The Path, December, 1888
The question “whether to eat meat or not to eat it” is one which is uppermost in the minds of many theosophists today. Some will eat no meat, while others still use it, and a few who are vegetarians seem to think that the meat eaters are sinners and cannot be spiritual.
Although I belong to the Spanish-speaking people, I am a vegetarian and a theosophist; and I hope that the difference in race will not have any effect on my American readers, brother theosophists.
Let us examine the different standpoints taken, and look at the matter without any bias in favor of either vegetarianism or carnivorous diet.
The meat eaters say that in nature we find cows and elephants eating no meat, and yet they seem to have no additional spirituality as a result, and that among men we often see those who, although they eat meat, are at the same time highly spiritualized. This is their case.
The vegetarians have these arguments: (a) that animal food necessarily imparts to the eater the qualities of the animal, and that the eating of meat not only may give us the diseases of the animal, but also tends to inflame the blood and makes the gross envelope of the body more dense than ever; (b) that it is wrong to kill animals for food, because, as we did not give them life, we have no right to take it away from them; (c) that by living on vegetable food we make the gross body more permeable to higher influences. There may be finer divisions of the argument, but the above will give their case in general.
It must make much difference in the conclusion whether one is speaking of a man belonging to the western nations or of one who, like the Hindu, comes of a race which for ages has taken no animal food. It is held by many physiologists that the stomach is an organ for the digesting of animal food only, and that in a vegetarian the pyloric valve leading from the stomach is so paralyzed from want of use that the food passes directly into the intestines. It must therefore follow that the western man may be placing himself in danger of fatal derangement of his system when he leaves meat eating and takes up vegetarianism. This has, indeed, been proved in many cases to be a real danger. I have before me the reports of several theosophists who found that it was not possible for them to make the change; at the same time others have made it with perfect safety. The trouble did not arise from weakness following lack of meat, but from imperfect digestion causing disease. This is due to the retention in the stomach of vegetable matter for so long a time that yeast and other growths were thrown into the circulation; these are sufficient to bring on tuberculosis, nervous diseases, and other manifold derangements. It is well known that a man who has melancholia due to systenemia cannot expect to reach a high development in occultism.
We next find that there are powerful black magicians in farther India and in many other places who do not deny themselves meat but take as much as they wish, and also stimulants. From this we conclude that power over nature’s forces is not solely in the hands of the vegetarian. We need not stop to consider the fate of such magicians, as that has been often dilated upon.
Now although the Hindu has been always a vegetarian, it is a fact that for him the acquirement of knowledge of absolute truth is as difficult as it is for the western man who eats meat. In the books of the Hindoo on the subject of spiritual culture or soul development, the rules laid down are extremely hard to follow. The eating of meat is not definitely referred to, but the attainment of union with the Supreme, from which alone knowledge of absolute truth results, is hedged about with difficulties in comparison with which the eating of meat sinks into the shade; but we must remember that it is assumed in India that the student is not a meat eater. The reason for the prohibition, however, is that a man has no right to kill animals for his food or for any other reason. He must refrain, not because the act is forbidden, but because his whole nature, through the great love and pity that he feels, naturally recoils from such an act. It is plain, if this rule be the correct one— and I think it is—, that a person who stops the eating of meat in order that he may by complying with that condition attain to a development he has set before him misses the mark, and has acquired a selfish motive for the line thus adopted. It is an old and true saying that the kingdom of God cometh not from taking or refraining from meat, nor from the refraining from anything whatever, but that it is within us. In another place it is said that this kingdom of heaven is taken by violence; that is, it requires all knowledge and all goodness to attain at last to that union with the spirit which is the kingdom of heaven. And such attainments are not in the reach of either those who, on the one hand, long for sentimental religion only, or those who, on the other, work that they may reach the blissful result for themselves. The first, although extremely good, are barred from want of knowledge, and the other by the selfish motive at the bottom of their practice. In the “Great Journey,” translated from the Sanscrit by Mr. Arnold, is a beautiful illustration of the spirit and motive which must actuate us. Yudishthira reached heaven after losing his friends on the way, and was at the gate accompanied by his dog who looked to him as his only friend; and when he was refused admission because the dog was with him, he declined to enter. He was let in, and the dog revealed himself as one of the gods; then the king found that his friends were not there, and was told that they were in hell. He asked to go there, and was sent. He found it an awful place and was on the point of returning, when the pitiful voices of his friends called him back, saying that he gave them some comfort by his presence, and he then said he would stay in hell for them. This was reported to the gods, and they in a body went to hell and rescued all the denizens of the place for his sake. The selfishness or selflessness of the motive will determine the result.
We find, on referring to the great Indian work of Patanjali on the Philosophy of Yogam, that nothing is said about meat eating. The disciple is not met with the regulation at the outset, “You must refrain from eating meat.” This is not because the people were all vegetarians at the time it was written, because even then permissions were extended to certain classes of men for the eating of flesh. The warrior was allowed to eat meat, and out of the warrior caste arose many who attained to the supreme heights of adept-ship. To say that carnivorous diet will in itself exclude you from spiritual attainments is of like character with the statement that one cannot attain unless he is of the unsullied Brahmin caste. That was sometimes said by some Brahmins, but is easily met by the fact that the great Krishna was a shepherd by caste.
What, then, is the true theosophic diet? It is that which best agrees with you, taken in moderation, neither too much nor too little. If your constitution and temperament will permit vegetarianism, then that will give less heat to the blood; and, if it is practiced from the sincere conviction that it is not true brotherhood to destroy living creatures so highly organized as animals, then so much the better. But if you refrain from meat in order to develop your psychic powers and senses, and continue the same sort of thoughts you have always had, neither cultivating nor practicing the highest altruism, the vegetarianism is in vain.
The inner nature has a diet out of our thoughts and motives. If those are low or gross or selfish, it is equivalent to feeding that nature upon gross food. True theosophic diet is therefore not of either meat or wine; it is unselfish thoughts and deeds, untiring devotion to the welfare of “the great orphan Humanity,” absolute abnegation of self, unutterable aspiration to the Divine—the Supreme Soul. This only is what we can grow upon. And vain are the hopes of those who pin their faith on any other doctrine.