ARE WE VEGETARIANS?
THE UNENDING DEBATE ON “Maas Maas”
What to eat or what not to eat is a never-ending debate between Sikhs who are vegetarians and those who are meat–eaters.
What does Gurmatt say? On the issue of meat the variety of verses can fall into the following categories. There are more. Let’s mention just the basic ones. We need to know this in order to understand the issue in proper context.
1. Verses that state the existing positions of others – Brahmins, Yogis, Pundits and other ‘religious’ leaders of the time.
(SGGS 1377 Salok Bhagat Kabeer)
ਕਬੀਰ ਭਾਂਗ ਮਾਛੁਲੀ ਸੁਰਾ ਪਾਨਿ ਜੋ ਜੋ ਪ੍ਰਾਨੀ ਖਾਂਹਿ ॥
Kabeer Bhaang Maachhulee Suraa Paan Jo Jo Praanee Khaanhi ||
Kabeer, those mortals who consume marijuana, fish and wine
ਤੀਰਥ ਬਰਤ ਨੇਮ ਕੀਏ ਤੇ ਸਭੈ ਰਸਾਤਲਿ ਜਾਂਹਿ ॥੨੩੩॥
Theerathh Barath Naem Keeeae Thae Sabhai Rasaathal Jaanhi ||233||
No matter what pilgrimages, fasts and rituals they follow, they will all go to hell? ||233||
This is not the position of Kabeer ji. Neither is it the position of Gurbani. This is the give-away point – Gurbani does not believe in hell! Kabeer ji is stating the position of the other beliefs and then critiquing it as ridiculous. His statement is therefore not about his position on meat consumption or vegetarianism.
2. Verses that focus on a particular principle using the eating of meat as an example or illustration. In the following verse Kabeer ji uses the example of the mullah saying God is in all – and then slaughters a chicken.
(SGGS 1350 Rag Parbhati Bhagat Kabeer)
ਜਉ ਸਭ ਮਹਿ ਏਕੁ ਖੁਦਾਇ ਕਹਤ ਹਉ ਤਉ ਕਿਉ ਮੁਰਗੀ ਮਾਰੈ ॥੧॥
Jo Sabh Mehi Eaek Khudhaae Kehath Ho Tho Kio Muragee Maarai ||1||
You say that the One Lord is in all, so why do you kill chickens? ||1||
ਮੁਲਾਂ ਕਹਹੁ ਨਿਆਉ ਖੁਦਾਈ ॥
Mulaan Kehahu Niaao Khudhaaee ||
O Mullah, tell me: is this God’s Justice?
ਤੇਰੇ ਮਨ ਕਾ ਭਰਮੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Thaerae Man Kaa Bharam N Jaaee ||1|| Rehaao ||
The doubts of your mind have not been dispelled. ||1||Pause||
The issue is hypocrisy of the mullah. He says one thing and does another. That’s the mullah’s forked tongue and not Kabeer’s stand on meat consumption.
3. Then there are verses that tear down various aspects of the arguments presented by those against meat consumption. The most prevalent is the taking of life.
(SSGS 472 Rag Asa M : 1)
ਜੇਤੇ ਦਾਣੇ ਅੰਨ ਕੇ ਜੀਆ ਬਾਝੁ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥
Jaethae Dhaanae Ann Kae Jeeaa Baajh N Koe ||
As many as are the grains of corn, none is without life.
In this verse Guru Nanak says that “there is life in every grain.” The emphasis is on the fact that all plants are living. It is not a statement of support for meat consumption.
4. There are verses that talk about positive principles such as austerity, empathy, caring for our physical and mental health and then use indulgence (meat consumption) to make their point.
(SGGS 16 Sri Rag M : 1)
ਜਿਤੁ ਖਾਧੈ ਤਨੁ ਪੀੜੀਐ ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਚਲਹਿ ਵਿਕਾਰ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Jith Khaadhhai Than Peerreeai Man Mehi Chalehi Vikaar ||1|| Rehaao ||
Partaking of food that hurts the body and corrupts the mind with evil thoughts is destructive.
Again such verses must be understood in the context of the ongoing argument. Here the Guru is asking the Sikhs to remember that some kinds of food or drink is harmful for the body and mind. He is not advocating that meat should be avoided.
So what is the Gurbani/Gurmatt view on meat versus vegetarian diet? Here are the principles.
1. Meat consumption or its non-consumption is not a spiritual issue. One will not become any more or any less spiritual by eating or not partaking of meat.
2. All the prevalent arguments against meat eating – taking of life, pain by animals etc are acknowledged by Gurbani and applied equally to vegetation as well. This is the spiritual brilliance of Guru Nanak that he insists all plants have life, feel pain and are entitled to live to the fullest! Guru Nanak’s compassion extends to the grain which loses its chance to grow into a tree when split into two to make lentils (daal).
3. Consumption of food (meat and vegetation) is an issue for individual
physical need. ‘Jit khadey tun peereeay’means that when you consume something and your body (tun) is hurt by it – then don’t consume it. A farmer’s diet is different from the diet of a philosopher. One toils the fields, while the other toils his mind.
(SGGS 1397 Salok Baba Sheikh Farid)
ਰੁਖੀ ਸੁਖੀ ਖਾਇ ਕੈ ਠੰਢਾ ਪਾਣੀ ਪੀਉ ॥
Rukhee Sukhee Khaae Kai Thandtaa Paanee Peeo ||
Eat dry bread, and drink cold water.
Bhagat Fareed ji says that as a fakir/bhagat he lives a frugal life with few material pleasures. So at times he may even go hungry without any food.
ਫਰੀਦਾ ਰੋਟੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਕਾਠ ਕੀ ਲਾਵਣੁ ਮੇਰੀ ਭੁਖ ॥
Fareedhaa Rottee Maeree Kaath Kee Laavan Maeree Bhukh ||
Fareed, my bread is made of wood, and hunger is my appetizer.
Bhagat ji tells us of his preferred meal because of its simplicity and austerity. Would he ever claim he was more spiritual because of his choice of food?
4. Insisting that meat consumption or otherwise is a spiritual matter is an act of foolishness.
(SGGS 1289 Rag Malar M : 1)
ਮਾਸੁ ਮਾਸੁ ਕਰਿ ਮੂਰਖੁ ਝਗੜੇ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਧਿਆਨੁ ਨਹੀ ਜਾਣੈ ॥
Maas Maas Kar Moorakh Jhagarrae Giaan Dhhiaan Nehee Jaanai ||
The fools argue about flesh and meat, but they know nothing about meditation and spiritual wisdom.
ਕਉਣੁ ਮਾਸੁ ਕਉਣੁ ਸਾਗੁ ਕਹਾਵੈ ਕਿਸੁ ਮਹਿ ਪਾਪ ਸਮਾਣੇ ॥
Koun Maas Koun Saag Kehaavai Kis Mehi Paap Samaanae ||
What is called meat, and what is called green vegetables? What leads to sin?
So this debate is one of foolishness brought about by our lack of spiritual enlightenment (gyaan dhian).
Gurbani neither forbids nor encourages your choice of food. Gurbani says eating or not eating is not a spiritual concern. It is foolishness to think so. One life is no more or less important than another. So we should stop saying I am more compassionate because I have only killed a carrot. And you are worse because you have killed a chicken.
Both have killed. And without killing there is no meal. Guru Nanak went into the deepest of detail to negate this fake argument of not taking life and being compassionate
Gurbani wants us to be rational. The rationality is provided by Gurmatt. This rationality negates the rationality of the then-existing arguments for and against eating meat. The debate is only beneficial to expose the prevalent hypocricy of that time. It wasn’t about eating meat or not, but about hypocritical behaviours.
So those who don’t eat meat don’t have to agonize that Gurbani does not support their choice. Because Gurbani also does not support the opposing choice.
The Guru says – make your choice and bear the consequences. Stop agonizing over it. And refrain from spiritualizing your choice. There is nothing spiritual about such a choice.