Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

The moral basis of Vegetarianism


M.K. Gandhi

Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad


Excerpts from Chapter 4: Vegetarianism


A correspondent is born in a meat-eating family. He has successfully resisted the pressure from his parents to return to the flesh-pot. “But”, he says, “in a book I have read the opinion of Swami Vivekananda on the subject and feel a good deal shaken in my belief. The Swami holds that for Indians in their present state flesh diet is a necessity and he advises his friends to eat flesh freely. He even goes so far as to say, ‘if you incur any sin thereby eating flesh, throw it upon me; I will bear it.’ I am now in a fix whether to eat flesh or not.”


This blind worship of authority is a sign of weakness of mind. If the correspondent has such a deep-seated conviction that flesh-eating is not right, why should he be moved by the opinion to the contrary of the whole world? One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds.


As for the opinion of the great Swami, I have not seen his actual writings but I fear the correspondent has correctly quoted him. My opinion is well known. I do not regard flesh-food as necessary for us at any stage and under any claim in which it is possible for human beings ordinarily to live. I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we are superior to it. Experience teaches us that animal food is unsuited to those who would curb their passions.


Diet is a powerful factor not to be neglected. But to sum up all religion, formation of character in terms of diet, as is often done in India, is as wrong as it is to disregard all restraint in regard to diet and to give full reins to one’s appetite. Vegetarianism is one of the priceless gifts of Hinduism.  It is necessary, therefore, to correct the error that the vegetarianism has made us weak in mind or body or passive or inert in action. The greatest Hindu reformers have been the activist in their generation and they have invariably been vegetarians. Who could show greater activity than say Shankara, or Dayanand in their times?


The choice of one’s diet is not a thing to be based on faith. It is a matter for everyone to reason out for himself. Unlike in the west, here in India, we have not needed any encouragement for vegetarianism. For hitherto it has been accepted as the most desirable and the most respectable thing. Those however, who like correspondent feel shaken, may study the growing movement towards vegetarianism in the West.

-        YI, 7-10-1926


There is a great deal of truth in the saying that man becomes what he eats. The grosser the food the grosser the body. – Harijan, 5-8-1933


I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants.


The beautiful lines of Goldsmith occur to me as I tell you of my vegetarian fad:



No flocks that range the valley free

To slaughter I condemn;

Taught by the power that pities me

      I learn to pity them


- India’s case for Swaraj, pp. 402 & 403, 1932 Edition



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