[Advaita-l] Question about vegetarianism

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sun Apr 26 16:01:21 CDT 2015

On Sun, 26 Apr 2015, Santosh Rao via Advaita-l wrote:

> Namaskar,
> Is the strict vegetarianism practiced by south Indian Brahmins a product of
> jain dharma which was had a strong past presence in that region?

There could be a case for this.  Gujarat which also has an influential 
Jain tradition upto the present day is also staunchly vegetarian.  But in 
our area it is practiced at all levels of society not just Brahmanas.  So 
if Jainism is the cause of interest in vegetarianism why is it not more 
widespread in the South?

Rather than specifically point to one source it makes sense to see it as 
part of the central divide in Indian culture which historian refer to by 
the shorthand "Brahmanas and Shramanas."  This comes from a phrase in the 
shilalekhas of Ashoka who although a Buddhist called himself devanamapriya 
in his edicts.  It does not imply that brahmanas and shramanas are two 
completely separate groups but refers to different concepts of the ideal 
religious personality: householder versus sannyasi, swarga-oriented versus 
moksha-oriented, practicing karma versus practicing jnana.  At one extreme 
you have the Purva mimamsakas who are completely dedicated to the (often 
himsaka) yajnas of the Vedas and deny moksha and at the other extreme 
Jains and Buddhists who deny the authority of the Vedas and consider karma 
an obstacle to the ultimate goal.  Between the extremes you have various 
syntheses.  Advaita Vedanta for instance can be seen as shramanic in terms 
of extolling the sannyasi and jnana and moksha.  But it does not reject 
karma and the grhastha outright. (karmayoga as described in the Gita for 
example.)  The Brahmasutras even defend the idea of himsaka yajnas.

Vegetarianism was a shramanic concept but one that was easily adopted into 
an otherwise brahmanic framework.  See the shlokas from Manusmrti that 
Animesh quoted for example.  A vanaprastha is not that different from a 
grhastha.  He is married, performs all the obligatory rituals and does not 
change his social identity the way a sannyasi would.  But as part of 
"keeping his organs in subjection." he abstains from flesh, honey etc. and 
lives in the forest on fruits and vegetables found there.  This is an 
organic development of Vedic culture and I see no reason to need to invoke 
"Jain influence" here.

> What is the proper way to view and explain vegetarianism and how it
> pertains to dharma in spite of meat eating / animal sacrifice in sastras?

The way I explain it is that while eating meat is not evil, not eating 
meat is more good.  Unlike many animals we as humans have a choice in our 
diets.  We should try and choose not to cause unnecessary suffering when 
we can especially when that suffering is only to feed carnal appetites.

>From the dharmic point of view it should be noted tha shishtachara is an 
equal pillar of dharma to shruti and smrti.  For castes whose tradition is 
vegetarian it is their dharma even if there are a 1000 books to the 

> Also, is it permissible to consume onions and garlic? What is the
> authoritative position on this?

They are not allowed.  However it seems that most people (Jains and 
some types of Vaishnavas are some exceptions) are more lax 
about this than other forbidden foods.  Personally I avoid them altogether 
during Shravana masa and other vratas and I try not to eat them the rest 
of the time but its pretty hard with standard Gujarati cuisine.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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