Hinduism & Vegetarian Diet

By Arran Stephens

The overwhelming majority of the world’s Hindus live in India, which has the largest vegetarian population on earth, numbering many millions. Within the Indian subcontinent, the spectrum of religious thought ranges from strict monotheism to a sweeping panoply of gods, goddesses and animist dieties. Vegetarianism is practiced and scripturally supported by the majority of Hindu sects. There are also large Muslim and Christian populations in India, as well as Jews, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Ba’hai’s and Buddhists. Many Sufis—who represent an eclectic and mystical form of Islam, practice vegetarianism. Amongst the Sikhs, the Namdharis and others on the meditative path follow a lacto-vegetarian diet.

Here are some vegetarian-supportive quotes from India’s oldest scriptures:

You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s
creatures, whether human, animal or whatever.
Yajur Veda 12.32

By not killing any living being, one becomes fit for salvation.
Manusmriti 6.60

The purchaser of flesh performs himsa (violence) by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying its taste; the killer does himsa by actually tying and killing the animal. Thus, there are three forms of killing. He who brings flesh or sends for it, he who cuts off the limbs of an animal, and he who purchases, sells, or cooks flesh and eats it—all of these are to be considered meat-eaters.
Mahabharata Anu. 115:40


Vegetarianism was observed by the ancient Greek traveler Megasthenes and also by Fa-Hsien, a Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled to India in the fifth century in order to obtain authentic copies of the scriptures.

These scriptures


unambiguously support the meatless way of life. In the Mahabharata, for instance, the great warrior Bheeshma explains to Yudhishtra, eldest of the Pandav princes, that the meat of animals is like the flesh of one’s own son. Similarly, the Manusmriti declares that one should “refrain from eating all kinds of meat,” for such eating involves killing, thus leading to Karmic bondage. Elsewhere in Vedic literature, the last of the great Vedic kings, Maharaja Parikshit, is quoted as saying that “the animal-killer cannot relish the message of the Absolute Truth.”21

Ahimsa (non-violence) is the highest Dharma. Ahimsa is the best Tapas. Ahimsa is the greatest gift. Ahimsa is the highest self-control. Ahimsa is the highest sacrifice. Ahimsa is the highest power. Ahimsa is the highest friend. Ahimsa is the highest truth. Ahimsa is the highest teaching.
Mahabharata 18.116.37-41

He who sees that the Lord of all is ever the same in all that is—immortal in the field of mortality—he sees the truth. And when a man sees that the God in himself is the same God in all that is, he hurts not himself by hurting others. Then he goes, indeed, to the highest path.
Bhagavad-Gita 13.27-28

High-souled persons who desire beauty, faultlessness of limbs, long life, understanding, mental and physical strength, and memory should abstain from acts of injury.
Mahabharata 18.115.8

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

I hold that, the more helpless the creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.
Mahatma Gandhi

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