The rationale behind vegetarianism

This post discusses the rationale behind vegetarianism based on the observations of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. On the question of diet, there is no generic answer possible in light of the fact that the world consists of people with varying genetic makeup who exist in different stages of evolution – most are inclined to worldly success while some are inclined to inner growth.

The primary reason meat-eating was discouraged for Yoga practitioners is because it makes the subtle(astral) body heavy[1]. Those who are a little advanced on the spiritual path tend to become sensitive to the presence of meat within the body. The animality which invades you with the consumption of meat contaminates the luminosity of consciousness which was established through Yoga. Progress in meditation beyond a certain point is not possible without giving up meat.  This is how Ramana Maharshi explains it:

Question: What about diet?

Ramana Maharshi: Food affects the mind. For the practice of any kind of yoga, vegetarianism is absolutely necessary since it makes the mind more sattvic [pure and harmonious].

Question: Could one receive spiritual illumination while eating flesh foods?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes, but abandon them gradually and accustom yourself to sattvic foods. However, once you have attained illumination it will make less difference what you eat, as, on a great fire, it is immaterial what fuel is added. [2]

For worldly men who live a life dedicated solely to material success, it makes little difference whether meat is eaten or renounced because they are not yet sensitive of their subtle body. And for those engaged in physical labor, meat can be in fact be beneficial because it provides the energy needed for muscular activity, although here one must point out that there is a wrestling tradition in India which relies solely on vegetarian foods for bodybuilding. (See Pehlwani-Diet.) People living in harsher and colder climates may require meat due to their genetic makeup. The best example of this problem is the 14th Dalai Lama who contracted hepatitis when he suddenly gave up meat.

Reader’s Digest: Your assistant says you are half vegetarian. How can one be “half vegetarian?”

Dalai Lama: [Laughs.] In the early 1960s, I became a vegetarian, and for almost two years I remained a strict vegetarian. But then I developed hepatitis, and I returned to my previous diet; for a while it would be vegetarian one day, nonvegetarian the next. My kitchen is now totally vegetarian. But that doesn’t mean I am completely vegetarian, for when I visit places, occasionally I take nonvegetarian…that seems to help reduce the size of my stomach. [3]

One objection to meat-eating is that one is participating in the slaughter of life. But for most worldly men this does not make much of a difference because they already have a heavy burden of other imperfections and impurities (ego, anger, lust, depression) which have to be shed in the upward spiral of evolution. Certainly, the awakening of the perception to switch to a vegetarian diet as part of an inner purification process is helpful but it is not a prerequisite to the Godward turn. The decision to give up meat must emerge out of conscious growth rather than nervous repulsion or social pressure.

This brings us to the other reason people normally object to meat consumption and that is because they are emotionally repelled and overcome with pity at the sight of  animal flesh. This according to Sri Aurobindo runs counter to the principle of equanimity which is the basis of Integral Yoga.

This world is full of so many things which are horrible and terrible. Equanimity means that one should be able to look at them from a certain poise without being perplexed or moved. It does not mean that one will go on killing animals indiscriminately or out of a personal motive. That would be untruth. But it means that one must be able to look at things without being moved. What X calls “pity” is something quite different from “compassion” and both are different from equanimity. Equanimity is an attitude of the whole being. Pity and sentimentalism are results of nervous repulsion, some movement in the vital being….True Compassion is something different. It comes from Above. It is a state of sympathy for the suffering of man and the suffering that is on earth and there is an idea of helping it as far as one can, whenever one can in his own way. It is not like pity. It is like the Gods who look upon human suffering from above, unmoved. [4]

Photo: Flickr (Creative Commons). Click image for source

In the following response, the Mother Mirra Alfassa discourses on the reason why meat should be avoided.

Question: What happen if one eats meat?

Answer: Do you want me to tell you a story? I knew a lady, a young Swedish woman, who was doing sadhana; and she was by habit a vegetarian, from both choice and habit. One day she was invited by some friends who gave her chicken for dinner. She did not want to make a fuss, she ate the chicken. But afterwards, during the night suddenly she found herself in a basket with her head between two pieces of wicker-work, shaken, shaken, shaken, and feeling wretched, miserable; and then, after that she found herself head down, feet in the air, and being shaken, shaken, shaken. (Laughter) She felt perfectly miserable; and then all of a sudden, somebody began pulling out things from her body, and that hurt her terribly, and then someone came along with a knife and chopped off her head; and then she woke up. She told me all this; she said she had never had such a frightful nightmare, that she had not thought of anything before going to sleep, that it was just the consciousness of the poor chicken that had entered her, and that she had experienced in her dream all the anguish the poor chicken had suffered when it was carried to the market, sold, its feathers plucked and its neck cut! (Laughter)

That’s what happens! That is to say, in a greater or lesser proportion you swallow along with the meat a little of the consciousness of the animal you eat. It is not very serious, but it is not always very pleasant. And obviously it does not help you in being on the side of man rather than of the beast! It is evident that primitive men, those who were still much closer to the beast than to the spirit, apparently used to eat raw meat, and that gives much more strength than cooked meat. They killed the animal, tore it apart and bit into it, and they were very strong. And moreover, this is why there was in their intestines that little piece, the appendix which in those days was much bigger and served to digest the raw meat. And then man began to cook. He found out that things tasted better that way, and he ate cooked meat and gradually the appendix grew smaller and was no longer of any use at all. So now it is an encumbrance which at times brings on an illness.

This is to tell you that perhaps now it is time to change one’s food and go over to something a little less bestial! It depends absolutely on each one’s state of consciousness. For an ordinary man, living an ordinary life, having ordinary activities, not thinking at all of anything else except earning his living, of keeping himself fit and perhaps taking care of his family, it is good to eat meat, it is all right for him to eat anything at all, whatever agrees with him, whatever does him good.

But if one wishes to pass from this ordinary life to a higher one, the problem begins to become interesting; and if, after having come to a higher life, one tries to prepare oneself for the transformations, then it becomes very important. For there certainly are foods which help the body to become subtle and others which keep it in a state of animality. But it is only at that particular time that this becomes very important, not before; and before reaching that moment, there are many other things to do. Certainly it is better to purify one’s mind and purify one’s vital before thinking of purifying one’s body. For even if you take all possible precautions and live physically taking care not to absorb anything except what will help to subtilise your body, if your mind and vital remain in a state of desire, Inconscience, darkness, passion and all the rest, that won’t be of any use at all. Only, your body will become weak, dislocated from the inner life and one fine day it will fall ill.

One must begin from inside, I have already told you this once. One must begin from above, first purify the higher and then purify the lower. I am not saying that one must indulge in all sorts of degrading things in the body. That’s not what I am telling you. Don’t take it as an advice not to exercise control over your desires! It isn’t that at all. But what I mean is, do not try to be an angel in the body if you are not already just a little of an angel in your mind and vital; for that would dislocate you in a different way from the usual one, but not one that is better. We said the other day that what is most important is to keep the equilibrium. Well, to keep the equilibrium everything must progress at the same time. You must not leave one part of your being in darkness and try to bring the other into light. You must take great care not to leave any corner dark. There you are.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1954): 23 June 1954


  1. Nirodbaran.  Talks with Sri Aurobindo.  vol. 2, p 1004.  (remark by Sri Aurobindo dated 3 Jan 1941 is as follows “Of course it (meat) makes the body heavy, I mean the subtle body. The other objection to a meat diet is the taking of conscious life”.
  2. David Godman.  Be as you are, p 204
  3. Mary Aikins. Interview with the Dalai Lama. Reader’s Digest May 2004.
  4. A.B. Purani. Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Second Series, pp 61-63.


  1. Vegetarianism and religion on wikipedia
  2. How to eat like a Yogi

30 thoughts on “The rationale behind vegetarianism

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Apropos the Pehlwani diet, today’s New York Times has an article on vegan bodybuilders in the USA.

      Denny Kakos, the president of the International Natural Bodybuilding Association, said he had no vegan bodybuilders entering his competitions in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Today, vegans make up a sliver of the approximately 6,000 people who compete through the group each year, but they have been a steady, small presence since the 2000s, Kakos said.

      read more:

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  2. Aravind D

    The Mothers answer explains the whole thing so clearly.

    “Certainly it is better to purify one’s mind and purify one’s vital before thinking of purifying one’s body. For even if you take all possible precautions and live physically taking care not to absorb anything except what will help to subtilise your body, if your mind and vital remain in a state of desire, Inconscience, darkness, passion and all the rest, that won’t be of any use at all.”

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Sandeep Post author

    In Chap X of his volume on Bhakti Yoga, Swami Vivekananda writes

    In regard to the method and the means of Bhakti-Yoga we read in the commentary of Bhagavan Ramanuja on the Vedanta-Sutras: “The attaining of That comes through discrimination, controlling the passions, practice, sacrificial work, purity, strength, and suppression of excessive joy.” Viveka or discrimination is, according to Ramanuja, discriminating, among other things, the pure food from the impure. According to him, food becomes impure from three causes: (1) by the nature of the food itself, as in the case of garlic etc.; (2) owing to its coming from wicked and accursed persons; and (3) from physical impurities, such as dirt, or hair, etc. The Shrutis (scriptures) say, When the food is pure, the Sattva element gets purified, and the memory becomes unwavering”, and Ramanuja quotes this from the Chandogya Upanishad.

    For more, see

    1. Mansee

      It is interesting to note how this knowledge is subtly imbibed in Indian traditions. I remember my father would not let me enter kitchen and cook when i used to be in a bad mood, irritated or angry. He would say that i could contaminate everyone. Also it was stressed in the family to serve food with smile…..not just outwardly but to really enjoy the process. I feel good about this little training as now i don’t have to make any efforts… comes naturally.

      1. Sandeep Post author

        You discover these underlying reasons when your consciousness becomes more and more illumined. Beyond a point, you begin to sense the vibrations of the cook rather than the taste of the food. I suspect that is why the ancient sages drank milk – it is the purest (sattwic) substance in terms of vibratory power.

        Unfortunately, people blindly continue the practices of their ancestors without bothering to find the rationale. This is how superstitions and customs are formed. Some enlightened sage many generations ago might have given guidelines for a healthy eating style, but slowly it turned into dead habits which are perpetuated devoid of the original intuition behind it.

        Satprem in the Adventures of Consciousness(chapter 7) relates the tale of a Hindu Brahmin who during worship would tie the family cat to a pole to prevent the cat from disturbing him. When the son grew up, he got a new cat and tied it to a pole during worship in order to faithfully mimic his father’s holy lifesyle !

        Also check this other comment where the Mother explains why offering food to the Divine is helpful.

  4. ipi

    Auroville Radio program:

    Give them Nothing to eat but vegetables and water to drink. They don’t eat animals, they love them. Ann, Zack, Jordan and Egor have different reasons for deciding to go vegan, but the deep reason for it at all that Great Spirit created our Earth to be a Paradise for all of us not just people but animals too. Ann, an author of the book “Paradise paradigm and Veganism” was flabbergasted to learn that many diseases can be completely reversed by making simple changes in diet. Why are we just now learning this, when it should be headline news? More importantly, why aren’t doctors practicing this? On top of that the ethical and environmental arguments were made by many researchers during last years which you can find extremely compelling. Listen to what vegans say and make your own

  5. ipi

    Plant enzymes:Eating Raw

    Iron Absorption on a Vegan Diet:Lemon is so important.

    Plant Foods Have a Complete Amino Acid Composition
    The reason it is important to correct this misinformation is that many people are afraid to follow healthful, pure vegetarian diets—they worry about “incomplete proteins” from plant sources. A vegetarian diet based on any single one or combination of these unprocessed starches (eg, rice, corn, potatoes, beans), with the addition of vegetables and fruits, supplies all the protein, amino acids, essential fats, minerals, and vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B12) necessary for excellent health.

    The lack of B12 in plants is proof that we need to eat meat

    Demystifying Whole Grains

    Healthy Eating Plate:

    Animal protein and vegetable protein probably have the same effects on health.

    The same amount of salmon gives you 34 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat, 4 of them saturated. A cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein, but under 1 gram of fat.

    Vegetable sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains, are excellent choices, and they offer healthy fiber, vitamins and minerals.

    Choose a fiber-filled diet, rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.

    Choose more vegetables and fruits. Go for color and variety—dark green, yellow, orange, and red.
    Calcium is important. But milk isn’t the only, or even best, source.

    Exploding Nutritional Myths

  6. Sandeep Post author

    A few pertinent remarks from the “Gospel of Ramakrishna” on this topic

    First passage
    “After attaining the knowledge of Brahman, one doesn’t discriminate about food. The rishis who had attained the knowledge of Brahman and experienced the bliss of Brahman could eat any food, even pork.”

    Second passage
    Narendra — In the matter of drinking and eating, the best is that which chance brings.

    Sri Ramakrishna — It is true of a particular state of mind. For a jnani (self-realized sage) nothing is prohibited. According to the Gita the jnani does not eat, he just makes an offering to his Kundalini.

    “This does not hold true for the devotee. Now my mood is such that I can’t eat unless I am given bhoga (food offered to the deity) by a brahmin. Formerly, the state of my mind was such that I would enjoy inhaling the smell of the burning corpses on the other side of Dakshineswar. Now, I can’t eat food offered by everyone.
    (To the devotees) “Blessed is the man who is attracted by the Lord, even though he may eat pork. On the other hand, shame on him who is attached to ‘lust and greed,’ even though he may be eating havishya (i.e. pure food fit for oblation; in this case, rice prepared with clarified butter).”

    Third passage
    Ramakrishna: A man can perform any amount of repetition of the Name and austerities, but if he remains possessed of worldly thoughts, he can never attain God. On the other hand, if a person eats pork but his mind remains attached to the Lord, he is blessed indeed. Such a person gradually attains the Lord – there is no doubt about it.

  7. Sandeep Post author

    Swami Vivekananda on food:

    “In a discourse in America, How to cultivate Bhakti he said that “the beginner (in the spiritual path) must pay particular attention to dietetic rules” but he disapproved what he called “extravagance and fanaticism” in maintaining them, which he said, had led in some cases to “a special kind of lunacy”. On another occasion, he said, “I myself may not be a strict vegetarian, but I understand the ideal. Even if I am bound to eat meat under certain circumstances, I know it is cruel.”

    (S.N.Dhar. Comprehensive biography of Swami Vivekananda, Vivekananda Prakashan Kendra : 1975, vol. 1, p 120)

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  9. Sandeep Post author

    Question: When one eats an egg, doesn’t one eat the chicken inside it?

    Mother: It’s not yet formed, the consciousness of the chicken. Of course, one must take care to eat the egg fresh before the chick begins to be formed.

    Question: Sweet Mother, if the agony of a chicken can attack us, so too can that of a beetroot or a carrot, can’t it?

    Mother: For all that, I believe the chicken is more conscious than the beetroot.

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, p 181)

  10. Sandeep Post author

    How does processed food look like in your stomach?

    Stefani Bardin and her collaborator swallowed a camera pill along with their meals and produced a video of their intestinal digestion (thankfully, they stopped the video at the intestines!!)

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  12. Sandeep

    Study says Red Meat Takes Years Off Of Cow’s Life

    Confirming years of speculation, a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Monitoring System has found that red meat significantly increases the risk of premature death in cows. “Our research suggests that by having red meat, a cow’s life can be shortened by as many as 10 years, sometimes more,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview with CNN Tuesday. “Unfortunately, in some cases, even just a single daily serving of red meat can hurt a cow’s chances of surviving past the earliest stage of life.” On a more positive note, researchers found that other high-protein foods like milk, cheese, and butter only decrease a cow’s life by 7 to 9 years,27954/

  13. ipi

    The whole life is a sadhana. It is a mistake to cut it into bits and say this is sadhana and that is not. Even your eating and sleeping should be a part of sadhana.
    -The Mother
    (CWM Vol4)

  14. Sandeep Post author

    Researchers from the Loma Linda University in California found that vegetarian Adventist men live to an average of 83.3 years and vegetarian women 85.7 years – 9.5 and 6.1 years, respectively, longer than other Californians, the Huffington Post reported.

    In the ’70s and ’80s, a series of studies from the university, which has tracked tens of thousands of Seventh-day Adventists since 1958, were the first to show that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters.

    Seventh-day Adventists have long been known as advocates of a vegetarian diet.

    The new research presented at Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 2012 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo is halfway into completion and includes 96,000 people from the US and Canada.

    Principal investigator Gary E Fraser revealed that the new study found that vegans are, on average, 13 kilogrammes lighter than meat eaters and five units lighter on the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale than meat-eaters.

    Vegetarians and vegans are also less insulin resistant than meat-eaters.

    Lean people are also more likely to exercise regularly, eat plants, and avoid cigarettes than overweight people, suggesting that numerous factors are boosting the overall health of these participants.

    More @

  15. Mohan

    Native Americans and Vegetarianism

    How well we know the stereotype of the rugged Plains Indian: killer of buffalo, dressed in quill-decorated buckskin, elaborately feathered eaddress, and leather moccasins, living in an animal skin teepee, master of the dog and horse, and stranger to vegetables. But this lifestyle, once limited almost exclusively to the Apaches, flourished no more than a couple hundred years. It is not representative of most Native Americans of today or yesterday. Indeed, the “buffalo-as-lifestyle” phenomenon is a direct result of European influence, as we shall see.

    Among my own people, the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi and Oklahoma, vegetables are the traditional diet mainstay. A French manuscript of the eighteenth century describes the Choctaws’ vegetarian leanings in shelter and food. The homes were constructed not of skins, but of wood, mud, bark and cane. The principal food, eaten daily from earthen pots, was a vegetarian stew containing corn, pumpkin and beans. The bread was made from corn and acorns. Other common favorites were roasted corn and corn porridge. (Meat in the form of small game was an infrequent repast.) The ancient Choctaws were, first and foremost, farmers. Even the clothing was plant based, artistically embroidered dresses for the women and cotton breeches for the men. Choctaws have never adorned their hair with feathers.


  16. mike

    Everything needs to be offered to the Divine and when we eat we should
    be thinking of the Divine. lt’s as simple as that.

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  20. 01

    Any ideas about using leather/silk/horn/bbb/feathers? Is it ok or not? Vegans always complain they don’t want to wear leather, but does it really makes a difference on vegetarian diet since I eat eggs anyway?

    True, I lost weight since I went veg, but I’m not impressed because I didn’t wanted to be thinner. I gain muscle just fine, though. My mother went vegetarian with me and now she’s able to handle heavier loads than before. I hoped it’d help with my sinusitis, but no luck.

    Lol, I had multiple siddhis and could easily enter trance states when I was eating pork, drinking coke/pepsi instead of water and 7-10 coffees a day. So while I am healthier on veg, I wonder what meditation benefits it’s really supposed to give?

  21. Natalia

    When i started doing yoga I found that I didn’t want to eat meat at that time and I didn’t need cigarettes too. So I went vegan and quit smoking cold turkey. I was smoking for 9 years and I was a heavy meat-eater as an athlete. However 1 year later, I found that I was gaining so much weight, I was severely depressed and my physical body suffered. I even couldn’t practice anymore all of this discomfort. I was fighting back because of my beliefs and the knowledge of the ideal. But eventually I gave up, understood that I have a physical body to help me deliver my purpose in life and I have to support it one way or another. I am eating meat and dairy again, folowing a meal plan from a registered dietician and very consciously I went back to smoking. I feel already so relieved like the pain has eased. However I feel guilty many times.
    Thank you

    1. Sandeep Post author

      In cultures where meat-eating and smoking are prevalent, I guess the physical body itself inherits some of these eating habits from its ancestors. The mind may wish to give up but the body resists getting out of its comfort zone.

      The Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram (aka Mirra Alfassa) once said that in India, Yoga is easier because “the physical has been utilized by bodies belonging to enlightened beings“. I think she may have been referring to this factor. There are Samskaras (memories) embedded in the physical substance.

    2. Sauman

      you got little impatient. i don’t know how deep was your concentration. But in my case I did not feel like taking any addiction when i started to try meditation. I am just a starter, i started reading Aurobindo in last 3 years, but the effect is awesome. Dont think too much or force yourself to do something, just try to quiet you mind.


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