In 1998, Czech parents of a sixteen year old boy met me to consult about their son.

They were worried and wanted to know if their son was eating properly. There wouldn’t be anything extraordinary about this, if it were not for two factors - their son was the junior world champion in cycling, and a vegetarian. He is a very bright, intelligent and dynamic young man. When I met him, I felt warmth in my heart and I told to myself; “He is the true hope of the Czech Republic!” At the end of their visit I assured the parents that there was nothing to worry about and that it wasn’t necessary to succumb to the pressure by the trainers of the young champion. They, of course, maintained that the boy must begin to eat meat. I explained to the parents that many top sportsmen are vegetarians, and with a heavy diet of meat energy is expensed on breaking fats and proteins instead of having energy at one’s disposal for athletic performance. Herbal sugars and starches are, on the other hand, a source of pure disposable energy that the body can easily release.

The forefathers of Ayurveda had, with their deep insight, predicted thousands of years ago many things which we witness today. They foresaw the pollution of water, air and food. They clearly indicated that most diseases would be caused by this contamination. They also realistically predicted that there would always be people on earth who would eat meat. At the beginning of the 21st century statistics say that only about four per cent of the global population eats a vegetarian diet. There are countries, where the ratio of vegetarians is much higher, for example, in my home state of Kerala around 60 - 70 % are vegetarians.

There are many different reasons for eating meat and in some places eating meat is done because of a need to survive with a given climatic condition. In the West, the common reason is habit. It is usually supported by the completely unsubstantiated worry that vegetarian food is not nutritious enough.

I know from one of my Tibetan friends who is close to the Dalai Lama that their spiritual leader encouraged his fellow citizens in exile to gradually switch to vegetarianism. He made this recommendation because the living conditions of his people, who had relocated to Dharamshala, India or to the West, had changed in such a way that the vegetarian diet became easy to maintain.

The strength of Ayurveda lies in reflecting on true life. Therefore, qualities of all types of meat and the effects they have on the human body have been thoroughly studied. In the Ayurvedic texts there is no such thing as strict forbidding of meat consumption. In some cases as are abnormal exhaustion or emaciation, meat is used as one of the only possible medicines. On the other hand, the texts do say, that those who wish to walk the spiritual path led by the effort of self improvement and the fulfilling of the highest goal, should avoid meat.

There are many different reasons for eating meat and in some places eating meat is done because of a need to survive with a given climatic condition. In the West, the common reason is habit. It is usually supported by the completely unsubstantiated worry that vegetarian food is not nutritious enough.

Meat eating has certain aspects which one may not realize. Firstly, there is the breeding of animals for the sole purpose of killing, which occurs most in industrially advanced parts of the world. During the ancient times, when Ayurveda discussed animals as a possible source of food, it meant either the wild animals or the domesticated animals that were taken care of by families. It was understood that animals ended their life in a dignified manner. In certain parts of the world societies still exist, in which highly traditional approach to the killing of animals is upheld. Their members request permission from nature before killing and pay their respect and gratitude to the creature that gives up its life for them afterwards. What looks like a mere ritual in the eyes of Westerner, is a profound expression of honouring man’s connection with nature and respecting the intelligence that created life.

Another aspect is ecological. A number of publications exist looking at the ecological outcomes of animal production, in comparison to vegetable production. A good source of information is F.M. Lappé's book ‘Nutrition for a Small Planet’.

The third aspect is the negligence of human relations and the ethical view point. Not many everyday consumers know that the average American or European regularly living on meat uses five times more food resources than the average citizen of so called developing countries such as India. In developing countries a person consumes approximately 200 kg of crops per year, whereas in the industrial world it is around 1000 kg. This doesn’t mean that the people of the West eat five times more – most of the crops go to the feeding of livestock for meat. If we have compassion for those who suffer from hunger in other parts of the world, we should support the trend that would eventually lead to the reduction of meat consumption and use the available resources to feed the hungry. This is of course a complex political and economic problem, of which meat eating on one part of the globe is just one aspect.

The fourth aspect is the effect meat has on the human body. For many people this is the most tangible reason why one might become a vegetarian. Many people wish to improve their health by turning to vegetarianism. It is without a doubt that meat eating in most Western countries is bad for health. A line of research studies of the long term effects of meat on human health is available today. The consumption of meat increases the risk of coronary and heart diseases as well as cancer. While I do not believe I need to elaborate on what is obvious, one must be aware that meat from mass production, where almost everything that livestock needs for healthy living is refused from birth, is not healthy for the human body and mind. The epidemics of BSE and other diseases should come as no surprise; they did not fall from the sky. It is only a warning sign at the end of a long line of causative factors that have been ignored by a great majority of human society. If we do not change the attitude towards domestic animals, the human race shall soon be unable to escape from such similar calamities. The present answer to solving this, guided by the effort of keeping the production and export of meat through a ‘strict veterinary control’, is not a mature answer. It only reflects the fact, that we have not yet realized the true role that we, human beings must assume on the earth. We still haven’t come to understand the wisdom and sensitivity of a creature that is good enough to be called a human being.

It is unnecessary to reproach people who live on meat; instead, a loving and tolerant education is needed. For me it is stunning to hear doctors and qualified dieticians say that meat is necessary for the evolution of a child’s brain and body. It is sad when doctors force mothers to start to give meat to their six month old babies, living happily on mother’s milk. I trust that with the spread of information, there will be a change in the near future. I wish some of these doctors would be able to see the happy, bright and lively vegetarian children in Kerala. Many of them grow into inventive engineers whose intelligence and creativity make Western software companies thrive. This is similar to North America’s battle against smoking cigarettes. As the result of twenty or more years of patient systematic work and education, generally speaking, North America has managed to have a culture of non smoking. With vegetarianism it is the same, the seed that has been planted needs time before it will grow into a strong tree.

Questions on vegetarianism are frequent during my lectures and consultations. I have listened to mothers who switched to a vegetarian diet while their children refused doing the same. I have received anxious letters from women whose husbands are trying to prevent them from becoming vegetarians and I get many questions from worried people of around sixty years of age, who were told by their spiritual masters that they have to become vegetarians.

I do not advocate vegetarianism at any cost. Some people hold this against me. I am aware of having caused confusion in some people’s minds. Vegetarians who push the idea of non violence towards animals, and who, at the same time, exhibit intolerance and violence towards themselves and their close ones, do not gain sympathy from me. I do not incite vegetarianism anywhere where I see the blind following of someone else’s suggestions or orders, creating hatred and inner tension and affecting health and the mental stability of the person. I do not support vegetarianism as a form of an ego trip, nor in the situation in which it puts mother and child or husband and wife against each other. Mental peace and health towards which vegetarianism is a means cannot be gained by exchanging one type of hatred for another. Those who are not yet aware of this can hear things from me about vegetarianism that will not satisfy them. I do share happiness with all who have adopted vegetarianism based on their inner need and in harmony with themselves and their surroundings. Vegetarianism is a noble way if it helps increase peace and togetherness with all living creatures. The soul of those who eat meat is the same as those who eat vegetables.

Read next chapter: ESSAYS ON AYURVEDA 20 >>






Titled as “Roving Ambassador of Ayurveda”, belongs to the first generation of Ayurvedic practitioners and teachers who have pioneered the way for Ayurveda's recognition as a mainstream system of medicine.


ayurveda trails pvt | © 2018