Do the Vedic literature allow meat-eating? Did Hinduism adopt vegetarianism from Buddhism?

by January 13, 2012

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Answer summary:

1. Vedic literature not uni-form, but omni-form: not just one way for all people, but multiple ways depending on levels of people.

2. Vegetarianism is their recommendation, as seen from the verses below, but meat-eating is their concession. eg. doctor to diabetic patient: medicines and sugar-less diet are the recommendation, sweet once a week is a concession.

3. When patient misrepresents concession to be recommendation, the doctor rejects the concession entirely to prevent such future abuse. That’s what Lord Buddha did.

4. Buddhism brought to the forefront of practical application the recommendations for vegetarianism that had been gradually sidelined.

5. Vedic literature lead the way in pioneering a global elevation of human consciousness through the adoption of vegetarianism.


Quotes that disapprove, even denounce, meat-eating

Rig Veda:

“One who partakes of human flesh, the flesh of a horse or of another animal, and deprives others of milk by slaughtering cows, O King, if such a fiend does not desist by other means, then you should not hesitate to cut off his head.”

Rig-veda (10.87.16)


“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. Having well considered the disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let him entirely abstain from eating flesh.”

(Manu-samhita 5.48-49) “He who permits the slaughter of an animal, he who cuts it up, he who kills it, he who buys or sells meat, he who cooks it, he who serves it up, and he who eats it, must all be considered as the slayers of the animal. There is no greater sinner than that man who though not worshiping the gods or the ancestors, seeks to increase the bulk of his own flesh by the flesh of other beings.” (Manu-samhita 5.51-52)

“If he has a strong desire (for meat) he may make an animal of clarified butter or one of flour (and eat that); but let him never seek to destroy an animal without a (lawful) reason. As many hairs as the slain beast has, so often indeed will he who killed it without a (lawful) reason suffer a violent death in future births.” (Manu-samhita 5.37-38)

“He who injures harmless creatures from a wish to give himself pleasure, never finds happiness in this life or the next.” (Manu-samhita 5.45)

“By subsisting on pure fruits and roots, and by eating food fit for ascetics in the forest, one does not gain so great a reward as by entirely avoiding the use of flesh. Me he [mam sah] will devour in the next world, whose flesh I eat in this life; the wise declare this to be the real meaning of the word ‘flesh’ [mam sah].” (Manu-samhita 5.54-55)

“He who does not seek to cause the sufferings of bonds and death to living creatures, (but) desires the good of all (beings), obtains endless bliss. He who does not injure any (creature) attains without an effort what he thinks of, what he undertakes, and what he fixes his mind on.” (Manu-samhita 5.46-47)

“By not killing any living being, one becomes fit for salvation.” (Manu-samhita 6.60)


“He who desires to augment his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures, lives in misery in whatever species he may take his [next] birth.” (Mahabharata, Anu.115.47)

“The purchaser of flesh performs violence by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying its taste; the killer does violence by actually tying and killing the animal. Thus, there are three forms of killing. He who brings flesh or sends for it, he who cuts off the limbs of an animal, and he who purchases, sells, or cooks flesh and eats it–all these are to be considered meat-eaters.” (Mahabharata, Anu.115.40)

“The sins generated by violence curtail the life of the perpetrator. Therefore, even those who are anxious for their own welfare should abstain from meat-eating.” (Mahabharata, Anu.115.33)

Bhishma started, “Numberless discourses took place between the Rishis on this subject, O scion of Kuru’s race. Listen, O Yudhisthira, what their opinion was. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.7)

“The highly wise seven celestial Rishis, the Valakshillyas, and those Rishis who drink the rays of the sun, all speak highly of abstention from meat.

The self-created Manu has said that the man who does not eat meat, or who does not kill living creatures, or who does not cause them to be killed, 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 the praise of the pious. The virtuous Narada has said that that man who wishes to multiply his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures meets with disaster. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.9-12)

“That man, who having eaten meat, gives it up afterwards wins merit by such a deed that is so great that a study of all the Vedas or a performance, O Bharata, of all the sacrifices [Vedic rituals], cannot give its like. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.16)

“That learned person who gives to all living creatures the gift of complete assurance is forsooth regarded as the giver of lifebreaths in this world. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.18)

“Men gifted with intelligence and purified souls should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated. It is seen that even those men who are endued with learning and who seek to acquire the greatest good in the shape of liberation, are not free of the fear of death. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.20)

“What necessity be said of those innocent and healthy creatures gifted with love of life, when they are sought to be killed by sinful wretches living by slaughter? Therefore, O King, know that the discarding of meat is the highest refuge of religion, of the celestial region, and of happiness. Abstention of injury [to others] is the highest religion. It is, again, the highest penance. It is also the highest truth from which all duty emanates. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.21-23)

“Flesh cannot be had from grass or wood or stone. Unless a living creature is killed it cannot be procured. Hence is the fault of eating flesh. The celestials who live upon Svaha, Svadha, and nectar, are given to truth and sincerity. Those persons, however, who are for satisfying the sensation of taste, should be known as Rakshasas [flesh-eating demons] pervaded by the quality of Darkness. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.24-25)

“If there were nobody who ate flesh, then there would be nobody to slay living creatures. The man who slays living creatures kills them for the sake of the person who eats flesh. If flesh were not considered as food, there would then be no destruction of living creatures. It is for the sake of the eater that the destruction of living entities is carried on in the world. Since, O you of great splendor, the period of life is shortened by persons who kill living creatures or cause them to be killed, it is clear that the person who seeks his own good should give up meat altogether. Those dreadful persons who are engaged in the destruction of living beings never find protectors when they are in need. Such persons should always be molested and punished even as beast of prey. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.29-32)

“That man who seeks to multiply 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 given to the observance of vows and self-control have said that abstention from meat is worthy of praise, productive of fame and Heaven, and a great satisfaction itself. This I heard formerly, O son of Kunti, from Markandeya when that Rishi discoursed on the sins of eating flesh. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.34-36)

“He who purchases flesh, kills living creatures through his money. He who eats flesh, kills living beings through his eating. He who binds or seizes and actually kills living creatures is the slaughterer. These are the three sorts of slaughter through each of these acts. He who does not himself eat flesh but approves of an act of slaughter, becomes stained with the sin of slaughter. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.38-39)

“That wretched man who kills living creatures for the sake of those who would eat them commits great sin. The eater’s sin is not as great. That wretched man who, following the path of religious rites and sacrifices as laid down in the Vedas, would kill a living creature from a desire to eats its flesh, will certainly go to hell. That man who having eaten flesh abstains from it afterwards acquires great merit on account of such abstention from sin. He who arranges for obtaining flesh, he who approves of those arrangements, he who kills, he who buys or sells, he who cooks, and he who eats it, [acquire the sin of those who] are all considered as eaters of flesh. [Therefore] that man who wishes to avoid disaster should abstain from the meat of every living creature. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.44-48)

“Listen to me, O king of kings, as I tell you this, O sinless one, there is absolute happiness in abstaining from meat, O king. He who practices severe austerities for a century, and he who abstains from meat, are both equally meritorious. This is my opinion. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.52-53)

“Yudhisthira said: Alas, those cruel men who, not caring for various other sorts of food, want only flesh, are really like great Rakshasas [meat-eating demons]. (Mahabharata, Anu.116.1)

“Bhishma said: That man who wishes to increase his own flesh by the meat of another living creature is such that there is none meaner and more cruel than he. In this world there is nothing that is dearer to a creature than his life. Hence, one should show mercy to the lives of others as he does to his own life. Forsooth, O son, flesh has its origin in the vital seed. There is great sin attached to its eating, as, indeed, there is merit in abstaining from it. (Mahabharata, Anu.116.11-13)

“There is nothing, O delighter of the Kurus, that is equal in point of merit, either in this world or in the next, to the practice of mercy to all living creatures. (Mahabharata, Anu.116.19)

“Hence a person of purified soul should be merciful to all living creatures. That man, O king, who abstains from every kind of meat from his birth forsooth, acquires a large space in the celestial region. They who eat the flesh of animals who are desirous of life, are themselves [later] eaten by the animals they eat. This is my opinion. Since he has eaten me, I shall eat him in return. This, O Bharata, forms the character as Mamsah [meaning flesh] of Mamsah [me he, or “me he” will eat for having eaten him]. The destroyer is always slain. After him the eater meets with the same fate. (Mahabharata, Anu.116.32-35)

“He who acts with hostility towards another becomes victim of similar deeds done by that other. Whatever acts one does in whatever bodies, he has to suffer the consequences thereof in those bodies. (Mahabharata, Anu.116.36-37)

“Abstention from cruelty is the highest Religion. Abstention from cruelty is the greatest self-restraint. Abstention from cruelty is the highest gift. Abstention from cruelty is the highest penance. Abstention from cruelty is the highest sacrifice. Abstention from cruelty is the highest power. Abstention from cruelty is the greatest friend. Abstention from cruelty is the greatest happiness. (Mahabharata, Anu.116.38-39)

“Gifts made in all sacrifices [rituals], ablutions performed in all sacred water, and the merit which one acquires from making all kinds of gifts mentioned in the scriptures, all these do not equal in merit abstention from cruelty.” (Mahabharata, Anu.116.40)

Bhagavata Purana:

“Those who are ignorant of real dharma and, though wicked and haughty, account themselves virtuous, kill animals without any feeling of remorse or fear of punishment. Further, in their next lives, such sinful persons will be eaten by the same creatures they have killed in this world.” (Bhagavata Purana 11.5.14)

Transcription by- Keshavgopal Das & Ambuj Gupta

Question- Are there references for eating meat in the Vedic literature? Is the adoption of vegetarianism within Hinduism a later feature caused by the influence of Buddhism? Does the Vedic literature directly recommend vegetarianism?

Answer- First question, are there references to eating meat in the Vedic literature. Yes, there are.

But these references are not recommendations. They are concessions. Along with this answer I have pasted from various Vedic scriptures references that explicitly recommend vegetarianism. So there are references from Rig Veda, from Manu Samhita, from extensively from the Mahabharata and also from Srimad Bhagavatam; the Bhagavat Puran. So these four literature are considered to be ones which have influenced modern day Hinduism to a large extent. Rig Veda is considered by scholars  to be oldest of all scriptures which is preserved even today in its letters. Manu Samhita is widely recognized as law book for Hinduism. Mahabharata is a veritable compendium of of traditional dharma. And the Srimad Bhagavatam is considered to be the ripened fruit of the devotional essence of the Vedic literature.

So you will find that here there are so many references that, if by example Manu Samhita says man should never obtain food that is got by injury to other living beings. Once we understand the disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of slaughtering and slaying other living beings, why should one eat meat at all. One should give it up entirely. So there are multiple references here. He who permits the slaughter of animal, he who cuts it up, he who kills it, he ho buy or sells meat, he who cooks it, he who serves it up, he who eats it, must all be considered the slaves of the animals. There is no greater sin on that man who though not worshiping the God or ancestor seeks to increase the bulk of his own flesh by the flesh of others, Manu Samhita 5.51-52. Further Bhishma Pitamah specially Anushasan parva, when he is instructing Yudhisthir Maharaja in the Mahabharata extensively recommends vegetarian food. So you can have a look at these references yourself. But coming to the important point, these references do exist. Some people who want to justify their meat eating habits may find out some references which also allow meat eating. If we look at those references practically all of them are in the context of Yagyam or sacrifice. So in the verse which I read out in Manu Samhita also, it is said that if one is sacrificing for the God’s then and then alone meat is allowed. Killing animal is allowed and then the meat can under certain circumstances be consumed.

Why was this sort of statement given in the Vedic literature? The Vedic literature are not just offering spirituality in one form. The spiritual processes offered in the Vedic literature are not uniform but omniform. Uniform means it is only one form, for example we had the _____ religions. Jesus is the only way. Follow Jesus and you will go back to God otherwise you are going to hell. Mohammad is the zeal of all prophets. If you don’t follow Mohammad you are going to go to hell. So this is only one way path. The Vedic literature don’t talk about only this way or hell otherwise, my way or the highway. The Vedic literature recognize that different people have different levels of adhikar. Adhikar means, capacity to practice spiritual life. And based on their individual capacities they can follow recommendations at different levels. That is why for those who are addicted to meat eating, meat eating is allowed under certain restricted conditions. So these statements in the scriptures are concessions, not recommendations.

What is the difference between a concession and a recommendation? If a patient goes to a doctor, the doctor tells him you have diabetes. You take this medicine in morning and evening and you absolutely avoid all sugar. So among the two things the doctor had said the taking medicines is the recommendation. That’s what the doctor wants the patient to do. On the other part don’t take sugar. The patient said I can’t live without sugar. No, I can’t live without sugar. I must take sugar. Doctor is ok, you take sugar. Take one sweet once a week. Then the patient comes back and starts telling oh! The doctors has instructed me to take a sweet. Now that is not instruction. That is a not a recommendation, it is a concession. Concession means that what is not necessarily good for me but because I want it I am allowed to do it. Recommendation means I am told to do it.

So the Vedic literatures recommendation is be vegetarian but the concession is you can be non-vegetarian under certain circumstances. What are those circumstances? They are if we perform yagya in which the animal is sacrificed and then after that the animal is offered to Kali or some other devi or devata and then that food is taken that meat is consumed. So this creates certain restrictions. That only on the holy days related with the devi. Only when the proper yagya or proper worship and sacrifice is happening at that time the animal can be sacrificed. So just as the doctor’s purpose is to restrict the eating of the sugar. He would prefer, he would recommend not taking sugar at all. But if the patient is not capable of following that instruction, doctor recommends that you take the medicines regularly and he allowed as a concession to take sugar occasionally.

Now if the patient comes back home and starts telling, my doctor told me to take sugar. That’s his instruction. All of you had make arrangements for giving me sugar. And not only that, he not only misrepresents, the doctor did not recommend, doctor gave a concession but he says he changes it not once a week but every day. Not every day, every day morning, after noon evening doctor instructing him to take a sugar. That is not at all true. So in such a situation the doctor may come and tell that nothing doing, sugar should not be taken at all. Sugar is very harmful. Sugar should not be taken at all. And strongly he rejects. He realizes that the concessions that he had given were misused. And then he dispenses away with the concessions entirely. This is exactly what happened with Lord Buddha.

Now the acharyas in the Vedic tradition recognize Lord Buddha to be an avtar of the Lord, as he is mentioned in the Bhagavat Puran, as he is mentioned in Jaideva Goswami’s Geet Govinda and several others scriptures. But ________, when Lord Buddha came he rejected the Vedic literature because people were misusing there concessions for meat eating and converting them into licenses and justifications for meat eating. So Buddha said I ahimsa paramo dharmo, no meat eating at all. And historically speaking Buddhism also attracted a lot of followers. And then because of the influence of Buddhism when to the natural human moral conscience, the obvious reality of the violence that is involved in killing animals and eating them, even in non sacrificial contexts became obvious then even the Hindu leaders reformed themselves and then they started emphasizing vegetarianism much more strongly. So people who were getting attracted to Buddhism, they were told if you think Buddhism is good because there is vegetarianism in it. Vegetarianism is there in Vedic literature also. So it is not that Hindus adopted vegetarianism because of their influence of Buddhism. The influence of Buddhism brought to fore front what was originally there in the Vedic literature but what had been side lined, what had been neglected. So yes, the development of Buddhism did lead to the increased emphasis on vegetarianism. But that doesn’t mean that vegetarianism is not mentioned in the Vedic literature. It was as, you can see from all these references. But Buddhism did the service of getting back to the fore front in their Hindu tradition.

Now moving forward several of the acharyas starting from Shakaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, these were three great systematizes of Hinduism. In fact from the fifth century B.C to fifth century A.D, Buddhism practically predominated India, and to some extent Jainism also in some parts of India. But from the seventh century onwards when Shankaracharya appeared, there was a great revival of Hinduism. So because still substantially there were people who were Hindus and they were saying that the Vedic literature tell us to eat meat so therefore we have to eat meat. Then the acharyas introduce some further modifications as this based also on the verse which I read out from Manu Samhita- That if at all you say that you have to sacrifice animals, make animals out of clay, make animals out of wheat flour. So if you have to sacrifice a goat, this is not exactly a invention of the acharyas. These references are there in the scriptures but they were brought to the fore front again. Those who started saying that how can you say that meat should not be eaten because the Vedic literature say that in yagya animals have to be sacrificed. So then the acharyas showed references, that indicated that one need not kill living animals. One can just make replica of animals using clay or specially wheat flower.

Similarly in the Kali temple instead of offering Her blood many temples now offer hibiscus flowers. So hibiscus is red in color. Blood is red in color. And Goddess certainly pleased by offering of the hibiscus flower also. Actually the Goddess never wants any meat or blood. But because the worshipers want it, to keep them under regulation, the sacrifices were originally started. Now in the original Vedic literature where are the animals cut and eaten? There are different kind of yagyas depending on the modes of the people who are involved. So the highest level of yagyas are, there if at all animals is used, the animal is put to death using the power of the mantra and then he gets the new body which everybody else sees and he gets the human body or a celestial body and he continues onward getting a jump start, getting a rapid leap forward in the evolution through the Vedic species. But in some other sacrifices, yes because the sacrifices were involving people who wanted to eat meat, so when the animal would be killed, the meat would be eaten also. This was for those people who are in rajo guna and specially in tamo guna, in the modes of passion and especially ignorance. But even these sort of sacrifices were stopped by the acharyas who systematized and revived Hinduism. Now at present the Hindu tradition is largely vegetarian. And all over the world people are recognizing the value of vegetarianism because of the substantial ecological problems created by trying to eat meat. You can refer to the article food for health which is posted below, which give the brief analysis of the problems because of which the world is turning over towards vegetarian food. The Vedic tradition, the Hindu tradition, pioneers in this context. And rather than searching out obscure verses from some Vedic literature to justify ones meat eating. Let us recognize the Vedic tradition, acclaimed vegetarianism right from the beginning. And it was brought into the fore front by Buddhism and now it has become the torch bearer for the rest of the world where the vegetarian alternative is not just the alternative but it is the necessity for the survival of our planet and for the survival of humanity. Thank you.


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