Eating the non-vegetarian food is one issue and killing a living being, to collect the flesh out of it, is another issue. The first issue does not involve any sin because the non-vegetarian food or flesh or meat contains the same ingredients as those of a vegetarian item.The same carbohydrates, the same proteins, the same vitamins, the same minerals etc., exist in both meat and vegetables. Therefore, to eat the flesh of a living being, which died naturally through old age, is not a sin. Kapalikas (a sect of Hinduism), eat the dead bodies and therefore, they are not considered as sinners since this sect of religion is respected. But, the flesh of the living being, which dies due to old age, is not recommended because generally the death of an old living being happens due to some disease.
Then, the flesh of such a living being is not good for the reasons of health. But, the living being might have been killed through some accident or by some cruel animal and the flesh left over may be hygienic. In such case, the non-vegetarian food need not be rejected on the ground of sin because the eater of such flesh neither killed it nor had any intention to kill it. In any case, there is no sin in eating the non-vegetarian food provided you neither kill the living being nor you should be responsible for killing it.
You may say that you eat the meat but you did not kill the living being directly with your hands. Since you eat the meat, you have become the consumer of the meat. The butcher, who kills the animals or birds, kills these animals or birds only for the sake of consumers in his business. Therefore, even though you did not kill the living being directly with your hands, you have become the indirect supporter of it by eating the meat. Hence, you have to share the sin. If you finding the killed living being through an accident and if you collect its flesh, you do not share the sin. But, beware that your taste of such accidental meat may increase slowly and you may kill the animal directly or indirectly in course of time for the meat! Hence, it is better to avoid the meat from the beginning itself.
The sin comes only if you kill the living being directly or become responsible for its killing indirectly and you have to face the punishment of such a sin. You may find the Veda or the scriptures speaking about the non-vegetarian food and killing of a living being in sacrifice. By this, you should not think that the Veda or the scripture provokes you to kill the animal.
In fact, the scripture controls you to kill the animal by suggesting the sacrifice to be done in a specified season like spring only (VasanteVasantejyotishaayajeta…). The sacrifice called ‘Jyotishtoma’ should be performed only in spring season. By this, you control the killing of animal in other seasons. You cannot totally oppose the killing of animal in the beginning itself. Instead of killing the animal every day or every week, you can allow the killing of animal once in a year only. This reduces the killing of the animal gradually and finally, you can avoid the killing forever.
This is just like running along a running bull for some distance before you control it. We cannot control the running bull in the very first step itself. You have to run along with it for sometime before you control it. Such running of a person should not be misunderstood as encouragement of running. Even if the person does not run, the bull will run. Even if the scripture does not advise the killing of animal in the sacrifice to be performed once in a year, the killing of the animal for the meat will not be stopped. In fact, the killing of the animal in the absence of such instruction will take place more frequently. Shankara had clarified this point in His commentary by saying that the defective nature of the human being (Pravrutti) is not encouraged by the Veda. Following the defective nature of the human being, the Veda suggests the sacrifice. This does not mean that the Veda initiates the defective nature in the human being.
Shankara said, ‘Shastramjnapakamnatukarakam’. This means that the scripture gives the advice based on the naturally existing defective nature in the human being and that the scripture is not the initiator of the defective nature.
Scripture Aims in Total Eradication of Defective Nature with Time
In fact, if you analyze carefully, the advice given by the scripture is also in the direction of total eradication of the defective nature in course of time. The scripture says that the fisherman should not catch fish in the river Ganga. By this, the scripture controls the catching of fish in one place at least. The scripture further says that the fisherman should not catch the fish on the days of Divine festivals at least.
By this, the scripture is controlling the killing of fish on some days at least. Finally, the scripture says that you should not kill the fish at any place on any day and such stage is called as ‘Mahavratam’, which is irrespective of place and time. You should not mistake that the scripture encourages the killing of fish on other days and in other rivers. This is the wrong side of the conclusion and this is said to be the misunderstanding of the scripture. The correct side is that the scripture tries to control the sin gradually by restricting in one place and on some days at least. Allowing the sin on other days does not mean encouraging the sin. Control brings the reduction of sin and slowly the sin can be completely eradicated.
Bhavabhooti says in Uttararamacharitam that the cow is killed when the guest comes (Eshagowhmatamatayate…). This is the indication of reduction of sin, which means that you should not kill the cow for your sake on other days. This avoids killing the cow frequently for the sake of your food. The complete control of the sin can be found in the Veda that the person killing a cow should be shot dead (Goghnamseesenaviddhyamah…). Therefore, the scripture always tries to control the sin and never encourages the sin.
Eating the meat is not a sin if you limit the vision to the process of eating and the eaten material. But, you indirectly encourage the killing of animal by eating the meat since the animals are only killed for the sake of consumers. The meaning of the ‘Maamsa’ (meat) is that you will become the animal and the presently killed animal will become the butcher in the next birth (Maamsahyathaahinastipashchaatjanmanitathaaaham tam hanishyaami…). The animal during the process of killing thinks that the butcher should become the animal and it should become the butcher in the next life so that the butcher should understand the pain in the process of killing.
The medical science has already investigated that the proteins in the meat are secondary and therefore, the flesh is not a healthy food. The proteins in the vegetables are primary and are good for health. If all the humanity is confined to vegetarian food only, there is no dearth of food on this earth because the omnipotent God is capable of supplying the vegetarian food to all the living beings.
Of course, there will be very little pain even to the plants while cutting the vegetables and leaves. But, this pain is extremely negligible compared to the pain experienced by the animals and birds in the process of killing. The plants and trees also should not be cut. Only the fruits and leaves can be plucked. Parvati was called Aparna since She did penance eating the leaves, which fell from the trees and She never even plucked those leaves. This is the extreme step of non-violence. However, the negligible sin can be overlooked like the minor error in scientific experiments. Somebody has beaten a person. That is also pain. But, killing the same person gives extreme pain. There is quantitative difference in the sin. By qualitative similarity, you should not say that beating is equal to killing. The non-vegetarians argue that the plants also experience pain in the process of plucking the leaves and hence, killing the animal is equal sin. Both are sins, but, both are not quantitatively equal. The extremely minor sin can be overlooked and neglected. Therefore, such argument is not valid.
You should carefully understand the scripture before you quote it. If you do not properly understand it, it becomes misquotation. Hence, the analysis is important. The scripture, analysis and experience are the three sides of the authority. The analysis is the most important. The experience of a defective person may be wrong and cannot be an authority. The scripture also may be wrong due to the interpolation of some mischievous person. Only the analysis can decide the truth. When Swami Vivekananda was speaking some point, somebody pointed out that Shankara said the same point in opposing way.
Then, Vivekananda told that Shankara may be wrong. What is the meaning of this? Shankara can never be wrong. But, some ignorant person might have introduced a wrong statement in the commentary of Shankara and that statement may be the opposing point. Therefore, every statement of the commentary of Shankara should be analyzed with perfect sharp logic and scientific analysis. We find often people saying that ‘so and so’ told in a different way. You should not care for anybody except for your sharp logical analysis. Sometimes, you might have misunderstood the scripture as said above. Scripture like the Veda was never interpolated by anybody since it was preserved through recitation from the beginning. In such case, misunderstanding of the scripture is possible. Such misunderstanding also vanishes by the sharp analysis. Therefore, accept anything only when it is filtered through the perfect scientific analysis.