The principles of spirituality have remained the same throughout the ages. Modern science is only now coming to the conclusions that the saints and mystics have realized from time immemorial. In the realm of nutrition too, modern research is confirming the supremacy of the diet followed by those leading a spiritual life – the vegetarian diet. In all respects – spiritual, moral, and physical – the vegetarian diet is the most suitable for man. And for those who wish to follow the path leading to self-knowledge and God-realization, a strict vegetarian diet is essential.
If we examine various religious and mystic traditions, we find that they recommend or require vegetarianism. Such a diet is associated with the earliest religious traditions. Thus, Pythagoras and his followers were strict vegetarians. The Greek sage taught: “My friends, do not defile your bodies by partaking of impure foods. We have enough of grains and trees which are loaded with fruits. We have delicious vegetables and roots which can be readily cooked. And there is no dearth of milk and honey. Our earth has abundance of such pure and harmless foods and there is no need for us to partake of meals for which blood has to be shed and innocent life sacrificed.”
Many of the famous early philosophers such as Plato, Plotinus, Empedocles, Apollonius, Plutarch, and Porphyry also followed the vegetarian diet. Again, many of the early mystery religions, such as the Orphics and the Essenes had vegetarianism as a prerequisite for initiation. If we carefully study the Holy Bible we find that God intended man to be a vegetarian. In Genesis, God says, “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” (Genesis 1:29). Even when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, vegetarianism was necessarily implied. If we follow the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), it is naturally out of the question to eat meat, fish, fowl, or eggs. How can we claim to be lovers of God, lovers of His creation, if we kill the humbler members of God’s family?
Jesus Christ was the Apostle of Peace; he was the embodiment of nonviolence. He taught, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). If he was nonviolent to that extent, could he have been violent to the lower rungs of God’s creation? Christ taught universal love and total nonviolence. He asked us not to indulge in any killing, and he commanded that we have love for all.
The great Sufi saints of the past were vegetarians. Thus, Mirdad declares, “Those who follow the spiritual path must never forget that if they partake of flesh, they must pay for it with their own flesh.” Buddha, the Compassionate One, taught nonviolence towards all creatures, and originally his followers were vegetarians. Mahavira, the founder of the Jain religion preached a strict vegetarian diet. And, of course, vegetarianism is an integral part of the Hindu religious tradition. At Sikh Gurdwaras (temples) no meat is served in the free kitchen, and when the Sikhs observe a religious ceremony in their homes, vegetarian meals are served after the recitation of the scriptures. A Mughal historian significantly has recorded in his book Dabistan-e-Mazahib (School of Religions) that Guru Arjan Dev made a special proclamation: “Eating of meat is forbidden among those who follow Guru Nanak.”
Instructions to disciples given by the Sixth Sikh Guru Har Gobind are quite explicit: “Do not go near fish and meat.” (These instructions, sent out in a circular called “Hukamnama,” are preserved at Patna Saheb Gurdwara.)
If you make a comparative study of religious traditions, you will find that after a saint or a Master has concluded his ministry, the esoteric side of his teachings is rapidly forgotten and is replaced by rites and rituals. To make the teachings more acceptable to a large number of people, changes are made in diet and discipline by those who come after him. But the mystic tradition is clear in advocating vegetarianism.