The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'Thou hast told it many times that abstention from injury is the highest religion. In Sraddhas, however, that are performed in honour of the Pitris, persons for their own good should make offerings of diverse kinds of meat. Thou hast said so while discoursing formerly upon the ordinances in respect of Sraddhas. How can meat, however, be procured without slaying a living creature? Thy declarations, therefore, seem to me to be contradictory. A doubt has, therefore, arisen in our mind respecting the duty of abstaining from meat. What are the faults that one incurs by eating meat, and what are the merits that one wins? What are the demerits of him who eats meat by himself killing a living creature? What are the merits of him who eats the meat of animals killed by others? What the merits and demerits of him who kills a living creature for another? Or of him who eats meat buying it of others? I desire, O sinless one, that thou shouldst discourse to me on this topic in detail. I desire to ascertain this eternal religion with certainty. How does one attain to longevity? How does one acquire strength? How does one attain to faultlessness of limbs? Indeed, how does one become endued with excellent indications?
"Bhishma said, 'Listen to me, O, scion of Kuru's race, what the merit is that attaches to abstention from meat. Listen to me as I declare to thee what the excellent ordinances, in truth, are on this head. Those high-souled persons who desire beauty, faultlessness of limbs, long life, understanding, mental and physical strength, and memory, should abstain from acts of injury. On this topic, O scion of Kuru's race, innumerable discourses took place between the Rishis. Listen, O Yudhishthira, what their opinion was. The merit acquired by that person, O Yudhishthira, who, with the steadiness of a vow, adores the deities every month in horse-sacrifices, is equal to his who discards honey and meat. The seven celestial Rishis, the Valakhilyas, and those Rishis who drink the rays of the sun, endued with great wisdom, applaud abstention from meat. The Self-born Manu has said that that man who does not eat meat, or who does not slay living creatures, or who does not cause them to be slain, is a friend of all creatures. Such a man is incapable of being oppressed by any creature. He enjoys the confidence of all living beings. He always enjoys, besides, the approbation and commendation of the righteous. The
righteous-souled Narada has said that that man who wishes to increase his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures, meets with calamity. Vrihaspati has said that that man who abstains from honey and meat acquires the merit of gifts and sacrifices and penances. In my estimation, these two persons are equal, viz., he who adores the deities every month in a horse-sacrifice for a space of hundred years and he who abstains from honey and meat. In consequence of abstention from meat one comes to be regarded as one who always adores the deities in sacrifices, or as one who always makes gifts to others, or as one who always undergoes the severest austerities. That man who having eaten meat gives it up afterwards, acquires merit by such an act that is so great that a study of all the Vedas or a performance, O Bharata, of all the sacrifices, cannot bestow its like. It is exceedingly difficult to give up meat after one has become acquainted with its taste. Indeed, it is exceedingly difficult for such a person to observe the high vow of abstention from meat, a vow that assures every creature by dispelling all fear. That learned person who giveth to all living creatures the Dakshina of complete assurance comes to be regarded, without doubt, as the giver of life-breaths in this world. 1 Even this is the high religion which men of wisdom applaud. The life-breaths of other creatures are as dear to them as those of one's to one's own self. Men endued with intelligence and cleansed souls should always behave towards other creatures after the manner of that behaviour which they like others to observe towards themselves. It is seen that even those men who are possessed of learning and who seek to achieve the highest good in the form of Emancipation, are not free from the fear of death. What need there be said of those innocent and healthy creatures endued with love of life, when they are sought to be slain by sinful wretches subsisting by slaughter? For this reason, O monarch, know that the discarding of meat is the highest refuge of religion, of heaven, and of happiness. Abstention from injury is the highest religion. It is, again, the highest penance. It is also the highest truths from which all duty proceeds. Flesh cannot be had from grass or wood or stone. Unless a living creature is slain, it cannot be had. Hence is the fault in eating flesh. The deities who subsist upon Swaha, Swadha, and nectar, are devoted to truth and sincerity. Those persons, however, who are for gratifying the sensation of taste, should be known as Rakshasas wedded to the attribute of Passion. That man who abstains from meat, is never put in fear, O king, by any creature, wherever he may be, viz., in terrible wildernesses or inaccessible fastnesses, by day or by night, or at the two twilights, in the open squares of towns or in assemblies of men, from upraised weapons or in places where there is great fright from wild
animals or snakes. All creatures seek his protection. He is an object of confidence with all creatures. He never causes any anxiety in others, and himself has never to become anxious. If there were nobody who ate flesh there would then be nobody to kill living creatures. The man who kills living creatures kill them for the sake of the person who eats flesh. If flesh were regarded as inedible, there would then be no slaughter of living creatures. It is for the sake of the eater that the slaughter of living creatures goes on in the world. Since, O thou of great splendour, the period of life is shortened of persons who slaughter living creatures or cause them to be slaughtered, it is clear that the person who wishes his own good should give up meat entirely. Those fierce persons who are engaged in slaughter of living creatures, never find protectors when they are in need. Such persons should always be molested and persecuted even as beasts of prey. Through cupidity or stupefaction of the understanding, for the sake of strength and energy, or through association with the sinful, the disposition manifests itself in men for sinning. That man who seeks to increase his own flesh by (eating) the flesh of others, has to live in this world in great anxiety and after death has to take birth in indifferent races and families. High Rishis devoted to the observance of vows and self-restraint have said that abstention from meat is worthy of every praise, productive of fame and Heaven, and a great propitiation by itself. This I heard in days of old, O son of Kunti, from Markandeya when that Rishi discoursed on the demerits of eating flesh. He who eats the flesh of animals that are desirous of living but that have been killed by either himself or others, incurs the sin that attaches to the slaughter for his this act of cruelty. He who purchases flesh slays living creatures through his wealth. He who eats flesh slays living creatures through such act of eating. He who binds or seizes and actually kills living creatures is the slaughterer. Those are the three kinds of slaughter, each of these three acts being so. He who does not himself eat flesh but approves of an act of slaughter becomes stained with the sin of slaughter. By abstaining from meat and showing compassion to all creatures one becomes incapable of being molested by any creature, and acquires a long life, perfect health, and happiness. The merit that is acquired by a person by abstaining from meat, we have heard, is superior to that of one who makes presents of gold, of kine, and of land. One should never eat meat of animals not dedicated in sacrifices and that are, therefore, slain for nothing, and that has not been offered to the gods and Pitris with the aid of the ordinances. There is not the slightest doubt that a person by eating such meat goes to Hell. If one eats the meat that has been sanctified in consequence of its having been procured from animals dedicated in sacrifices and that have been slain for the purpose of feeding Brahmanas, one incurs a little fault. By behaving otherwise, one becomes stained with sin. That wretch among men who slays living creatures for the sake of those who would eat them, incurs great demerit. The eater's demerit is not so great. That wretch among men who, following the path of religious rites and
sacrifices laid down in the Vedas, would kill a living creature from desire of eating its flesh, would certainly become a resident of hell. That man who having eaten flesh abstains from it afterwards, attains to great merit in consequence of such abstention from sin. He who arranges for obtaining flesh, he who approves of those arrangements, he who slays, he who buys or sells, he who cooks, and he who eats, are all regarded as eaters of flesh. I shall now cite another authority, depending upon that was declared by the ordainer himself, and established in the Vedas. It has been said that that religion which has acts for its indications has been ordained for householders, O chief of kings, and not for those men who are desirous of emancipation. Mann himself has said that meat which is sanctified with mantras and properly dedicated, according to the ordinances of the Vedas, in rites performed in honour of the Pitris, is pure. All other meat falls under the class of what is obtained by useless slaughter, and is, therefore, uneatable, and leads to Hell and infamy. One should never eat, O chief of Bharata's race, like a Rakshasa, any meat that has been obtained by means not sanctioned by the ordinance. Indeed, one should never eat flesh obtained from useless slaughter and that has not been sanctified by the ordinance. That man who wishes to avoid calamity of every kind should abstain from the meat of every living creature. It is heard that in the ancient Kalpa, persons, desirous of attaining to regions of merit hereafter, performed sacrifices with seeds, regarding such animals as dedicated by them. Filled with doubts respecting the propriety of eating flesh, the Rishis asked Vasu the ruler of the Chedis for solving them. King Vasu, knowing that flesh is inedible, answered that is was edible, O monarch. From that moment Vasu fell down from the firmament on the earth. After this he once more repeated his opinion, with the result that he had to sink below the earth for it. Desirous of benefiting all men, the high-souled Agastya, by the aid of his penances, dedicated, once for all, all wild animals of the deer species to the deities. Hence, there is no longer any necessity of sanctifying those animals for offering them to the deities and the Pitris. Served with flesh according to the ordinance, the Pitris become gratified. Listen to me, O king of kings, as I tell thee this, O sinless one. There is complete happiness in abstaining from meat, O monarch. He that undergoes severe austerities for a hundred years and he that abstains from meat, are both equal in point of merit. Even this is my opinion, In the lighted fortnight of the month of Karttika in especial, one should abstain from honey and meat. In this, it has been ordained, there is great merit. He who abstains from meat for the four months of the rains acquires the four valued blessings of achievements, longevity, fame and might. He who abstains for the whole month of Karttika from meat of every kind, transcends all kinds of woe and lives in complete happiness. They who abstain from flesh by either months or fortnights at a stretch have the region of
[paragraph continues] Brahma ordained for them in consequence of their abstention from cruelty. Many kings in ancient days, O son of Pritha, who had constituted themselves the souls of all creatures and who were conversant with the truths of all things, viz., Soul and Not-soul, had abstained from flesh either for the whole of the month of Karttika or for the whole of the lighted fortnight in that month. They were Nabhaga and Amvarisha and the high-souled Gaya and Ayu and Anaranya and Dilipa and Raghu and Puru and Kartavirya and Aniruddha and Nahusha and Yayati and Nrigas and Vishwaksena and Sasavindu and Yuvanaswa and Sivi, the son of Usinara, and Muchukunda and Mandhatri, and Harischandra. Do thou always speak the truth. Never speak an untruth. Truth is an eternal duty. It is by truth that Harischandra roves through heaven like a second Chandramas. These other kings also, viz., Syenachitra, O monarch, and Somaka and Vrika and Raivata and Rantideva and Vasu and Srinjaya, and Dushmanta and Karushma and Rama and Alarka and Nala, and Virupaswa and Nimi and Janaka of great intelligence, and Aila and Prithu and Virasena, and Ikshvaku, and Sambhu, and Sweta, and Sagara, and Aja and Dhundhu and Suvahu, and Haryaswa and Kshupa and Bharata, O monarch, did not eat flesh for the month of Karttika and as the consequence thereof attained to heaven, and endued with prosperity, blazed forth with effulgence in the region of Brahman, adored by Gandharvas and surrounded by thousand damsels of great beauty. Those high-souled men who practise this excellent religion which is characterised by abstention from injury succeed in attaining to a residence in heaven. These righteous men who, from the time of birth, abstain from honey and meat and wine, are regarded as Munis. That man who practises this religion consisting of abstention from meat or who recites it for causing others to hear it, will never have to go to hell even if he be exceedingly wicked in conduct in other respects. He, O king, who (often-times) reads these ordinances about abstention from meat, that are sacred and adored by the Rishis, or hears it read, becomes cleansed of every sin and attains to great felicity in consequence of the fruition of every wish. Without doubt, he attains also to a position of eminence among kinsmen. When afflicted with calamity, he readily transcends it. When obstructed with impediments, he succeeds in freeing himself from them with the utmost ease. When ill with disease, he becomes cured speedily, and afflicted with sorrow he becomes liberated from it with greatest ease. Such a man has never to take birth in the intermediate order of animals or birds. Born in the order of humanity, he attains to great beauty of person. Endued with great prosperity, O chief of Kuru's race, he acquires great fame as well. I have thus told thee, O king, all that should be said on the subject of abstention from meat, together with the ordinances respecting both the religion of Pravritti and Nivritti as framed by the Rishis."
238:1 The sense is this: he who observes the vow of abstention from injury comes to be regarded as the giver of life-breaths in this world. The assurance given to all creatures of never injuring them on any occasion is the Dakshina or Sacrificial present of the great sacrifice that is constituted by universal compassion or abstention from injury.
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