Q76. What is the attitude of Sikh Faith towards non-vegetarian food?
The general directive of Guru Nanak with regard to food is: "Do not take that food which effects health, causes pain or suffering to the body or produces evil thoughts in the mind." (p. 16). There is a close connection between body and the mind so that the food that we eat affects both of them. Guru Ramdas has mentioned the three qualities created by God. These are Rajas(Activity or motion), Tamas (Resistance or darkness), Satav(Harmony or goodness). He says:
"God Himself created the three qualities and increased our love for worldly valuables" (p.1237).
Food can also be categorized under these three qualities. For example, fresh and natural food is an example of Satav, fried and spicy food is of Rajas, while fermented, decomposed, preserve or frozen food is a kind of Tamas. If one eats heavy or spicy food, one's stomach easily gets upset. Over-eating and heavy food should be avoided. Simple and natural food is best for healthy living.
There are references to matter of food in the Adi Granth. If one believes that all creation is a manifestation of God, the destruction of any living being or micro-organism is an infringement of the natural right to live, Kabir says:
"If you say that God resides in all, why do you kill a hen?" (A.G., p.1375)
"It is foolish to kill animals by cruelty and call it sanctified food." (p. 1375)
"You kill life and call it an act of religion. Then what is irreligion?" (p. 1103).
Though unnecessary killing or causing suffering to animals and birds for the sake of providing human food is to be avoided, vegetarianism should not be turned into a phobia or dogma.
Undoubtedly, animal food is largely used for satisfying the human palate. To eat meat only for the satisfaction of one's taste or appetite is not good. Kabir says, "You keep fasts in order to become acceptable to God, but kill a living animal for your relish." (p.483). This refers to the eating of meat by Muslims after breaking the religious fast.
The Gurus did not like the taboo on meat when more important things like control over desires or passion were ignored. It is far more important to kill the evil that pollutes the mind rather than abstain from meat. Impurities of the mind should be removed first, before labelling some food as pure and the other impure.
There is a passage in the Guru Granth Sahib which indicates the futility of the controversy regarding vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. It is said that when the Brahmins of Kurukshetra advocated the need and benefit of vegetarian food, Guru Nanak replied to them as under:
"Only the foolish quarrel over the desirability of eating flesh.
They are oblivious of true knowledge and meditation.
What is really flesh?
What is really vegetable-food?
Which one of is sin-infested?
They do not differentiate between good food and that which leads to sin
Men are born of a mother's and father's blood yet they do not eat fish or meat .
Meat is mentioned in the Puranas and the Katebas:
It has been used in Yajnas on marriages and festive occasions". (p.1290).
Equally fruitless is the debate on the question whether fish or eggs are included in non-vegetarian diet or not.
The Gurus neither advocated meat nor banned its use. They left it to the choice of the individual. There are passages against meat, in the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh however prohibited for the Khalsa the use of Halal or Kutha meat prepared in the Muslim ritualistic way. It may be noted that by tradition, meat is never served in the Guru Ka Langar (Free Kitchen).
Vegetarianism by itself cannot confer spiritual merit or lead to the door of salvation. Spiritual achievement depends on Sadhana or religious discipline. However, it has been observed by many saints that a vegetarian dies does help in Sadhana. Guru Amardas says:
"Those who take dirty food increase their filth;
such filth causes sorrow to the egocentric person." (p.121)
The position with regard to the meat of the cow or beef, is that the Sikhs do not venerate the cow like the Hindus. The latter view the cow as a mother, because she supplies the milk to the child when the mother's milk fails. However, beef is not a taboo for the Sikhs as Halal is. A non-vegetarian Sikh can take beef or pork as readily as any other meat. For those who want to advance on the spiritual path, vegetarian food is generally recommended by holy men as it avoids the killing of animals and birds.