Spirituality and a vegetarian Diet
FAQ on Vegetarianism with Sri Chinmoy
Question: What role does a vegetarian diet play in your teachings?
Sri Chinmoy: In my teachings the vegetarian diet plays a most important role. In order to become pure, a vegetarian diet helps us considerably. Purity is of paramount importance in our spiritual life. This purity we must establish in the physical, the vital and the mental. When we eat meat, fish and so forth, the aggressive, animal consciousness enters into us. Our nerves become agitated; we unconsciously become restless and aggressive. The mild qualities of vegetables, on the other hand, help us to establish in our inner life as well as in our outer life, the qualities of sweetness, softness, simplicity and purity.
But again, if you ask me whether by becoming a strict vegetarian you can realise God or not, then I would say “No,” a definite “No.” There are millions and millions of people on earth who are strict vegetarians, but I don’t think there are millions and millions of God-realised souls on earth. For God-realisation we need aspiration. But in answering your question, I wish to say that it is always advisable, if possible, to have a vegetarian diet in order to further one’s progress in the inner discipline, so that one can feel that even the body, with its purity, can help one’s inner aspiration to become more intense and more soulful.
Q. So a vegetarian diet is not necessary in order to realise God?
Sri Chinmoy: Just by becoming a vegetarian one will not realise God. It is impossible! Many people have followed strict vegetarian diets, but there are not very many people on earth who have realised God. In India all widows of respectable families are supposed to be vegetarians. But if you count all Indian widows, you will not find many God-realised souls among them. Unless these women pray and meditate most sincerely and devotedly, they will make very little spiritual progress.
If you stop eating fish and meat you will not realise God overnight. Far from it! You must not expect such great results from so small an effort. But your aspiration will be increased. Your mild qualities, soft qualities, aspiring qualities will come to the fore sooner. Everything depends on how fast you want to make progress. If you feel that each second counts, if you feel that there is no end to your goal, then the best thing is to achieve the things that are ahead of you as soon as possible.
Q. Do you feel it is important for the aspirant to follow the vegetarian diet?
Sri Chinmoy: Know that we have come from the animal kingdom. We believe in reincarnation. So once upon a time, we were all animals. Now, we have come into the human creation and we are progressing and evolving and all of us will realise God on the strength of our aspiration.
For an aspirant, it is advisable to be a vegetarian precisely because when he eats meat, the aggressive quality of the animal enters into him. We are trying to live a life of peace and tranquility. If we sincerely want that kind of life, then it is foolishness on our part to eat something that would diminish our peace and tranquility and stand in the way of our meditation, concentration, etc. So it is always advisable to accept the vegetarian life. But, again, there are some countries or some parts of the world where it is exceptionally cold and there it is impossible for those particular people, to live on vegetables alone. What are they going to do then? There only if they eat meat can they remain on earth. Then, again, there are some sincere seekers whose physical constitution is very weak. Some children, for example, who are very ill require meat for a short time to regain their strength. Others from the beginning of their lives have been eating meat and now they have formed such a habit, such a bad habit, you can say, that they cannot manage without it even for a day. What are they going to do? On the one hand, they have sincere aspiration, genuine aspiration, but their body revolts. I feel, in such rare cases, that they should eat meat.
But as a general rule, it is always advisable to be a vegetarian because we are trying to throw away the animal qualities and propensities from our nature. Already when we go deep within, we see that we have two different qualities or natures; the divine and the undivine. The undivine is the animal in us and the animal within us will always be aggressive and destructive. The divine in us will always be progressive and illumined. So if we want to march and run towards our Goal, then we have to do away with our animal life. To do that, whatever animal qualities we take into us in the form of meat or in some other form have to be discontinued.
Now to come back to your question, if one says that one has to be a vegetarian in order to realise God or that one cannot achieve God-realisation unless he is a vegetarian, then I say that it is pure foolishness. There are many meat-eaters who have realised God: Christ, Vivekananda and many others who realised God, but ate meat as others do. There are many. A few months ago someone told me that in order to have purity in abundance, he stopped eating meat, but he also felt that just by becoming a vegetarian, he would be able to realise God. He would not have to meditate, he would not have to concentrate; only by becoming a vegetarian, he could achieve union with the Absolute. So I told him that in India, all widows without exception are forbidden to take meat. When their husbands die, on that very day, they have to stop taking meat. Now in spite of my deepest love and respect for Indian widows, I don’t think that they are all God-realised souls. That kind of feeling towards the vegetarian life is absurd. Yet we have to strike a balance. For a sincere aspirant, it is certainly advisable and helpful to be a vegetarian.
Vegetarianism and Meditation
In 1980, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and meditation—and became a vegetarian. Since it’s been so long ago, being a vegetarian is not an issue for me anymore. However, in looking back, I recall being nervous about giving up gourmet seafood such as abalone and lobster that are treats of the Chinese culinary table.
In the beginning I promised myself two weeks of “vegetarian delight.” I was going to commit myself to meditation, and I wanted to explore new frontiers to enhance this emerging lifestyle.
After a few days, I found my palate so cleansed that I could actually taste the natural sweetness of organic vegetables. Crisp cucumber never tasted so refreshing. Baby bok choy lightly steamed and drizzled with a splash of olive oil and sautéed garlic seasoned with sea salt left me only wanting more.
30 years later, I’m still following a vegetarian lifestyle that’s filled me with more energy, endurance and strength.
"If we have some spiritual purity, then the physical purity that we get from not eating meat will be most effective", writes Sri Chinmoy.
Pure and simple. By eliminating restless animal energy in following a vegetarian diet, we’re able to enhance our receptivity to meditation.
What do we gain from vegetarianism and meditation? A vital energy source from within powering up the body’s outer activities that, along with live energy from purer food sources, makes total sense to go vegetarian. Ultimately, vegetarianism purifies the body, mind and heart with newer sources of energy and endurance.