Every so often I have had reason to look at this subject, and ask myself whether I feel a person should be vegetarian…. After all, I am.
However, I know enough not to believe that just because something is right for me, that it must be right for everybody.
I look at the question again here because a few days ago I received an email from a visitor to our site asking if I am vegetarian. I replied saying yes, but that I was not sure whether one has to be, elaborating by saying that I have a very good friend in India who is Enlightened and who is not vegetarian. I received a one line reply saying simply “Trust me - your friend in India cannot be enlightened if he eats God's innocent animals!”.
So, here I will see if I can answer the question… Does one need to be a vegetarian to be Enlightened?
First I will look at why I have chosen to not eat meat:
1) I have always been very sensitive to people and animals and would never want to hurt another animal if I can avoid it, in any way. As soon as I left home (at the age of 21) and was able to arrange my own food, I stopped eating meat.
2) But also, the fact that my own teacher was vegetarian, or at least only vegetarian food was served at the meetings, and as a result I am sure I was influenced to follow this example, until it became the norm in me.
Considering the above, what if a person had not followed the example of a teacher who was vegetarian; and what if they were not overly sensitive to people and animals, and for whom Enlightenment came pretty much without effort – meaning that they did not have to scrutinise what was the best course of action in order to achieve the state of being they sought? Would Enlightenment really still happen in the above case? And if so, would a person suddenly have a ‘Road to Damascus’ type realisation, whereby they would suddenly change their eating habits, and perhaps their whole way of life, to accompany their new found way of being?
My own experience is that I struggled and fought for many years to realise and become what I have, but when it happened here, I did not change. I carried on just as I had before. Sure, I had been changing all the time, but when I had the ‘final step’, nothing changed beyond the knowledge or sense of being within.
One aspect of enlightenment that is often hard for non-Enlightened people to comprehend is the lack of morals inherent in being Enlightened or ‘Awake’. My own view is that one’s morals – or the lack of – continue into Enlightenment. A ‘nice’ person remains nice, whilst a not-so-nice person is unlikely to suddenly become so just because they realise that they are the being that is creating all that they experience. In fact, it could be argued by the latter that nothing matters at all as nothing really exists, so they can do whatever they like with few, if any 'real' consequences!
Then we have the average chap (let’s say) who has become Enlightened without focussed effort – or with effort of a different kind - who is decent and lives like most people around him, including the eating of meat. It is his history and his culture, and everybody’s doing it.
Culture plays a big part in this. I have the advantage of having plenty of choice about what I eat, visiting the large supermarkets etc. I can even shop online from different stores and have my shopping delivered without even leaving the house. What if, in another part of the world, they do not have the facilities, or the money to have this choice? Are we going to say that this means the people cannot be Enlightened? Who has the right to decide this?
From a scientific (barely) point of view, it is said that meat requires more energy to digest, thus eating it makes one heavier on an inner level. It is also said that ‘real red-blooded men’ would eat meat, while 'softie, pansy types' (more sensitive) may not do so. If this is true, whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship or just the way it usually works, I am not sure, but certainly the fact that a person has chosen not to eat animals suggests a greater sensitivity towards animals, and perhaps life in general (but not necessarily).
As I said before, I have always been extra sensitive with regards animals and had a sort of affinity with them (as well as with people), and this has not left me. In fact, I have found a greater appreciation for life developing in me, going as far as stopping to remove worms and snails off the path to avoid them getting stepped on. But whether this is part of my Enlightenment or just part of the developing character of Nick Roach, I don’t know.
In the hope of finding a solution to the problems we face in daily life, we are often led to a spiritual or religious figure of some sort who demonstrates to us how we should be living in order to find inner peace. Such figures tend to have a background in religious teachings, and thus pass on the religious and established traditions as to how we should live, along with their teachings. However, while their lifestyle may well suit them and their country of origin, there is no reason why they would suit another’s, living in a totally different country and society; and what’s more, it may have nothing at all to do with the insights or realisations they are teaching. Their activities and practices are simply what they do and have always done, while they are living - whether Enlightened or otherwise.
Having said the above, I am reminded of the story of Jesus, who is supposed to be the Son of God, but who, to me, was an Enlightened man, who fed the 40,000 people with loaves and fish. Now, had he been vegetarian himself, and promoted this, it would be unlikely that he would have gone out of his way to make such a miracle as to feed all those people fish. (For the record, I make no claims about the accuracy of the story; instead showing that it is unlikely even Jesus was vegetarian, if this is to beleived).
Also, one new piece of information that surprised me recently, was to find that many Buddhists are not vegetarian, and on reading into this further, it seems the Buddhist teachings about eating meat vary too. For some, it is indeed a big No-No. But for others, it is only advisable to avoid eating meat where possible. There is even a sutra (teaching from the Buddha) which recommends avoiding the eating of only certain animals, but otherwise accepting what is offered so as to avoid offence; and for others they are not permitted to turn away any food of any kind that is offered to them, even if it is meat (unless the animal was killed specifically for them to eat - in which case it is considered impure and should not be touched).
A more detailed history of vegetarianism in Buddhism can be found here : Buddhist vegetarianism - Wikipedia
The point in all the above is, just because we see a certain Enlightened individual living or behaving in a certain way, that does not necessarily mean that all Enlightened individuals must live or behave the same way.
Likewise, just as not all Enlightened people will be vegetarian, not all vegetarians will be Enlightened.