One beautiful example of nonviolence for all creatures is reflected in the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. He loved all animals. In fact, they would gather around him and not harm him when he would be lost in prayer. There is an anecdote from the life of St. Francis. Once he was sitting near a lake. A fisherman who caught a large fish passed by in his boat and offered his catch to St. Francis. The saint joyfully accepted the catch and called the fish, “Brother.” He immediately placed the fish gently back into the water, restoring its life. It is said that the fish, which was grateful to his savior, continued to swim near the place where St. Francis was sitting in prayer. The fish would not leave that area until the prayer was done and the saint had given the fish permission to leave.
St. Francis’s life was a long epic of love. He gave freely to beggars and served his fellow beings day and night. He freed wounded animals and fed them with his own hands. One day, as he was walking, he saw a man carrying two lambs on his shoulders. The animals were hanging upside down. St. Francis asked the man what he was doing with the lambs. When the man replied that he was taking them to the market for sale to the slaughterhouse, St. Francis’s heart was filled with compassion for the animals. He bartered the coat that he was wearing in exchange for the lambs and put the animals in the care of a friend with the instructions to look after the welfare of the animals and not to kill them or harm them in any way. Thus, if we wish to find God, then we need to be loving and caring to all God’s creatures. That is why a vegetarian diet forms a part of a spiritual life.
If we truly believe that we are one world, then all its members are our family, whether human beings or animals. Then we will love and serve everyone as if they were our family members. In this way, we can contribute to a world of peace and love.
Recognizing the need to keep our bodies going while keeping in view the goal of nonviolence, we should follow the vegetarian diet because it results in the least possible destruction.
For those who are seeking self-knowledge and God-realization, vegetarianism offers another benefit. Those involved in spirituality find that all saints of all traditions tell us that God or the creative power can be found within. To discover our Creator and true self as soul, we need to invert our attention. The process recommended in each religion is through meditation or inversion. It requires sitting in silence and focusing our attention at a place where we can connect with the divinity within. To do so, we have to still our mind and gaze within to find the inner Light and Sound of God.
There is a current of Light and Sound that we find when we meditate. Spiritual Masters teach a meditation called Surat Shabd Yoga, or Shabd Meditation, in which we focus our attention within to find inner Light and Sound. The Light and Sound is already there, we just need to learn the technique of meditation to help us find it.
Meditation requires stillness. Right now our attention is focused on the outer sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations of this world. This static and noise is keeping us from attuning ourselves to the Light and Sound within. A technique of meditation to help us find the divinity within is called Shabd Meditation.
To get an idea of how simple the technique is we have an introductory meditation called Jyoti Meditation. In this you sit in a pose most convenient, in which you can sit the longest. Close your eyes gently as you would if going to sleep. Fix your gaze in front of you. To keep the mind still, repeat any Name of God with which you feel comfortable, mentally and not out loud. By gazing into the middle of whatever appears in front, you may experience bliss, peace, and joy.
To be able to concentrate in meditation, we need to be calm and collected. If we eat the flesh of dead animals, our own consciousness will be affected. We know the effect that our own hormones have on our body. Just imagine how many stress hormones we are adding which were circulating in the animals, birds, or fish when they were being killed or slaughtered to be used as meat! That is all forming a part of us when we partake of it. The food we eat not only has an effect upon our physical, emotional, and mental makeup, but on our spiritual consciousness. If we are trying to lead a life of nonviolence and compassion, if we are trying to become more serene and peaceful, if we are trying to control our mind and senses to concentrate within to find God, then we will naturally want to follow a diet that helps us achieve our goal.
When the Roman poet, Seneca, learned of Pythagoras’s teachings, he became a vegetarian. He was glad to discover, to his amazement, that his “mind had grown more alert and more enlightened.”
We can see the multiple benefits of vegetarianism. Whether one tries this diet for physical health, for improved intellect and mental well-being, or for spiritual growth, one finds benefits.