From the earliest times, there was a clear call toward vegetarianism in the Hindu society. Yajur Veda calls for kindliness toward all creatures living on the earth, in the air, and in the water. “You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever” (Yajur Veda 12.32.90).
Manu Samhita advises: “Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to the attainment of heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun the use of meat” (Manu Samhita 5.48-49).
Hindu belief is that all things are rooted in God, and there is God-pervasiveness in every entity.
After the Vedas pronounced that all beings are the family of one God, the Hindu mind became more established toward an attitude of reverence, benevolence, compassion, and auspiciousness toward all creatures. In effect, this certainly aroused people to wean themselves from eating meat. Soon afterwards the concept of non-injury became the model teaching of Hinduism. Manu Samhita stated earliest in the Mahabharata: “Ahimsa Parmo Dharma: Nonviolence is the primary religion,” and later Mahavira and Buddha adopted this as their main teaching. Soon, vegetarian food came to be considered as the sattvic food, which is regarded fit for all spiritual practices. Jainism has always shown greater interest in this direction. Jains not only strictly prohibit their members from eating any animal meat, but they go a step further. They don’t allow root vegetables, such as onions and potatoes, lest some germs be attached to them. Buddhists are believers in non-injury but are more accommodating with regard to prohibited foods. Sikhs, too, have a rather soft attitude in this regard. The majority of Sikhs eat meat, but they do not consume it inside the temple.
Vegetarianism in recent times has become a “wonder” word all over the world. Hindus were the first ones to adopt vegetarianism; the rest of the world until very lately, considered meat as an essential part of their diet. In fact till only half a century ago, medical curricula taught that the “essential amino-acids” were present in meat only. Tables have now turned; in the medical domain, meat is now considered to be relatively toxic. In Hindu philosophy, the secular is often overshadowed by the spiritual; vegetarianism in Hindu society was regarded as religious and a divine feature, rather than a scientific and material advantage. In ancient Hindu scriptures, longevity of one hundred years or more has been repeatedly emphasized. Perhaps in no other society such longevity was known so early in human history.
Of late, there has been much talk about environmental pollution, carbon dioxide emissions, green forest depletion, etc. causing serious health concerns and other problems, even proclaiming danger to the very existence of the universe. Global food shortage caused by the destruction of rainforests is mainly attributed to the heavy consumption of meat. The cause of vegetarianism stands fully vindicated now!
The Belgian city of Ghent has become the first in the world to go vegetarian at least once a week. Ghent means to recognize the impact of livestock on the environment; hence Ghent’s declaration of a weekly “veggie day”. The rapid spread of vegetarian and vegan foods in many restaurants all over the world is an indirect testimony of the impact of the Hindu viewpoint.