Gandhi Believed True Non-Violence Starts With Becoming a Vegetarian
The most violent weapon on earth is the table fork.
There are several documented reasons that Mahatma Gandhi chose not to eat meat, among them was his mother’s influence. But one of the strongest reasons Gandhi chose not to eat meat was his moral decision to maintain the practice of being a vegetarian. At one point, he bought a copy of Henry Salt’s “Plea for Vegetarianism,” and read it cover to cover. Salt’s book underlines the moral reasons for being a vegetarian—the inherent violence that is present in eating meat, and the non-violence that could be achieved by abstaining from eating it. “No longer was Gandhi a vegetarian wishing he were a meat-eater. The choice was now made in favor of vegetarianism, the spread of which henceforward became my mission.” Gandhi had decided that ahimsa (or total non-violence) was his goal. Nonviolence against all beings became the core of his Satyagrahi movement, and the core of his life.
Gandhi had previously desired meat because he thought that it would provide the strength that the Indian people would need to overcome the rule of the British. Yet with his choice for vegetarianism, he realized that there are other sources of strength including satyagraha, which had the true power to end the British Raj, while physical strength alone would have been defeated. After taking this first step toward gaining moral strength, he started to study Christianity, Hinduism and the other religions of the world. He soon found through his studies that “renunciation [is] the highest form of religion.” Renunciation of pleasure became his highest goal, and he delighted in the pursuit of this goal as an origin of satyagraha. Vegetarianism was his first source of this new force, since it was a type of self-control, and fasting—as an extension of vegetarianism—later became the ultimate symbol of his self-control.
Gandhi saw meat-eating as a type of aggression, and aggression—he once thought, was the only key to mastery. After becoming a true vegetarian, and thus discovering the ideas of ahimsa, he realized that aggression is a path to mastery for those without self-control and discipline. Ahimsa, or non-violence, is the path to mastery for those with self-control. The idea of renunciation, also part of the revelation that brought him to vegetarianism, eventually brought him to another major philosophy in his life, that of brahmacharya. Gandhi’s choice to become vegetarian started him on the road towards ahimsa, renunciation, and finally, satyagraha itself. Without it, he would never have realized the power of morality and never would have become the Mahatma.
“Ethically they had arrived at the conclusion that man’s supremacy over lower animals meant not that the former should prey upon the latter, but that the higher should protect the lower, and that there should be mutual aid between the two as between man and man. They had also brought out the truth that man eats not for enjoyment but to live.”
From the publication: Vegetarianism: The Road to Satyagraha, by Arun M. Sannuti
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