It is well known that Vivekananda ate meat as part of his normal Bengali diet as a sannyasi:

To the accusation from some orthodox Hindus that the Swami was eating forbidden food at the table of infidels, he retorted: Do you mean to say I am born to live and die as one of those caste-ridden, superstitious, merciless, hypocritical, atheistic cowards that you only find among the educated Hindus?

I am surprised that you take the missionaries' nonsense so seriously....If the people of India want me to keep strictly to my Hindu diet, please tell them to send me a cook and money enough to keep him....On the other hand, if the missionaries tell you that I have ever broken the two great vows of the sannyasin — chastity and poverty — tell them that they are big liars.

Little does he know that non-violence and refraining from eating meat, salt, and honey is also one of the great vows of a sannyasi.

Eating the meat of an animal that has not been sacrificed is forbidden according to the Vedas. From the Chhandogya Upanishad:

He who has learnt the Veda from a family of teachers, according to the sacred rule, in the leisure time left from the duties to be performed for the Guru, who, after receiving his discharge, has settled in his own house, keeping up the memory of what he has learnt by repeating it regularly in some sacred spot, who has begotten virtuous sons, and concentrated all his senses on the Self, never giving pain to any creature, except at the tîrthas (sacrifices, &c.), he who behaves thus all his life, reaches the world of Brahman, and does not return, yea, he does not return.

Therefore, vivekananda frequently violated an important scriptural injunction and has sinned. It also follows that since he did not "behave thus all his life," he did not reach the world of Brahman according to the Upanishad.

The Manusmriti also deprecates the practice of eating non-sacrificial meat:

5.31 - ‘The eating of meat for sacrifices’—this is declared to be the divine law; but behaviour contrary to this is described as ‘demoniacal [Rakshasa] practice

The punishment for eating meat unlawfully is hell:

5.33 - In normal times the twice-born man conversant with the law shall not eat meat unlawfully; having eaten it unlawfully, he shall, after death, be devoured by them helplessly.

Since Vivekananda was a kshatriya, he was "twice-born," so the injunction applied to him.

Also, the Manusmriti says non-sacrificial meat is the food of Rakshasas and Pisachas:

11.95 - Intoxicants, meat, wine and distilled liquors are the food of Yakṣas, Rākṣasas and Piśācas; it should not be taken by the Brāhmaṇa who partakes of the offerings to the gods.

Having demonstrated that the non-sacrificial eating of meat is forbidden and sinful, my question is, did Vivekananda do prayaschitta to atone for this sin?

My impression is that he did not because he kept justifying the eating of meat and actually kept eating meat throughout his life.

  • 13
    Rather than educating ourselves on Swami Vivekanand's contribution to Hindu religion and to this country, I think, we are discussing extremely banal and irrelevant stuff. I wonder what will we achieve even if we manage to prove that Swamiji ate non-vegetarian food? Will it discount his greatness? Shall we denounce his philosophy? I think such juveline questions must be down-voted. Just copying stuff from history doesn't prove anything. Mar 30, 2019 at 18:08
  • 4
    In my humble opinion, practice is as important if not more so than philosophy. Idle philosophising without following shaastras ultimately amounts to vain glory. Mar 30, 2019 at 18:11
  • 1
    @D.Chatterjee Also, for the Paramahansa sannyasins, no dos and donts are applicable.But how many of us read the scriptures carefully?
    – user17294
    Mar 30, 2019 at 18:22
  • 2
    "Little does he know" Thanks for the laugh at this sandhi period of Saturday and Sunday!
    – Pinakin
    Mar 30, 2019 at 18:39
  • 3
    He once said "I myself may not be a very strict vegetarian, but I understand the ideal. When I eat meat I know it is wrong. Even if I am bound to eat it under certain circumstances, I know it is cruel. I must not drag my ideal down to the actual and apologise for my weak conduct in this way. The ideal is not to eat flesh, not to injure any being, for all animals are my brothers. If you can think of them as your brothers, you have made a little headway towards the brotherhood of all souls, not to speak of the brotherhood of man! That is child's play."
    – user9969
    Mar 30, 2019 at 19:18

2 Answers 2


No Swami Vivekananda never did any prayaschitta because there was no need for it.

The scriptures of the Vaishnava and Shaiva sects of Hinduism prescribe strictly vegetarian food for their followers. Those who belong to the Shakta sect are allowed by their scriptures to take meat, fish and even consecrated wine. As a result some Hindus harbor strong and negative feelings - even hatred- towards Hindus of other sects who eat other kinds of food. The saints, however, have never condoned such negative feelings. Swami Vivekananda lamented, "In India religion has entered into the cooking pot." Shri Ramakrishna used to say, "If a person who eats pork can incessantly think of God, then he is far superior to a person who eats vegetarian food and yet thinks of sense objects all the time." Meera Bai, the well known 16 th century woman saint of India used to say

 Had it been possible for one to see God
 by eating fruits and roots,
 why haven't the bats and monkeys seen Him?
 Had it been possible for one to know God
 by taking baths in holy waters,
 why haven't the fish known Him?
 Had it been possible for one to find God
 by eating vegetables and leaves,
 why haven't the deer and goats found Him?
 Had it been possible for men to see God
 by renouncing their wives,
 why haven't the eunuchs seen Him?
 Without the love of God, says Meera,
 None can ever have God-vision.

Therefore, according to Hindu saints, eating the right kind of food, though beneficial for spiritual life, is of secondary importance to developing genuine love of God. Such love can make God-vision possible.

The Essentials of Hinduism, The Role of food, by Swami Bhaskarananda

I am adding some quotes from Swami Vivekananda's works to further clarify the answer.

Eating meat is only allowable for people who do very hard work, and who are not going to be Bhaktas; but if you are going to be Bhaktas, you should avoid meat.

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 4, Addresses on Bhakti Yoga, The Preparation

Is God a nervous fool like you that the flow of His river of mercy would be dammed up by a piece of meat? If such be He, His value is not a pie!

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 4, Writings Prose, What we believe in


Two quotations from Srimad-Bhagavatam are relevant here:

  1. prAyena munayo rajan nivrittA bidhisedhtah (2//7) meaning that Most great saints are above the scriptural do-s and don't-s.

  2. dharma-vyatikramo drishta isvaraNam cha sAhasam/ tejiyasAm na doshAya vahNeh sarvabhujo yathA// (10/33/29) meaning : Exception to the laws of righoutness and courage are seen in the Most Powerful Ones. For the extremely Vigorous individuals, these are not to be blamed as the fire eats everything but remains pure.

So great souls liie Swamiji are above the scriptural laws and so never need prayaschitta.

By the way,Swamiji had to take meat for three reasons:

  1. He lived on 'viksha' and had to eat whatever is offered as food in the West. He had little personal choice.A monk does not have to be bothered about food according to the Sannyasa Upanishad (see below) as mentioned about Sri Chaitanyadeva. Mahaprabhu Nityananda also ate fish and meat as per Sri Chaitanya Bhagavata.

  2. A Paramahansa sannyasin has to rise above every sense of duality.

  3. He suffered from severe diabetes which had no treatment in those days.He was advised by the doctors to live primarily on meat.

On 10 November 1896 He spoke in London in His lecture on 'Practical Vedanta':

Some people have been kind enough to start an antivivisection society. I asked a member, "Why do you think, my friend, that it is quite lawful to kill animals for food, and not to kill one or two for scientific experiments?" He replied, "Vivisection is most horrible, but animals have been given to us for food." Oneness includes all animals. If man's life is immortal, so also is the animal's. The difference is only in degree and not in kind. The amoeba and I are the same, the difference is only in degree; and from the standpoint of the highest life, all these differences vanish. A man may see a great deal of difference between grass and a little tree, but if you mount very high, the grass and the biggest tree will appear much the same. So, from the standpoint of the highest ideal, the lowest animal and the highest man are the same. If you believe there is a God, the animals and the highest creatures must be the same. A God who is partial to his children called men, and cruel to his children called brute beasts, is worse than a demon. I would rather die a hundred times than worship such a God. My whole life would be a fight with such a God But there is no difference, and those who say there is, are irresponsible, heartless people who do not know. Here is a case of the word practical used in a wrong sense. I myself may not be a very strict vegetarian, but I understand the ideal. When I eat meat I know it is wrong. Even if I am bound to eat it under certain circumstances, I know it is cruel. I must not drag my ideal down to the actual and apologise for my weak conduct in this way. The ideal is not to eat flesh, not to injure any being, for all animals are my brothers. If you can think of them as your brothers, you have made a little headway towards the brotherhood of all souls, not to speak of the brotherhood of man! That is child's play. You generally find that this is not very acceptable to many, because it teaches them to give up the actual, and go higher up to the ideal. But if you bring out a theory which is reconciled with their present conduct, they regard it as entirely practical.

In another place He says:

There they used to make much fuss about my food and say, "Why should you eat that food or eat from the hands of such and such?" — and so on. To which I had to reply, "I am a Sannyasin and a mendicant friar and what need have I to observe so much outward formality with regard to food etc.? Do not your scriptures say, " One should beg one's food from door to door, ay even from the house of an outcast"? But of course external forms are necessary in the beginning, for the inner realisation of religion, in order to make the truth of the scriptures practical in one's life. Haven't you heard of Shri Ramakrishna's story of "wringing out the almanac for water"? Outward forms and observances are only for the manifestation of the great inner powers of man. The object of all scriptures is to awaken those inner powers and make him understand and realise his real nature. The means are of the nature of ordinances and prohibitions. If you lose sight of the ideal fight over the means only, what will it avail? In every country I have visited, I find this fighting over the means going on, and people have no eye on the ideal. Shri Ramakrishna came to show the truth of this.

Realisation of the truth is the essential thing. Whether you bathe in the Ganga for a thousand years or live on vegetable food for a like period, unless it helps towards the manifestation of the Self, know that it is all of no use. If on the other hand, any one can realise the Atman, without the observance of outward forms, then that very non-observance of forms is the best means. But even after the realisation of Atman, one should observe outward forms to a certain extent for setting an example to the people. The thing is you must make the mind steadfast on something. If it is steadfast on one object, it attains to concentration, that is, its other modifications die out and there is a uniform flow in one direction. Many become wholly preoccupied with the outward forms and observances merely and fail to direct their mind to thoughts of the Atman! If you remain day and night within the narrow groove of ordinances and prohibitions, how will there be any expression of the soul? The more one has advanced in the realisation of the Atman, the less is he dependent on the observances of forms. Shankaracharya also has said, " Where is there any ordinance or prohibition for him whose mind is always above the play of the Gunas?" Therefore the essential truth is realisation. Know that to be the goal. Each distinct creed is but a way to the Truth. The test of progress is the amount of renunciation that one has attained. Where you find the attraction for lust and wealth considerably diminished, to whatever creed he may belong, know that his inner spirit is awakening. The door of Self-realisation has surely opened for him. On the contrary if you observe a thousand outward rules and quote a thousand scriptural texts, still, if it has not brought the spirit of renunciation in you, know that your life is in vain. Be earnest over this realisation and set your heart on it. Well, you have read enough of scriptures. But tell me, of what avail has it been? Some perhaps thinking of money have become millionaires, whereas you have become a Pundit by thinking of scriptures. But both are bondages. Attain the supreme knowledge and go beyond Vidyâ and Avidyâ, relative knowledge and ignorance. (Svami-Sishya-samvad, CW).

The meaning of the word Ishvara for the Bhagavata-sloka could be seen from : https://www.sanskritdictionary.com/?iencoding=iast&q=ईश्वर&lang=sans&action=Search


As per the answer What is the full form of this sloka?, the Sannyasa Upanishad says:

Air is not spoiled by touching (any object); fire by the activity of burning; waters, by urine and faeces (getting into them); and a mendicant monk by faults ('Dosha') in food.

Sri Chaitanyadeva also mentions that an GREAT AND ABLE (MahA-AdhikAri) person is beyond all types of restrictions:

suno vipra! yadi mahA-adhikAri hay/tabe tAn guna doshkichu nA janmay//(Sri Sri Chaitanya-Bhagavata, Shesha-Khanda, chapter 7).

Mahaprabhu quotes a sloka(20/36) from Srimad-Bhagavatam from Canto 11 to support His starement that says that real saints are above all virtues and vices.

This also proves that for Swamiji, no prayaschitta was needed at all.

  • 3
    This sounds like a license to do anything one wants....
    – Ikshvaku
    Mar 30, 2019 at 19:35
  • 2
    @Ikshvaku Great saints live in total harmony with Lord. They are the machine, God is the operator.
    – Pinakin
    Mar 30, 2019 at 20:03
  • 1
    @ChinmaySarupria Yeah, and a saint is known by what other than his qualities? Otherwise, you can't differentiate between a saint and a sinner.
    – Ikshvaku
    Mar 30, 2019 at 22:01

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