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It is said on multiple occasions that initially Hinduism was not a vegetarian society. From Was Lord Rama a non-vegetarian? :–

I know meat eating is not restricted to any Hindu Caste, while in general South Indian Brahmins practice vegetarianism. Bengali Brahmins eat fish, Kashmiri Brahmins eat meat.

and this

There are many references of Sri Rama having meat in the Valmiki Ramayana. It was a common practice in the Kshatriya clan then. Even not many Kshatriyas have non-vegetarian diet.

It is said that Jainism and up to some extent Buddhism brought the vegetarian movement to Hinduism. As far as I know, Vaishnavism is also responsible for spreading vegetarianism, so my question is how did this movement spread to Hinduism?

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    Buddha himself was not a vegetarian.
    – user16581
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 7:41
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    The last sentence is very difficult to answer - "how did this movement spread to Hinduism? " BTW, your question is good. @Talk is Cheap Show me Code Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 2:05
  • is theory of sanksriization have any role? Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 4:48
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    We come from hunters and gatherers and they were omnivorous.
    – Wikash_
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 8:19

3 Answers 3

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Vegetarianism DID NOT originate from jain as Book II, Lecture 1, Lesson 10 of acharanga sutra (first of 12 canonical jaina agamas) allows monks/nun to accept meat fillet & fish fillet :

A monk or a nun on a begging-tour should not accept meat or fish containing many bones, so that only a part of it can be eaten and the greater part must be rejected; for such meat or fish, &c., is impure and unacceptable. (5)

A monk or a nun on a begging-tour may be invited to meat or fish containing many bones, (by the householder who addresses him thus): 'O long-lived Sramana! will you accept meat with many bones?' Hearing such a communication, he should say, after consideration: 'O long-lived one! (or, O sister!) it is not meet for me to accept meat with many bones; if you want to give me a portion of whatever size, give it me; but not the bones!' If after these words the other (i.e. the householder) should fetch meat containing many bones, put it in a bowl and return with it, (the mendicant) should not accept such a bowl, whether out of the other's hand or a vessel; for it is impure and unacceptable. But if he has inadvertently accepted it, he should not say: 'No, away, take it!' Knowing this, he should go apart, and in a garden or an upâsraya, where there are few eggs, &c., (all down t o) cobwebs, eat the meat or fish, and taking the bones, he should resort to a secluded spot and leave them on a heap of ashes, &c. (6)

In chapter 18 of Jnatrdharmakathah (sixth of 12 canonical jaina agamas), mahAvira justifies consumption of human flesh during famine :

40. The five sons accepted the proposal of Dhanya merchant With the help of his sons Dhanya merchant drilled a hole in a log of wood and prepared a sharp edged rod of the same wood They put the rod in the hole and whirled it to produce sparks They blew the sparks into a flame and added more fuel-wood When the fire was ready they cooked pieces of meat from the body of Sumsuma and fed themselves

43. Jambu! Dhanya merchant did not feed on the flesh and blood of deceased Sumsuma for the purpose of enhancing or enjoying complexion, form, strength or carnal pleasures of the body He did that only to cross the wilderness and reach Rajagriha

According to skandapurANa-Vāsudeva-māhātmya-Chapter9, vegetarianism existed since time immemorial i.e. satyayuga amongst people devoted to hari :

11. Learned men and sages who followed the true Dharma did not eat flesh, even though they were being starved to death.

16. Then Devas, sages, kings and men who were thus taught by them performed according to their capacities sacrifices, except those who were solely devoted to Hari

30. Then onwards, killing of (tame) animals in Yajña (sacrifices) and on other (religious) occasions gained currency. It was only in Satya (Kṛta) Yuga that there prevailed the eternal Dharma.

29. Those treatises became authoritative in due course by the power of tradition. In the first Tretā Yuga Dharma took such an evil turn.

mahAbhArata-anushasanaparva-CXV :

If one eats the meat that has been sanctified in consequence of its having been procured from animals dedicated in sacrifices and that have been slain for the purpose of feeding Brahmanas, one incurs a little fault.

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The question is

how did this movement (Vegetarianism) spread to Hinduism?


Ramayana says (Kishkinda Kanda)

पंच पंच नखा भक्ष्या ब्रह्म क्षत्रेण राघव | शल्यकः श्वाविधो गोधा शशः कूर्मः च पंचमः || १-१७-३९

"Raghava, five kinds of five-nailed animals, viz., a kind of wild rodent, a kind of wild-boar, a kind of lizard, a hare and fifthly the turtle are edible for Brahmans and Kshatriya-s."

Any poet describes/attributes the prevalent customs of his/her period to the characters.

So by the time Ramayana was composed, even brAhmanAs, apart from Kshatriya-s, used to partake meat. Why Vegetarian habits were acquired by brAhmanAs at a later date, is a different issue.

The story of Sage Agastya partaking meat of ram disguised vAtApi during obsequial ceremonies, confirms this.


This Wiki article describes the origins of Jainism.

The Jains claim their religion to be eternal, and consider Rishabhanatha to be the founder in the present time cycle, the first of 24 Jain tirthankaras in Jain belief, and someone who lived for 8,400,000 purva years.

The 23rd tirthankara, Parshvanatha, is generally accepted to be based on an ancient historic human being of uncertain dates, possibly the eighth to sixth century BCE.

Mahāvīra and Buddha are generally accepted as contemporaries (circa 5th century BCE)


As Ramayana was composed after the commencement of Classical Sanskrit, we can infer that both Vegetarianism and Non-Vegetarianism were prevalent at that point of time.

Even Ramayana describes ascetics/saints Vaikahanasa-s, Vaalakhilyaa-s and those living on leaves, etc.

वैखानसा वालखिल्याः संप्रक्षाला मरीचिपाः | अश्म कुट्टाः च बहवः पत्र आहाराः च तापसाः || ३-६-२

The sages called Vaikahanasa-s, [who are born out of the nails of Prajaapati, the first ruler of mankind,] also Vaalakhilyaa-s, [those born from His hair,] and those from the water of His feet-wash, and those that thrive on drinking rays of sun and moon alone, and those that pound with stones and others who thrive on leaves alone, are those sages...


The Mahayana schools generally recommend a vegetarian diet; according to some sutras the Buddha himself insisted that his followers should not eat the flesh of any sentient being. According to Theravada, the Buddha allowed his monks to eat pork, chicken and fish if the monk was aware that the animal was not killed on their behalf.

So we safely infer that Vegetarianism and Non-Vegetarianism ran parallel in this country since long.

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  • Thanks for the interesting reference to Vaikhanasas. Do we know if these are the same Vaikhanasas who run many Vishnu temples today?
    – user16581
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 18:38
  • According to [wiki article]( en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaikhanasas ) - The Vaikhanasa Brahmins/Vaikhanasas originated as a group of ascetics. In the Manava Dharmasastra, Manu discusses vanaprastha, forest-dweller, the third of the four asramas, stages of life, and mentions a "Vaikhanasa rule.". I doubt whether they are the same. There was no temple concept during that time - Ramayana's composition period. It was a subsequent development. @Lazy Lubber Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 23:27
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What is influence of Jainism and Buddhism in introducing Vegetarianism to Hinduism?

Vegetarianism was already a part of Hinduism, and Jainism and Buddhism are religions founded based on Hinduism.

The fact is, according to Hinduism, meat can be eaten only if the animal is sacrificed in a Vedic yajna:

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 practice’

Manu 5.36 - The Brāhmaṇa shall never eat animals that have not been consecrated with sacred texts; but those that have been consecrated with sacred texts, he shall eat, taking, his stand upon the eternal law.

This applies to all castes including Kshatriyas. Also, a kshatriya has a special rule that says he can eat animals that he has personally hunted. Other castes like Nishadhas (hunter-caste) also can eat animals that they've hunted.

However, pure vegetarianism is encouraged:

Manu 5.53 - If a man performs the Aśvamedha Sacrifice every year, for a hundred years,—and another does not eat meat,—the merit and reward of both these are the same.

Manu 5.56 - There is no sin in the eating of meat, nor in wine, nor in sexual intercourse. Such is the natural way of living beings; but abstention is conducive to great rewards.

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    To answer the question, you need to show some sources which are pre-jaina and pre-buddha. Manusmriti is neither.
    – user16581
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 18:02
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    There is a reference to ahimsa in chhandogya upanishad and there is a reference to compassion in brihadaranyaka upanishad - both of which satisfy the criterion of chronology. But I doubt whether these isolated references would do. Alternately, you can try showing that the first Jaina (or Bauddha?) references to vegetarianism are post the first Hindu references.
    – user16581
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 2:42
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    @LazyLubber what do you consider pre jain budhha? The "scholars" have given stupid dates chronology on their own beleifs. All smritis are older than buddhism.
    – Anisha
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 20:41
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    @Anisha If Buddha talks about vegetarian hindus, then please quote him and write an answer.
    – user16581
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 3:27
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    @Anisha I agree, some dates could be speculative. But to say that all smritis are older than Buddha, is more speculative.
    – user16581
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 3:30

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