Question: I wish to know the justification for eating vegetables and fruits. These are also living creatures and we are not supposed to take away life. Please let me know.

Thank you for writing with your question.

The shastras explain that all life subsists by the consumption of other living entities. It is impossible to be nonviolent in this world, as simply to exist we need to take the lives of other living entities. Even without eating, so many ants, insects and bacteria are killed every time we walk or breath. This material world is therefore known as duhkhalayam, the place of suffering. Our very existence is suffering for others; and by the law of karma, those sufferings are later returned to us in full. Thus this world is described as being like a net of illusion. When the fish is caught in a net, the more it struggles to be free, the tighter it is bound in the net. The material world is known by the name ‘durga’, which literally means ‘very difficult to move’. This net of maya has entrapped us, and the more we struggle against it, the more our freedom of movement is restricted.

The Bhagavad Gita says:

yajnarthat karmano ‘nyatra
loko ‘yam karma-bandhanah
tad-artham karma kaunteya
mukta-sangah samacara

“Activities must be performed as a sacrifice to Vishnu, otherwise all work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.”

Every action we perform has a binding consequence which increases our entanglement in matter. This is the stringent law of karma which keeps us bound in this world. Every step we walk, every breath we take, it is increasing our bondage. Countless living entities are being killed by us without our knowledge. All of this will lead to our own suffering. The only way to become free from this bondage is by performing every action as an offering to God. This is known technically as ‘yajna’ or ‘yaagam’.

Those who eat food, even if it is vegetarian, without first offering it as a sacrifice to God, are eating only sin, for so many living entities have been killed in the process.

In this connection, Lord Krishna states in the Gita:

yajna-shishtashinah santo
mucyante sarva-kilbishaih
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pacanty atma-karanat

“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.”

Whatever one eats that is not prepared as an offering to God is sinful, and it will increase one’s bondage and suffering through the laws of Karma. Those who are devotees of the Lord, first offer everything to Krishna, and then partake of his remnants. Such an offering of sacrifice frees one from reactions and situates one on the transcendental platform of akarma.

karmany akarma yah pashyed
akarmani ca karma yah
sa buddhiman manushyeshu
sa yuktah kritsna-karma-krit

“One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.”

By performing every action as a sacrifice to Krishna one becomes free from all reactions. Though such a devotee is factually engaged in all sorts of activities, he is transcendentally situated and is therefore situated in inaction.

One may then question the need for offering only vegetarian foods to Krishna in sacrifice. The scriptures establish which foodstuffs may be offered to God in sacrifice, and Lord Krishna reafirms this in the Bhagavad Gita:

patram pushpam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahritam
ashnami prayatatmanah

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I will accept it.”

These are the foodstuffs that Lord Krishna will accept in offering, and even to this day in thousands of temples throughout India these offerings are made everyday to the Lord. Such offerings are factually sacrifice, or yajna, and the devotees are freed from all kinds of bondage by partaking of the remnants, or prasadam.

Those who wish to become free from karmic reactions should arrange in their house to offer all of their foodstuffs to Lord Krishna before eating. This will protect you from the sinful reactions involved.

The Vedic injunction is mahimsat sarva bhutani, “Do not perform violence to any living entity.” In the material world it is impossible to follow this instruction perfectly. We should strive to follow it to the best of our ability, offering all results to the Lord for purification of our imperfections. We should endeavour to cause the least amount of violence to other living entities as we can. Our very existence is violence, so we will not be able to stop violence, but we can consciously act in such a way as to minimize the disturbance we cause to other living entities. Comparitively, more violence is involved in the killing of an animal compared to the killing of a plant. Therefore the scriptures have stipulated that the proper diet for humans is only vegetarian food. Humans are meant to move from the mundane to the spiritual, and as such certain qualities must be developed, such as purity, mercy, compassion, etc. It is impossible to develop these essential qualities while engaging in the merciless slaughter of innocent animals to satisfy our tongues. The scriptures state that only the killer of animals is unable to understand the transcendental message of Lord Krishna. The killer of the animal is not only the hunter or butcher. It includes everyone involved in the process, from the butcher to the one who eats the meat. Such people will not be able to understand the message of Lord Krishna. For them it will not be possible to take to spiritual life, which is everyone’s ultimate goal and self-interest: na te viduh svartha gatim hi vishnum.