Questions by various friends, and Answers by Swami Nirmalananda, abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram
My mother gave me your Spiritual Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet booklet. I am currently a meat-eater whose attempts at spiritual growth and meditation have been difficult and the information you have provided has shown me how to overcome those difficulties. But I have some questions: 1) Could I experience withdrawal symptoms when my "bodies" start expelling the toxins from eating meat? If so, what should I expect? 2) How long does it take for these toxins to be expelled from my bodies? When could I expect to be free of these negative influences?
No one I know has ever had "withdrawal" problems upon becoming a vegetarian. It might be that someone in their fifties or sixties would have some reaction from so long a time of eating meat, but I have known several who did not. One thing is sure: there is no need to work up to being a vegetarian by slowly eliminating meat from the diet. The best thing is to stop instantly. Some people say that if the body is used to meat the switch to vegetarian should not be at once. That is as silly as saying that if our body is used to drinking polluted water we should quit gradually. After all, meat is not heroin, or like whiskey to an alcoholic. It is "addicting," but only psychologically. It has been my observation that a definite (perceptible) change for the better occurs six months after becoming a vegetarian-that is after abstaining absolutely from meat, fish, and eggs. Then after three more years a dramatic difference is experienced. Naturally, the improvement is happening all along, but these times are like plateaus we reach in the purification of our bodies. Interestingly enough, in the Eastern Christian monastic tradition an aspirant is a postulant for six months and a novice for three more years before becoming a permanent monastic. There must be a connection somewhere.
Doesn't the Genesis account of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel contradict the position of vegetarians?
Here is the incident you refer to: "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect."1
Where in this account of Cain and Abel's sacrifice is there any mention of eating whatsoever-either of vegetables or of animals?
It is obvious that the acceptability or unacceptability of the sacrifices was a matter of the inner disposition of those who offered. Considering that later on non-animal food substances were daily offerings in the Temple, it would not be logical to conclude from this story that animal offering is acceptable and vegetable offering is not. (Though that, too, would have absolutely nothing to do with the principles of vegetarianism.)
Nor can it reasonably be concluded from the Genesis account that the animals offered by Abel were killed. Rather, they were dedicated to the service of God-just as the Essenes insisted upon doing at the time of Jesus.
The killing of animals and the eating of their flesh was absolutely unknown to Adam, Eve, and their children. Only later in the spiritual degeneracy of the human race did the hideous practice of flesh-eating arise.
It is interesting to see that carnivores consistently see only what they like in their reading of Genesis, and completely ignore the explicit statements that vegetarianism was the divinely ordained diet for both humans and animals: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.2
Neither humans nor animals are natural flesh-eaters. To be so is to violate the divine pattern.
Some people think that Saint Paul's saying that false spiritual teachers would be "forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving"3 is a condemnation of monastic life and vegetarianism. What do you think?
I think they need to hear the words of Jesus: "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God."4 And those who pay attention to their ludicrous distortions of the Bible need to heed some other words of Saint Paul: "From such turn away."5
Even a little good sense should show that this verse has nothing whatsoever to do with monastic life. In Christianity today monastics are found in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some European Evangelical Churches. (In the Evangelical churches the monastics are known as deacons and deaconesses.) None of these churches prohibit marriage, so such an accusation cannot be brought against them.
A person does not become a monastic because he has been forbidden to marry. Rather, he takes up monastic life to fulfill spiritual aspirations, the intensity of which preclude marriage-just as do certain secular careers. Both the Lord Jesus6 and Saint Paul7 speak highly of the celibate life as a worthy offering unto God.
As is usual with such ignoramuses, the word "meat" is taken to mean animal flesh, whereas the word maton used by Saint Paul (who was writing in Greek) simply means "foods." And the food "which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving" is clearly described in the Book of Genesis where God tells Adam: "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."8 Those who cannot understand this simply do not wish to do so.
But Saint Paul was talking about something-what was it? He was speaking of those who would try to introduce into the Christian Church some very ancient ideas of those who were dualistic in their philosophy. Such persons usually believed that either the entire creation was produced by an evil power, or that some of the things to be found within creation had been placed there by evil forces. Such persons believed that some vegetables had been created by the Satanic power and that to eat them was to become tainted by evil powers and even to come under their control. They especially abhorred all root vegetables since they grew in the darkness and not in the light. (Some said that potatoes were all right to eat since when cut open they were found to be "light"-white-inside. You can draw your own conclusions about this type of thinking.) Others preached against the supposed evils of eating beans (!). And so the list went. It was the incursion of these ideas into Christianity which Saint Paul was warning against.
All this simply goes to show that the Bible in the hands of non-Gnostics-becomes an instrument of utter foolishness.