Is Eating Meat and Fish Wrong Spiritually?

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,

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.

A 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.”

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 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.

And, of course, one’s consciousness around their eating is also important. We believe that Jesus Christ probably ate meat according to the dietary customs of his time.

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 would prefer not to have to 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.

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.

Far better that your husband be a kind and wise person than a mean and selfish vegetarian! Don’t you think? Your quiet tolerance combined with your calm 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. Does this make sense?

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.

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