The idea of practicing Ahimsa is a rather attractive one. Generally speaking it means “Non harm”, though it might be more accurate to think of it as trying to avoid causing unnecessary suffering. Most people interpret Ahimsa to mean giving up meat, or in more extreme cases: eggs and dairy as well. In fact, there is quite a large percentage of the yoga community that practices raw veganism- who consider it an essential part of their practice. Like many people, I became a vegetarian in order to try and live in a way which promoted kindness.
But before the internet filled my head with dreams of a vegetarian utopia- only one thing was really on my mind: How much I hated eating beef all the time. I can’t explain it, but something inside of me was screaming at me to stop eating beef. But instead of listening to my body, I decided to give up eating flesh instead. Why am I using such an antiquated term, you ask? Well, it turns out that in the past when someone talked about abstaining from “meat” they were actually talking about giving up red meat, not flesh in general! Now Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar?
The thing is, Fish isn’t actually considered meat In most cultures. In fact, neither is poultry. To be honest, anytime someone refers to meat in a historical context they are referring to red meat. Even today, this attitude still lingers in Europe. In fact, if you ask for a vegetarian meal in many European restaurants it’s quite likely you’ll be served up a portion of white meat!
To quote the Chakara Samhita:
“If it is meant that excellence of nutrition produces embryo, then the persons using the meat of goat, sheep, deer and peacock, cow’s milk, curd, ghee, honey, oil, rocksalt, sugarcane juice, green gram (mung beans) and sali rice alone should get offspring; and those eating syamaka (millet), varaka (inferior rice), uddalaka, koradusaka, tubers and roots (inferior cereals and edibles) should be wholly childless. But both are seen in both cases.”
Believe it or not, Ayurveda doesn’t actually advocate a Vegetarian diet for everyone. It suggests it, but makes a concession for some. In fact, it recommends ‘meat soup’ for people who are sick! I really struggled with this at first. But to the Vedic culture, the body is just a empty shell. Nothing truly dies, it only changes forms. In one section it clearly states: “No other food excels meat for promoting bulk of the body.”. Meat has always been a very expensive commodity, and until very recently eating meat all the time was a luxury few could afford. Non-harm is a wonderful principle to practice, but just remember that we can’t eliminate suffering.