Philosophy   > Ahimsa, Religion, and Vegetarianism

from 35th Anniversary Issue of "Ahimsa," by American Vegan Society -- P.O. Box H, Malaga, NJ 08328-0908


Questions from two readers: 1) Is there any religion that advocates or teaches Ahimsa? 2) I am a conservative Southern Baptist who loves animals. Have you known others of fundamentalist background who became vegetarian? My friends tell me not to be vegetarian because you have to be very "liberal" for that. Can you help?

For a religion that teaches Ahimsa in some form, you could practically take your pick. As for its adherents actually living up to it to a great degree, that is another matter. There is an active vegetarian group within the Friends (Quakers), and many Quakers opt for pacifism. About half the Seventh-Day Adventists (including more than a few vegie nutrition researchers and M.D.'s, some naturally-oriented) are vegetarians, many total-veg (most of the rest eat meat sparingly); but this is for human health rather than Reverence for Life.


Dr. Vaclavik's book on The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ links this Master to the Essenes, a dissident Jewish sect that practiced pacifism, communal sharing, and vegetarianism. They opposed alcohol use, slavery, the swearing of oaths, animal sacrifice, and the wearing of wool.


Some of Jesus' advanced teachings on pacifism, marital fidelity, and oath-taking, can still be found in The Sermon on The Mount, though not necessarily in universal practice today.


The worldwide Jewish Vegetarian movement includes societies in several U.S.A. cities.


Hinduism contains Ahimsa, and many are lacto-vegetarians, though not necessarily pacifists. Jains profess Ahimsa in diet and behavior, and nearly all are at least lacto-veg. In the U.S.A. many are realizing the dairy-slaughter connection and developing further into veganism.Many Buddhists follow a vegetarian diet and pacifism, notably in Asia, relatively fewer among those in the USA. There are teachings of the Buddha that even stress veganism for at least true and sincere disciples or monks, forbidding not only meat but also specifically silk, leather, milk and cheese.


In living by Ahimsan principles, one can be an adherent of any faith one wishes, for they are all enriched by Ahimsa. If one is shopping around, one can find a faith where the theology, cosmology, and rituals, seem harmonious with one's own traditions or inner promptings. But to the extent that one puts the Golden Rule and Reverence for Life into one's everyday deeds, to that extent Ahimsa (Dynamic Harmlessness) is being practiced.


AVS does not dismiss out of hands the benefits, serenity and comfort that many people derive from complex theological beliefs, liturgical and ritual practices. But if one does not wish to indulge in endless speculation and disputation on prior existence and potential future life, or metaphysical aspects of the universe, etc., Ahimsa can provide all the religion one needs; then whatever (if anything) comes after this life will not find that person very far off the mark. It is of no importance to us whether one considers oneself a "former" such-and-such religion adherent now practicing Ahimsa, or a present adherent whose Judaism (or Buddhism or Catholicism or Shintoism or whatever) has come into better focus with the understanding of Ahimsa. If one puts Ahimsa (doing the most good and the least harm one can) into practice, one will surely be following in the highest and best traditions of one's own religion and master (or teacher or prophet or guru). This you can do, as a Christian or Buddhist or Jew, a Muslim or Hindu; as a theist, atheist or agnostic (Jainism and Buddhism, for example, do not even require a personal God), or simply as an Ahimsan, or under any other label, or no label at all.


We are by no means ignorant of the world's great religions and their tenets; many are fine and positive powers for good, if followed properly. But much of the priestly speculation and arrogance has served only to divide, to sow hatred and mistrust, theological jealously, intolerance and violence, as in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, India, and practically everywhere else on Earth to some degree. That which causes injustice or suffering to humans or fellow creatures, would not be a religion that leads one to the Ultimate. (Ahimsa is always an integral part of a religion -- Ed.