Vegetarianism and the Major World Religions
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy


Stephen Augustine

[This presentation can be shown with the PowerPoint Vegetarianism and the Major World Religions.]

My talk this morning is titled “Vegetarianism and World Religions” and is ostensibly about dietary choices. But, in reality, it is about a spiritual journey that everyone is invited to join in to transform ourselves and our entire world. It is an invitation to live in love and results in a far-reaching peace that comes from that living in love. It is about God’s love for all Creation and all creatures great and small and an invitation to us to offer peace to this good and holy Creation and all the creatures therein.


Good morning. My name is [name] and I am with [affiliation]. I am very pleased to be with you this morning and I thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts with you today. I brought with me several pamphlets and DVDs that will be available after the service and which I encourage you to take home with you. [Insert any announcement about any vegetarian community events or activities to which you wish to invite the congregation]

Today we celebrate [Palm Sunday. A remembrance of the day when Jesus, the prophetic Prince of Peace in Christian scripture, rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey, a steed of peace,] to offer an invitation to the Jews to reject violence and to embrace the Peace of the Kingdom of God with mercy and compassion.

My talk this morning is titled “Vegetarianism and World Religions” and is ostensibly about dietary choices. But, in reality, it is about a spiritual journey that everyone is invited to join in to transform ourselves and our entire world. It is an invitation to live in love and results in a far-reaching peace that comes from that living in love. It is about God’s love for all Creation and all creatures great and small and an invitation to us to offer peace to this good and holy Creation and all the creatures therein.

At about the same time that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey 2000 years ago, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher & statesman, said:

“What with our hooks, snares, nets, and dogs, we are at war with all living creatures, and nothing comes amiss but that which is either too cheap or too common; and all this is to gratify a fantastical palate.”

The reality of worldwide animal agriculture today is that 55 billion warm-blooded sentient beings, beings that have emotions, beings that experience love, pain, and joy like us, are confined and slaughtered every year in the most horrific of ways. That’s 6 million every hour of every day to gratify that fantastical palate. In addition there are uncounted billions more marine animals that are killed every year – also to gratify that fantastical palate. It brings to mind the Apostle Paul when he wrote - “All Creation groans in agony.”

A basic question that could be asked is whether Seneca was wrong in calling human appetite for flesh “fantastical”. That is, are or are not the bodies of other animals meant to be food for us? A study of the body structure of humans as a biological animal, and, drawing from anthropology, fossil evidence, and our closest relatives in the wild – namely chimpanzees and gorillas – humans are far closer to being an herbivore than either a carnivore or true omnivore. On a dietary scale of 1-10 ranging from pure herbivore to obligate carnivore, if an elephant or a cow was a 1 and if a lion or tiger was a 10 then a true omnivore such as a grizzly bear or raccoon would be a 5 and I would place humans at about 2. More specifically, humans began their evolution as hominids who primarily subsisted on fruits, seeds, nuts and roots. Almost eerily, this biological reality is echoed in the opening chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures in Genesis where humans are created and God said “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

The relevant question for us is not whether we are able to be carnivores but whether we need to be carnivores. Human adaptations for omnivorism aided early homo sapiens by providing survival opportunities when plant foods were scarce or lacking and they could scavenge from the kills of true carnivores. However, the major religions all recognize the truth that we do NOT need to be eaters of flesh, that carnivorism is a deviation from our true nature and accordingly instruct us to extend God-like compassion and mercy to the creatures entrusted to our care.

Sadly, all the major industries invested in animal agriculture have falsely convinced society that without animal flesh and animal products we will wither, fall ill, and die. The truth, however, is the startling opposite of that falsehood. A vegetarian diet is far more natural for us and much, much healthier. The myth of inadequate protein in a vegetarian life – is precisely that – a myth. Even a casual, unplanned vegetarian diet will almost always supply us with more than adequate protein and all the other nutrients that our bodies need for healthy lives. The unneeded consumption of meat by humans leads to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and so many other illnesses. As Dr. Neil Barnard of the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine says, “The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined.”

To compound that the Editors of World Watch say that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening Life on Earth: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.


Before I get to the specifics of a few major world religions I would like to touch upon the etymology of a few words:

  • Spiritual: comes from the Latin spiritus meaning “breath”, “vigor”, or “life”
  • Vegetarian: comes from the Greek vegetas meaning “full of the breath of life”
  • Carnal & Carnivorous: come from the Latin carnis meaning “flesh”
  • In Hebrew the word for meat stems from shame, corruption and worms

As we’ll see - almost all world religions emphasize spiritual growth over pleasures of flesh

(At the Heart of Religions)

  • Love, mercy and compassion are the avowed spiritual goals of all major religious traditions and are at the heart of all religions.
  • Vegetarianism is NOT advocated because of purity or dietary considerations but instead as an expression of mercy and compassion for all living beings
  • It is noteworthy that the older the religion the closer it is to advocacy of vegetarianism

(Religion and Animal Sacrifice)

Unfortunately, animal sacrifice, a true depravity, became a convenient vehicle for people to circumvent the religious prohibitions against killing animals and to indulge their desire to eat flesh. The various sacred texts, however, countered with repeated injunctions against animal sacrifice.

  • From the prophet Isaiah: “I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of the goats…” (Isaiah 1.11)
  • Or from Hosea and Matthew: “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6.6, Matthew 9:13, Matthew 12:7)
  • From the Prophet Mohammed: “Maim not the brute beasts.”
  • From Buddhism’s Dhammapada: “Because she or he has pity on every living creature, therefore a person is called holy.”
  • From Hindu sages: "In this Age of Kali, five acts are forbidden: the offering of a horse in sacrifice, the offering of a cow in sacrifice,…” (CC Adi 17.164)

(Eastern and Abrahamic Religions)

Among the major world religions a grouping may be made between Eastern Religions and Abrahamic Religions.

(Eastern Religions)

  • Among the major Eastern Religions are Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism with most of these based on the Vedas from 3000 BCE
  • A common theme is universal ahimsa or nonviolence as stated in the Padma Purana, “Ahimsa is the highest duty”. (Padma Purana 1.31.27)
  • These religions take issue not only with vedic followers who eat meat but those who assist in slaughtering, buying, selling and even those who serve meat

Jainism – From the Sutra-kritanga - "All breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure unchangeable law."

  • Vegetarianism is integral to Jains whose cardinal teaching is ahimsa and believe it is wrong to kill or harm any living being. All Jains are strict vegetarians.
  • It is enlightening to note that Jains comprise less than 1% of India’s population but contribute more than 50% of all the private money donated in India to provide medical and other social assistance to India’s poor. Jains are also well known for their animal hospitals

Hinduism – From the laws of Manu: “Having well considered the origin of flesh-foods, and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let humans entirely abstain from eating flesh”. (Manusmriti 5.49)

  • Universal compassion is abundantly taught in Vedic literature and the Vedas promote devotion to the good of all creatures over devotion to the good of humanity alone
  • The Vedas teach that eating meat involves killing and therefore leads to karmic bondage
  • Vegetarianism in the Vedas is the awareness that all living beings are spiritually equal. They advocate the equality of souls in that the soul is the same no matter what body it inhabits. A modern-day contradiction might be that we treat dogs as pets while pigs are seen as food.

Buddhism – From the Nirvana Sutra: “The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.” (Mahaparinirvana Sutra)

  • Buddhism was a response to the central purpose of the Vedas which was devotion to the supreme being and not the mass slaughter of animals in sacrifice. As a consequence Buddha extended compassion to everything that lives
  • The first precept of Buddhism is: “Do not kill but rather preserve and cherish all life.”
  • Buddha taught that the bodhisattva, or enlightened soul, should refrain from eating flesh – born of blood and dying in terror
  • Sadly, when intent superceded action then meat eating became acceptable among Buddhists. In layperson’s terms this would translate as - “it was already killed so I ate it”.
  • In Japan the deeply religious still consider meat-eating to be contrary to Buddhist ideals

Taoism – Lao Tzu said: “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.

  • These three are your greatest treasures.”
  • Taoism holds nature as sacred and the Tao Te Ching teaches that simplicity promotes peace and protects nature.
  • The production of meat is too yang - too aggressive - since it involves extreme and unnecessary impact on nature. Taoist simplicity would logically encourage a diet of vegetables, grain and fruit
  • Famous Taoist Master Li Han-Kung prohibited “those who consume meat” from his holy mountain

(Abrahamic Religions)

  • The major Abrahamic religions all have their origins in Judaism and God’s foundational covenant with Abraham. Other than Judaism the major religions are Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i Faith
  • They all portray an all-powerful, all-loving God who holds Earth and all its Life as a good and holy Creation. Indeed, the second mandate given to humans after they were created is that they were to exercise God-like love, mercy and compassion in looking after God’s Creation – particularly the animals.
  • God’s ideal for human harmony with nature is plainly reflected in the opening chapter of Genesis, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to every beast of the Earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the Earth, wherein there is a living soul, I have given every green herb for meat” (Genesis 1:29)

Judaism – From the Midrash on Exodus, “You who have compassion for a lamb shall be the shepherd of my people Israel” (Exodus Rabbah 2, Midrash)

  • From Adam to Noah the people of Israel were vegan and Midrash has many Jewish heroes and heroines being chosen by God because they showed compassion to animals
  • There are numerous injunctions on the proper treatment of animals and causing them the least pain and harm. Accordingly, the original kosher laws were formed to cause animals as little pain as possible – with vegetarianism as a logical extension
  • It is instructive that Jewish dietary laws only apply to animal foods – all fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grains are kosher
  • One might also note that it is literally impossible to remove blood from meat making all meat NOT kosher
  • On Yom Kippur, a day of atonement, no leather shoes are allowed in the synagogue
  • Many Jewish thinkers have, in fact, adopted vegetarianism in preparation for a return of the Messiah and a return to an Edenic state

Christianity – From The Gospel of Luke: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.” (Luke 12:6)

  • The early psalmists recognized that the Spirit of God animates all living creatures. (Psalm 104 29:30). After the original injunction in Eden for a vegan diet a second attempt was made with the Manna diet on the exodus from Egypt.
  • That Jesus even ate meat is questionable and disputed. In fact there was very strong advocacy of vegetarianism among the early Christian followers of Jesus such as the Ebionites, the Essenes – known for the Gospel of Peace, Gnostics, and the Nazarenes – known for The Gospel of the Holy Twelve.
  • Christian tradition is rich with vegetarian followers, saints and vegetarian orders: some of these being the Apostle James, the Desert Fathers, Clement of Alexandria, St. John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Origen, Cathars, Trappists, Benedictines, Carthusians, Franciscans, Ellen White of the 7th Day Adventists, John Wesley of the Methodists, the Booths of the Salvation Army, and my childhood favourite - Mister Rogers☺
  • In contemporary Christian traditions the Seventh Day Adventist church recommends vegetarianism and requires adherence to kosher laws. Mormonism condemns killing animals unless absolutely necessary and even then flesh is to be consumed sparingly.
  • As an ideal the prophet Isaiah envisions a return to vegan Eden: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) (plus there’s a little something in there about swords being beaten into ploughshares)

Islam – From the Koran: “There is not an animal on the Earth, nor a flying creature flying on two wings, but they are peoples like unto you.” (Koran, Surah 6:38)

  • 113 of the Koran’s 114 chapters begin with “Allah is merciful and compassionate”
  • The prophet Mohammed preferred vegetarian foods. He even instructed those who eat meat to wash out their mouths before going to pray. The prophet often entreated his followers to show kindness to animals. It’s instructive that when on pilgrimage to Mecca, after donning the shroud, there is absolutely no killing of any living creature allowed - not even mosquitoes!
  • Like Judaism the primary function of Islamic dietary laws (halaal) is to curtail the eating of flesh. And like kosher, halaal is also practically impossible.
  • Sufi mystic, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen spoke about the slaughterer of animals, “He has to look into the animal’s eyes, he has to watch the tears of the animal, and he has to watch the animal’s eyes until it dies – hopefully his heart will change”.
  • The imperative is that Muslims seek compassion and mercy by first minimizing the number of animals killed and then by giving up meat altogether

The Bahai Faith – Abdu’l Baha taught: “You must not only have kind and merciful feelings for humankind, but you should also exercise the utmost kindness towards every living creature.”

  • Reverence for and protection of nature is a central Baha’i tenet
  • Abdu’l-Baha also said, “Truly, the killing of animals and the eating of their meat is contrary to pity and compassion, and if one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts… it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing”.

(The Bedrock of All Religions)

We come then to the bedrock, or foundation, of all religions: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This injunction is found in all the sacred texts – in the Vedas, in Buddhism’s Udana-Varga, in the Analects of Confucius, in the Talmud, in the Gospels of Christianity, in the Koran.

  • From the Vedas: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you (Mahabharata 5.1517)
  • In Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Udana-Varga 5.18)
  • In Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not unto others that which you would not have them do unto you (Analects 15.23)
  • From Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow human (Talmud, Shabbat, 31a)
  • In Christianity: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12)
  • From Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself (Sunnah, Hadith)

(A Vision For World Peace)

In embracing this foundation we can put together a vision of true world peace and the Peaceable Kindom – one that encompasses all holy Creation – one that is rooted in love:

  • The Laws of Manu declare that “By not killing any living being, one becomes fit for salvation” (Manusmriti, 6.60)
  • Mahatma Gandhi expanded on that by saying, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way in which its animals are treated”.
  • The vision of the prophet Isaiah is even more specific, “For behold, I create new Heavens and a new Earth and the former shall not be remembered… and they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them… the wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 65:17-25)
  • A God-centered world view professes a truth that all Creation and all the creatures therein belong to God and that we are asked to extend God’s love for that holy Creation by our own loving stewardship.
  • I invite all of you fellow sojourners to follow the Prince of Peace into a new Jerusalem and bring about heaven on Earth by cultivating peace in your hearts, in your homes and by what you take into your body. Extend your love and compassion in that simplest and most fundamental of ways by consciously choosing peace - three times each day, with each meal.

(Closing Meditation)

  • We bring to mind the words of the Psalmist, “All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the Earth.”
  • As spring is upon us we look anew for this outpouring of the spirit of God. In the words of George Eliot, we ask for a keen vision and a feeling for all ordinary life, so that we too can hear the sound of grass growing and the squirrel's heart beat, and that we should know the joy of that ROAR which lies on the other side of silence.
    (15 seconds silence)
  • Feel that glorious spirit flowing out from the Creator infusing all beings with holy life
    (15 seconds silence)
  • Embrace as your own the joy a mother feels on seeing her newborn baby for the first time
    (15 seconds silence)
  • Embrace as your own the love a mother cow feels on nuzzling her newborn calf for the first time
    (15 seconds silence)
  • Embrace as your own the tenderness with which a mother hen tucks in her chicks underneath her wings
    (15 seconds silence)
  • Feel in all of these, the love of God for all her created beings and the desire in all of these beings to know the love of God and one another. Apprehend God in all beings, for God IS in all beings. Every single creature is full of God and is a book of God, the word of God. Go in peace, eat in peace.

Return to Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion