Tired of listening to benefits of being a vegetarian? Doesn’t make sense to let go of a dinner of steak and wine? Or give up delicious hamburgers? And what about butter chicken? That tastes heavenly and so does lamb curry. Then why?
Don’t worry; I am not going to list the oft-repeated benefits of a plant-based diet. Most of us know that. Today, I am going to tell you why I became a vegetarian and what Yoga has to do with it.
I was born in a Punjabi family in India. Like most Punjabis, ours was a meat-eating household, with a special preference for mutton (goat meat). My mother didn’t eat meat, but it was purely based on an incident: as a young girl, she almost choked on a fish bone. My grandmother didn’t offer her any after that.
But my mother always made sure we got a good meat-based diet for protein; she cooked all sorts of Indian meat dishes for us: chicken curry, cream chicken, mutton and salamis. Eggs were a daily part of our diet. But we never ate beef, as cow is sacred in India (this is for another post).
My father and I shared love for mutton tikka. When I left home to work as a journalist in a different city, it was mutton tikka over which we bonded whenever I went back for a visit.
Long story short: I grew up eating meat. My husband came from a similar background, so we never discussed our flesh-eating dietary habits as something out of the ordinary. It was our normal.
To me, it didn’t interfere with my religious beliefs. At that stage, I didn’t even understand what religion really meant. To me food and religious beliefs were separate. I grew up in India where a large population is staunch vegetarian for religious purposes. My own aunt’s family is strictly vegetarian. My cousin would always keep a guard on the cooks at the time of family weddings lest they mixed spoons and ladles between meat and vegetarian dishes.
I never understood what religion had to with diet. To my young rebel mind, being a vegetarian, because a religion dictated it didn’t make sense. As a non-believer, I asked for reasoning, logic and I didn’t get it. I got the same answer when I asked my vegetarian friends and family members: “it’s a sin to eat meat”. To me, they were feared into being vegetarians. It sounded stifling.
When some close family member or friend went vegetarian for brief periods like a religious festival or a special day, I considered it cheating. I had tremendous respect for vegetarian family and friends, but to go vegetarian just to please Gods for a materialistic benefit didn’t sound ethical or religious to me. To me, if one believed in God, then one should have the wisdom to believe that the Supreme Lord will see through short-cut cheating methods too.
In my late teens, family astrologers/pandits asked me to go vegetarian for good health and enhance my career prospects. To me, it sounded bizarre. Even if I ignored the strange link between my diet and my journalism career, it didn’t sound morally right; it was like bribing God. That didn’t sound spiritual.
Till I took on the study of Indian religious texts.
The Indian Vedas, written in Sanskrit are not only the oldest scriptures in the world but they are a large body of knowledge that cover each and every aspect of life and non-life – from philosophical, to scientific, to moral, to practical, to religious, to spiritual; name it and it has it covered. Unfortunately, I don’t know Sanskrit, so I rely on English and Hindi translations.
The blessed part about being born and raised in India is: even if you reject the ancient Indian wisdom on the outside, you are immersed in that knowledge – there is no escaping it. Naturally, you learn the ancient stories, the messages and the symbolism that comes with being Indian in heritage. But at 17, I consciously sought this knowledge from a critical lens.
As I started to get the knowledge from these holy texts, I finally understood the religious connection: the link between diet and our lives has been explained in a philosophical, yet scientific manner, but over thousands of years, only the message trickled down and not the reason. Since the message was associated with holy texts, it became religious in nature, making it convenient for scientifically conditioned minds (like mine) to reject them.
A side note: The branch of Yoga that deals with finding the Absolute truth through knowledge is called Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge).
After all, we are conditioned to believe that everything associated with religion takes us away from logic, technology and modernity. But there is one thing about Indian scriptures, especially the Vedas, that even academic scholars worldwide have agreed on: they are not mere beliefs. They are highly scientific and mathematical facts, beginning with the language of composition, Sanskrit, in which they are composed.
But then you wonder if they are highly scientific, why followers don’t reason and find the logic behind it? The answer to that is: even if you follow the Vedic wisdom blindly, without questioning it, it is so rational that it becomes intuitional wisdom, making you lose the ego to question it.
By intuitional wisdom, I mean the wisdom that comes from direct learning, from experience. Say for example, you dislike Yoga. You don’t read any literature on the benefits of Yoga but a friend convinces you to join a Yoga class for physical benefits. You do. For the first week or so, you hate every moment of it, but slowly your body starts to feel the difference. Soon, your energized body and mind start to accept and intuitionally, you realize the benefits of Yoga, all without reading a word on the philosophy of Yoga!
When you apply the same logic to food, you realize the physical, and spiritual benefits of a vegetarian diet.
In the next posts of the series, “Eating like a yogini”, I will talk about the ancient Indian knowledge of food, what is the lacto-vegetarian Indian diet, what are its benefits, and how to eat like a yogini. Stay connected. Follow blog via email or Facebook and Twitter (see sidebar).
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Full disclaimer: Though I am a certified Yoga teacher, I am not a medical/herbal/Ayurvedic practitioner. The information given on foods is based purely on my own understanding of the Indian texts and my personal Yoga practice. Please understand Yoga is not a substitute for medical attention, examination, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult a physician prior to making any dietary changes, or beginning any activity program, including yoga. Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra, SandhuBhamra.com blog’s author and/or owner are not liable for any injury, physical or otherwise through any teachings given under the category Yoga through this blog site. Yoga should be started and practiced with a certified Yoga teacher or an established Yoga guru/master. Always listen to your body when attempting a Yoga pose; respect the limits of your body and mind.