Tuesday, March 29, 2011

“Animals are not vegetables” - a meeting with the Dalai Lama

Although the traditional Tibetan diet is heavily meat-based – a function of the arid Tibetan climate – decades of exile in India (the Dalai Lama) and exodus to the West (many of his fellow Tibetans) have resulted in a growing appetite among Tibetans for ethical vegetarianism. It hasn't hurt that the Dalai Lama himself has been an increasingly outspoken advocate for animal rights and welfare, as we see in the following post by Dr. Nanditha Krishna who recently met with the Dalai Lama as a member of a delegation from the Tibetan Medical Centres of India.

Men Tsee Khang, the Tibetan Medical Centre headquartered in Dharamshala, which is the location of the Tibetan Government-in-exile, celebrated its 50th anniversary on March 23rd, 2011. The Centre's medicines are made of herbs and a few minerals. The herbs are sourced in the upper reaches of the Himalayas and are very rare and highly endangered. Tibet, the original source, is not accessible.
No animal products are used.  Compassion, the Dalai Lama’s message, is gaining ground.
Last year, His Holiness ordered the closing of all piggeries and chicken farms run by Tibetans. “The poor hens are shut in a cage all their lives,” he told me. He even closed down the egg-laying farms. “After two or three years, the hens are sold for slaughter. This is not good.  Raising animals for commercial purposes is not good.”
In Ladakh, he has started shelters for sheep and goats taken to slaughter. He buys them and lets them live till they die a natural death.
He has ordered that only vegetarian food should be served in all official Tibetan functions, an important step forward.  The pre-function dinner and post-function lunch hosted by the Tibetan Medical Centre were both vegetarian.  Wonderful

All of the food served to the monks is vegetarian as well.
Unfortunately, the Buddha himself was ambivalent about meat eating, saying neither yea nor nay. While the Mahaparinirvana Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra quote the Buddha as positively speaking out against meat-eating, both Vajrayana (Tibetan) and Theravada (Sri Lankan) Vinayas permit meat-eating “if the animal is not killed specifically for you.”
“A Buddhist monk is a bhikshu, who cannot say I will eat this and not eat that. He has to eat whatever he is given, even if it is meat,” said the Dalai Lama.  “Only Chinese Mahayana Buddhism totally bans meat” (hence the Chinese Buddhist vegetarian restaurants).
The Lamas agree that vegetarianism is the highest form of compassion. But neither they nor their followers are vegetarian. “It may be difficult to be a vegetarian in Tibet, where nothing grows. But we get everything in India. It is not necessary to eat meat,” said the venerable Geshe Lhador.  But he too is not a vegetarian.
“Animals are not vegetables. They are intelligent. They feel pain and suffering like human beings,” said the Dalai Lama. “Freedom is liberation from suffering. All creation must have freedom from suffering. Compassion is my message.”
This was part of a 90 minute conversation I had with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who had invited the “sponsors” of the Tibetan Medical Centres in India and abroad, of whom I am one, to meet him.  The Dalai Lama is charming and charismatic, a powerful speaker who intersperse his words with jokes and laughter, lightening a serious moment.  He smiles often, yet does not mince his words.
The “release” of animals (especially fish) on Buddhist festivals causes untold misery. Salt water fish are released in fresh water and vice versa. Sea turtles are released on land and re-sold. Birds are caught, sold for release, and re-caught again. I mentioned this to him.
“I cannot order people to stop eating meat,” said the Dalai Lama, “But I speak of cruelty and compassion. When I visited Taiwan after the typhoon, I was horrified to see the way shrimps and fish were stored and sold. I said that even as the typhoon had caused great harm to the people, it had liberated the fish and shrimps who were washed back into the sea.”
“What is your solution to this practice?” Geshe Lhador, a senior Lama and Director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives threw the question at me, when I discussed this.
My solution?  Walk into a chicken farm and release the birds, I replied.  Release those in captivity. But do not buy animals to release them, for that is a profitable venture. He agreed, but he is a scholar who is far from the public eye. It is up to lay Buddhists to change this practice.
What is ahimsa? Is it merely non-ahimsa or non-killing. “Ahimsa is the practice of compassion. It is a dynamic force. Compassion and wisdom are the two sides of ahimsa,” said Geshe Lhador. Nor is the cow sacred to the Buddhists. “Ahimsa is the active practice of compassion.”
I was pleasantly surprised to see several vegetarian restaurants run by Tibetans. The food is a mixture of Tibetan, Chinese, Indian and American (pizzas and burgers). Most of the clients are Europeans and Israelis who live in Mc Leodganj and Dharamkot. But I also saw many young Tibetans there. And the young alone can fuel change.
It is not fair to target the Tibetans when the whole world is cruel to and consumes animals. But the Dalai Lama bears the burden of the Buddha’s legacy. And that is why people look at him to set an example in the practice of compassion.
We all praised the efficacy of Tibetan medicine to His Holiness. Prayer is a major part of the production and prescription process. The “Special Pills” are blessed and must be taken before dawn – the Brahma muhurtha of Hindu tradition – with a prayer to the Medicine Buddha (Never good at learning new lines, I repeat “Om Namo Narayanaya” at 3.30 a.m.)  
“When allopathic medicine doesn’t work, Tibetan medicine does. And if Tibetan medicine not work, allopathic medicine does,” joked the Dalai Lama.  His Holiness was appalled at the cruelty to animals in medical research and testing. “We must do research and develop scientifically. I keep telling Men Tsee Khang. But no testing on animals. No animal products. Medicines must be made with compassion.”
Why are we targeting the Dalai Lama alone? Why don’t European animal welfare organizations target the Pope? Or the Archbishop of Canterbury? If vegetarianism is not a Christian tradition, it is not a Buddhist tradition either. Monks are bhikshus (literally, beggars) and must eat whatever is given to them by a lay person. That is what the Buddha taught. They cannot say we won’t eat this, or that they want only vegetables, not meat. Even in the Buddha’s time they ate whatever was placed in their bowl, according to Buddhist tradition.
This is a fact. A Buddhist bhikshu or Hindu sanyasi can eat only the food that is placed in his bowl. The difference is in the followers. Buddhists have no hesitation in placing mutton curry in the monk’s bowl. Hindus would never dream of putting any non-vegetarian food in a sanyasi’s bowl. It is the ultimate insult. The blame lives with the Buddha who permitted his monks to eat whatever was given to them, not the Dalai Lama. So why target a man who was born on the Roof of the World and now lives in the Himalayas which are covered in snow from October to March? Start with the Pope and the Archbishop, who have the best choice of grains, fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, I do not hear any European animal welfare group targeting these powerful religious leaders.
The Dalai Lama carries the entire burden of a people without a nation on his shoulders. If he were to start preaching vegetarianism to Japanese, Taiwanese, South East Asian and Sri Lankan Buddhists, he would probably lose any support they give the Tibetans. They cannot own land in India and live on a subsistence economy. So, he speaks of compassion towards all life forms, especially animals, of their pain and suffering, intelligence and comprehension.
“What is freedom?” asked a lady in our group. “It is freedom from suffering. It is moksha*,” replied His Holiness, a true Buddhist (*moksha = nirvana = liberation).
Dr. Nanditha Krishna is an historian, writer and environmentalist.  Director of the C.P.Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre, both headquartered in Chennai, India, she is also a governing Body member of the Blue Cross of India, Founder-President of the Blue Cross of Kanchipuram and author of Sacred Animals of India (Penguin). The C.P.Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation hosts the Men-tsee-khang - a  full-time Tibetan medical clinic with a doctor and compounder - in Chennai, India.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

protecting religious minorities

A few years ago, on one of his broadcasts, TV preacher Pat Robertson was quoted as saying, "We want a secular constitution, we want to make sure religious minorities are protected..." But he wasn't talking about the United States--he was talking about Afghanistan...where Christians are a minority!

Similarly, in the October 2006 issue of Church & State, the periodical put out by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Gary B. Christenot, an evangelical Christian writes about his experience on the Hawaiian island of Wahiawa, where Christians are a minority:

"...in this little village that was populated predominantly by people of Japanese and Chinese ancestry. Rather than a church on every corner, as is common in the continental 48 states, Wahiawa had a Shinto or Buddhist shrine on every corner."

Christenot says that prayers before a high school football game were led "not by a Protestant minister or a Catholic priest, but a Buddhist priest who proceeded to offer up prayers and intonations to god-head figures that our tradition held to be pagan."

He concludes: "I would say in love to my Christian brothers and sisters: Before you yearn for the imposition of prayer and similar rituals in your public schools, you might consider attending a football game at Wahiawa High School. Because unless you're ready to endure the unwilling exposure of yourself and your children to those beliefs and practices that your own faith forswears, you have no right to insist that others sit in silence and complicity while you do the same to them.

"I, for one, sleep better at night knowing that because Judeo-Christian prayers are not being offered at my children's schools, I don't have to worry about them being confronted with Buddhist, Shinto, Wiccan, Satanic or any other prayer ritual I might find offensive."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

India's contributions to humanity

A letter writer to my local paper claims that because “intellectually enlightened Western European Christians came to America 400 years ago,” America does not “resemble Laos, India, Ethiopia or Iran,” but instead possesses “the cities and the institutions that are the envy of the world.” This statement appears to be based more on prejudice than on fact.

There have been numerous civilizations throughout history; many were learned in the arts, sciences, humanities and metaphysics. Athens, for example, was a democracy devoted to human excellence in mind and body, to philosophy, and to the cultivation of the art of living. While Christianity kept the West in the Dark Ages for over a millennium, the civilizations in Asia were flourishing.

“India was the motherland of our race and Sanskrit the mother of European languages,” wrote American Scholar Will Durant in Our Oriental Heritage. “She was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India, in many ways, is the mother of us all.”

Historian A. Kalyanaraman supports Durant’s observations in his 1969 text, Aryatarangini, by citing evidence from the principle Hindu scriptures, known as the Vedas, as well as the testimony of Megasthenes. Megasthenes journeyed from the Greco-Roman world to India during the 3rd century BC. He served as an ambassador to the court of Chandragupta, where he had been sent by the king of Taxila. Kalyanaraman finds a great deal of political freedom and equality in ancient India, where social mobility was acknowledged.

The Vedas describe numerous sages who were of low birth, but were considered by their virtue to have been raised to the highest status. The Greek Megasthenes observed: “The law ordains that none among them under any circumstances be a slave; enjoying freedom, they shall expect the equal right to it which others possess...All Indians are free and not one of them is a slave. The Indians do not use even aliens as slaves; much less a countryman of their own.”

The earliest moral and legal codes (Dharma-sastras and Niti-sastras) originated in India, as did the earliest representative institutions (Sabha and Parishad). A Western text, India: Yesterday and Today, also says, “the four orders...of Hindu society...were classes in the Western sense rather than castes in the Indian manner.”

Long before Columbus’ era, India had a reputation throughout the world for its opulence. “The part of India known as Malabar,” wrote Marco Polo, “was the richest and noblest country in the world.” Kalyanaraman writes that Egypt traded ivory, precious stones, gold and sandalwood with India, while Rome traded Indian spices—mostly cinnamon and cassia. The Puranas mention sandalwood from Malaysia. Ancient India’s epic poem, the Mahabharata, even compares the women of the Mediterranean to the goddesses of the higher worlds.

The Rig Veda, one of four Vedas, refers to metallurgy. The Vedas also refer to mining iron ore, copper, brass and bronze. By the 6th century AD, India was far ahead of Europe in industrial chemistry. The Hindus were masters at calcination, distillation, sublimation, steaming, making anesthetics, soporific powders, metallic salts, compounds and alloys. India was producing steel during the era of Alexander. Centuries later, steel would be introduced to Europe by the Muslims.

The Vedas mention herbal medicines. They also discuss various afflictions and symptoms, and prescribe cures, depending on whether the disease is chronic and acute, and contagious or non-contagious. Jivaka (6th century BC) was adept at surgical operations such as trepanning of the skull, abdominal openings to cure hernia, etc.

Panini’s classical work on grammar, the Ashtadhyani contains a comprehensive list of parts of the body (human anatomy) as well as rare and common diseases. He further describes ligaments, sutres, lymphatics, nerve plexus, adipose and vascular tissues, mucous and synovial membranes with astonishing accuracy. Susruta dealt with surgery, obstetrics, dieting, baths, drugs, infant feeding, personal hygiene and medicinal education. He also understood the process of digestion and the functions of the stomach and liver.

The ancient Sanskrit literatures contain the Manu-Samhita, which has been called the religious lawbook for mankind—comparable to Mosaic Law or the Sharia. These Laws of Manu warn against marrying someone with tuberculosis, epilepsy and chronic dyspepsia. A remarkably accurate account of prenatal human development—from fertilization to birth—is given in the third canto of the Bhagavata Purana, one of Hinduism’s most revered devotional texts.

Bhavamisra, in 1550, detailed the circulation of blood in a book written on anatomy and physiology, a century before the West. Susruta described cataract surgery, hernia, cesarean section, the dissection of cadavers and the use of skin grafts to repair a torn ear. Rhinoplasty (fixing a broken nose) was a common practice. A drug called “sammohini” was used as an anesthetic. Ancient in Indians were experts in plastic surgery until the 18th century. They knew the importance of taking a pulse. They were aware that mosquito bites transmit diseases as far back as the 6th century BC.

Square roots and cube roots and the “Pythagorean” theorem are mentioned in the Sulbha Sutras of Bodhayana. (700 BC) Bodhayana also calculated the areas of triangles, circles, and trapezoids and determined pi = 3.14136 when measuring and constructing altars. Aryabhata (5th century AD) drew up a table of sines and provided India with a system of trigonometry more sophisticated than that of the Greeks. Ancient mathematical texts such as the Jyotisha Vedanga dealt with geometry, fractions, quadratic and cubic equations, algebra, permutations and combinations.

In the West, we have been taught to call our base-ten system of numeration (which replaced Roman numerals) “Arabic numerals.” India gave the world the base-ten numerical system, our modern numerical script, and the concept of zero as a placeholder and a numerically recorded quantity. Indian mathematics came to the West through the Arabs. The Arabs called mathematics “Hindisat,” or “Indian art.”

Before Newton, Bhaskara (1150 AD) was well-acquainted with the principles of differential calculus and the concept of infinity. Astronomers such as Vachaspati (800 AD) anticipated the foundations of solid coordinate geometry centuries before Descartes. They also explained the movement of celestial bodies in terms of the earth’s rotation and motion about the sun. Charaka, a physician from the 7th century BC, described the wave motion of light, had a calendar of 12 lunar months and classified stars into zodiacal constellations.

India had rockets in the late 18th century; they were even used in military battles against the British. This generated interest in rocket technology in England. The Indian people built “iron forts and thousand pillared halls” and were described by observers as adorning themselves in silk, wool, linen and cotton.

Although it is an agnostic moral philosophy, Buddhism teaches a consistent ethic of reverence for all life. No wars have ever been waged in the name of Buddhism. Similarly, the act of abortion is explicitly condemned in the Buddhist canonical scriptures.

Sir Edwin Arnold’s poetic biography on Siddhartha Gautama, The Light of Asia, caused quite a controversy in Victorian England: centuries before Jesus, an earlier teacher lived “the Christ life.”

The ethical teachings of the Buddha are quite similar to those found in the Gospel of Jesus: One must never be proud, nor harbor anger against anyone. He who humbles himself shall be exalted, while the one who exalts himself shall be degraded. Harsh language must never be used against anyone.

Avoid lust, anger and greed. One should not scrutinize the mote in a neighbor’s eye without first noticing the beam in one’s own. One must “turn the other cheek” if attacked or abused. One’s own possessions must be shared with the less fortunate. If a man obtained the whole world and its riches, he still would not be satisfied, nor would this save him.

In 261 BC, the Indian emperor Ashoka witnessed firsthand the innumerable casualties he caused during one of his many military campaigns. His heart was filled with grief. He converted to Buddhism. 19th century scholar and writer H.G. Wells considered Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism one of the most significant events in world history.

Ashoka, formerly a bloody and ruthless emperor, became a remarkably kind and gentle leader. Ashoka established some of the first animal rights laws. He stopped the royal hunt, the sacrifice of animals in his capital city, the killing of animals for food in the royal kitchens, and gave up the eating of meat. Ashoka made it illegal to kill many species of animals, such as parrots, ducks, geese, bats, turtles, squirrels, monkeys and rhinos.

He forbade the killing of pregnant animals, or animals that were nursing their young. He declared certain days to be “non-killing days,” on which fish could not be caught, nor any other animals killed. He established wells and watering holes, places of rest and hospitals for humans and animals alike.

Ashoka educated his people to have compassion for animals, and to refrain from killing or harming them. He sent missionaries to all the neighboring kingdoms to teach mercy, compassion and nonviolence. Through Ashoka’s patronage, Buddhism was spread all over the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism would eventually reach the rest of Asia; today there are an estimated 300 to 600 million Buddhists worldwide.

For thousands of years, India has enjoyed music, orchestral bands, dance, song, stage acting and all the other fine arts. A. Kalyanaraman writes that in comparison to other parts of the world, slavery was virtually nonexistent. There did exist various forms of indentured servitude, but none as brutal as in the West.

Kalyanaraman further insists that the whole of Southeast Asia received most of its culture from India. India gave the world rice, cotton, sugarcane, spices and chess. Indian philosophy and metaphysics can be found in Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, Emerson, Thoreau, and Schopenhauer. India has much to offer the West. India’s real treasure is her spiritual heritage.

“What extracts from the Vedas I have read fall on me like the light of a higher and purer stratum,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in his Journal. “The religion and philosophy of the Hebrews are those of a wilder and ruder tribe, wanting the civility and intellectual refinements and civility of Vedic culture.”

Thoreau also compared Bhagavad-gita, or “The Lord’s Song,” with the New Testament. He concluded: “The New Testament is remarkable for its pure morality, the best of the Vedic Scripture for its pure intellectuality. The reader is nowhere raised into and sustained in a bigger, purer or rarer region of thought than in the Bhagavad-gita. The Gita’s ‘sanity and sublimity’ have impressed the minds even of soldiers and merchants.”

In chapter 16 of Walden, Thoreau exclaimed: “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seems puny and trivial.”

“I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson on Hinduism’s most sacred text. “It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spake to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions that exercise us.”

History must not be written from a Western, colonialist perspective. These are just some of India’s contributions to humanity.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

the holy names

Hindu cosmology views time in vast cycles lasting hundreds of thousands of years, with phases of light and darkness corresponding to the level of spiritual awareness on the planet. According to the scriptures, men and women in previous ages were endowed with heroic and godly qualities. The supernatural was commonplace and miraculous events were ordinary.

In his lucid translation and commentary of the Bhagavata Purana (1:17:6-8), A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami writes that people in ancient times were godly. They enjoyed thousand-year lifespans, and the earth was ruled by saintly kings (“rajarishis”), who were annointed by God. These noble rulers cared for both their human and nonhuman subjects: “men and animals were equally protected as far as life was concerned. That is the way in God’s kingdom.”

According to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, such moral concern is required of today’s leaders: “The protection of the lives of both the human beings and the animals is the first and foremost duty of a government. A government must not discriminate in such principles.”

The Hindu scriptures warn against atheism, licentiousness, and unnecessary violence. The sages teach that gradual forgetfulness of God and religious principles will only lead to moral degeneration and greater human suffering.

According to the Hindu scriptures, our current age, known as Kali Yuga, the iron age, is one of spiritual darkness, violence and hypocrisy. The Bhagavata Purana 12:2:31 records Kali Yuga as having begun when the constellation of the seven sages (Saptarishi) passed through the lunar mansion of Magha.

Vedic astrologers have calculated this to have been 2:27 a.m. on February 20, 3102 B.C. The beginning of Kali Yuga took place 36 years after Lord Krishna, an incarnation of God, spoke Bhagavad-gita (the Lord's Song) to His disciple Arjuna.

The scriptures teach that during the 432,000 year age of Kali, humanity deteriorates and falls into barbarism. Humans begin to indiscriminately butcher innocent animals for food. They fall under the spell of intoxication. They lose all sexual restraint. Families break up. Women and children are abused and abandoned. Increasingly degraded generations, conceived accidentally in lust and growing up wild, swarm all over the world.

Political leadership falls into the hands of unprincipled rogues, criminals and terrorists, who use their power to exploit the people. Entire populations are enslaved and put to death. The world teems with fanatics, extremists and spiritual con artists, who win huge followings among a people completely dazed by hedonism, as well as by cultural and moral relativism. “Religion, truthfulness, cleanliness, tolerance, mercy, physical strength and memory diminish with each passing day.” (Bhagavata Purana 12:2:1)

The saints and sages of ancient India describe the people of this age as greedy, ill-behaved, and merciless. In this age, states the Bhagavata Purana, merely possessing wealth is considered a sign of good birth, proper behavior, and fine qualities. Law and justice are determined by one’s prestige and power.

Marriage ceases to exist as a holy union—men and women simply live together on the basis of bodily attraction and verbal agreement, and only for sexual pleasure. Women wander from one man to another. Men no longer look after their parents in their old age, and fail to provide for their own children. One’s beauty is thought to depend on one’s hairstyle. Filling the belly is said to be the only purpose in life. Cows are killed once their milk production drops. Religious observances are performed solely for the sake of reputation.

The Linga Purana (Ch. 40) describes the human race in Kali Yuga as a vain and stupid people “spurred on by the lowest instincts.” They prefer false ideas and do not hesitate to persecute sages. They are tormented by bodily desires. Severe droughts and plagues are everywhere. Slovenliness, illness, hunger and fear spread. Nations are continually at war with one another. The number of princes and farmers decline. Heroes are assassinated. The working classes want to claim regal power and enjoy royal wealth. Kings become thieves. They take to seizing property, rather than protecting the citizenry.

The new leaders emerge from the laborer class and begin to persecute religious people, saints, teachers, intellectuals, and philosophers. Civilization lacks any kind of divine guidance. The sacred books are no longer revered. False doctrines and misleading religions spread across the globe. Children are killed in the wombs of their mothers. Women who have relations with several men are numerous. The number of cows diminishes.

The Linga Purana says that in Kali Yuga, young women freely abandon their virginity. Women, children, and cows—always protected in an enlightened society—are abused and killed during the iron age. Thieves are numerous and rapes are frequent. There are many beggars and widespread unemployment. Merchants operate corrupt businesses. Diseases, rats, and foul substances plague the populace. Water is lacking. Fruits are scarce. Everyone uses vulgar language.

The men of Kali Yuga only seek money. Only the rich have power. People without money are their slaves. The leaders of the state no longer protect the people, but plunder the citizenry through excessive taxation. Farmers abandon living close to nature. They become unskilled laborers in congested cities. Many dress in rags, or are unemployed, and sleep on the streets. Through the fault of the government, infant mortality rates are high. False gods are worshipped in false ashrams, in which pilgrimages, penances, charities and austerities are all concocted.

People in this age eat their food without washing beforehand. Monks break their vows of celibacy. Cows are kept alive only for their milk. Water is scarce. Many people watch the skies, praying for rain. No rain comes. The fields become barren. Suffering from famine and poverty, many attempt to migrate to countries where food is more readily available. People are without joy and pleasure. Many commit suicide. Men of small intelligence are influenced by atheistic doctrines. Family, clan and caste are all meaningless. Men are without virtues, purity or decency. (Vishnu Purana 6.1)

This age of Kali lasts 432,000 years. It will be followed by a return to Satya Yuga, a golden age of light. This will be brought about by Lord Kalki, the next incarnation of God. Religious life and devotion to God are virtually impossible during Kali Yuga. This is a cruel, savage, bloodthirsty, licentious age, where “God is dead,” and religion is a dirty word. The saints and sages of ages past enjoyed a very exalted state of devotion by constant prayer and meditation upon the Lord: saturating the mind with God consciousness.

In Kali Yuga, the masses are incapable of practicing severe austerities, subjecting themselves to strict mental and physical discipline, and then mediating upon God for years on end. As part of the “TV generation,” our attention span and ability to focus are limited, and we demand instant gratification. Moreover, we tend to live in congested urban metropolises, rather than on farms and in forests, which promote a more tranquil state of mind. Classical forms of yoga and meditation are impractical in this age.

Those prepared to devote themselves to the Lord, center their lives around Him, learn to love Him with all their heart, soul, and mind, forsaking the pleasures of the world and the flesh, need not despair. The Bhagavata Purana describes the Kali Yuga as a time of sorrow, strife and irreligion, but concludes (12:3:51) that it has one redeeming aspect—the saving grace of God is in His holy name:

“My dear King, although Kali Yuga is an ocean
of faults, there is still one good quality about
this age. Simply by glorifying Lord Krishna
one can become liberated and promoted to
the transcendental kingdom.

“When people properly glorify the Supreme
Lord or simply hear about His power, the
Lord personally enters their hearts and
cleanses away every trace of misfortune,
just as the sun removes the darkness or
as a powerful wind drives away the clouds.”

We are spiritual beings, meant to dwell eternally in God’s presence in the spiritual kingdom. We are not meant to be embodied and re-embodied in fragile vehicles of flesh. The spiritual pleasures and ecstasies which the liberated souls experience in their personal relationships with God are infinitely greater than anything this transitory world or a body of decaying flesh can ever provide.

God is personally present within the sound of His holy name. To chant to Lord’s name is to associate directly with God Himself. By the grace of the holy name, the soul is awakened and put directly in touch with God. Chanting the holy names actually revives one’s original, spiritual consciousness. The worshipper gradually becomes absorbed in things of the spirit rather than the flesh or the mundane world. Eventually, one realizes his or her real identity as a soul—a pure spiritual being, full of knowledge, eternity, and bliss—always enjoying the association of the Lord.

The name of the Lord is thus praised as salvation—giving the faithful the gift of eternal life beyond repeated birth and death and the changing cycles of time in this material world. The Mahabharata, ancient India’s epic poem of heroism, tragedy and divine intervention, contains the Vishnu-Sahasranama, or the “One Thousand Names of Lord Vishnu.” The names of God are set down in mantras, or divine hymns.

The Sanskrit literatures are diverse and contain a vast body of knowledge. The one hundred eight principle Upanishads tend to focus primarily on spiritual wisdom, while the eighteen Puranas contain historical narrations from the distant past, when humans were pious, civilizations were more enlightened and the miraculous was ordinary. The Kali-santarana Upanishad emphasizes chanting:

“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama Rama, Hare Hare”

to counteract the ill effects of this present age of spiritual darkness, while the Brihan-naradiya Purana emphatically states three times that there is no alternative for spiritual deliverance in this age other than chanting God’s holy names. Traditionally, the Lord is glorified congregationally, with drums, cymbals and dance, or He may be praised individually, in silent prayer, upon rosary beads.

Every genuine religious tradition in the world teaches that God’s names are holy and meant to be glorified. The Bible contains numerous references to glorifying God and His holy name. (Exodus 15:3; Deuteronomy 32:2-3; I Chronicles 16:8-36; Psalms 29:2, 47:1, 86:11, 91:14, 96:1-3, 97:12, 98:4-6, 113:3, 116:1-17, 146:1, 148:1-5, 13)

The Lord and His name are praised throughout the Psalms. “I will praise the name of God with a song,” says King David. (Psalm 69:30) In other places we read: “All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord: and shall glorify Thy name.” (Psalm 86:9)

“O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the people. Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him: talk ye of all His wondrous works. Glory ye in His holy name.” (Psalms 105:1-4) “...Praise Him with the timbrel and the dance; praise Him upon the loud cymbals.” (Psalm 150:4-5)

Israel Baal Shem Tov (1699-1761), the great Jewish mystic, founded Hasidism, a popular pietist movement within Judaism, in which members dance and chant in glorification of God. The Hasidism were especially influenced by verses in Psalms calling for the joyful worship of the Lord through song. (Psalms 100:1,2, 104:33)

According to The Jewish Almanac:

“In the Jewish tradition the name actually partakes of the essence of God. Thus, knowledge of the name is a vehicle to God, a conveyor of divine energy, an interface between the Infinite and the finite...

"It is curious that a tradition that places such a strong emphasis on the one God possesses such a large number of names for the divine. Each name, however, actually represents a different quality or aspect of God.”

When teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus Christ glorified God’s holy name: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” (Matthew 6:9) Jesus also approved of his disciples’ singing joyfully in praise of God. (Luke 19:36-40) Of his own name, Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

The apostle Paul told his gentile followers to speak to one another in psalms and hymns, to sing heartily and make music to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19) He further taught them to instruct and admonish one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. (Colossians 3:16)

Paul wrote to his gentile congregation in Rome: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) According to the historian Eusebius, there was “one common consent in chanting forth the praises of God,” in the early Christian churches. The Gregorian chants, popularized in the sixth century by Pope Gregory and later by works like Handel’s masterpiece the Messiah, with its resounding choruses of “hallelujah” (which means “praised be the name of God” in Hebrew), are still performed and appreciated all over the world.

In addition to praising the Lord’s name and glories through music, song, and dance, there has also emerged the practice of meditating upon God by chanting upon beads of prayer. St. John Chrysostom of the Greek Orthodox church, recommended the “prayerful invocation of the name of God,” which he said should be “uninterrupted.”

The repetition of the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”) became a regular practice among members of the Eastern Church. In The Way of a Pilgrim, a Russian monk describes this form of meditation:

“The continuous interior prayer of Jesus is a constant, uninterrupted calling upon the divine name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart...One who accustoms himself to this appeal experiences...so deep a consolation and so great a need to offer the prayer always, that he can no longer live without it.”

“Perhaps you’ve heard about Hesychasm, a technique of mantra meditation that was employed by Christians as far back as the third century after Christ,” says the Reverend Alvin Hart, an Episcopalian priest in New York. “The method was the simple chanting of ‘the Jesus prayer,’ which runs like this: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.’ I personally have found great comfort in this mantra.”

According to Reverend Hart, “Although it was recently popularized by the New Age movement...’the Jesus Prayer’ has a long and venerable tradition in the Philokalia, an important book on Christian mysticism. The word Philokalia literally means ‘the love of spiritual beauty,’ and I can say that the book definitely brings its readers to that level of appreciation...

“The Philokalia also emphasizes the importance of accepting a spiritual master. The Greek words used are starets and geront, but they basically mean the same thing. The result of chanting under a proper master is theosis, or the ‘respiritualization of the personality.’”

Reverend Hart says, “When we call on God—and we should learn how to do this at every moment, even in the midst of our day-to-day work—we should be conscious of Him, and then our prayer will have deeper effects, deeper meaning. This, I know, is the basic idea of Krishna Consciousness. In the Christian tradition, too, we are told to ALWAYS pray ceaselessly. This is a biblical command. (I Thessalonians 5:17)

“In a sense, this could also be considered the heart of the Christian process as well. For instance, in the Latin Mass, before the Gospel is read, there is a prayer spoken by the priest: dominus sit in corde meo et in labiis meis, which means, ‘May the Lord be in my heart and on my lips.’ What better way is there to have God on one’s lips than by chanting the holy name?

"Therefore, the Psalms tell us that from ‘the rising of the sun to its setting’ the Lord’s name is to be praised. And Paul echoes this idea by telling us that ‘whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Romans 10:13)”

Dr. Klaus Klostermaier notes that meditation and prayer are “important in the Christian tradition, at least for certain sects and monastic orders...In the Philokalia and in the path recommended by The Pilgrim, you find the...’Jesus Prayer,’ which may be unknown to most Christians today, but was very powerful in its time.

So people are aware of the potency of ‘the name’ and the importance of focusing on it as a mantra...But it must be done with devotion...The idea of logos, or ‘the Word,’ has elaborate theological meaning that is intimately tied to the nature of Jesus and, indeed, to the nature of God.”

“All the basic principles of bhakti yoga are richly exemplified in Christianity,” writes Dr. Houston Smith in The Religions of Man. Dr. Smith is a Professor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His 1958 book is used as a standard text in major universities. Dr. Smith explains the fundamental principle of bhakti or devotion:

“All we have to do in this yoga is to love God dearly—not just say we love Him but love Him in fact, love Him only (loving other things because of Him), and love Him for no ulterior reason (not even from the desire for liberation) but for love’s sake alone...

“...every strengthening of our affections toward God will weaken the world’s grip. The saint may, indeed will, love the world far more than the addict, but he will love it in a very different way, seeing in it the reflected glory of the God he adores.

“How is this love of God to be developed?” asks Dr. Smith. “Japam is the practice of repeating the names of God. It finds a close Christian parallel in one of the classics of Russian Orthodoxy, The Way of a Pilgrim. This book is the story of an unnamed peasant whose first concern is to fulfill the Biblical injunction to ‘Pray without ceasing.’

“He wanders through Russia and Siberia with a knapsack of dried bread for food and the charity of men for shelter, consulting many authorities only to come away empty-hearted until at last he meets a holy man who teaches him ‘a constant, uninterrupted calling upon the divine Name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart...at all times, in all places, even during sleep.’

“The peasant’s teacher trains him until he can repeat the name of Jesus more than 12,000 times a day without strain. ‘This frequent service of the lips imperceptibly becomes a genuine appeal of the heart.’ The prayer becomes a constant warming presence within him...a ‘bubbling joy.’ ‘Keep the name of the Lord spinning in the midst of all your activities’ is the Hindu statement of the same point.”

Dr. Guy Beck’s Ph.D. thesis, Sonic Theology: Hinduism and the Soteriological Function of Sacred Sound examines the doctrine that the Word or divine sounds can have a “salvific” effect. Examining the Vaishnava (orthodox Hindu) practice of chanting God’s names upon beads of prayer, he observes: “...a work from the sixth century A.D., entitled the Jayakhya-Samhita, contains...many early references to the practice of japa.

“It says that there are three considerations in doing japa repetitions—employing the rosary (the akshamala), saying the words aloud (vachika) or repeating them in a low voice (upamshu). There are quite a few details in this text, garnered from early sources, and so a case can be made for a pre-Islamic, and even pre-Christian, use of beads or rosary in the Vaishnava tradition.”

Because the Roman Catholics did not begin using rosary or japa beads until the era of St. Dominic, or the 12th century, Dr. Beck concludes, “the Vaishnavas were chanting japa from very early on.”

In Islam, the names of God are held sacred and meditated upon. According to tradition, there are ninety-nine names of Allah, found inscribed upon monuments such as the Taj Mahal and on the walls of mosques. These names are chanted on an Islamic rosary, which consists of three sets of thirty-three beads.

The Sikh religion is a blend of Hinduism and Islam. The Sikhs emphasize the name of God, calling Him “Nama,” or “the Name.” Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, prayed, “In the ambrosial hours of the morn I meditate on the grace of the true Name,” and says that he was instructed by God in a vision to “Go and repeat My Name, and cause others to do likewise.”

Rosaries are used in Buddhism. Members of Japan’s largest Buddhist order, the Pure Land sect, practice repetition of the name of the compassionate Buddha (“namu amida butsu”). Founder, Shinran Shonin says, “The virtue of the Holy Name, the gift of him that is enlightened, is spread throughout the world.” Followers believe that through the name of Buddha a worshipper is liberated from repeated birth and death and joins the Buddha in the “Pure Land.”

Religions all over the world teach that God’s name is holy and meant to be glorified. The saving grace of a personal God is our only real shelter in Kali Yuga. As this age continues, human piety diminishes. Animal slavery. Human slavery. AIDS. Abortion. The Nazi Holocaust. The annihilation of the Native Americans. The “killing fields” of Cambodia. Drug abuse. These are merely the tip of the iceberg—a preview of things to come.

At the end of this age (427,000 years from now), the human race will have turned the earth into a wasteland. Humans will be cannibalizing their own children, and the life expectancy will be around 20 to 30 years.

It is at this point in time that Lord Kalki, the next predicted incarnation of God, will appear. The scriptures say He will appear as the son of a brahmana (priest) whose name is Vishnu-yasa, in a village called Shambhala. There is a place in India with that name, so perhaps it is there that the Lord will appear.

Kalki is depicted riding a horse and carrying a sword. Humanity is so fallen at this point that there is no other remedy, apart from total destruction of the human population, to save the world. Kalki judges the world.

The Linga Purana describes “mlecchas” (barbarians) killed by the thousands by Lord Kalki, along with the thieves who have seized royal power. The Lord then re-establishes pure civilization and annoints a God-conscious king to rule on His behalf. The earth re-enters a phase of enlightenment, and the cycle of time continues.

The prophecies given in these Sanskrit texts are consistent with Western apocalyptic literature such as the Book of Revelations. The Western traditions of a coming or a returning “messiah” presiding over the end of the world, judgement day and the restoration of paradise on earth, however, are seen in Hindu cosmology as cyclical events.

The coming “Satya Yuga,” or golden age, has been expressed in the American popular culture as the dawning of the Aquarian or “New Age.” However, one need not wait 427,000 years for enlightenment. One can be saved immediately by taking shelter of the Lord’s holy names:

“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama Rama, Hare Hare”

Chanting “Hare Krishna” liberates one’s consciousness from the physical world by placing the self directly in contact with the Lord. Individually and collectively, chanting counteracts the ill effects of Kali Yuga. Chanting cleanses the dust from the mirror of the mind and reawakens one’s relationship with God. It is the Lord’s mercy, and it is meant for everyone.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s humble request to the confused and alienated American youth of the late 1960s is especially relevant today, as Kali Yuga continues and civilization declines:

“...don’t commit suicide. Take to chanting this Hare Krishna mantra, and all real knowledge will be revealed...We are not charging anything...No. It is open for everyone. Please take it...That is our request. We are begging you—don’t spoil your life. Please take this mantra and chant it wherever you like...chant, and you’ll feel ecstasy.”

Monday, February 12, 2007

Reincarnation: the missing link

Reincarnation is the missing link between Eastern and Western spirituality.

According to Hinduism’s most sacred scripture, the Bhagavad-gita (5.18), “the humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater.” Social ills such as racism, sexism, nationalism, caste-ism, and speciesism arise because souls falsely identify with their temporary bodies. On the spiritual platform, all are equal. (Compare this to the Christian teaching: “In Christ there is no Greek or Jew, slave or free” [Colossians 3:11].)

Can reincarnation be reconciled with the Bible? There are many passages throughout the Old Testament which speak of death with finality, and make no mention of an afterlife. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” said the Lord to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:17. Humans lost a physical immortality, and there is no mention of existence beyond the body.

Psalm 49:12 says man is like the animals that perish. Psalm 103:15 says mans’ days are like the grass or a flower of the field. Psalm 115:17 says, “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence.” According to Psalm 143:3, those long dead “dwell in darkness.” The Book of Ecclesiastes (3:19-20) says men are like beasts; “as one dieth, so dieth the other,” that man “hath no pre-eminence above a beast”; “all go into one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Job (6:18) teaches that there is no existence after death; men “go to nothing, and perish,” and “he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.” (7:9)

Reincarnationist thought, nonetheless, has found its way into Judaism. The Pythagoreans, Neoplatonists, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains have all forbidden animal slaughter at various times in human history because of a belief in transmigration of souls and, consequently, the equality of all living beings. The doctrine of reincarnation is taught in the Kabbala, or mystical Judaic tradition, and was used to advocate ethical vegetarianism in Sedeh Hermed—a huge, talmudic encyclopedia authored by Rabbi Hayyim Hezekiah Medini (1837-1904).

In Wheels of a Soul, Rabbi Phillip S. Berg, a renowned contemporary Kabbalist, explains: “...the concept of reincarnation is by no means exclusive to Judaism. The idea was prevalent among Indians on the American continent; and in the Orient, the teaching of reincarnation is widespread and influential. It is the basis of most of the philosophical systems of India, where hundreds of millions accept the truth of reincarnation the way we accept the truth of gravity -— as a great natural and inevitable law that only a fool would question.”

According to Rabbi Jacob Shimmel: “We are reborn until we reach perfection in following the Torah...In Hebrew, reincarnation is called gilgul, and there is a whole section of the Kabbala entitled Sefer HaGilgulim. This deals with details in regard to reincarnation.

One remarkable figure from this mystical school of Jewish thought is Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-72). Born in Jerusalem, he became a brilliant student, noted for his intelligence, logic and reasoning abilities. By the age of 15, Luria had surpassed all the sages in Egypt in his understanding of talmudic law.

With a thirst for higher knowledge, he studied the Zohar and the Kabbala. For seven years, he lived as an ascetic on the banks of the Nile River; fasting often, seeing his wife only on the Sabbath, and merely for brief conversation, if necessary. During this time, he experienced many strange voices and ecstatic visions.

At times, the prophet Elijah appeared to teach him the secrets of the Torah. Luria later went to Safed (in Palestine) and became the spiritual master of the community of mystics there. He taught that the good souls in heaven could be brought down to inhabit human bodies.

Luria saw spirits everywhere. He heard them whispering in the rushing water of rivers, in the movement of trees, in the wind and in the songs of birds. He could see the soul of a man leave the body at the time of death. Intimate conversations were often held with the souls of past figures in the Bible, the talmudic sages and numerous respected rabbis.

Luria’s disciples said he could perform exorcisms and miracles and speak the language of animals. They wrote: “Luria could read faces, look into the souls of men, recognize that souls migrated from body to body. He could tell you what commandment a man had fulfilled and what sins he had committed since youth.”

Is reincarnationist thought compatible with Christianity? The first books of the Bible speak of man as a physical being, formed from the dust and then infused with a divine “breath of life.” New Testament writings, however, describe the individual as a spiritual being, clothed in an earthly body of flesh.

The New Testament clearly distinguishes between the carnal and the spiritual. “It is the spirit that giveth the body life,” taught Jesus, “the flesh profit nothing.” (John 6:63) Paul taught that Jesus had both an earthly and a spiritual nature (Romans 1:3), and referred to his own spiritual self. (Romans 1:9)

According to Paul, the soul can do no good while it is in a body doomed to death; it is merely a prisoner to sin and the flesh. (Romans 7:18-24) The brethren are to behave in a spiritual manner, rather than in a fleshly way. (Romans 8:4; 13:14; I Peter 2:11)

The brethren have been called to liberty; they should not misuse their freedom as an opportunity to gratify the flesh. If they behave in a spiritual way, they will not carry out the desires of the flesh. The desires of the Spirit and those of the flesh are in opposition to one another. (Galatians 5:13,16-17) The deeds of the flesh are evident in immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, magic arts, animosities, strife, jealousy, bad temper, outbreaks of selfishness, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness and carousing. Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the Spirit’s fruition is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, generosity, fidelity, gentleness and self-control. Those who belong to Christ have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires;” they “live by the Spirit” and are “directed by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:19-26)

To be carnally minded is to die, but those under the control of the Spirit have transcended their lower, bodily nature. (Romans 8:5-14) Paul regarded envy, strife and divisions among the brethren as carnal or unspiritual. (I Corinthians 3:3) He distinguished between saving the spirit of an individual and the destruction of the person’s flesh. (I Corinthians 5:5)

God’s kingdom is not carnal, but spiritual: “But I make this statement, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither does the perishable inherit the imperishable...For this perishable must put on imperishability and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:50,53)

According to Paul, the body is like a lump of clay. (Romans 9:21; II Corinthians 4:7) Although one’s outer nature decays, one’s inner self is continually renewed in spiritual life. (II Corinthians 4:16-17) The body is merely a temporary, earthly tent in which the soul resides; the spirits of the faithful shall soon be clothed in everlasting, heavenly bodies. (II Corinthians 5:1-3) The soul resides inside a body of flesh. (II Corinthians 10:3) To identify with the body is to be absent from the Lord. (II Corinthians 5:8-10)

Paul gave an example from his own life to distinguish between being with Christ and remaining “in the body,” to illustrate that one’s actual self is spiritual and separate from the physical body. (Philippians 1:21-24) He told his followers to set their sights on heavenly, not earthly things, and to put to death their earthly nature. (Colossians 3:1-5)

Before salvation, many of the brethren indulged in fleshly desires, and followed the inclinations of their lower natures. (Ephesians 2:3) The sensual are considered “lost,” because “their minds are set on earthly things.” Paul told the faithful their real home is in heaven, and they would soon be clothed in spiritual bodies. (Philippians 3:18-21)

The New Testament teaches that those who have become God’s children through Christ owe their birth not to flesh or blood, but to a transcendent God. (John 1:12-13) There is a difference between a physical birth and a spiritual birth. (John 3:6-8) Jesus made a distinction between teaching “of earthly things” and “of heavenly things.” (John 3:12) Jesus said his home was heaven (John 3:12), and that neither he (John 8:23) nor his disciples (John 15:19) were of this world. His disciple John repeated this message to the brethren. (I John 4:4-6)

The brethren have undergone a spiritual rebirth, not from a perishable but an imperishable seed through the word of God. The flesh will decay, but the word of God is eternal. (I Peter 2:23-25) One must not love this world nor the things in this world. To do so is to alienate oneself from God’s love, because the passions of this world are flickering and temporary. (I John 2:15-17)

This world belongs to the devil (II Corinthians 4:4), this present world is evil (Galatians 1:4), and pure religion means keeping oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27). The brethren have been granted “great and precious promised blessings,” so that they “might become sharers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world that arises from passion.” (II Peter 1:4)

“He who loves his life will lose it,” taught Jesus, “and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life...For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25; John 12:25) Jesus thus taught his followers to seek the eternal treasures in heaven rather than pursue temporary, earthly gain. He demanded the self-sacrifice and renunciation of earthly possessions and family ties and duties. (Matthew 6:19-21, 6:24-34, 8:21-22, 10:34-39, 19:20-21,29; Luke 9:57-62, 12:51-53, 14:25-26,33; James 5:1-3)

Jesus himself had no interest in worldly disputes over money and property. (Luke 12:13-14) He taught that life is meant for more than the accumulation of material goods. He condemned those who lay up treasures for themselves, but are not rich towards God. (Luke 12:15-21) In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus showed concern for materialistic persons (Luke 16:19-31). It is difficult for those attached to earthly riches to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:16-24; Mark 10:17-23; Luke 18:18-25)

In the Gospel According to Luke, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God does not come by looking for it, neither will they say, ‘Look! Here it is,’ or ‘There it is!’ for the kingdom of God is in your midst. (Luke 17:21) Another translation reads, “...the kingdom of God is within you.” In either case, these verses indicate that the kingdom of God is not earthly or material. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus explicitly tells Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Jesus also told his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2) Paul spoke of being “caught up as far as the third heaven...whether in the body or out of the body I do not know...” (II Corinthians 12:2-3)

On the question of the afterlife, Paul taught that God rewards each individual according to his deeds. (Romans 2:6) One reaps what one sows. (II Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7) Some souls remain entangled in decaying flesh and blood, while others turn to the Spirit. “The one who sows for his own flesh will harvest ruin from his flesh; while the one who sows for the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit.” (Galatians 6:8) According to Paul, a kernel of spirit is sown into a particular kind of body.

“...God gives it a body as He plans,” explained Paul, “and to each seed its particular body. All flesh is not the same; but one kind is human, another is animal, another is fowl, and another fish.” (I Corinthians 15:38-39) Paul further distinguished between earthly, or physical bodies, and heavenly, or spiritual bodies. “There are heavenly bodies and also earthly bodies; but the radiance of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly is another kind.” (I Corinthians 15:40)

Resurrection, then, as taught by Paul, is not the Old Testament doctrine of the reassembling of dust into living bodies, but rather, the clothing of the spirit with a new body; the placing of a kernel of spirit into a new body, from where its existence continues.

Paul’s letters emphasize the distinction between the soul and the body, the clothing of the spirit with a new body, and the eternal nature of the soul and its relationship to God versus the temporary nature of the flesh and the material world. These concepts can all be found in the doctrine of reincarnation.

The Lord told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5) In prayer, Jesus spoke of his eternal relationship with God, who loved him before the founding of the world. (John 8:58, 17:24) Paul wrote to both the Romans and the Ephesians that God knew the faithful and favored them before the world even came into being. (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:4)

During the second century, the Christian teacher, Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho, taught that the soul inhabits more than one body in its earthly sojourn. He even suggested that those who lead carnal lives and thus deprive themselves of the capacity to serve God may be reborn as beasts.

The earliest Christians who taught the pre-existence of the soul came to be known as the “pre-existiani.” Clement of Alexandria wrote with interest about what he called “metensomatosis.” “...we have existed from the beginning,” wrote Clement in his Stromata, “for in the beginning was the Logos...Not for the first time does (the Logos) show pity on us in our wanderings; he pitied us from the beginning.”

Origen (185-254), was one of the fathers of the early Christian Church, and its most accomplished biblical scholar. His influence upon the early Church was second only to that of Augustine. Origen taught that God creates spirits, and all spirits are created equal. All are endowed with free will. Some fall into sin, becoming demons, or imprisoned in bodies. This process of growth or retardation is continuous. A human being, at the time of death, may become an angel or a demon. Origen gave a highly allegorical interpretation of Genesis and the Fall from paradise.

Origen held that the various orders of living creatures in the world corresponded to the varying degrees of perfection and imperfection. All of God’s children are created free and equal, but received their present condition “as rewards or punishments for the manner in which they used their free will.” Therefore, “as befits the degree of (the soul’s) fall into evil, it is clothed with the body of this or that irrational animal.” (Compare Genesis 3:21)

Writing in the third century, he explained: “By some inclination toward evil, certain souls...come into bodies, first of men; then through their association with the irrational passions, after the allotted span of human life, they are changed into beasts, from which they sink to the level of...plants. From this condition they rise again through the same stages and are restored to their heavenly place.” (De Principiis, Book III, Chapter 5)

Origen based his theology upon passages from Scripture. The prophet Elijah lived in the 9th century B.C. Elijah never died, but was lifted up into heaven. (II Kings 2:11) In the closing lines of the Old Testament, Malachi recorded the prophecy: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Malachi 3:1, 4:5) Elijah would precede the Messiah.

When the disciples asked Jesus about the prophecy that Elijah must precede the Messiah, Jesus replied, “Elijah will come indeed and will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come and they did not recognize him, but have done to him as they pleased.” The disciples then realized he was talking about John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:9-13) Jesus even told the multitudes, “It is he (John) of whom it is written, ‘Behold I send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare the road before you’...If you will accept it, this is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:10,14; Luke 7:27)

Many in Jesus’ day believed him to be the reincarnation of an Old Testament prophet. In Matthew 16:13-14, when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” they replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Similarly, in Luke 9:18-19, when Jesus asked, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” his disciples respond, “John the Baptist; but some say Elijah, and others that one of the old prophets has risen again.”

Mark 16:14-16 records King Herod saying of Jesus, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these miracles are being done by him.” Others said, “He is Elijah,” while still others believed, “He is a prophet like one of the prophets of old.”

Tertullian, one of the earliest of the Latin Fathers of the Christian Church, vehemently attacked any and all reincarnationist interpretations of Scripture. His attacks indicate the widespread influence of reincarnationist thought upon Christianity at the time.

Tertullian took the position that the above passages do not presuppose reincarnation. Since Elijah was lifted into heaven (II Kings 2:11), he never died. His appearance as John the Baptist was not reincarnation, but a return visit. However the Gospel of Luke (1:5-25,57-80) indicates that Elijah did not return to earth as a mature man, but was miraculously reconceived and reborn as John the Baptist.

Origen remarked that the fact that the Jews specifically asked John the Baptist if he was Elijah (John 1:21) indicated “that they believed in ‘metensomatosis,’ as a doctrine inherited from their ancestors and therefore in no way in conflict with the secret teachings of their masters.”

In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who had been blind from his birth. The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind?”

Since reincarnation was a widespread belief during the time of Jesus, (as were beliefs in apocalypses, judgement day, heaven, hell and resurrection), one cannot help but wonder if the disciples had reincarnation in mind. For if the man had been born blind, he could not have committed the sin in his present life.

Jesus did not reject the notion of pre-existence as a solution to the problem of evil. He merely replied that this man was afflicted so that “the works of God should be displayed in him,” and that it was their duty to practice the works of a merciful God. (John 9:4)

On another occasion, Simon (Peter) said to Jesus, “Look, we have given up everything and have followed you...” Jesus replied: “I assure you, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mothers or father or children or fields on account of me and the gospel, but will receive a hundred times over now in this age homes and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, along with persecutions; and in the world to come, eternal life.” (Matthew 19:27,29; Mark 10:28-31; Luke 18:28-30)

It is hard to imagine these rewards—including hundreds of relatives, parents and children—being fulfilled in one brief lifetime.

According to Origen, God sent forth Christ to bring about the redemption of all souls; a salvation so universal, even the demons will be saved. “The purified spirit will be brought home; it will no longer rebel; it will acquiesce in its lot.”

In the 3rd century, Chalcidius taught, “Souls who have failed to unite themselves with God, are compelled by the law of destiny to begin a new kind of life, entirely different from their former, until they repent of their sins.” Arnobius (A.D. 290) said, “We die many times, and often do we rise from the dead.” (Adversus Gentes) St. Gregory of Nyssa (257-332) taught, “It is absolutely necessary that the soul should be healed and purified, and if this does not take place during its life on earth it must be accomplished in future lives.” (Great Catechism)

St. Jerome (340-420), wrote in Epistola ad Demetriadem, that “The doctrine of transmigration has been secretly taught from ancient times to small numbers of people, as a traditional truth which was not to be divulged.” In his Confessions, St. Augustine (354-430) prayed, “Say, Lord to me...say, did my infancy succeed another age of mine that died before it? Was it that which I spent within my mother’s womb?...and what before that life again, O God my joy, was I anywhere or in any body?”

Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais (370-430), wrote in his Treatise On Dreams, “Philosophy speaks of souls being prepared by a course of transmigrations...When first it comes down to earth, it (the soul) embarks on this animal spirit as on a boat, and through it is brought into contact with matter...The soul which did not quickly return to the heavenly region from which it was sent down to earth had to go through many lives of ‘wandering.’”

Dr. Geddes MacGregor, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, and author of over twenty books, believes reincarnation is compatible with the Christian faith.

“The Bible does not explicitly teach reincarnationism,” he admits. “That is to say, there is no pronouncement on the subject, either in the Old Testament or in the New, to which one could point and by means of it compel the acceptance of a person who felt bound to receive as divine revelation everything that is clearly and unequivocally affirmed in Holy Scripture. No such biblical warrant for reincarnation exists.

“That, however, does not take us far, since much the same could be said of the doctrine of the Trinity, which is surely held to be a classic expression of orthodox Christian belief about God. Except for the text in the first letter of John (1 John 5:7), known by scholars to be a very late interpolation, no direct biblical warrant exists for the doctrine of the Trinity as formulated by the Church.

“That absence of direct biblical warrant for the doctrine of the Trinity does not mean, however, that the trinitarian formula is antipathetic to the teaching of the New Testament writers. On the contrary, it was held to be, and within Christian orthodoxy it has continued to be accounted, a proper formulation of a great truth about God that is implicit in New testament teaching. There is no reason at all why the doctrine of reincarnation might not be in a similar case.

“Might not an orthodox Christian see the samsara or chain of incarnations, of which we hear so much in Hindu lore, as the most satisfactory way in which to conceptualize the journey of the soul to the state that Christians traditionally call heaven or the Beatific Vision, in which the soul at last is so completely purified that it can stand in the right relation to God and, as the Old Scottish Catechism promises, ‘enjoy Him for ever’ ?

At first sight, at any rate, it would now seem that Christians, far from resisting reincarnationism as an exotic, alien idea, should be ready to embrace it as one that might both enlighten their minds and add a new and exhilarating dimension to their faith.”

Although belief in reincarnation was widespread in early Christianity, orthodoxy prevailed. The doctrine of reincarnation never really caught on, in part, because of the apocalyptic mood of the early Church. The Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead were thought to be imminent. During the fourth century, Origen became an easy target for ecclesiastical authorities seeking victory in power struggles with other theological factions within the Christian Church.

Under circumstances that to this day remain shrouded in mystery, the Byzantine emperor Justinian in A.D. 553 banned the teachings of pre-existence from what had by then become the Roman Catholic Church. During that era, numerous Church writings were destroyed. The doctrine of reincarnation was forced underground, but persistently appeared in sects such as the Cathari, the Paulicians, and the Bogomils.

The Cathari (who were also vegetarian) taught that the reason we are on earth in the first place is we are fallen souls forced to be repeatedly incarcerated in bodies, and must seek salvation from transmigrating from one body to another. The Cathari saw Christ as the means of divine redemption from the wheel of death and rebirth.

According to Dr. MacGregor: “Reincarnation is, of course, a kind of resurrection. Great importance was attached by Christian theologians, however, to the notion of the resurrection of the ‘same body’ that we now have, though in a glorified form. The so-called Athanasian Creed affirms that all men shall rise again with their bodies...and a council held at the Lateran...asserted that all shall rise again with their own bodies...

“St. Thomas Aquinas considered that the body that is resurrected must be in some sense the same as the one on earth; otherwise, he thought, one would have to talk, not of a resurrection, but of the assumption of a new body...such very Latin teaching about a carnis resurrectio does not seem to fit Paul’s teaching in the New Testament, which is that the body is to be of a new order...not otherwise recognizable as the same body as the one on earth. The curious notion of the revivification of the material particles of the body does not arise in St. Paul.”

Both Origen and Clement of Alexandria spoke of an intermediate state, considering it one of punishment, training and purification. Ambrose, the teacher of Augustine, taught that departed souls await the end of the world in various “habitations,” which vary according to their deeds on earth.

Augustine taught that the souls of men are immediately judged upon death, with some going to a place of purification. By the time of Thomas Aquinas, the doctrine of purgatory as a place of punishment for those not yet fit for residence in heaven was well established.

St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), taught that when one dies, one immediately recognizes the impediments which prevent one from fully enjoying God, and therefore, one voluntarily throws oneself into purification. The soul desires final union with God, which theologians call the Beatific vision in heaven.

In its purification, the soul suffers pain, yet this pain is the discovery of obstacles within itself that impede its own progress towards God. Such a doctrine is compatible with reincarnationist thought; reincarnation may be seen as a kind of purgatory; purification towards reunion with God.

In addition to the notion of purgatory, there was also the state of “limbo.” Two kinds of limbo were recognized: limbus patrum and limbus infantium. The first was assigned to holy men and women who died before the advent of Christ and had to await his descent to their abode to retrieve them and carry them up to heaven. The second was given to infants who died before baptism and were, therefore, ineligible for heaven. Both states of limbo were thought to be pleasant, but incomparable to heavenly joy or bliss.

Dr. MacGregor explains that conflicting theological and Scriptural accounts of the afterlife have caused many, including regular churchgoers, not to concern themselves with such affairs. Many Christian theologians have discouraged “idle speculation” on the afterlife. Luther recognized the theological difficulties, while Calvin, in a commentary on I Corinthians 13:12, questioned his own doctrine of the eternality of the soul. According to Calvin, Paul intentionally gave no details on the subject, since details “could not help our piety.”

Dr. MacGregor suggests, however, that just as we have ceased to take literally Archbishop Ussher’s biblical concept of a 6,000 year old universe, so also might reincarnation be consistent with a more enlightened world view.

During the Renaissance, a new flowering of public interest in reincarnation emerged. One of the prominent figures in this revival was Italy’s leading philosopher and poet Giordano Bruno. Bruno had entered the Dominican Order at the age of fifteen. As a scholar, Bruno upheld the Copernican world view, that the Sun—and not the earth—is the center of our cosmos, teaching that there are an infinity of worlds and that many are inhabited.

Galileo had announced other worlds and Giordano Bruno spoke of other life forms. Bruno believed there are no privileged reference frames for viewing the universe; the universe looks essentially the same from wherever one happens to view it. Bruno taught that at death the soul passes out of one body and enters into another.

Because of his teachings, Bruno was ultimately brought before the Inquisition. In his profession of faith before the Inquisition, Bruno acknowledged that, speaking as a Catholic, he must say that the soul at death goes directly to heaven, hell or purgatory. However, Bruno insisted that as a philosopher who had given much thought to the question, he found it reasonable that since the soul is different from the body, yet is never found apart from the body, it passes from one body to another, as Pythagoras had taught 2,000 years before.

In his final answers to the charges brought against him, Bruno defiantly responded that the soul “is not the body” and that “it may be in one body or in another, and pass from body to body.” Giordano Bruno was eventually burned at the stake in Rome on February 17, 1600. His teachings influenced 17th century philosophers such as Leibniz and Spinoza.

Since the Renaissance, belief or interest in reincarnation has continued to spread in the West. Shakespeare, Milton and Coleridge made references to it in their literature. The French philosopher Voltaire wrote that the doctrine of reincarnation is “neither absurd nor useless,” insisting, “It is not more surprising to be born twice than once.”

Many of America’s founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, accepted or expressed interest in reincarnation. Napoleon told his generals that in a previous life he was Charlemagne. Goethe, the great German poet, also believed in reincarnation. Schiller, Blake, Shelley, Browning, Southey and Wordsworth alluded to reincarnation in their own writings as well. American poets Longfellow, Lowell, Whittier and Whitman all showed interest in and sympathy towards reincarnationist views. American Transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau wrote with deep interest in reincarnation.

French author Honore Balzac wrote Seraphita, a novel devoted entirely to reincarnation. “All human beings go through a previous life,” wrote Balzac. “Who knows how many fleshly forms the heir of heaven occupies before he can be brought to understand the value that silence and solitude whose starry plains are but the vestibule of spiritual worlds?” Jack London also made reincarnation the main theme of his novel The Star Rover, and had the central character exclaim, “Oh, incalculable times again shall I be born.”

In David Copperfield, Charles Dickens explored the possibility of reincarnation and recalling events from past lives. Paul Gaugin wrote that when the physical organism is destroyed, “the soul survives.” It then takes on another body, “degrading or elevating according to merit or demerit.” Poets W.B. Yeats and John Masefield wrote with conviction about reincarnation. British statesman Lloyd George believed in rebirth. Reincarnation was a major theme in Ulysses, by James Joyce.

U.S. auto magnate Henry Ford told an interviewer, “I adopted the theory of reincarnation when I was twenty-six...Genius is experience. Some seem to think that it is a gift or talent, but it is the fruit of long experience in many lives.” U.S. general George Patton similarly believed he had acquired his military skills on ancient battlefields.

“Has it occurred to you that transmigration is at once an explanation and a justification of the evil of the world?” wrote W. Somerset Maugham in The Razor’s Edge. “If the evils we suffer are the result of sins committed in our past lives, we can bear them with resignation and hope that if in this one we strive toward virtue our future lives will be less afflicted.”

One of the greatest modern psychologists, Carl Jung, believed in reincarnation, and saw its potential as a tool in understanding consciousness and the self. British biologist Thomas Huxley wrote that reincarnation has served as a “means of constructing a plausible vindication of the ways of the cosmos to man.” Authors J.D. Salinger and Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull) made reincarnation a central theme in their literatures as well.

Sir William Jones, a Christian missionary who helped introduce East Indian philosophy to Europe in the 18th century, wrote: “I am no Hindu, but I hold the doctrine of the Hindus concerning a future state (reincarnation) to be incomparably more rational, more pious, and more likely to deter men from vice than the horrid opinions inculcated by Christians on punishment without end.

In an essay entitled “Christian Metempsychosis,” the 19th century American philosopher Francis Bowen of Harvard, admitted, “An eternity of either reward or punishment would seem to be inadequately earned by one brief period of probation on earth.”

Arthur Schopenhauer, the great 19th century German philosopher, once observed: “Were an Asiatic to ask me for a definition of Europe, I should be forced to answer him: It is that part of the world which is haunted by the incredible delusion that man was created out of nothing, and that his present birth is his first entrance into life.”

In his monumental work, The Story of Christian Origins, secular historian Dr. Martin A. Larson notes that according to Hindu, Buddhist, and Pythagorean doctrine, “hell itself was actually a kind of purgatory, since it was a place in which perhaps a majority of all people underwent repeated refinement and punishment,” before being reborn as a plant, animal, or human being.

Examining the concept of eternal damnation, Dr. Geddes MacGregor concludes: “It is no wonder that purgatory seemed by comparison, despite its anguish, a demonstration of God’s mercy. Purgatory is indeed a far more intelligible concept, in the light of what the Bible says about the nature of God. Even the crassest forms of purgatory suggest moral and spiritual evolution.

“Surely, too, even countless rebirths as a beggar lying in misery and filth on the streets of Calcutta would be infinitely more reconcilable to the Christian concept of God than is the traditional doctrine of everlasting torture in hell. The appeal of reincarnationism to anyone nurtured on hell-fire sermons and tracts is by no means difficult to understand.”

Archbishop Passavalli (1820-1897), a learned Roman Catholic archbishop accepted the teaching of reincarnation from two disciples of the Polish seer Towianski. Archbishop Passavalli admitted that reincarnation is not condemned by the Church, and that it is not in conflict with any Catholic dogma.

Another Catholic priest who came to believe in reincarnation was Edward Dunski, whose Letters were published in 1915. Many other priests in Poland and Italy have believed in reincarnation, influenced by the great mystic Andrzej Towianski (1799-1878).

In her autobiography, A Servant of the Queen, Maude Gonne wrote that when a priest asked her why she was not a Catholic, and she replied, “Because I believe in reincarnation,” she was told:

“The soul comes from God and returns to God when purified, when all things will become clear; and who can tell the stages of its purification? It may be possible that some souls work out their purification on this earth.”

Anthropologist Dr. Margaret Mead observed in February 1971: “It is an open question whether any behavior based on fear of eternal punishment can be regarded as ethical or should be regarded as merely cowardly.”

The Reverend Alvin Hart, an Episcopalian priest in New York, says, “In the Second Letter of Peter, the word exitus (‘exit or ‘a way out’) is used for ‘dying.’ The expression implies that something does exist which at death goes away, or ‘exits’ the body.

“Reincarnation would explain a great many things—such as just where the soul goes after death. After all, it is unlikely that a merciful God would send a sinner to ‘hell’ after just one birth into this...world...It takes time...

“Reincarnation was also accepted by many philosophers in the early church. To my way of thinking it is a logical explanation of what happens at the time of death. Reincarnation is an acceptable answer.”

Saturday, February 10, 2007

healthy, wealthy and wise

The health advantages of a vegetarian diet are well-known in the American medical community, but are just beginning to gain acceptance in the popular culture. The ethical, nutritional and environmental arguments in favor of vegetarianism have been well documented by author John Robbins in his 1987 Pulitzer Prize nominated book, Diet for a New America, which makes ethical vegetarianism seem as mainstream as recycling.

It’s healthier to be a vegetarian. During the period of October 1917 to October 1918, war rationing forced the Danish government to put its citizens on a vegetarian diet. This was a “mass experiment in vegetarianism,” with over three million subjects. The results were astonishing. The mortality rate dropped by 34 percent. The very same phenomenon was observed in occupied Norway during the Second World War. After the war, heavy consumption of meat resumed, and the mortality rate shot back up.

The populations consuming the highest levels of animal flesh—the Eskimos, Laplanders, Greenlanders and Russian Kurgi tribes—also have the life expectancies, averaging about 30 years. Nor can such a short lifespan be attributed to harsh climate. The Russian Caucasians and Yucatan Indians, for example, live mostly on vegetarian foods and have life expectancies of 90 to 100 years.

The populations with the longest lifespans include the Vilacambans of Ecuador, the Abhikasians of the former USSR, and the Hunzas of Pakistan. The most remarkable feature of all these people is that they live almost entirely on plant foods. The Hunzas, for example, eat a diet that is 98.5 percent plant food.

Studies done at Yale University by Professor Irving Fisher demonstrated that flesh-eaters have less endurance than vegetarians. A similar study done by Dr. J. Ioteyko of the Academie de Medicine in Paris found that vegetarians have two to three times more stamina than flesh-eaters and they take only one-fifth the time to recover from exhaustion.

In recent years, there has been widespread concern about osteoporosis, which is epidemic in America, especially among older women. The popular myth has been to solve the problem by consuming more calcium. Yet this doesn’t attack the root of the problem.

Osteoporosis is caused by excess consumption of protein. Americans overdose on protein, getting 1.5 to 2 times more protein than their bodies can handle. The body can’t store excess protein, so the kidneys are forced to excrete it. In doing so, they must draw upon calcium from the bloodstream. This negative calcium balance in the blood is compensated for by calcium loss from the bones: osteoporosis. The calcium lost in the bones of flesh-eaters is 5 to 6 times greater than that lost in the bones of vegetarians.

Excessive protein intake also taxes the kidneys; in America, it is not uncommon to find many over 45 with kidney problems. A strong correlation between excessive protein intake and cancer of the breast, prostate, pancreas and colon has even been observed.

It must be pointed out that meat, fish, and eggs are the most acidic forming foods; heavy consumption of these foods will cause the body to draw upon calcium to restore its pH balance. The calcium lost from the bones gets into one’s urine and often crystallizes into kidney stones, which are found in far greater frequency among flesh-eaters than among vegetarians. Studies have found that vegetarians in the United States have less than half the kidney stones of the general population.

The high consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol leads to artherosclerosis—more popularly known as “hardening of the arteries.” Plant foods contain zero cholesterol and only palm oil, coconuts and chocolate contain saturated fats. Lowering the cholesterol and fat intake in one’s diet lowers the risk of heart disease—America’s biggest killer.

As far back as 1961, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that “A vegetarian diet can prevent 97% of our coronary occlusions.” Much has been said about the advantage of polyunsaturated fats as a means of lowering cholesterol in the blood. Unfortunately, this also has the adverse side effect of driving the cholesterol out of the blood and into the colon; contributing to colon cancer. The best way to prevent heart disease is to avoid foods high in fat and cholesterol.

Up to 50 percent of all cancers are caused by diet. Meat and fat intake are primarily responsible. The incidence of colon cancer is high in regions where meat consumption is high and low where meat consumption is minimal. A lack of fiber in the diet also contributes significantly to colon cancer.

It’s important to remember that unprocessed plant foods are high in fiber and carbohydrates, while animal flesh has none. The highest incidence of breast cancer occurs among flesh-eating populations; meat eating women have a four times greater risk of developing breast cancer than do vegetarian women. There is also a greater risk of cervical, uterine, and ovarian cancer—all linked to diets high in fat. Men who consume large quantities of animal fat also have a 3.6 times greater risk of getting prostate cancer.

Diabetes is known to be treatable on a low fat, high fiber diet. Incidence of diabetes balloons among populations eating a rich, meat-based diet. Hypoglycemia is caused by the excessive consumption of meats, sugar and fats. Multiple Sclerosis is also treatable on a low-fat diet. MS is prevalent among populations where consumption of animal fats is high and is least common where such consumption is low. A brain tissue analysis of people with MS found a high saturated fat content.

Ulcers occur most frequently in diets which are acid forming, low in fiber and high in fats. Meat, fish, and eggs are the most acid forming of all foods, and animal flesh has no fiber and excess fat. Low fiber, high-fat diets are the principle cause of hemorrhoids and also diverticulosis—which affects 75 percent of Americans over the age of 75. Similarly, 35 percent of Americans are afflicted with some form of arthritis by the age of 35. Over 85 percent of all Americans over age 70 have arthritis, yet it is treatable on a fat free diet.

The United States Public Health Service estimates that some 60 million Americans are overweight. Exercise is helpful, but so is proper diet and nutrition. Foods high in fiber, low in fat and moderate in protein are most conducive to maintaining proper body weight.

Excess cholesterol forms gallstones. Gallstones, as well as gallbladder disease and gallbladder cancer are usually found in people with low-fiber, high cholesterol, high fat diets. Hypertension is virtually unknown in countries where the intake of salts, fat and cholesterol is low. At the University Hospital in Linkoping, Sweden, even severe asthma patients were found to be treatable on a vegetarian diet. Flesh foods in America are also contaminated with coliform bacteria and salmonella. Much healthier alternatives exist.

“I have no doubt that it is part of the destiny
of the human race in its gradual development
to leave off the eating of animals, as surely as
the savage tribes have left off eating each
other when they came into contact with
the more civilized.”

---Henry David Thoreau

Human beings differ completely from the naturally carnivorous species such as wolves or tigers. Carnivores have a very short digestive tract—three times the length of their bodies—to rapidly consume and excrete decaying flesh. Their urine is highly acidic and they possess hydrochloric stomach acid strong enough to dissolve muscle tissues and bones. Because they are night hunters who sleep during the day, carnivores don’t sweat. They perspire through their tongue. Their jaws can only move up and down and their teeth are long and pointed, in order to cut through tendons and bones.

The carnivores are quadrupeds with keen eyesight and sense of smell. They possess not only the necessary speed to overtake their prey but also have sharp, retractable claws which enable them to pull their victims to the ground and hold them fast. The anatomy of natural omnivores, such as the bear or raccoon, is almost identical to that of the carnivores, except they possess a set of molars to chew the plant foods that they eat.

Herbivorous creatures such as sheep and cattle have a digestive tract 30 times the length of their bodies; they have several stomachs, which allows them to break down cellulose—something humans are unable to do. This is why we can’t graze or live on grass. The urine and saliva of the herbivores are alkaline, and their saliva contains ptyalin for the predigestion of starches.

The frugivores (gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates) have intestinal tracts twelve times the length of the body, clawless hands and alkaline urine and saliva. Their diet is mostly vegetarian, occasionally supplemented with carrion, insects, etc.

Flesh-eating animals lap water with their tongues, whereas vegetarian animals imbibe liquids by a suction process. Humans are classified as primates and are thus frugivores possessing a set of completely herbivorous teeth. Proponents of the theory that humans should be classified as omnivores note that human beings do, in fact, possess a modified form of canine teeth. However, these so-called “canine teeth” are much more prominent in animals that traditionally never eat flesh, such as apes, camels, and the male musk deer.

It must also be noted that the shape, length and hardness of these so-called “canine teeth” can hardly be compared to those of true carnivorous animals. A principle factor in determining the hardness of teeth is the phosphate of magnesia content. Human teeth usually contain 1.5 percent phosphate of magnesia, whereas the teeth of carnivores are composed of nearly 5 percent phosphate of magnesia. It is for this reason they are able to break through the bones of their prey, and reach the nutritious marrow.

Linneaus, who introduced binomial nomenclature (naming plants and animals according to their physical structure) wrote: “Man’s structure, external and internal, compared with that of other animals shows that fruit and succulent vegetables constitute his natural food.” Dr. F.A. Pouchet, 19th century author of The Universe, wrote in his Pluralite’ de la Race Humaine: “It has been truly said that Man is frugivorous. All the details of his intestinal canal, and above all his dentition, prove it in the most decided manner.”

One of the most famous anatomists, Baron Cuvier, wrote: “The natural food of man, judging from his structure, appears to consist principally of the fruits, roots, and other succulent parts of vegetables. His hands afford every facility for gathering them; his short but moderately strong jaws on the other hand, and his canines being equal only in length to the other teeth, together with his tuberculated molars on the other, would scarcely permit him either to masticate herbage, or to devour flesh, were these condiments not previously prepared by cooking.”

The poet Shelley, in his essay, “A Vindication of a Natural Diet,” wrote:

“Comparative anatomy teaches us that man resembles the frugivorous animals in everything, the carnivorous in nothing...It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion, and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite loathing and disgust...

“Man resembles no carnivorous animal. There is no exception, unless man be one, to the rule of herbivorous animals having cellulated colons. The orang-outang is the most anthropomorphous (manlike) of the ape tribe, all of whom are strictly frugivorous.

“There is no other species of animals which live on different foods in which this analogy exists...The structure of the human frame then, is that of one fitted to a pure vegetable diet in every essential particular.”

Professor William Lawrence, FRS, in his lectures delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1822, said:

“The teeth of man have not the slightest resemblance to those of the carnivorous animals, excepting that their enamel is confined to the external surface. He possesses, indeed, teeth called canine; but they do not exceed the level of others, and are obviously unsuited to the purposes which the corresponding teeth execute in carnivorous animals. Thus we find, whether we consider the teeth and jaws, or the immediate instruments of digestion, that the human structure closely resembles that of the apes, all of whom, in their natural state, are completely herbivorous (frugivorous).”

Professor Charles Bell, FRS, wrote in his 1829 work, Anatomy, Physiology, and Diseases of the Teeth: “It is, I think, not going too far to say that every fact connected with the human organisation goes to prove that man was originally formed a frugivorous animal. This opinion is derived principally from the formation of his teeth and digestive organs, as well as from the character of his skin and the general structure of his limbs.”

Professor Richard Owen, FRS, in his elaborate 1845 work, Odontography, wrote: “The apes and monkeys, whom man nearly resembles in his dentition, derive their staple food from fruits, grain, the kernels of nuts, and other forms in which the most sapid and nutritious tissues of the vegetable kingdom are elaborated; and the close resemblance between the quadrumanous and the human dentition shows that man was, from the beginning, adapted to eat the fruit of the tree of the garden.”

“Behold! I have given you every plant-yielding
seed which is upon the face of all the earth,
and every tree with seed in its fruit; you
shall have them for food.”

---Genesis 1:29

“Man, by nature, was never made to be a carnivorous animal,” wrote John Ray, FRS, “nor is he armed for prey or rapine, with jagged and pointed teeth, and claws to rend and tear; but with gentle hands to gather fruit and vegetables, and with teeth to chew and eat them.” According to Dr. Spenser Thompson, “No physiologist would dispute with those who maintain that men ought to have a vegetable diet.” Dr. S.M. Whitaker, MRCS, LRCP, in Man’s Natural Food: An Enquiry, concluded, “Comparative anatomy and physiology indicate fresh fruits and vegetables as the main food of man.”

More recently, William S. Collens and Gerald B. Dobkens concluded: “Examination of the dental structure of modern man reveals that he possesses all the features of a strictly herbivorous animal. While designed to subsist on vegetarian foods, he has perverted his dietary habits to accept food of the carnivore. It is postulated that man cannot handle carnivorous foods like the carnivore. Herein may lie the basis for the high incidence of arteriosclerotic disease.”

In The Natural Diet of Man, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg observes:

“Man is neither a hunter nor a killer. Carnivorous animals are provided with teeth and claws with which to seize, rend, and devour their prey. Man possesses no such instruments of destruction and is less well qualified for hunting than is a horse or a buffalo. When a man goes hunting, he must take a dog along to find the game for him, and must carry a gun with which to kill his victim after it has been found. Nature has not equipped him for hunting.”

According to Dr. Kellogg, “The statement that man is omnivorous is made without an atom of scientific support. It is true the average hotel bill of fare and the menu found upon the table of the average citizen of this country have a decidedly omnivorous appearance. As a matter of fact, man is not naturally omnivorous, but belongs, as long ago pointed out by Cuvier, to the frugivorous class of animals along with the chimpanzee and other anthropoids.

“The hog is a truly omnivorous animal. Although he thrives best upon a diet of grass or clover, tender shoots, seeds, and succulent roots, he will eat animal flesh, raw or cooked, with avidity when hungry, and he does not hesitate to regale himself upon carrion, after his taste has been cultivated in this direction.

“Man is not omnivorous. He cannot subsist upon grass or raw grain. Taking his food from the hand of Nature, without the aid of cookery, he must confine his dietary to fruits, nuts, soft grains, tender shoots, and succulent roots...It is true he can acquire an appetite for meat, especially when cooked, but practically all animals can do the same. Hunters sometimes teach their horses to eat broiled venison and cows have been taught to eat fish with avidity. Du Chaillu found in the Island of Magero...that sheep and goats were fed daily on fish both raw and cooked.”

Dr. Kellogg insists, however, that “cookery is no part of Nature’s biologic scheme, and hence the fact that man is able to eat and digest cooked meat is no more evidence that he is carnivorous or omnivorous than the fact that he can eat and digest cooked corn is evidence that he is to be classified with graminivourous animals, like the horse, which are eaters of raw grains.

“The bill of fare which wise Nature provides for man in forest and meadow, orchard and garden, a rich and varied menu, comprises more than 600 edible fruits, 100 cereals, 200 nuts, and 300 vegetables—roots, stems, buds, leaves and flowers...Fruits and nuts, many vegetables—young shoots, succulent roots, and fresh green leaves...are furnished by Nature ready for man’s use.”

Dr. Kellogg further notes that “the human liver is incapable of converting uric acid into urea,” and this is “an unanswerable argument against the use of flesh foods as part of the dietary of man. Uric acid is a highly active tissue poison...The livers of dogs, lions, and other carnivorous animals detoxicate uric acid by converting it into urea, a substance which is much less toxic and which is much more easily eliminated by the kidneys.

“Flesh foods are not the best nourishment for human beings and were not the food of our primitive ancestors,” observes Dr. Kellogg. “There is nothing necessary or desirable for human nutrition to be found in meats or flesh foods which is not found in and derived from vegetable products.”

Although writing in 1923, Dr. Kellogg’s words confirm a recent statement by the American Dietetic Association, that, “most of mankind for most of human history has lived on vegetarian or near vegetarian diets.”

“The human race in general has never really adopted flesh as a staple food,” explains Dr. Kellogg. “The Anglo-Saxons and a few savage tribes are about the only flesh-eating people. The people of other nations use meat only as a luxury or an emergency diet. According to Mori, the Japanese peasant of the interior is almost an exclusive vegetarian. He eats fish once or twice a month and meat once or twice a year.”

Dr. Kellogg writes that in 1899 the Emperor of Japan appointed a commission to determine whether it was necessary to add meat to the nation’s diet to improve the people’s strength and stature. The commission concluded that as far as meat was concerned, “the Japanese had always managed to do without it, and that their powers of endurance and their athletic prowess exceeded that of any of the Caucasian races. Japan’s diet stands on a foundation of rice.”

According to Dr. Kellogg, “the rice diet of the Japanese is supplemented by the free use of peanuts, soy beans, and greens, which...constitute a wholly sufficient bill of fare. Throughout the Island Empire, rice is largely used, together with buckwheat, barley, wheat, and millet. Turnips and radishes, yams and sweet potatos are frequently used, also cucumbers, pumpkins and squashes.

"The soy bean is held in high esteem and used largely in the form of miso, a puree prepared from the bean and fermented; also to-fu, a sort of cheese; and cho-yu, which is prepared by mixing the pulverized beans with wheat flour, salt, and water and fermenting from one and a half to five years.

“The Chinese peasant lives on essentially the same diet, as do also the Siamese, the Koreans, and most other Oriental peoples. Three-fourths of the world’s population eat so little meat that it cannot be regarded as anything more than an incidental factor in their bill of fare. The countless millions of China,” writes Dr. Kellogg, “are for the most part flesh-abstainers. In fact, at least two-thirds of the inhabitants of the world make so little use of flesh that it can hardly be considered an essential part of their dietary...

“The ancient vegetarian races of Mexico and Peru had attained to a high degree of civilization when discovered by Cortez, and were certainly far more gentle and amiable in character than were their flesh-eating conquerors, whose treachery and cold-blooded atrocities so nearly resulted in the complete extinction of a noble race.”

Dr. Kellogg reports that the South American bark-gatherers live “almost wholly upon bananas and other equally simple vegetable food...Certain tribes of South American Indians who subsist wholly upon a non-flesh dietary, are remarkable for vigor and endurance...the natives of the great plateau of the Andes subsist almost wholly upon corn and potatos...the old Peruvians...were practically vegetarians.” Dr. Kellogg quotes Charles Darwin as having described the laborers in the mines of Chile living “exclusively on vegetable food, including many seeds of leguminous plants.”

Concerning Central Africa, Dr. Kellogg admits, “It is true that practically all the natives eat meat on occasion, but...the chief sustenance of the native is obtained from the products of the earth, which are most abundant in this fertile region. Maize, yuma, manioc, coconuts, palm cabbage, bananas, and a great number of fruits and nuts afford ample variety and sufficient nourishment without flesh foods.”

Dr. Kellogg cites a Mr. Sarvis of the Boston Transcript, who wrote: “The Bantu race, who inhabit the great part of Central Africa, are almost entirely vegetarian... Generally, their food consists largely of a kind of millet, which is almost tasteless... Bananas and sweet potatos also form a very important part of the diet of the African races of the central parts...The natives also eat vegetables and salads of many kinds. In a few districts cattle are kept for the milk and butter, but the natives do not kill the animals for food...The Kavirondos wear no clothing whatever, and they are absolute vegetarians, the banana forming the base of their food.”

The Ladrone Islands were discovered by the Spaniards around 1620. There were no animals on the islands except birds, which the natives did not eat. The natives had never seen fire, and they lived entirely on plant foods—fruits and roots in their natural state. They were found to be vigorous, active, and of good longevity.

Dr. Kellogg gives an account of the “Silesians, Roumanians, and many Oriental people,” all of whom he says “are almost exclusively vegetarians, and enjoy a degree of vigor, vitality, and longevity not found among flesh-eating nations.”

In his 1583 text, Anatomy of Abuses, Stubbes wrote that previous generations “fed upon graine, corne, roots, pulse, hearbes, weedes, and such other baggage; and yet lived longer than we, were healthfuller than we, of better complexion than we, and much stronger than we in every respect.” A century later, Macauley noted that, “meat was so dear in price that hundreds of thousands of families scarcely knew the taste of it,” while half the population of England, “ate it not at all or not more often than once a week.”

Writing in the 1840s, Sylvester Graham observed: “The peasantry of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland, a considerable portion of Russia and other parts of Europe subsist mainly on non-flesh foods. The peasantry of modern Greece...subsist on coarse brown bread and fruits.

“The peasantry in many parts of Russia live on very coarse bread, with garlic and other vegetables; and like the same class in Greece, Italy, etc., they are obliged to be extremely frugal even in this kind of food. Yet they are (for the most part) healthy, vigorous, and active. Many of the inhabitants of Germany live mainly on rye and barley, in the form of coarse bread.

“The potato is the principle food of the Irish peasantry, and few portions of the human family are more healthy, athletic, and active...That portion of the peasantry of England and Scotland who subsist on their barley and oatmeal bread, porridge, potatos, and other vegetables, with temperate, cleanly habits (and surroundings) are able to endure more fatigue and exposure than any other class of people in the same countries.

“Three-fourths of the whole human family, in all periods of time...have subsisted on non-flesh foods; and when their supplies have been abundant and their habits in other respects correct, they have been well nourished.”

Dr. Kellogg also found a vegetarian lifestyle to be the norm in much of Europe: “An official report shows that the diet of the Swiss peasant includes little or no meat. ‘In the Schwyz canton, the people have long lived on plant food, without flesh. They are a fine set of independent mountaineers, and from this canton the freedom of the Swiss was born.' The peasants of northern Italy eat meat twice a year. They are remarkably robust and hearty.

“The hardy Scotch have never been great meat eaters. In the remote districts kailbrose, shredded greens and oatmeal over which hot water is poured, is eaten with or without milk...According to Douglas, writing in 1782, the diet of the Scotch of the East Coast was then oatmeal and milk with vegetables. He says: ‘Flesh is never seen in the houses of the common farmers, except at a baptism, a wedding, Christmas, or Shrovetide.’”

Faced with the fact that apes can be trained to eat flesh foods, Sylvester Graham responded, “But if this proves that animal to be omnivorous, then the horse, cow, sheep, and others are all omnivorous, for everyone of them is easily trained to eat animal food. Horses have frequently been trained to eat animal food, and sheep have been so accustomed to it as to refuse grass.

“All carnivorous animals can be trained to a vegetable diet, and brought to subsist upon it, with less inconvenience and deterioration than herbivorous or frugivorous animals can be brought to live on animal food,” acknowledged Graham. “Comparative anatomy proves that man is naturally a frugivorous animal, formed to subsist upon fruits, seeds, and farinaceous vegetable.”

Dr. Gordon Latto notes that carnivorous and omnivorous animals can only move their jaws up and down, and that omnivores “have a blunt tooth, a sharp tooth, a blunt tooth, a sharp tooth—showing that they were destined to deal both with flesh foods from the animal kingdom and foods from the vegetable kingdom...

“Carnivorous mammals and omnivorous mammals cannot perspire except at the extremity of the limbs and the tip of the nose; man perspires all over the body. Finally, our instincts; the carnivorous mammal (which first of all has claws and canine teeth) is capable of tearing flesh asunder, whereas man only partakes of flesh foods after they have been camouflaged by cooking and by condiments.

“Man instinctively is not carnivorous,” explains Dr. Latto. “...he takes the flesh food after somebody else has killed it, and after it has been cooked and camouflaged with certain condiments. Whereas to pick an apple off a tree or eat some grain or a carrot is a natural thing to do: people enjoy doing it; they don’t feel disturbed by it. But to see these animals being slaughtered does affect people; it offends them. Even the toughest of people are affected by the sights in the slaughterhouse.

“I remember taking some medical students into a slaughterhouse. They were about as hardened people as you could meet. After seeing the animals slaughtered that day in the slaughterhouse, not one of them could eat the meat that evening.”

Author R.H. Wheldon writes in No Animal Food:

“The gorge of a cat, for instance, will rise at the smell of a mouse or a piece of raw flesh, but not at the aroma of fruit. If a man can take delight in pouncing upon a bird, tear its still living body apart with his teeth, sucking the warm blood, one might infer that Nature had provided him with carnivorous instinct, but the very thought of doing such a thing makes him shudder. On the other hand, a bunch of luscious grapes makes his mouth water, and even in the absence of hunger, he will eat fruit to gratify taste.”

Some argue that human intelligence has enabled man to transcend his physical limitations and function as a “natural” flesh-eater. If this is true, then we must also classify napalm, poison gas, and nuclear weapons as “natural,” too, because they are also products of (misused!) human intelligence. Agriculture and cookery aren’t found in nature, either. One might therefore argue if human technology is “natural,” then human ethical behavior is equally natural.

“I am the very opposite of an anthropomorphizer,” says writer Brigid Brophy. “I don’t hold animals superior or even equal to humans. The whole case for behaving decently towards animals rests on the fact that we are the superior species. We are the species uniquely capable of rationality, imagination and moral choice, and that is precisely why we are under obligation to respect the rights of other creatures.”

The myth that humans are naturally a predator species remains popular:

“The beast of prey is the highest form of active life,” wrote Nazi philosopher Oswald Spengler in 1931. “It represents a mode of living which requires the extreme degree of the necessity of fighting, conquering, annihilating, self-assertion. The human race ranks highly because it belongs to the class of beasts of prey. Therefore we find in man the tactics of life proper to a bold, cunning beast of prey. He lives engaged in aggression, killing, annihilation. He wants to be master in as much as he exists.”

The fact that predators exist in the wild does not imply man must automatically imitate them. Cannibalism and rape also occur in nature. Robert Louis Stevenson, in his book, In the South Seas, wrote that there was little difference between the “civilized” Europeans and the “savages” of the Cannibal Islands: “We consume the carcasses of creatures with like appetites, passions, and organs as our own. We feed on babes, though not our own, and fill the slaughter-houses daily with screams of pain and fear.”

Moreover, the popular argument that it is ‘natural” for us to utilize murdered animals as a source of food does not (ecologically) justify factory farming and raising livestock as we know it today. It justifies hunting. The Native Americans, the Eskimo and other hunter-gatherer tribes have traditionally lived more in harmony with their environment than does modern man in urban civilization.

Half the water consumed in the United States, for example, goes to irrigate land growing feed and fodder for livestock. Huge amounts of water are also used to wash away their excrement. In fact, U.S. livestock produce twenty times as much excrement as does the entire human population; creating sewage which is ten to several hundred times more concentrated than raw domestic sewage.

Animal wastes cause ten times more water pollution than does the U.S. human population; the meat industry causes three times as much harmful organic water pollution than the rest of the nation’s industries combined. Meat producers are the number one industrial polluters in our nation, contributing to half the water pollution in the United States.

The water that goes into a thousand-pound steer could float a destroyer. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, but 2,500 gallons to produce a pound of meat. If these costs weren’t subsidized by the American taxpayers, the cheapest hamburger meat would be $35 per pound!

The burden of subsidizing the California meat industry costs taxpayers $24 billion annually. Livestock producers are California’s biggest consumers of water. Every tax dollar that the state doles out to livestock producers costs taxpayers over seven dollars in lost wages, higher living costs and reduced business income. Seventeen western states have enough water supplies to support economies and populations twice as large as the present.

Overgrazing of cattle leads to topsoil erosion; turning once-arable land into desert. We lose four million acres of topsoil every year, and 85 percent of this is directly caused by raising livestock. To replace the soil we’ve lost, we’re chopping down our forests. Since 1967, the rate of deforestization in the U.S. has been one acre every five seconds. For each acre cleared in urbanization, seven are cleared for grazing or growing livestock feed. One-third of all raw materials in the U.S. are consumed by the livestock industry, and it takes three times as much fossil fuel energy to produce meat than it does to produce plant foods.

Ecological arguments in favor of vegetarianism can be found in the Bible; arguments supporting vegetarianism are as old as mankind. The Bible contains numerous cases of conflicts directly caused by the practice of raising livestock. These include contested water rights, competition for grazing areas, and tension between agriculturalists and nomadic herdsmen.

The settled agricultural communities resented the intrusion of nomadic tribes with their large herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. The animals were considered a menace. Besides the threat to the crops themselves, huge herds of livestock caused damage to the land through overgrazing.

For this reason, the Philistines (whose primary agricultural pursuits were corn and orchards), discouraged nomadic herdsmen from using their territory by filling in many of the wells in the surrounding area. One of the earliest accounts of conflict among the herdsmen themselves in found in the story of Lot and Abram:

“And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together; for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle.” (Genesis 13:5-7)

Abram moved westward to the region known as Canaan, while Lot journeyed to the east; settling in Sodom. Peaceful resolutions, however, were not always possible. There are several references in the Bible to clashes between the Israelites and Midianites. The Midianites were wealthy traders who owned large numbers of livestock, as did the Israelites, who brought their herds with them when they left Egypt. Livestock require vast areas of land for grazing. They also need water, which has never been abundant in that part of the world. The strain placed on the land’s resources is mentioned in Judges 6:4: “And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth.”

The depletion of resources created by the people and their livestock moving into this territory is described in Judges 6:5 with this analogy: “For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers.” Another passage states that after a vicious battle with the Midanites the Israelites increased their herds with the livestock of their slain captives. This included 675,000 sheep and more than 72,000 beehives.

Vegetarianism is relevant to both our modern world and its religious teachings. The livestock population of the United States today consume enough grain and soybeans to feed over five times the entire human population. American cows, pigs, chicken, sheep, etc. eat up 90 percent of our wheat, 80 percent of our corn, and 95 percent of our oats. Less than half of the harvested agricultural acreage in the United States is used to grow food for human consumption. Most of it is used to grow livestock feed.

In The Wealth of Nations, economist Adam Smith noted the advantages of a vegetarian diet: “It may indeed be doubted whether butcher’s meat is anywhere a necessary of life. Grain and other vegetables, with the help of milk, cheese, and butter, or oil, where butter is not to be had, afford the most plentiful, the most wholesome, the most nourishing, and the most invigorating diet. Decency nowhere requires that any man should eat butcher’s meat.”

Ronald J. Sider, in his 1977 book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, pointed out that 220 million Americans were eating enough food (largely because of the high consumption of grain fed to livestock) to feed over one billion people in the poorer countries.

The realization that meat is an unnecessary luxury, resulting in inequities in the world food supply, has prompted religious leaders in different denominations to call on their members to abstain from meat. Paul Moore, Jr., the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of New York, made such an appeal in a November 1974 pastoral letter calling for the observance of “meatless Wednesdays.”

A similar appeal had previously been issued by Cardinal Cooke, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York. The Reverend Eugene Carson Blake, former head of the World Council of Churches and founder of Bread for the World, has encouraged everyone in his anti-hunger organization to abstain from eating meat on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

“Is this not the fast I have chosen? To loosen
the chains of wickedness, to undo the bonds of
oppression, and to let the oppressed go free?
Is it not to share thy bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless?
Clothing the naked when you see them, and
not turning your back on your own?”

---Isaiah 58:6-8

What does the future hold? If the world population triples in the next century, then meat production would have to triple as well. Instead of 3.7 billion acres of cropland and 7.5 billion acres of grazing land, we would require 11.1 billion acres of cropland and 22.5 billion acres of grazing land. But this is slightly more than the total land mass of the six inhabited continents! We are already desperately short of groundwater, topsoil, forests and energy.

Even if we were to resort to extreme methods of population control—abortion, infanticide, genocide, etc.—modest increases in the world population during the next century would make it impossible to maintain current levels of meat consumption. On a vegetarian diet, however, the world could support a population several times its present size. The world’s cattle alone consume enough to feed 8.7 billion humans.

Father Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest, author, and founder of the Riverdale Center for Religious Research in New York, wrote in 1987 that “vegetarianism is a way of life that we should all move toward for economic survival, physical well-being, and spiritual integrity.”

Would it be unusual for a Christian teacher to teach compassion towards animals to the point of vegetarianism? Abstinence from meat as nonviolence and as asceticism has its place in the Christian tradition. Some of the most distinguished figures in the history of Christianity have been vegetarian.

A partial list includes St. James, St. Matthew, Clemens Prudentius, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Benedict, Aegidius, Boniface, St. Richard of Wyche, St. Filipo Neri, St. Colomba, John Wray, John Wesley, Joshua Evans, William Metcalfe, General William Booth, Ellen White, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and Reverend V.A. Holmes-Gore.

The early Christian fathers followed a meatless regimen. Until the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church had ruled that Catholics observe certain fast days and abstain from eating meat on Fridays in remembrance of the death of Christ. After 1966, the rule was relaxed, so that Catholics need only abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent.

There is nothing, therefore, in Scripture or the Christian tradition that would prohibit Christian denominations from admitting that the concession to kill animals granted by God in Genesis 9:3 along with the prohibition against consuming animal blood which is repeated again in Acts 15 does not represent His highest hopes for humanity (Genesis 1:29; Isaiah 11:6-9); recognizing God’s love and goodness towards the animals; citing the lives of the saints and religious leaders in Christianity who taught compassion for all living beings; and recognizing the virtues of vegetarianism.

In his book, Animal Rights: A Christian Assessment of Man’s Treatment of Animals, the Reverend Dr. Andrew Linzey writes with regret: “It has, I think, to be sadly recognized that Christians, Catholic or otherwise, have failed to construct a satisfactory moral theology of animal treatment.”

Vegetarianism is ethical, healthier, environmentally (and politically?) correct, and economical. It has been said that if everyone had to kill animals every day for his or her own meat, nearly all of us would choose vegetarianism. The vegetarian way of life is consistent not only with human anatomy, the Bible, and Christian tradition and theology, but with Western spirituality in general.