Vegetarianism and religion

Vegetarianism and religion

Vegetarianism and religion are strongly linked in a number of religions that originated in ancient India (Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism). In Jainism vegetarianism is mandatory for everyone, in Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism it is advocated by some influential scriptures and religious authorities. [Tähtinen, Unto: "Ahimsa. Non-Violence in Indian Tradition", London 1976, p. 107-111; "Religious Vegetarianism From Hesiod to the Dalai Lama", ed. Kerry S. Walters and Lisa Portmess, Albany 2001, p. 37-91.] Comparatively, within the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) vegetarianism is not promoted by mainstream authorities. In Christianity, however, there are minority groups promoting vegetarianism on religious grounds. ["Religious Vegetarianism From Hesiod to the Dalai Lama" p. 123-167; Iacobbo, Karen and Michael: "Vegetarian America. A History", Westport (CT) 2004, p. 3-14, 97-99, 232-233.]

Religions of Indian origin


Most major paths of Hinduism hold vegetarianism as an ideal. There are three main reasons for this: the principle of nonviolence (ahimsa) applied to animals; the intention to offer only "pure" (vegetarian) food to a deity and then to receive it back as prasad; and the conviction that non-vegetarian food is detrimental for the mind and for spiritual development. Nonviolence is a common concern of all the vegetarian traditions in Hinduism; the other two aspects are relevant for those who follow special spiritual paths.


The principle of nonviolence applied to animals is connected with the intention to avoid negative karmic influences which result from violence. Hinduism holds that such influences affect not only the butcher, the hunter and the fisherman, but also the eaters of meat or fish. [Tähtinen p. 1-13, 38-43, 104-111; Schmidt, Hanns Peter: "The Origin of Ahimsa", in: "Mélanges d'Indianisme à la mémoire de Louis Renou", Paris 1968, p. 625-655; Alsdorf, Ludwig: "Beiträge zur Geschichte von Vegetarismus und Rinderverehrung in Indien", Wiesbaden 1962, p. 575-577.] The question of religious duties towards the animals and of negative Karma incurred from violence ("himsa") against them is discussed in detail in Hindu scriptures and religious law books.

Hindu scriptures belong or refer to the Vedic period which lasted till about 500 BCE according to the chronological division by modern historians. In the historical Vedic religion, the predecessor of Hinduism, meat eating was not banned in principle, but was restricted by specific rules. Several highly authoritative scriptures bar violence against domestic animals except in the case of ritual sacrifice. This view is clearly expressed in the Mahabharata (3.199.11-12 [Mahabharata 3.199 is 3.207 according to another count.] ; 13.115; 13.116.26; 13.148.17), the Bhagavata Purana (11.5.13-14), and the Chandogya Upanishad (8.15.1). It is also reflected in the Manu Smriti (5.27-44), a particularly renowned traditional Hindu law book (Dharmaśāstra). These texts strongly condemn the slaughter of animals and meat eating unless it happens in the context of the appropriate sacrifice ritual administered by priests. The Mahabharata allows members of the warrior caste (Kshatriyas) to hunt and to eat meat "acquired by expenditure of prowess" (13.115.59-60; 13.116.15-18), but opposes such activities in the case of hermits who must be strictly nonviolent. [Alsdorf p. 592-593.]

The Mahabharata (12.260 [ [ Mahabharata 12.260] . Mahabharata 12.260 is 12.268 according to another count.] ; 13.115-116; 14.28) and the Manu Smriti (5.27-55) contain lengthy discussions about the legitimacy of ritual slaughter and subsequent consumption of the meat. In the Mahabharata both meat eaters and vegetarians present various arguments to substantiate their viewpoints. Apart from the debates about domestic animals, there is also a long discourse by a hunter in defence of hunting and meat eating. [ [ Mahabharata 3.199] . Mahabharata 3.199 is 3.207 according to another count.] These texts show that both ritual slaughter and hunting were challenged by advocates of universal non-violence and their acceptability was doubtful and a matter of dispute. [Alsdorf p. 572-577 (for the Manu Smriti) and p. 585-597 (for the Mahabharata).] In modern Hinduism slaughter according to the rituals permitted in the Vedic scriptures has virtually disappeared.

piritual aspects

In some traditions, especially within Vaishnavism, it is essential that devotees offer all their food to their chosen deity before eating it as prasad. [ [ Bhagavad Gita 3.13] .] This rule is strictly observed by the disciples of the schools of Bhakti Yoga, especially the Gaudiya Vaishnavas. They worship Vishnu or Krishna, and according to the scriptural injunctions they obey, only vegetarian food is acceptable as prasad. [ [ Mahabharata 12.257] (note that Mahabharata 12.257 is 12.265 according to another count); Bhagavad Gita 9.26; Bhagavata Purana 7.15.7.]

Vegetarianism is also mandatory for the practitioners of Hatha Yoga. [Gherand Samhita 5.17-21.] They follow the advice of scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita [ [ Bhagavad Gita 17.7-10] .] to eat only high-quality food, because they are convinced that food shapes the personality, mood and mind. Meat is said to promote sloth and ignorance and an undesirable mental state known as "tamas", while a vegetarian diet is considered to promote the desirable "sattvic" qualities essential for spiritual progress.

Essential scriptural evidence

"What need there be said of those innocent and healthy creatures endued with love of life, when they are sought to be slain by sinful wretches subsisting by slaughter? For this reason, O monarch, know that the discarding of meat is the highest refuge of religion, of heaven, and of happiness. Abstention from injury is the highest religion. It is, again, the highest penance. It is also the highest truths from which all duty proceeds. Flesh cannot be had from grass or wood or stone. Unless a living creature is slain, it cannot be had. Hence is the fault in eating flesh. … That man who abstains from meat, is never put in fear, O king, by any creature. All creatures seek his protection. He never causes any anxiety in others, and himself has never to become anxious. If there were nobody who ate flesh there would then be nobody to kill living creatures. The man who kills living creatures kill them for the sake of the person who eats flesh. If flesh were regarded as inedible, there would then be no slaughter of living creatures. It is for the sake of the eater that the slaughter of living creatures goes on in the world. Since, O thou of great splendour, the period of life is shortened of persons who slaughter living creatures or cause them to be slaughtered, it is clear that the person who wishes his own good should give up meat entirely. … The purchaser of flesh performs "himsa" [violence] by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying its taste; the killer does "himsa" by actually tying and killing the animal. Thus, there are three forms of killing. He who brings flesh or sends for it, he who cuts off the limbs of an animal, and he who purchases, sells, or cooks flesh and eats it - all of these are to be considered meat-eaters." (Mahabharata 13.115) [ [ Mahabharata 13.115] .]
"Those sinful persons who are ignorant of actual religious principles, yet consider themselves to be completely pious, without compunction commit violence against innocent animals who are fully trusting in them. In their next lives, such sinful persons will be eaten by the same creatures they have killed in this world." (Bhagavata Purana 11.5.14) [ [ Bhagavata Purana 11.5.14] .]
"A person fully aware of religious principles should never offer anything like meat, eggs or fish in the Sraddha ceremony, and even if one is a Ksatriya (warrior), he himself should not eat such things." (Bhagavata Purana 7.15.7) [ [ Bhagavata Purana 7.15.7] .]

Current situation

In modern India the food habits of Hindus vary according to their community or caste and according to regional traditions. Hindu vegetarians usually eschew eggs but consume milk and dairy products, so they are lacto-vegetarians.

According to a survey of 2006, vegetarianism is weak in coastal states and strong in landlocked northern and western states and among Brahmins in general, 55 percent of whom are vegetarians.cite news | author = Yadav, Y.| coauthors= Kumar, S|title = The food habits of a nation| url = | work = The Hindu | date = August 14, 2006|accessdate = 2006-11-17 ] Many coastal habitants are fish eaters. In particular Bengali Hindus have romanticized fishermen and the consumption of fish through poetry, literature and music.


The first lay precept in Buddhism prohibits killing. [ [ Leading a Buddhist Life - Five Precepts ] ] Many see this as implying that Buddhists should not eat the meat of animals. There are however differing points of view. The Buddha made distinction between killing an animal and consumption of meat, stressing that it is immoral conduct that makes one impure, not the food one eats. At one point the Buddha specifically refused to institute vegetarianism, and the Pali Canon records the Buddha himself eating meat on several occasions. There were, however, rules prohibiting certain types of meat, such as human, leopard or elephant. Monks are also prohibited from consuming meat if they witnessed the animal's death or know it was killed specifically for them. [ [ What the Buddha Said About Eating Meat] ]

On the other hand, the Buddha in certain Mahayana sutras strongly denounces the eating of meat. In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha states that "the eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion", adding that all and every kind of meat and fish consumption (even of animals already found dead) is prohibited by him. The Buddha also predicts in this sutra that later monks will "hold spurious writings to be the authentic Dharma" and will concoct their own sutras and mendaciously claim that the Buddha allows the eating of meat, whereas in fact (he says) he does not. [ [ Nirvana Sutra: Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"] ] A long passage in the Lankavatara Sutra shows the Buddha weighing strongly in favor of vegetarianism, since the eating of the flesh of fellow sentient beings is said by him to be incompatible with the compassion a Bodhisattva should strive to cultivate. [ [ Lankavatara Sutra & The Faults of Eating Meat - 1/8] ] Several other Mahayana sutras also emphatically prohibit the consumption of meat.

A solution to this problem arose when monks from the Indian sphere of influence migrated to China, as of the year 65 CE. There they met followers who provided them with money instead of food. From those days onwards Chinese monastics, and others who came to inhabit northern countries, cultivated their own vegetable plots and bought everything else they needed in terms of food in the market.

In the modern Buddhist world, attitudes toward vegetarianism vary by location. In China and Vietnam, monks typically eat no meat (and with other restrictions as well – see Buddhist cuisine). In Japan or Korea some schools do not eat meat, while most do. Theravadins in Sri Lanka and South-east Asia do not practice vegetarianism. All Buddhists however, including monks, are allowed to practice vegetarianism if they wish to do so.


In Sikhism, only vegetarian food is served during religious occasions, but Sikhs are not totally bound to be meat-free. The reason for serving vegetarian food during religious occasions is that the Sikh communal kitchen (Langar) is open to all. Since, many faiths and people have varying taboos on how meat should be prepared etc, and since some of the sikhs accept these restrictions the safest option thought by the Sikh Guru's was to adopt vegetarian food for Langar. Most Sikhs believe that they are only bound to avoid meat that is killed in a ritualistic manner e.g. Halal, Kosher etc. [ [ Misconceptions About Eating Meat - Comments of Sikh Scholarsby Sandeep Singh Brar] [ [ Faithandfood Fact Files - Sikhism] ]

Sikhism argues that the soul can possibly undergo millions of transformations as various forms of life before ultimately becoming human. These life forms could be a rock, vegetation or animal. Sikhism does not see a difference between mineral, vegetation and animal. The only distinction made is that between these (mineral, vegetation and animal), and human. [ Page 176 Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji]

Sikh Guru Nanak said it was a pointless or fools argument to debate the merits of either not eating or eating meat in the context of religion [ Page 1289 Sri GuruGranth Sahib Ji]


Vegetarianism in Jainism is based on the principle of nonviolence (ahimsa) like in Hinduism, but it is stricter than in the main Hindu traditions and mandatory for everyone. Jains are either lacto-vegetarians or vegans. No use or consumption of products obtained from dead animals is allowed. Moreover Jains try to avoid unnecessary injury to plants and "suksma jiva" (Sanskrit: "subtle life forms"; minuscule organisms). The goal is to cause as little violence to living things as possible, hence they avoid eating roots, tubers and anything that involves uprooting (and thus eventually killing) a plant to obtain food.

Abrahamic religions

Judaic, Christian, and Muslim traditions (Abrahamic religions) all have strong connections to the biblical ideal of the Garden of Eden, which includes references to a diet similar to fruitarianism (see Genesis 1:29, 9:2-4; Isaiah 11:6-9). However, only minorities within these populations actually practice and advocate such strict diets, since the same book of the Bible, Genesis, later gives permission to Noah (and presumably his descendants) to consume animal flesh. Curiously, this is not without great suffering simultaneously administered to all creatures: "The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea" (Gen. 9:2).


Rabbinical Judaism discourages ascetic practices in general, and encourages one to enjoy the bounty of this world in a proper fashion. With respect to food, this teaching may be summarized by the Talmudic statement, "Man will have to account for everything he saw but did not eat." (This refers to permissible or kosher foods only, not to forbidden animal species such as pork.) On the other hand, the Talmud discourages indulgence and states that it is preferable that one's diet consist mostly of non-meat products.Fact|date=September 2007 To Jewish vegetarians wishing to remain consistent with this teaching, vegetarianism is not a form of self-deprivation, because the vegetarian does not desire to eat meat and believes it is healthier not to eat meat.

Genesis 1:29 states "And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit - to you it shall be for food." According to some classical Jewish Bible commentators this means that God's original plan was for mankind to be vegetarian, and that God only later gave permission for man to eat meat because of man's weak nature.Fact|date=September 2007 Other commentators argue that people may eat animals because God gave Adam and Eve dominion over them.Fact|date=September 2007

Generally speaking, Judaism has not promoted vegetarianism. However, some prominent rabbis have promoted vegetarian lifestyle, among them the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook, his student David Cohen (known as "Ha-Nazir"), Albert Einstein, and Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren.

:Rabbi Isaac ha-Levi Herzog said, "Jews will move increasingly to vegetarianism out of their own deepening knowledge of what their tradition commands... A whole galaxy of central rabbinic and spiritual leaders...has been affirming vegetarianism as the ultimate meaning of Jewish moral teaching."

:"Man ideally should not eat meat, for to eat meat a life must be taken, an animal must be put to death." Rabbi Milgrom regards the commandment against blood as a law that permits man to "indulge in his lust for meat and not be brutalized in the process."

Some Orthodox authorities have ruled that it is forbidden for an individual to become a vegetarian if they do so because they believe in animal rightsFact|date=February 2008 ; however, they have ruled that vegetarianism is allowed for pragmatic reasons (if kosher meat is expensive or hard to come by in their area), health concerns, or for reasons of personal taste (if someone finds meat unpalatable). Some believe that halakha encourages the eating of meat at the Sabbath and Festival meals, thus some Orthodox Jews who are otherwise vegetarian will nevertheless consume meat at these meals.Fact|date=September 2007

There are several arguments from Judaism used by Jewish vegetarians. One is that, since Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat meat and that, according to some opinions, in the Messianic era, the whole world will be vegetarian, not eating meat is something that brings the world closer to that ideal. A second one is that the laws of shechita are meant to prevent the suffering of animals and today, with factory farming and high-speed, mechanized slaughterhouses, even kosher slaughterhouses are considered by some authorities not to fulfill enough of the requirements to render the meat kosher. A third one is that the Sages only mandated eating an olive's bulk of meat during festivals, but even then, this was because in Talmudic times, meat was considered essential for one's diet (whereas a vegetarian will probably be of the opinion that current science has shown otherwise).Fact|date=September 2007

Sacrifices were used as an excuse to eat meat, and later denounced.:* Hosea 8:13::"They offer sacrifices to me because they are those who eat the meat, but Hashem does not accept their sacrifices, for He is mindful of their sin and remembers their wickedness"

:* Hosea 6:6::"For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."

:*Jeremiah 7:22-23::22 "For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices," 23 "but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you."

:*Isaiah 66:3::"But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck and whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig's blood, and whoever burns memorial incense, like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations;"

In Israel there is one vegetarian moshav (village), called Amirim. Its vegetarianism is based on general principles of health and ethics and not on the Jewish religion.


Several Christian monastic groups have encouraged vegetarianism, including the Desert Fathers, Trappists, Benedictines, and Carthusians. Some Christian groups, such as Seventh-day Adventists and Christian anarchists, take a literal interpretation of the Biblical prophecies of universal vegetarianism and encourage vegetarianism as a preferred, though not required, lifestyle. However, most evangelical groups are unaware of the existence of any such prophecies, and point instead to the explicit prophecies of temple sacrifices in the Messianic Kingdom, many of which are eaten—see Ezekiel 46:12 where peace offerings and freewill offerings will be offered, and Leviticus 7:15-20 where it states that such offerings are eaten. Some key Christian historical figures such as St. Augustine and Saint David became vegetarians for ascetic reasons, not necessarily because of a religious edict to that effect. In the 19th century, members of the Bible Christian sect established the first vegetarian groups in England and the United States.

However, it has been argued that the anthropocentric viewpoint of the Bible encourages human exploitation of animals and meat eating. Ge 1:26-28 has been interpreted to condemn vegetarianism. The Bible says: "..And God said, Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness: and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepth upon the earth." In addition, another verse states "And God blessed them, Be fruitful and multiply, and subdue the earth; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."

In Genesis 1:30: "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." Continuing into Genesis 1:31, the Bible says: "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day."

Non-vegetarian Christians sometimes quote Numbers 11:31-32. “And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth. And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.” But the next verse says, “And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.”


Islam explicitly prohibit eating of some kinds of meat, especially pork. However, one of the most important Islamic celebrations, 'Eid ul-Adha', involves animal sacrifices. Muslims who can afford to do so sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually sheep, but also camels, cows, and goats). According to the Quran Fact|date=February 2007 a large portion of the meat has to be given towards the poor and hungry people so they can all join in the feast which is held on Eid-ul-Adha. The remainder is cooked for the family celebration meal in which relatives and friends are invited to share. The regular charitable practices of the Muslim community are demonstrated during Eid ul-Adha by the concerted effort to see that no impoverished Muslim is left without sacrificial food during these days. Since these practices are justified by Koran, advocacy of vegetarianism by implying that God ordained diet to be imporal could be seen as contrary to Islam.Fact|date=February 2007

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith prefers a vegetarian diet, although it is not required. Furthermore, Bahá'ís believe "Fruits and grains" will be the foods of the future and the time will come when meat will no longer be eaten [] .

Other religions


In Chinese societies, "simple eating" (素食 Mandarin: sù shí) refers to a particular restricted diet associated with Taoist monks, and sometimes practiced by members of the general population during Taoist festivals. It is referred to by the English word "vegetarian"; however, though it rejects meat, eggs and milk, this diet does include oysters and oyster products.


Rastafarians generally follow a diet called "I-tal", which eschews the eating of food that has been artificially preserved, flavoured, or chemically altered in any way. Many Rastafarians consider it to also forbid the eating of meat.


One of the main precepts in Zoroastrianism is respect and kindness towards all living things, condemnation of cruelty against animals and the sacrifice of animals.


There is no set teaching on vegetarianism within the diverse neopagan communities, however many do follow a vegetarian diet often connected to ecological concerns as well as the welfare and rights of animals. Vegetarian practitioners of Wicca will often see their standpoint as a natural extension of the Wiccan Rede and Odinists of Odinism. Organisations like SERV refer to the historic figures of Porphyry, Pythagoras and Iamblichus as sources for the Pagan view of vegetarianism. [] During the 1970s the publication Earth Religion News, focused on articles related to neopaganism and vegetarianism, it was edited by the author Herman Slater. []

ee also

* Asceticism
* Amirim
* Animal chaplains
* Environmental vegetarianism
* Ethics of vegetarianism
* Fasting
* History of vegetarianism
* Vegetarian cuisine
* Vegetarian nutrition


Further reading

* Religious Vegetarianism: From Hesiod to the Dalai Lama (2001) edited by: Kerry Walters; Lisa Portmess
* Steven J. Rosen, Diet for Transcendence (formerly published as Food for the Spirit): Vegetarianism and the World Religions, foreword by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Badger, California: Torchlight Books, 1997)
* Steven J. Rosen, Holy Cow: The Hare Krishna Contribution to Vegetarianism and Animal Rights (New York: Lantern Books, 2004)

External links

* [ Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians]
* [ Buddhist Resources on Vegetarianism and Animal Welfare]
* [ Rennets and religion] The use of rennet in Abrahamic religions
* [ Was Jesus a vegetarian?]
* [ Why Should Christians Be Vegetarians?] affiliated with PETA
* [ Christian Vegetarian Association]
* [ The Order of the Golden Age - historical Food Reform and the Churches]
* [ The Fellowship of Life archive of British activism since the 1970s]
* [ The Word of Wisdom: the Forgotten Verses A discussion of Latter-day Saint (LDS or Mormon) beliefs and vegetarian principles]
* [ Jewish Vegetarians of North America]
* [ What Gives Us the Right to Kill Animals? - A Jewish view on Vegetarianism]
* [ Islamic Concerns: Animals in Islam]
* [;f=10;t=000802 Fools Who Wrangle Over Flesh] for a technical Sikh perspective
* [] Vegetarianism and Buddhism
* [ Buddhist Vegetarian] Tibetan Buddhism and vegetarian diet.
* [] Tibetan Buddhist group that saves animals & advocates vegetarianism.

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