When we think about a vegetarian diet, we often connect it with the health of our physical body. For those who are concerned with optimizing their health, vegetarianism is now being promoted by many medical doctors who claim that this diet provides optimum nutrition and guards against many diseases caused by non-vegetarian foods. What, then, is the relationship of vegetarianism to spirituality? As spirituality relates to the spirit, then what connection would our spiritual essence have to the foods we eat?
Most people focus on the health benefits of vegetarianism. They may learn about the variety of vegetarian dishes that could be prepared. People may take nutrition lessons on how to eat a balanced diet using vegetarian foods. They may study how we can get the protein we need from meat substitutes such as soy products, beans, nuts, vegetable protein, dairy products, and other vegetarian foods.
There are other aspects of the vegetarian diet that are equally important. Along with improving our physical well-being, there are other benefits to vegetarianism to help our mind and soul. Spirituality is not only concerned with our own inner development. It is a way of living in which we also have love and concern for all other life in creation. Spirituality involves bringing us closer to our true nature. Our true self is one with God. When God has created this universe, the earth, and all creatures, it is natural that we want to respect all life rather than destroy what God has created.
Those who are truly connected with God feel a love for all creatures, great and small. The Light of God we recognize in others is also within all other life forms. It is as much in the humble ant as it is in the powerful lion. It is in the snake, as it is in the cow. It is in the fish, as it is in the birds. When we look at life through the eyes of the soul, we witness God in even the humblest and most grotesque of creatures. With that angle of vision we develop love for all that exists.
Sain, a saint from India, once was preparing his meal of flat bread, called chapatis. A dog entered his room and snatched the chapati he had made and ran out. Sain ran after him as onlookers observed. “Look at him chasing that dog over a mere chapati,” they remarked.
But the crowd was amazed and ashamed of their thoughts about Sain when they heard him cry out to the dog, “Wait. Let me put butter on your bread for you as well!” To Sain, the dog had come to his home like the best of guests, and just as you would naturally serve your guest with a chapati that was buttered, so too did he wish to treat his dog guest in a hospitable manner.
The soul recognizes God in all living creatures and would never dream of taking the life of any of God’s children. When we look at life through the consciousness of the empowered soul, we begin to live in a gentler manner and start respecting all forms of life. This is one of the reasons that many people who are in touch with their soul turn to a vegetarian diet. They feel that God has provided enough food in the form of plants to sustain them and it is not necessary to take the life of any of the Lord’s creatures for food.
Spirituality, then, means having concern and compassion for others. There is great disparity in food resources amongst people around the world. Some countries have abundant food supplies, while others do not. A vegetarian diet may give an economic advantage to many poor countries. As Sant Darshan Singh Ji Maharaj has written, “It takes ten acres of pastureland to produce a certain amount of meat protein, but the same amount of vegetable protein can be produced on only one acre of land. So nine acres of land are wasted when meat is produced.” When combating world hunger, such an equation cannot be overlooked.