Can You Be Spiritual and Eat Meat and Fish?

Question

I have been very confused as far as meat/fish eating is concerned. I am a pure vegetarian but my husband loves to eat fish and meat. Is he doing something spiritually wrong by having non-veg? Will he be punished by God? His belief is that just like vegetarians kill plants which are living beings too, non-vegetarians kill animals. As a wife, do I have the right to force him to change his eating habits? Or should I let it be and happen when the time comes?

—Vandana, India

Answer

Dear Vandana,

Can You Be Spiritual and Eat Meat?

In the Christian Bible, Jesus Christ is challenged to account for the behavior of his followers who violated one of the dietary rules of orthodox Judaism of his time. His response was, “It is not what goes into a person’s mouth that makes him unclean, but what comes out (in speech, thought, and emotions).”

In Yogananda’s household, being Bengalis, it is my understanding that they ate fish. One time Lahiri Mahasaya (also Bengali) was at a family banquet at which a dish that contained fish was served. He, being omniscient, “read” the thought of Yogananda’s uncle Sarada, curious as to whether Lahiri would partake in that dish.

At one point along the long banquet table, Lahiri leaned forward and, looking down the table at Sarada, announced loudly, “Look, Sarada: I am eating the fish.”

One’s consciousness around their eating is important. Jesus Christ probably ate meat according to the dietary customs of his time.

Though Paramhansa Yogananda counseled his disciples to choose the vegetarian (yogic) diet, he also warned against too rigid an attitude (as did Jesus in the quote above). In fact, being in America for most of his adult life, Yogananda suggested that devotee-yogis avoid the meat of more highly evolved and intelligently self-aware animals (cow and pig) and, if they must have some meat, choose in their stead fish, chicken, or lamb. (Of the three, fish are the least conscious and thus to be preferred on the subject of “killing.”) Yes, we kill vegetables but they are so relatively unaware of being “killed” that the “sin” is negligible.

Yoganandaji cautioned us from becoming dogmatic in matters of diet. He coined the term, “propereatarianism,” to indicate that each person should eat a simple, healthy diet conducive to their temperament, upbringing, and medical needs. Sometimes the killing of animals for food is necessary to sustain human life, for instance in environments where few plant foods are available. So, there can be spiritual reasons to eat meat.

Far better that your husband be a kind and wise person than a mean and selfish vegetarian!  Your quiet tolerance combined with your calming vegetarian diet may do far more over time to win him over than making a fuss over something that is really less important than attitude and behavior. As Yoganandaji would say, “God watches the heart” (not the stomach!). There are great saints (and sinners) in other religions who ate meat and fish regularly.

Is It Spiritually Wrong to Eat Meat?

I suppose as the one who prepares the family meals, you may feel reluctant to prepare a fish or meat dish. If you felt to, say to your husband something like, “If you wish to eat fish or meat that is your choice but I prefer to not prepare meals with such.” On the other hand, perhaps you can live with preparation so long as you don’t have to eat fish or meat.

Paramhansa Yogananda explained it this way: The bigger the animal in size, its consciousness and self awareness, too, is high. He becomes aware of his death when taken to the slaughter house. At that time, emotions like fear, anger, helplessness arise in his mind and these vibrations spread all over his body. When one eats that meat, these poisonous secretions are consumed. These harmful vibrations awaken in that person the same emotions of fear, restlessness, insecurity, and anger. This takes one away from spiritual awakening. Vegetables do not have that high consciousness and by nature they are food for the herbivorous and frugivorous animals.

Swami Sri Yukteswar (Paramhansa Yogananda’s guru), in his book The Holy Science, gives a scientific explanation for being vegetarian. The human body naturally resembles a frugivorous animal. Its teeth and intestines are not made to eat and digest meat. When one does eat meat, it does not get digested easily and bodily functioning gets disturbed. This too becomes a hindrance on the spiritual path.

It is true that as we grow in awareness of the indwelling Self, the Self of all beings and creatures, we are reluctant to harm anyone. Yet in daily living, we necessarily harm many tiny creatures, and, yes, those cauliflowers, too! Life in duality will always be “relative” and our “heart” (our consciousness of God, Self, and Guru) will always be the true “measure of a man.”

Blessings to you!
Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA
www.Hrimananda.org