Is it a natural inference to realize that if we have to go through suffering or pain for hurting others with thoughts, words or deeds, what is the risk we run when we cause the death of another, including lesser creatures? This law of reaction to our actions forms the basis of the teachings of the saints, the Masters and
religious founders of different religions. Now we can understand why Buddha, Mahavira, Guru Nanak, Moses, the Greek philosophers, the ancient Hindu sages and other enlightened beings begged their followers to be vegetarians.
There is a powerful teaching story of Buddhism that illustrates the basis of the belief that a vegetarian diet is one that those interested in spirituality should adopt. This story about the importance of the vegetarian lifestyle comes from the Jataka Tales of the Buddhist tradition.
In ancient times, some groups of people used to offer dead animals as a ritual called “Feast of the Dead”. According to the story, a teacher told his students, “Time to find a goat to offer for the Festival of the Dead. Find a goat and take it to the river to bathe it. Then put a flower garland around its neck.” The students decided to find the goat, take it to the river and obey the teacher’s instructions. As the students bathed and decorated the goat, the goat began to laugh with delight. After a few moments he began to cry. The students were puzzled and asked the goat, “Why did you laugh and then you started crying?” The goat replied, “Ask me this question in front of your teacher.” The students took the goat to their teacher and told him what had happened. The teacher asked the goat the same question: “Why did you laugh and then cry?”
The goat explained, “In one of my past lives I was a teacher like you. I also wanted to offer a feast to the dead, so I killed a goat. As a result of killing that goat, I had to be reborn and killed five hundred times, except once, by having my head cut off, as I had done to the goat. This is my sixteenth and last birth. I laughed with joy because after this day I will have been freed from that one bad deed I had done. “
The teacher then asked him to explain: “But what made you cry?” The goat said, “I cried because I am worried about you now! When I thought about how when you kill me, you too will have to be killed five hundred times in your future lives, I cried because I felt sorry for you.”
The teacher worried about this impending doom and reassured the goat: “Don’t worry. I won’t kill you.” The goat explained, “It doesn’t matter. Whether you kill me or not, I should die today.” The teacher insisted that she would protect the goat, while the goat told him, “Protection cannot save me. I cannot escape payment for my shares.” The teacher ordered his students to follow the goat wherever he went, making sure nothing would harm him.
As the day went by, the goat became hungry. The goat said, “I’ll eat some leaves from the bush that grows on top of that rock.” The goat climbed to the top of the rock. As she ate, lightning struck the rock. Part of the rock broke off and fell on the goat’s neck. He was killed instantly.
The teacher, learning of the goat’s death, turned to his students and said, “If people were aware of the payment they would have to pay for their actions, they would never hurt any living creature, whether human or animal.” The students and the teacher have decided not to kill any more living beings.
This is a powerful teaching story that helps us understand why so many religions are based on the concept of a vegetarian diet as the safest on a spiritual level. No matter what your religious belief or spiritual belief is, there are some underlying commonalities. Those common beliefs are that there is a creative power or force, be it called God or any other name, and that we are a soul, a part of the Creator. Most religions also believe that animals also have a conscience or soul, which also makes them part of God. Therefore, the spiritual basis of vegetarianism is not to take the life of any other creature. One of the principles is not to harm any living creature.
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