Is vegetarianism imposed in Indian scriptures?
Never. The Bhagavad Gita doesn't impose a lifestyle on people. It only analyses. It describes three basic qualities - sattva, rajas and tamas - that make the human being. The proportion of these three manifests in every aspect of your personality, in the manner in which you speak, the language you use, whether you are cultured, whether you are aggressive. Sattva means purity - it denotes serenity, the highest grade. Rajas means passion - such a personality is always in turmoil, led by passion, desire. Tamas is inertia - persons predominantly of this type have no motivation.
Where does vegetarianism come in?
Depending on your inner nature, you will automatically gravitate to certain types of food. A highly sattvika individual, the scriptures say, will eat sattvika food - vegetarian, healthy, not too spicy or greasy.
What are the advantages of vegetarianism?
Besides being healthy, light and mild, it helps you develop intellectually. All physicians, lecturers and similar, prefer to maintain a light diet specially when they need to focus on work. Incidentally, many of those people who are intellectual - scientists, authors - have veered towards vegetarianism without knowing what the Gita says about sattvika food. One of the greatest examples is George Bernard Shaw, who was born into a meat-eating family and converted to vegetarianism.
Is it nutritionally adequate?
Yes, in fact it provides better nutrition than any other way of eating. Even doctors the world over are beginning to prescribe vegetarian diets. Indian food is not only the only diet that is culturally vegetarian but it is rich in variety and taste as well as nutrition. People are beginning to realize the ill-effects of high-protein, meat-based diets and are opting for vegetarianism.
PHOTO: PAUL HARRIS/unep/topham
What would a would-be convert to vegetarianism require?
To think. The choice is open only to humans. Only you and I can think about what kind of food we want to eat. No cow or tiger can make a choice. As humans we must think about what we want to achieve. If one awakens to the fact that there is a great deal of potential that is dormant within and one is on the path of self-improvement then a vegetarian diet is conducive for managing the vagaries of one's truant mind. All herbivores can be controlled. No carnivore can really be controlled.
But most commonly, those who convert to vegetarianism do so because they don't want to be cruel to animals. And that is a very powerful motivation. It's not just the fact that the animal is slaughtered. Its whole life is a torturous existence. As you become more sensitive, you want to inflict as little pain as possible on another living being.
BACKGROUND: DEIA SCHOLOSBERG/PCI