Do saints commit sin if they consume meat? We hear that consuming rajasic/tamasic foods such as, junk food and meat, alcohol can not only harm one’s health but also hinder moksha or liberation. If consuming meat can have such serious consequences, then how some highly realized sages consumed meat? It is important to understand that spiritually realized people or Jeevan Mukta have risen beyond three gunas or qualities and hence what they eat does not affect their spiritual state or mind. In some cases, such beings smoked or consumed meat to take on bad karma or sins of certain devotees under exceptional conditions. Also, they intended to liberate the animals. The Gita (XVIII, 17) says that the one who is devoid of ego and free from any worldly desires and acts selflessly for the betterment of humanity, is not bound by karmic reactions of deeds that may look sinful. However, till such time that one reaches the state of spiritually realized sages, eating meat will result in sin and one’s downfall. One who kills animals for meat is unable to attain heaven or liberation. From the butcher, seller of meat, cook and the one who consumes is committing a sin.
However, as mentioned in the Gita (IX, 30) even a most sinful person can change by his strong resolution and devotion to God. We have the example of Valiya Koli, the robber, transforming himself into Valmiki rishi, when he realized that none of his family members will share his karma. The same holds good for a meat-eater.
There are those who avoid eating meat on certain days, certain occasions, in certain holy places or in the presence of holy people, etc. because deep down, on some level all of these people realize that consuming meat is a sin which must not be committed on certain days, location, etc. and that can help one to quit the habit. The percentage of non-vegetarians in India has considerably increased in the last few years, which raises tamo guna and that in turn results in negativity and downfall of the country. When there is a demand, it leads to an increase in production. The king of our country along with spiritual gurus should promote vegetarian diet by awakening people about the deep impact of a non-vegetarian diet, writes Acharya Upendra Ji. (Sunday Free Press Journal, September 3, 2023)
Some of the arguments of vegetarians that show meat-eating to be dangerous, even on physical plane level, are sound. For instance, it is true that eating meat may give us diseases of the animal, and that we have no right to take life, as we did not give them life. However, as life depends upon life and there is life even in vegetables, both vegetarians and meat-eaters are destroying life, and hence it is a question of killing more or less evolved organisms.
There is also the other fact to be borne in mind and that is, suitability or fitness of the food for each person. There are people who tried but found it impossible to switch over to vegetarian diet, not because they experienced weakness resulting from lack of meat diet, but because of imperfect digestion causing disease. It is held by many physiologists that stomach is an organ for the digestion of animal food only. As a result, in a vegetarian person the pyloric valve between the stomach and the small intestine is almost paralyzed from want of use, so that the food passes almost directly from stomach to small intestine. On the other hand, in the case of a nonvegetarian, the animal food remains in the stomach for a long time. Hence, when a meat-eater turns vegetarian, the stomach cells that have got accustomed to keeping the food for longer time in the stomach—because it takes longer to digest meat—retain also the vegetable matter in the stomach for a long time. Though vegetarian food is digested quickly, the pyloric valve does not open, and the stomach retains it for long, causing it to ferment and turn toxic. As a result, yeast and other growths are thrown into circulation, which may cause tuberculosis, nervous diseases and other manifold derangements. “It is well known fact that a man who has melancholia due to systenemia cannot expect to reach a high development on occultism,” writes Mr. Judge. Then again sometimes it is inevitable for people to eat meat, in the absence of any vegetation, as is true of places like Tibet, Alaska and North Pole.
It is true that at a certain stage of spiritual progress as a chela, the use of meat food has to be abandoned because of its psychical and physiological effects. Meat retains the characteristics of the animal even when it is cooked very well and it leads to coarsening of the body, whereas, as one advances on the path, it is conducive for spiritual development that “physical man must be rendered more ethereal and sensitive.” Moreover, each body extracts from any kind of food only that which conforms to the nature of the possessor of the body and that nature is subject to change from within.
It is important to remember that “physical, mental, moral and spiritual” development must run on parallel lines. H.P.B. says, “If from illness or long habit a man cannot go without meat, why, by all means let him eat it. It is no crime; it will only retard his progress a little; for after all is said and done, the purely bodily actions and functions are of far less importance than what a man thinks and feels, what desires he encourages in his mind, and allows to take root and grow there” (The Key to Theosophy, Indian Ed. p. 259). The warriors were allowed to eat meat and out of the warrior caste arose many that attained to the supreme heights of adept ship.
A self-realized person, or a Jnani, who is identified with the Self within, takes up the position of a witness or an observer. Even in ordinary activities like sleeping, breathing, eating, etc., a saint, performs all his actions with the attitude that he is merely an instrument of the divine, by renouncing attachment to the fruits of action and also the feeling of doership (kartabhav). Therefore, he does not offer a focus for the results to return.
[This article also appeared in The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: https://www.ultindia.org/current_issues.html]