A response to the question “Why are many Hindus vegetarian?” on the Hindu American Foundation site, states that:
“In India, more than 30% of all Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs are vegetarian because of the fundamental belief in non-violence, or in Sanskrit, ahimsa. The Vedas propound that all beings, from the smallest organism to man, are considered manifestations of God and members of a universal family. With this worldview, violence in thought, word or deed against a living being is contrary to the natural balance of the universe. Many Hindus, therefore, refrain from killing animals for food when a plethora of vegetarian alternatives are available.
Additionally, because Hinduism teaches that all of nature is Divine, Hindus believe that God manifests in the various forms that are found in nature, including animals, rivers, mountains and earth. Hindus are called to respect and honor the Divine in all forms, and and to follow the principle of ahimsa – to do no harm. Vegetarianism is a simple way to practice ahimsa through what you eat.
Hindu scripture speaks of food and its impact on our state of being: “When the diet is pure, the mind and heart are pure.” (Manu Samhita). Food can be associated with the three qualities found in all of creation – sattva, rajas, and tamas.The closest English meanings of these are knowledge/purity (sattva), action/passion (rajas), and inertia/ignorance (tamas). A person’s mind and character are also made up of these gunas – and are directly impacted by the food he eats. But while ahimsa and vegetarianism are the ideals, not all Hindus are vegetarian. Affluence, exposure and openness to new cuisines, availability of familiar foods, all have an impact on the dietary habits of Hindus in America and around the world. “
I was raised to be vegetarian, so my parents and I rarely went out when I was growing up in the east coast in the 70s, due to the scarcity of vegetarian options.. The desire to fit in and assimilate impacted Hindus growing up in America, as explained on NPR recently by Hindu American comedian Hari Kondabolu’s mother, telling us how she took him to Burger King for “American food.” Today, it is somewhat easier for my children to maintain a vegetarian diet without sticking to just Indian cuisine, as more people worldwide understand the impact of eating habits on our planet.
Thank you, Padma Kuppa, for answering our question this week!