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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Gandhi: Why vegetarianism?

According to Arun Sannuti, Mohandas K. Gandhi – who famously said that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way in which its animals are treated” – was a vegetarian as a means of practicing ahimsa.  This makes perfect sense for a man who also declared:  My life is my message.   

Ahimsa, a term derived from the Sanskrit root himsa (which means “injury, harm” – and changes in meaning to “nonviolence” when the “a” is added in front of it), is at the heart of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.  Wikipedia reports that, due to the possible influence of shramanic (referring to certain ascetic traditions of ancient India – such as those associated with Mahavira and/or Buddha) culture, one of the oldest Upanishads teaches ahimsa in the “code of conduct” sense.  This Chandogya Upanisad has been “dated to the 8th or 7th century BCE.”

Sannuti reports that when Gandhi was young, his friend Sheik Mehtab tried to convince him that Indians were a “weak people” because many did not eat meat.  He told Gandhi:  The British are able to rule over us because they are meat-eaters.  Mehtab also asserted the meat-eating would cure Gandhi of an “irrational fear of the dark.”  With persuasiveness like this, it wasn’t long before Gandhi began secretly eating meat.  He felt tremendous guilt, however, because his dear mother would have been horrified had she known.

It was this strong bond with his mother that eventually led Gandhi back to a vegetarian way of life.  When he wished to study law in England, his mother urged him to take a vow, “under the administration of a Jain monk,” to strictly avoid “wine, women or meat” while there.  At first, this vegetarian vow was very difficult for him to uphold.  He lived in English boarding situations where meals were included, and his landladies interpreted vegetarianism to be only “boiled vegetables and bread.”  However, Gandhi was steadfast, and told another well-meaning friend:  A vow is a vow.  It cannot be broken.

This vow became a vital link to Gandhi’s homeland while he was away - and ultimately – a vital link to his true calling when he returned.


Copyright October 2, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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