Friday, 20 February 2015

Biblical facts for Being Vegetarian

Mystics have generally had a predisposition towards vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol, and those of the highest order have always taught it as a prerequisite for following the mystic path. It is natural to ask, therefore, whether Jesus also followed the same practice.

Like reincarnation, vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol were common in early Christianity though they were later eradicated, as far as possible, by the orthodoxy. But like both spiritual practice and reincarnation, there is plenty of indirect evidence to demonstrate that Jesus was indeed vegetarian and drank no alcohol, though no direct, unequivocal statement from him on the subject has survived.

Spiritual practice, reincarnation and dietary restrictions are among the first casualties in the steady decline of a mystic's teachings into a religion and the reason is not hard to find. It is the character of the human mind. The mind is involved in the world. It does not want to meditate and without the personal guidance of a mystic, there is soon no knowledge of how to meditate, at least in the way the mystic taught. As a result, the correct form of spiritual practice is rapidly forgotten, giving way to doctrine as the essence of the nascent religion or sect.

But doctrine is always open to interpretation, especially where there is limited primary source material available in writing. Even otherwise, the first tenets to go are always those that restrict the mind's activities and its desire for sensual pleasures. The mind does not want to exercise self-control and finds ways to justify proceeding in the way in which it has always done. After sex, man's greatest sensual pleasures probably come from eating, and his imagination has enabled him to develop a range of menus and recipes that entail taking the life of practically every other living species on the planet. Even snakes, snails, insects, rats, frogs, dogs and other creatures are not exempt. Man eats and drinks everything and is reluctant to sacrifice these pleasures. Therefore, he finds ways of convincing himself that his dietary appetites will do him no harm. Mystics, however, point out that they very definitely do.

The primary rationale which all mystics give for instructing their disciples to be vegetarian is that of reincarnation and the law of karma. This gives us part of the reason why reincarnation is one of the early casualties of mystic teachings. For wherever reincarnation has been retained as a general belief, there too you will find a traditional belief in vegetarianism. This has been true of the ancient Greek mystics and the Pythagoreans, the gnostics, the Manichaeans, the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Buddhists and the Jains. All these are or were traditional believers in both reincarnation and vegetarianism. Once somebody accepts the possibility of reincarnation, then the forces that drive rebirth are also brought into sharp focus and it becomes very easy to understand that whatever suffering is caused in this world must be paid for in this world. Get rid of reincarnation from your religion and it becomes very easy to eliminate vegetarianism, too. An understanding of karma and reincarnation impresses on the mind the fact that everything has to be paid for in the future.

Every thought and action leaves its impression upon the mind. All suffering caused to other creatures, whether directly or indirectly, has its effect. Everything gets recorded in the deep recesses of the mind and automatically bears fruit in future lives. If someone is partially or totally responsible, during the course of their life, for the deaths of a thousand fish or a thousand chickens or a thousand cows, then they will have to pay for it in the future. They may not need to be killed by each of those animals, individually and in separate births, but they will certainly have to undergo the equivalent suffering, in one way or another.

So the question then becomes, what creatures should we eat? – since all have life, even plants. The answer is: those forms whose killing causes the least suffering - and that means plants and other species from the vegetable kingdom. Mystics have tried to explain the gradation of creatures in this world in a variety of ways. But it does seem clear, even to casual observation, that some orders of life have a higher level of consciousness than others. Even this point can be argued, of course, and people do, but it would be generally fair to accept - all facetiousness apart - that a human being has a greater degree of intelligence and consciousness than a cabbage or a mushroom. Between the two, there is a wide spectrum of creatures of descending consciousness. Dogs and dolphins are usually considered more intelligent than parrots and canaries. Birds are higher than frogs and snakes. And reptiles would seem to be at a higher level than grass and dandelions.

Members of the vegetable kingdom are characterized by their inability to move about of their own accord. Unlike all other species, they have no legs, wings, fins, tails, cilia or other organs of mobility. For the distribution of their species, they have to hitch a ride with another species or travel by wind or wave. One can presume, then, that plants do not have the intelligence to 'want' to go somewhere or to even 'consider' the matter at all. A dog, on the other hand, clearly knows (more or less!) where he is going and why, as anyone who has a pet will readily concur. A creature, who knows how to get about, must have both means and motive - to have the ability to get there and to know what it wants to do when it arrives. Mobility thus implies greater intelligence and a higher kind of mental activity than that of plants.

Even in our legal system, we tacitly acknowledge this gradation between the species. If I pluck a flower or a vegetable from my neighbour's garden, he will - at the most - be angry with me. If I steal his chickens, the result may be a fine. If I kill his horse, I may go to jail. If I kill or kidnap my neighbour, then I am in very serious trouble. It is the same with the killing of living creatures for our food. The higher the animal in the spectrum of consciousness, the greater its awareness and the greater its suffering - and the greater is the karmic penalty incurred.

This, then, is the essential reason why mystics insist that their disciples be vegetarian, eating only produce from the vegetable kingdom. But there are other allied reasons, too. Firstly, killing other creatures or having them killed for us hardens the mind and heart. It is simply a lack of sensitivity to the suffering of other creatures that permits us to eat a dead animal without considering the fear and pain it has undergone. Even if its death was instantaneous, life is precious to all and no creature willingly surrenders its life. It wanted to go on living. We took the law into our own hands and killed it - or by our desire for its meat were responsible for its death by reason of supply and demand.

Such an act is not a loving act and turns our mind away from love and compassion. If we want to expand our own heart towards the Source of all light, life and love, then we must act in accordance with those cosmic principles. How can we face God, expecting Him to shower His love and grace upon us, if every day we are killing, eating and causing suffering to the other forms in His creation? We are asking Him to forgive us for our sins and yet we are continually responsible for hurting others, hardly giving it a moment's thought. Under such circumstances, how can we expect His compassion and His mercy?

Secondly, those who have studied the matter say that a balanced vegetarian diet is more healthy and less full of toxins than meat. They also say that it makes better economic sense to be vegetarian than to eat meat. These and other considerations may all be true, but the primary reason why mystics advise abstention from meat is to avoid adding to our already heavy burden of sins. If we are practising meditation with the intention of clearing this load, it makes little sense to be struggling so hard to clear it and at the same time to be constantly adding to it.

In practice, many people who find themselves seeking spirituality slowly come to a realization that they no longer wish to eat the flesh of dead animals. It no longer agrees with them, in one way or another. As their own awareness, love, compassion and sensitivity increases, they automatically find themselves drawing away from the consumption of meat. Then, as they do so, they experience the benefit in terms of a greater lightness of heart and inner peacefulness, and sooner or later they are naturally inclined to take a clear decision to become strictly vegetarian. If they are lucky enough to meet a perfect Master, he will certainly insist that they become so if they wish to receive initiation into his fold.

From our study of Jesus' teachings, it is quite evident that he taught the law of recompense for sins. And if he also taught reincarnation as so many of the more mystically minded, early Christians believed, he would certainly have been vegetarian and have taught vegetarianism to his disciples. What is also clear is that he was of such a kind, loving, forgiving, merciful and compassionate disposition that it is difficult to imagine him even hurting another creature, let alone placing it upon his plate and eating it.

Jesus' philosophy of non-violence was as far advanced as that of any other teacher of this subject, probably all of whom have also been vegetarian. How can one who advises turning the other cheek, giving your cloak to one who has already taken your coat and walking two miles with one who has already coerced you into going one mile with them, be thought to have happily eaten up the bodies of slaughtered animals? How can one who is so far removed from thoughts of violence and revenge that he recommends extending unlimited forgiveness to others, advises loving your enemies and doing good to those who treat you badly, have been expected to have condoned the killing of other creatures for his food?

Jesus also reiterated the commandment attributed to Moses, “Thou shalt not kill”, as we find it in the King James Version of Mark and Luke. In many modern translations, however, the key word has been changed to "murder" in both the Old and New Testaments, though the meaning in Deuteronomy is ambiguous and could mean either or both. 'Murder' implies only human beings, 'killing' refers to all life, and the translators must have been aware of the implications of their change. But there is another passage among the books attributed to Moses, this time in Genesis, where the meaning is stated clearly:

And God said,
"Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed,
which is upon the face of all the earth,
and every tree,
in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed;
To you it shall be for meat."
-Genesis 1:29, Authorized King James Version, Oxford University Press, 1611, Oxford, UK

There is no doubt about the vegetarianism inherent in this piece of advice. So although the provenance of these biblical writings is largely a mystery and their meaning often obscure and allegorical, this passage at least is clear enough and applicable to all human beings in all ages and cultures. This is one of the reasons why Jesus said:

Did not Moses give you the law,
and yet none of you keepeth the law?
-John 7:20

Jesus, who spoke so definitively about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Jewish priests, is hardly likely to have behaved hypocritically himself. How, then, can he be expected to have killed for his food? Can one imagine Jesus with a gun, a knife or a sword, or going out as a hunter or a butcher? The picture is quite inconsistent with everything else he taught. So although there is no explicit quotation from Jesus recorded in the gospels on the subject, the evidence of the remainder of his teachings alone is more than suggestive. It would have been most inconsistent of him if he had not abstained from killing animals and eating meat.

After all, bearing in mind the approach of the orthodox Christian authorities as well as the attitude of the Roman emperors who adopted Christianity, would one really expect any references to vegetarianism to be present in the canonical gospels? They had three or four hundred years and ample opportunity to adjust any 'difficult' passages to their own liking. And since everyone in those days changed texts willy-nilly to fit their own beliefs, they could so easily have justified their editorial excursions in the name of 'correcting earlier errors'.

Those of rigid, hard-hearted, angry and aggressive - even violent - character, as many of the orthodox authorities seem to have been, are hardly likely to have entertained vegetarian leanings. Such people like their food and drink and will go to all lengths to substantiate their position in order to continue in the way they always have done. This is the nature of the human mind. The response and reaction come from a deeply subconscious place to preserve and enforce one's own personal beliefs. So if - in the face of Jesus' teachings to the contrary - they could condone causing misery and hardship, even exile, torture and death, to their fellow human beings, they are hardly likely to notice a discrepancy between their killing of animals for food and Jesus' teachings of love and compassion. Nor would they feel any twinges of conscience in adjusting Jesus' teachings to suit themselves. Like the Pharisees and Jewish priests before them, they were already too far away from the teachings they professed to follow.

Peter the Vegetarian

Supporting this point of view is the fact that many of Jesus' well-known disciples are depicted as vegetarian in the apocryphal literature. We have already seen how Peter was said by the Ebionites to have abstained from meat and in the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions there are a number of places where Peter speaks out against the sacrificial slaughter of animals as offerings to idols and the subsequent eating of their flesh. For instance:
When you partook of meat offered to idols,
you became servants to the prince of evil.
-Clementine Homilies VII:III, p.131, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1870

And as regards his own habits, Peter says:
I live on bread alone, with olives, and seldom even with pot herbs; and my dress is what you see, a tunic with a pallium: and having these, I require nothing more. This is sufficient for me, because my mind does not regard things present, but things eternal, and therefore no present and visible thing delights me.
-Clementine Recognitions VII: VI, pp.340-41, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1867

In another passage, Peter further commends a vegetarian diet and a simple lifestyle founded upon practical need - rather than a desire for luxury - together with a faith that God will provide all one's needs. He also points out that such a way of life is easy on the domestic budget:
For what expense have those
who use water and bread,
and who expect it from God?
-Clementine Recognitions IX: VI, p.405, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1867

Demonstrating, too, that these Judaic Christians were by no means insular in their thinking and "poor of intellect" as the Christian heresiologists liked to deride them, there is a great deal in the Clementine writings concerning other beliefs and cultures. This includes a mystical interpretation of the Greek gods and their legendary exploits. The writer even has praise for the Brahmans of India:
There are likewise among the Bactrians, in the Indian countries, immense multitudes of Brahmans, who also themselves, from the tradition of their ancestors, and peaceful customs and laws, neither commit murder nor adultery, nor worship idols, nor have the practice of eating animal food, are never drunk, never do anything maliciously, but always fear God. And these things indeed they do, though the rest of the Indians commit both murders and adulteries, and worship idols, and are drunken, and practise other wickednesses of this sort.
-Clementine Recognitions IX:XX; p.413, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1867

Whether he is correct that the "rest of the Indians" all behaved in such a reprehensible manner is doubtful, but the writer's reason for mentioning these cultural traits is to demonstrate that people practise and believe in those things in which they have been brought up. They thus perpetuate old beliefs and customs, good or bad, without really thinking too much about them.

James the Brother of Jesus - a Vegetarian

The first leader of the Judaic Christians at Jerusalem is always said to have been James the brother of Jesus, also called James the Just or James the Righteous. According to the fourth-century Christian historian, Eusebius, a certain Hegesippus, who lived a generation and a half after the martyrdom of James, described James as being vegetarian and teetotal:
James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just (the Righteous) by all, from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother's womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh.
-Hegesippus, in Eusebius, History of the Church 2:23;
p.125 The Church History of Eusebius, James Parker, Oxford, 1890;
The History of Church, pp.99-100, Williamson, Penguin, London, 1965

Jesus' own brother was vegetarian and teetotal, then. That, surely, is significant.

Matthew and Thomas - the Vegetarians

There is as little genuine historical material concerning Jesus' disciples as there is of Jesus himself, and it is necessary to study peoples' traditional beliefs concerning them. From these sources, we discover that Matthew and Thomas were also said to have been vegetarian. Clement of Alexandria, for instance, who is not given to fabrication, comments in a discourse on not pandering to the palate:
Happiness is found in the practice of virtue. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, and nuts, and vegetables, without flesh.
-Clement of Alexandria, instructor Vol.2:1;
The Writings of Clement of Alexandria, p.197, Wilson, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1867, 1869

While the Acts of Thomas makes a number of references to Thomas as both vegetarian and teetotal. His friends relate of him:
It is evident from his simplicity and kindness and faith that he is a holy man (Syriac: magus) or an apostle of the new God whom he preaches; for he fasts continually and prays, and eats only bread, with salt, and his drink is water, and he wears but one garment alike in fair weather and in winter, and he receives nothing from any man (Syriac: takes nothing for himself from any man), and whatever he has, he gives to others.
-Acts of Thomas 20; AAA pp.161-62;
The Apocryphal New Testament, p.373, MR James, Oxford University Press, Oxford, (1924) 1989

What he eats is bread and salt, and his drink is water from evening to evening, and he engages frequently in prayer.
-Acts of Thomas 104;
The Apocryphal New Testament, p.410, MR James, Oxford University Press, Oxford, (1924) 1989
The stories in the Acts of Thomas, of course, are anecdotal and were never intended to be understood historically, but the teaching and tradition they impart was certainly meant to be taken to heart.

Bread, Herbs and Lentils which John Bought for Himself

In addition to his vegetarian diet and abstention from alcohol, it is also said of Thomas that he "takes nothing for himself from any man". The same is written concerning the apostle John in the History of John:
His sustenance was, from the ninth to the ninth hour once, when he had finished his prayer, bread and herbs with a mess of boiled lentils, which he bought for himself as he went from town to town, eating, and drinking water only.
-History of John, p.8, The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, WR Wright, Williams & Norgate, Edinburgh, 1871

John was not only vegetarian but was very particular about living off his own income and purchasing his own food. This is another principle which all Masters have taught: both they and their disciples should earn their own living for themselves and their family by simple, honest means and should not be a burden upon others.

Did Jesus Eat Fish?

It is likely that the gospel accounts of Jesus eating fish are also insertions stemming from the same controversy. Though the spurious nature of the stories does not in itself prove that Jesus was vegetarian, if it could be shown that the motivation behind their inclusion was to demonstrate that he ate fish, it would actually help to prove the converse! Based upon the evidence of the text itself, the last chapter of St John, chapter twenty-one, is generally considered by scholars to be a spurious addition, as we discussed before. Nowhere else in John's gospel is there any mention of Jesus or his disciples being fishermen. Yet the first half of this chapter concerns a post-resurrectional miracle story devoted almost entirely to the subject of Jesus and his disciples catching, killing, cooking and eating fish.
The story begins when Peter declares, "I go a-fishing". This they do and through the miraculous intervention of Jesus from the shoreline, they net a huge haul, "one hundred and fifty three fishes", we are precisely informed... But one can hardly imagine the disciples, having just met the risen form of Jesus, and having netted such a miraculous catch, then possessing the presence of mind or even the inclination to start counting live and very slippery fish, in the dark, while their Master looked on! Such details are the stuff of legend and anecdote. The story, which also records that the risen Jesus had a fire started on the beach on which he was already cooking some fish, then concludes:

Jesus saith unto them, "Come and dine." And none of the disciples durst ask him, "Who art thou?" knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.
- John 21:12-14

A similar incident is related in one of Luke's post-resurrection narratives, where Jesus is made to ask pointedly for "meat" and is given some "broiled fish... which he did eat before them”. The writer seems to want to make a point of it:

And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, "Have ye here any meat?" And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.
-Luke 24:41-43

The person or persons, then, who added these two resurrectional and - dare we say it - rather fishy stories was evidently doing so with a purpose at least part of which must have been to try and demonstrate that Jesus was not a vegetarian. The other motivation, of course, was to indicate that the resurrected form of Jesus was not a ghost or spiritual form but a physical body that needed physical food. But, like the controversy mentioned by Paul, the stories actually serve only to further the case that Jesus had indeed abstained from eating the flesh of any creature.
The same is true of the story concerning Peter's vision in Acts, a document evidently written by a Pauline sympathizer:

On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour. And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance. And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, "Rise, Peter; kill, and eat." But Peter said, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." And the voice spake unto him again the second time, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."
-Acts 10:9-15

The remainder of the story makes it clear that the meaning intended is that Gentiles should be included in Christian missionary activities. It is essentially support for Paul's activities. Yet the details of the vision lead one to think that there might have been a secondary motivation. Peter is hungry and is presented with a vision of every kind of specifically non-vegetarian food. He declares that he has never previously eaten anything "common or unclean"- but is instructed by Jesus to go ahead anyway. It seems that he is being told that although it was originally correct to have been vegetarian, this is no longer the case. This is more or less the same point that Paul had tried to put across in his letters.
Whenever the question of Jesus being vegetarian is discussed, people always ask, "What about the miracles of the loaves and the fishes?" We have already discussed Jesus' miracles in an earlier chapter, but it is of interest to observe here that early references to these two miracles characteristically omit all mention of fish.
A Coptic fragment of an unidentified gospel, for example, has Jesus speak of a number of his miracles, including the observation "I have parted a few loaves and satisfied many". Similarly, the Acts of Thomas speaks of Jesus "satisfying many thousands with a little bread', while the History of John says:

He satisfied four thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves of barley meal, and they ate and left some over, and carried and conveyed to their homes as much as they were able.
-History of John, Apocryphal Acts of Apostles, p.15, WR Wright, Williams & Norgate, Edinburgh, 1871

No mention at all is made of fish. But perhaps even more significant is the late-second-century testimony of Irenaeus. On the two occasions where he refers to these miracles in his Against Heresies, he speaks only of “loaves”, fish making no appearance whatsoever. His first description is in a long dissertation on the gospel miracles of Jesus, each one being mentioned with all its relevant details. Knowing Irenaeus' anti-vegetarian views, he is hardly likely to have missed an opportunity to put fish into Jesus' mouth. Yet he writes:

Again, withdrawing thence to the other side of the sea of Tiberias, he there, seeing a great crowd had followed him, fed all that multitude with five loaves of bread; and twelve baskets of fragments remained over and above.
-Irenaeus, Against Heresies II:XXII.3

And again:

Our Lord, after blessing the five loaves, fed five thousand men with them.
-Irenaeus, Against Heresies II:XXIV.4

But even if the original stories did speak of fish, there remains considerable doubt as to their authenticity. The most likely explanation of these two miracles is that we are actually dealing with variants of one story, probably much exaggerated in the manner of all legends. And while the fish were the 'inspired' addition of a later hand, the bread which Jesus actually fed to a multitude in the desert was the "Bread of Life”, the Word, which all Masters feed to souls who find themselves spiritually hungry in the desert of this world. Such an allegory would not have been without precedent, for the 'children of Israel' are said to have been fed 'manna from heaven' while crossing the desert on their way to the 'Promised Land'. Or maybe Jesus did sometimes make arrangements, with the help of his disciples, to feed the large numbers of people who flocked around him. That may in itself have seemed miraculous, providing the basis for later wild exaggeration.

SOURCE- “The Gospel of Jesus” @

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