law of karma, except those who understand how it
To understand how karma can cause war, for example, let's take an
illustration from the Vedas. Sometimes a fire starts in a bamboo forest
when the trees rub together. The real cause of the fire however, is not the
trees but the wind that moves them. The trees are only the instruments. In the
same way, the principle of karma tell us that the United States and the
Soviet Union are not the real causes of the friction that exists between them,
the friction that may well set off the forest fire of nuclear war. The real
cause is the imperceptible wind of karma generated by the world's
supposedly innocent citizens.
According to the law of karma, the neighborhood supermarket or
hamburger stand (the local abortion clinic too, but that could be the subject
for another book) has more to do with the threat of nuclear war than the White
House or the Kremlin. We recoil with horror at the prospects of nuclear war
while we permit equally horrifying massacres every day of the world's automated
The person who eats an animal may say that he hasn't killed anything, but
when he buys his neatly packaged meat at the supermarket he is paying someone
else to kill for him, and both of them bring upon themselves the reactions of
karma. Can it be anything but hypocritical to march for peace and then go
to McDonald's for a hamburger or go home to grill a steak? This is the very
duplicity that George Bernard Shaw condemned:
We pray on Sundays that we may have light
To guide our footsteps on the path we tread;
We are sick of war, we don't want to fight,
And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
As Srila Prabhupada says in his explanations of
who kill animals and give them unnecessary pain-as people do in
slaughterhouses-will be killed in a similar way in the next life and in many
lives to come...In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, it is stated clearly 'Thou
shalt not kill.' Nonetheless, giving all kinds of excuses, even the heads of
religion indulge in killing animals and, at the same time, try to pass as
saintly persons. This mockery and hypocrisy in human society brings about
unlimited calamities such as great war, where masses of people go out onto the
battlefields and kill each other. Presently they have discovered the nuclear
bomb, which is simply waiting to be used for wholesale destruction." Such are
the effects of karma.
Those who understand the laws of
karma, know that peace will not come
from marches and petitions, but rather form a campaign to educate people about
the consequences of murdering innocent animals (and unborn children). That will
go a long way toward preventing any increase in the world's enormous burden of
karma. To solve the world's problems we need people with purified
consciousness to perceive that the real problem is a spiritual one. Sinful
people will always exist, but they shouldn't occupy positions of leadership.
One of the most common objections non-vegetarians raise against vegetarianism
is that vegetarians still have to kill plants, and that this is also violence.
In response it may be pointed out that vegetarian foods such as ripe fruits and
many vegetables, nuts, grains, and milk do not require any killing. But even in
those cases where a plant's life is taken, because plants have a less evolved
consciousness than animals, we can presume that the pain involved is much less
than when an animal is slaughtered, what to speak of the suffering a food-animal
experiences throughout its life.
It's true vegetarians have to kill some plants, and that is also violence,
but we do have to eat something, and the Vedas say,
jivanam: one living entity is food for another in the struggle for
existence. So the problem is not how to avoid killing altogether-and impossible
proposal-but how to cause the least suffering to other creatures while meeting
the nutritional needs of the body.
The taking of any life, even that of a plant, is certainly sinful, but
Krishna, the supreme controller, frees us from sin by accepting what we offer.
Eating food first offered to the Lord is something like a soldier's killing
during wartime. In a war, when the commander orders a man to attack, the
obedient soldier who kills the enemy will get a medal. But if the same soldier
kills someone on his own, he will be punished. Similarly, when we eat only
prasada, we do not commit any sin. This is confirmed in the
Bhagavad-gita (3.13) "The devotees of the Lord are released from all
kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice.
Others, who prepare food for personal enjoyment, eat only sin." this brings us
to the central theme of this book: vegetarianism, although essential, is not an
end in itself.
Beyond concerns of health, economics, ethics, religion, and even
karma, vegetarianism has a higher, spiritual dimension that can help us
develop our natural appreciation and love of God. Srila Prabhupada tells us in
his explanations of Srimad-Bhagavatam, "The human being is meant for
self-realization, and for that purpose he is not to eat anything that is not
first offered to the Lord. The Lord accepts from His devotee all kinds of food
preparations made from vegetables, fruits, milk products, and grains. Different
varieties of fruits, vegetables, and milk products can be offered to the Lord,
and after the Lord accepts the foodstuffs, the devotee can partake of the
prasada, by which all suffering in the struggle for existence will be
Krishna Himself confirmed the divinity of
prasada when He appeared in
this world as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, 500 years ago: "Everyone has tasted
these material substances before, but now, these same ingredients have taken on
extraordinary flavors and uncommon fragrances. Just taste them and see the
difference. Not to mention the taste, the fragrance alone pleases the mind and
makes one forget all other sweetnesses. It is to be understood therefore, that
these ordinary ingredients have been touched by the transcendental nectar of
Krishna's lips and imbued with all of Krishna's qualities."
Offered food, traditionally called
prasada, "the mercy of God," offers
not only the healthy life of a vegetarian, but also God realization; not just
food for the starving masses, but spiritual nourishment for everyone. When
Krishna accepts an offering, He infuses His own divine nature into it.
Prasada, therefore, is not different from Krishna Himself. Out of His
unbounded compassion for the souls entrapped in the material world, Krishna
comes in the form of prasada, so that simply by eating, we can come to
Eating prasada nourishes the body spiritually. By eating
prasada not only are past sinful reactions in the body vanquished, but
the body becomes immunized to the contamination of materialism. Just as a
antiseptic vaccine can protect us against a epidemic, eating
protects us from the illusion and influence of the materialistic conception of
life. Therefore, a person who eats only food offered to Krishna, can counteract
all the reactions of one's past material activities, and readily progress in
self-realization. Because Krishna frees us from the reactions of
or material activities, we can easily transcend illusion and serve Him in
devotion. One who acts without karma can dovetail his consciousness with
God's and become constantly aware of His personal presence. This is the true
benefit of prasada.
One who eats prasada is actually rendering devotional service to the
Lord and is sure to receive His blessings. Srila Prabhupada often said that by
eating prasada even once we can escape from the cycle of birth and death,
and by eating only prasada even the most sinful person can become a
saint. The Vedic scriptures speak of many people whose lives were transformed by
eating prasada, and any Hare Krishna devotee will vouch for the spiritual
potency of prasada and the effect it has had on his life.
Eating only food offered to Krishna is the ultimate perfection of the
vegetarian diet. After all, pigeons and monkeys are also vegetarian, so becoming
a vegetarian is not in itself the greatest of accomplishments. The
inform us that the purpose of human life is to reawaken the soul to its
relationship with God, and only when we go beyond vegetarianism to
prasada can our eating be helpful in achieving this goal.