All Life Is Sacred
The Introduction to the vegetarian cookbook, British Taste, recently published by Science of the Soul, advises us that:
A vegetarian diet that holds all life to be sacred is a first step on our journey towards God-realization. With a commitment to being vegetarians – eating no animal products, including meat, fish, fowl, eggs and anything that contains their by-products – we are making a clear and significant statement that our priority is to honour God and his creation. We are saying that instead of living in a world of exploitation, we are living in a world of love.
A respect for life and the connection between spiritual growth and vegetarianism is not a new concept. If we look into the past, we find numerous well-known figures and schools of religious thought which embraced this way of life. Thousands of years ago Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and the early Greek philosophers – Pythagoras, Plato, Porphyry, Plotinus and others – all endorsed a non-meat diet. Expressing the choice in modern terms, the Introduction continues:
As vegetarians we are practising a lifestyle of compassion and kindness, not only in our personal life but also in relationship to the life of the planet. A vegetarian diet makes less of a negative impact on the resources and health of the earth and helps support the ethical treatment of animals. Positive moral choices have significance far beyond our own personal horizon.
Food is of vital importance to us – without it, we cannot live. It nurtures us, cheers us and, to tell the truth, engages much of our attention. Although we shouldn’t become obsessive, what we eat and how it finds its way to our table deserves care simply because it supports the life of the body, and it is the life of our body that gives us the opportunity to find the life of the spirit. In a section, “Food for spiritual discipline” in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III, Maharaj Sawan Singh tells us:
In the first instance our conduct of life should be good. Wholesome (satvik) food should be prepared from vegetables and cereals purchased out of the hard-earned income acquired by honest means. The person preparing should have wholesome (satvik) ideas and he should repeat and remember God’s name with a peaceful and tranquil mind while preparing the food. The effect of these measures is reflected in the food and in those who eat it. By taking such food there would be peace in their minds and they would readily engage in remembering the Lord.
The relationship between honest earnings and nurture is illustrated in a story which Great Master (Maharaj Sawan Singh) used to tell. It goes like this:
A rich and influential man named Malik once asked Guru Nanak to come to a sumptuous meal at his house. Guru Nanak refused Malik’s invitation but accepted one from Lalo, a poor carpenter who could offer only a coarse and seemingly unappetising menu. When asked why he had chosen to eat at Lalo’s table, Guru Nanak requested a piece of bread from each household. He squeezed each piece in turn. From Malik’s there oozed blood. But from Lalo’s came milk.
The inference we can draw from this story is that the money which bought Malik’s good things was obtained at the expense of other beings – we don’t know at whose expense or how, but we do know that there are plenty of examples of cruel or dishonest lifestyles around us today just as in the past. The reality is that only honesty, hard work and pure intentions will bring us the true sustenance we all crave.
There is a great deal more good advice in the passage quoted above. Maharaj Sawan Singh briefly touches upon the kind of vegetarian food that is good for meditators, advising that it should be satvik or calming. Anyone interested in learning more about the different qualities of various foods can read more in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III, where the nature of satvik food, rajsik food (heating, exciting) and tamsik (that which creates laziness) is explained.
Satvik attributes can be derived not just from the food itself but from the way in which the food is handled and prepared. As Great Master points out, it is so beneficial to carry out simran whilst preparingfood. And why would we not want to celebrate this pleasant activity with the deeper pleasure of remembering our Master? The cookbook Introduction referred to above has something to say about this:
When life is full of responsibilities and too overwhelming, we need to find those activities that can give us a sense of peace and calm. There is something nurturing and satisfying about preparing a meal for loved ones. Even taking a little time to cook for ourselves can dissolve the stress of the day and give us a sense of well-being that is beyond the goodness of the food itself.
It’s even better if we can continue this sense of calm into our mealtime. Food eaten in a rush or whilst watching unpleasant scenes on TV is not going to give good digestion! Family mealtimes can naturally be a little harum-scarum, with children (and adults) hurrying to go on to other activities. So it’s important for parents to keep their cool and to establish a few ground rules. Equally, if we eat alone, a bit of discipline (how many of us slouch on the sofa?) will pay dividends.
Some of us will remember the days when, as children, we were taught to say grace before meals. In schools, the simple lines repeated by many may have become an unconsidered gabble. Nevertheless, “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful”, together with countless other graces in as many languages, still remain a powerful statement. They are powerful because they express the connection between us, the food that sustains us, and God our maker. All life came from him – our life and the life of what we eat. Even the ability to be grateful is in his hands. So let us humbly remember him as we take the nurture he provides.
We are the creators of our destiny. Though it often seems as if pain and suffering are powerful foes that will not allow us to enter the Land of Bliss, we have been given a way to vanquish those enemies of happiness. Right living helps give us the strength to unsheathe the sword of spiritual realization. This weapon is invincible, be sure of that. Hold firmly to what is good and true. Discard the rest. As humans we have the option to choose, at every moment, which way to face: this way or that? Towards freedom or bondage? Spirit or the senses? Compassion or hardness of heart? Carefully decide the direction in which you wish to move. Then go forward – with joy.
Life is Fair