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Generally, Hindus are vegetarian. They avoid mamsah i.e flesh of animals like meat, fish - because it means their suffering and death. Some avoid eggs also. Atleast it is very limited, and they don't eat it daily like western countries, and avoid it during religious functions.
What is the reason behind this ? Is compassion/ahimsa the only reason ? Is it voluntary or compulsory ?
Is there any punishment for eating meat ? Is there any reward for avoiding meat ?
What is the real meaning of the word 'mamsah' (मांसः)? Does it have anything to do with why they are vegetarian ?
Mahabharata - Anushasana Parva -Dana Dharma Parva - Chapters 114-116 are discussing this issue in very detail. This is discussion between Bhishma , Yudhisthira and Rishi Vaishampayana. These chapters is highlighting the topic of Ahimsa (non killing).
what is the real meaning of the-word-mamsah-मांसः?
The etymology of word mamsah :
The essence of word Mansa is told by Bhishma in Chapter 116 - Verse 25.
मां स भक्षयते यस्माद भक्षयिय्षे तपप्यहम | एतन्मासस्य
मांसत्वनुबुद्ध्यस्व भारत ||25||
P 243 - Since he hath eaten me, I shall eat him in return,--even this,
O Bharata, constitutes the character as Mansa of Mansa. So the real
meaning of mansa is he creature who is going to eaten says that , i
also in future will eat the eater in same manner. And this is the
real meaning of Ma मां Sa सा.
Footnote - Mansa is flesh. This verse explains the etymology of the word, Mam (me) sa; Me he eateth, therefore, I shall eat him. The words following Me he should be supplied in order to get at the meaning.
According to Mahabhrata the meaning of Mansa is the flesh of those who are born in womb or from the womb. And there is no difference between flesh of persons own son and flesh of other creatures.
What is the reason behind this?
According to Bhishma there are four ways to follow Ahimsa Dharma. By Mana (mind) , by Speech , by Karma and not eating flesh . So all these are part of Ahimsa Dharma and not eating flesh is one of them.
Yes there is certainly a reward for avoiding meat. It is said in mahabharata that a person should avoid meat for his entire life and by doing so he will get the highest place in swarga i.e. heaven.
But apart from that it is also meritorious to leave the flesh in Shukla paksha -Sharad Ritu and that will become dharma. Not eating meat for 4 months brings fame , long life and strength. And for one month healthy life and freedom from all sorrows.
सर्वमांसानि यो राजन् यावज्जिवं न भक्षयेत | स्वर्गे स विपुलं स्थानं
प्राप्नुयान्नात्र संशय : ||24 ||
P 243 Hence, a person of cleansed soul should be compassionate to all
living creatures. That man, O king, who abstains from every kind of
meat from his birth, without doubt, acquires a large space in Heaven,
They who eat the flesh of animals who are desirous of life, are
themselves eaten by the animals they eat, without doubt
And as it is part of Ahimsa Dharma which is itself is part of Dharma of man , so Hindus avoid eating flesh of animals.
Eating meat outside of rituals is considered as a sin unanimously in all scriptures.. that's why probably.
Manu Smriti 5.31. ’The consumption of meat (is befitting) for
sacrifices,’that is declared to be a rule made by the gods; but to
persist (in using it) on other (occasions) is said to be a proceeding
worthy of Rakshasas
5.33. A twice-born man who knows the law, must not eat meat except in conformity with the law; for if he has eaten it unlawfully, he will,
unable to save himself, be eaten after death by his (victims)
5.48. Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to (the attainment of)
heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun (the use of) meat.
Also abstaining from eating meat bestows spiritual benefits.
5.56. There is no sin in eating meat, in (drinking) spirituous liquor, and in carnal intercourse, for that is the natural way of
created beings, but abstention brings great rewards.
As for punishments, we have the following Manu Smriti verse:
5.38. As many hairs as the slain beast has, so often indeed will he who killed it without a (lawful) reason suffer a violent death in
Without lawful reason -- that is killing animals outside of rituals.
For your query about the word Mamsah see the following:
5.55. ’Me he (mam sah)’will devour in the next (world), whose flesh I eat in this (life); the wise declare this (to be) the real meaning of
the word ’flesh’(mamsah).
The meaning of मांस is given in the link http://sanskritdictionary.com/?iencoding=iast&q=मांस&lang=sans&action=Search. Saying that it comes from maam plus sah is just jugglery of words made in some scriptures. Sanskrit words can not be made in that way. mam and sah can not be conjoined to produce a new word meaning meat. And, fuits are also called मांस in sanskrit (see the link).
According to Manusmriti,
"Na matsabhakshane dosho na maangse na cha maithune./pravrittiresha bhutanaam nivrittistu mahafalaa", meaning that there is no harm in eating of fish, meat and having sex as these are natural propensities of all beings. But abstaining from these yield great results(chapter 5, sloka 56).Meat eating is not praised, but list of animals whose meat can be eaten is also provided : http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/manu/manu05.htmut
generally, only meat offered to God or Goddess is considered eatable, as answered by others.
But for all spiritual aspirants, vegeterian diet has been recommended by all saints including Swami Vivekananda.
Swamiji also says: I am always asked the question: "Shall I give up meat?" My Master said, "Why should you give up anything? It will give you up." Do not give up anything in nature. Make it so hot for nature that she will give you up. There will come a time when you cannot possibly eat meat. The very sight of it will disgust you. There will come a time when many things you are struggling to give up will be distasteful, positively loathsome.
'Me he (mam sah)' will devour in the next (world), whose flesh I eat
in this (life); the wise declare this (to be) the real meaning of the
word 'flesh' (mamsah).
He who permits (the slaughter of an animal), he who cuts it up, he who kills it, he > who buys or sells (meat), he who cooks it, he who serves it up, and he who eats it, (must all be considered as) the slayers (of the animal).
He who during a hundred years annually offers (Ashvamedha), and he who entirely abstains from meat, obtain the same reward for their meritorious (conduct).
1. First thing is that ‘Brihadaranyaka Upanishad’ begins about mention of hunger. Doesn’t a new born child in your home has a natural tendency to drink milk. From the birth of a child is hunger present or not?
So hunger is called as death in ‘Brihadaranyaka Upanishad’. Hunger means death. Bhagwaan Shankaracharya interpreted it as when a person feels hunger so how will be that hunger satisfied? Through food. The food will be composed of body of either movable or immobile creatures. So hunger means that it will cause an aptitude for violence. Aptitude for violence means death of other only will become the support for our life.
That’s why in Bhagavata Purana it is said that a creature only becomes the consumer of other creature. So in it a person is helpless as he has to eat when he feels hunger. If we view through a microscope even a drop of water contains innumerable creatures which are so small that are not visible to naked eyes. When someone feels hunger or thirst than we know that through consumption of other creature’s body only as ‘Jeev’ (creature) is eternal, he becomes satisfied. Even when we breathe and due to heat present in our body many organisms die.
2. So a convention has been set that immobile creatures like tree, vines etc. which are called ‘Udhbheej’ as they grow by breaking Earth surface through seeds. They are immobile organisms and their level of consciousness is low. If you live by consuming immobile creatures though they are also bodies of ‘Jeev’, as there is description of ‘Panchagni’ knowledge in ‘Chhandogya Upanishad’.
3. There are more rules in that too like, For a Sannyasi, he can not even pluck a leaf from Tulsi, not even a flower too.
Full ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) is applicable on him. He is not allowed to cook food or touch fire. This means that even in plants rules have been set that the fruits which have ripened should be consumed, the leaves which have matured should be consumed.
Even days are prescribed like on which day you should pluck a Tulsi leaf and when you shouldn’t. There are rules prescribed for even consuming immobile creatures. Immobile creature means the ‘Anna’ (cereal) which is vegetarian.
4. Now for mobile creatures like fish, goat, rabbit, tortoise etc in that only animals having ‘Panch Nakah Bhakshya’ (animals having five claws are only consumable). This is called ‘Parisankhya Vidhi’,
For Example: if a chain smoker smokes 40 cigarettes everyday then if someone tells him to smoke only 24 in a day then this means that 24 is also not desirable but intention is to minimize from 40. If we make a chain smoker to gradually reduce the number of cigarettes from 40 so the ultimate aim is to free him from addiction of cigarettes.
Just like that it is described in ‘Manusmriti’ that when consuming meat too, as a person is naturally inclined towards food, sleep, liquor and coitus for that ‘Parisankhya Vidhi’ is applied.
5. Which food to eat, which not to eat, when to eat, when not to eat, who should eat, who shouldn’t eat, if you cannot remain fully celibate then marry and remain limited to only their wife. If you can't remain without sleep then sleep during night only not during day, don’t sleep in Brahma Muhurta, in evening.
In this too, gradually minimization is performed. Manu Maharaj has written ‘Nivritti Mahphalah’.
‘Pravritti’ (inclinations) should lead to ‘Nivritti’ (dis-inclinations) and ‘Nivritti’ (dis-inclinations) should lead towards ‘Nirvritti’ (liberation) then only life becomes successful.
6. The motion which produces only more motion isn’t appreciated, motion is appreciated when the motion makes us reach the destination. We will not appreciate the motion which produces more motion only. So for consumption of meat too there are rules like to consume which animal and not consume so and so animal.
7. In ‘Vama Marg’ meat is consumed as offering for so and so Devi, Devata, Bhairav, Bhairavi etc. So this is like eating through a spoon like if you put your hand directly in hot milk then it will get burnt but if you use a spoon then you won’t burn.
In this too a rule has been prescribed thatif someone can’t live without it then use it for conducting proper ritual worship of Devi, Devata. The result of this will be that the mobile creatures like goat who can not achieve moksha themselves so if they are sacrificed as offering towards Devi, Devata they will become free from their ‘Tamas’ body
and as they have become food for Devi, Devata they will get a divine body. This is a way for their betterment. A strange thing is that if you want to send Indian currency to your relative in America than you will have convert it into Dollar or not? Just like this the object which reaches Devi, Devata becomes their food.
For Example: ‘Indraya Swaha Idam Indraya Namah’ whether it’s a piece of sandalwood, barley, sesame and ghee, the Devi, Devata will not eat these but when they are put in fire through ‘Shastriya’ process they convert into food of Devi, Devata like currency exchange. Like this if someone’s father after dying became lion, so when he will do ‘Shradha Tarpan’ for his father then the cereal and water will reach his father who is in lion's body as lion’s food.
So those objects also achieved betterment and our tongue also gets satisfied but this is done through ‘Dravidah Pranayama’. Tongue is also restrained through this process. The result of this will be that in a person’s life desire for meat will become extinguished.
8. The King Bharat on whose name our country is called Bharat due to ‘Karma Vipaak’ became a deer right, but it is written in Bhagavata Purana that though he became a deer he used to only consume leaves that fell down themselves. Though he was in a deer’s body he didn’t used to eat leaves after plucking from tree but only those which fell on their own to ground. For Dharmavyadha it is written in Mahabharata that he was a Brahman before after coming into contact of Kshatriya he became a hunter after dying he became a huntsman. He used to earn his living through selling meat but he sold meat of only those animal who were not ill and died naturally. There he used to sell meat too and also remained aloof from violence.
9. In Puri, Fishermen don’t fish on Thursday. They belong to Andhra tradition.
There too ‘Parisankhya Vidhi’ is applied or not as they don’t fish at least on Thursday though they are fishermen, so isn’t ‘Ahinsa’ (nonviolence) present there too or not.
10. Just like this if you are listening to Bhagavata Purana and are married then you shouldn’t touch your wife on those days, eat vegetarian food and sleep on ground. Wherever we see violence there too some process is there which can lead us towards ‘Nivritti’ (disinclination).
Summary: ‘Pravritti’ (inclinations) should lead to ‘Nivritti’ (dis-inclinations) and ‘Nivritti’ (dis-inclinations) should lead towards ‘Nirvritti’ (liberation) then only life becomes successful.
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