Read transcript of Ep 6: Hinduism

Old Tamil inscription (from Shaivite temple)

Alternatively, follow this link to hear Ep 6: Hinduuism and read the show notes. Transcription by Amy Carpenter.

[Soft Indian music]

Ian McDonald:
So, the food is vegetarian.

Ranjan Garuva:
Yeah, pure vegetarian. Pure sacred food.

Ian:
That’s…

Ranjan:
When you take the food, you can feel very happy and you don’t feel angry, hmm.

Ian [as narrator]:
Ranjan is a Brahmin priest of the medieval Ananta Garudev temple in Bhubaneswar, eastern India.

He’s telling me just how central vegetarian food offerings are to his temple’s life. It’s the Sunday evening of the festival of Holi, and we’re standing under the temple’s carved stone towers.

Ranjan:
If festival time come, lots of people come here. And normal time, maybe twenty five thousand people came here to take prasād, to take food.

Ian [to Ranjan]:
The food that is kept once the god has taken his portion.

[as narrator]
In the first millennium common era, Indian vegetarianism spreads far beyond the fringes of Jainism and Buddhism and the Upanishads. It becomes not just the normal diet of people seeking a spiritual life, but something that even helps you climb the social ladder.

This, amongst crowds of clashing ideas and borrowed gods, is when vegetarianism permeates Indian society. The question I’ll answer this episode is – how?

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Vegetarianism: The Story So Far, with me Ian McDonald. Episode six: Hinduism.

[Theme ends]

When vegetarianism emerged in iron age India, it was most strongly associated with the Brahmins caste’s freethinking ascetic rivals called Śramaṇas, like Buddhists and Jains. And that’s where previous episodes about India have focussed. But all these traditions are intertwined.

Prof. Richard Gombrich:
Now the whole history of Indian religion really, can largely be summed up as a great conversation, or argument, between Brahmanism and the other religions. And both these sides influenced each other.

Ian [as narrator]:
I paid a visit to Oxford University Indologist Richard Gombrich. In his living room in Oxford, he summed up how they interacted over the centuries.

Gombrich:
The Brahmin religion being very ancient and archaic, from that date to this, has been particularistic. It makes a tremendous difference whether you are male or female, but not merely that, what family you were born into. And only very slowly in the course of this great conversation down the centuries have they moved to the kind of religion which I think we tend more to take for granted, based on certain principles.

Vows of a Brahamacharya [actor reading from Gautama Dharmasutra]:

He shall not look at the sun.
He shall abstain from: eating honey and meat…
[fades to background and continues through narration]

Ian [as narrator]:
So this “particularistic” list of injunctions is usually dated to the middle of the first millennium BCE – the Iron Age, the start of our story.

Even when Brahmanical animal sacrifice is part of the orthodoxy, when people like the Buddha Gautama are preaching against it, there’s the idea that student Brahmins, when they’re memorising the ancient verses of the Vedas, shouldn’t eat meat.

Reading from Gautama Brahmacharya [fades back in]:

… taking what is not given, harming animate beings.

Ian:
So roughly when Buddhism and Jainism emerge, there’s already an instruction on certain people, of one particular gender, in one caste, at one stage of life, to be vegetarian. As opposed to today, though there’s no hard and fast rule, it’s normal for Brahmins to be lifelong vegetarians.

Ranjan:
Depends only on you.

Ian [to Ranjan]:
On everybody’s…

Ranjan:
Yeah.

Ian:
Everybody’s different.

Ranjan:
Yeah. And some people cannot take a non-vegetarian food. Some people cannot take vegetarian food. Hmm. But most of Brahmin people cannot take onion, garlic, and they don’t take non-vegetarian food. But time will be changed, everything will be changed, so…

Ian [as narrator]:
But how did this change happen? As the centuries roll on, we can hear the argument unfold in Brahmanical scriptures themselves.

In the first few centuries of the Common Era, all the proper expectations of human behaviour are collected into a mythical lesson taught by the first human, Manu.

Different versions of the Laws of Manu are found all over India and even further afield.

But even within the same text, contradictory ideas around the rights and wrongs of eating meat jar against each other.

Manu [in Manava Dharmasastra – actor reading]:

You may eat meat that has been consecrated by the sprinkling of water, or when Brahmins desire.

Manu [a second actor reading]:

You can never get meat without violence to creatures with the breath of life.

Manu [first actor]:

Things inanimate are the food of those endowed with motion; those without fangs of those with fangs; those without hands… [fades]

Manu [second actor]:

Therefore, you should not eat meat.

Manu [first actor]:

He who even daily devours those destined to be his food commits no sin.

Ian:
The idea that it’s acceptable to eat meat consecrated with water – ie from a sacrifice – might remind you of ancient Greece. The idea that sacrifice ritualises the status of other animals and makes it okay to eat them, is a clashing with the idea of non-violence, ahimsa.

Amongst Jain temples north of Delhi, beside the Great Trunk Road that has carried traffic across India for thousands of years, Sanskrit scholar and Brahmin GC Tripathi told me not to expect a simple point on the calendar when the Brahmins adopt vegetarianism.

Prof. GC Tripathi:
It’s very difficult that they… it is started in a particular century or so. It was a matter of personal taste. Hinduism does not allow, it does not disallow anything.

Ian [as narrator]:
He agrees with Richard Gombrich about the reason for this slow trend towards vegetarianism.

Tripathi:
See Buddhism and Jainism, they exerted lot of influence upon Hindus. Upon those who were following the Vedic religion. And Mahabharata for example has lot of chapters dedicated to vegetarianism. And also that one should not sacrifice animals in the sacrifices.

Ian [as narrator]:
India’s great drama, the Mahabharata evolved out of an ancient heroic epic of warring dynasties, of battling gods and demons. There are local variations, a Jain version, and nowadays of course several TV versions.

By the first millennium, Brahmins are layering on spiritual and philosophical interludes where gods and heroes stop to argue points of principle.

By now, Indians are writing on palm leaves and stringing those into books. So different stories and opinions can be literally interleaved.
In this episode from the Mahabharata, an abstemious Brahmin ascetic, a Brahmanical cousin to Buddhists and Jains, tries to dissuade a priest from sacrificing a goat.

[sound of bell and goat bleating]

Story narrator [from Mahabharata – actor reading]:

Beholding an animal sprinkled with water for sacrifice, a sanyassin spoke to the priest seated there these harsh words:

Yati [actor reading]:
This is destruction of life!

Adhwaryu [actor reading]:
This goat will not be destroyed.

The animal meets with great benefit, if the Vedas are true. His vision will enter the sun; his hearing will cross the horizon; his breath of life will fill the sky.

I follow the scriptures and so incur no fault.

Yati:
If you see such good for the goat, then the ceremony is for him. What need do you have for it? Let the goat’s family and friends give their approval. Go ask them!

The goat’s breath of life would return to whence they came; only the lifeless body would be left.

Abstention from cruelty is the highest of all gods. Thus teach the elders. Always refraining from cruelty to all creatures is what we praise. We base this is on what we can see. We don’t rely on what we can’t.

Adhwaryu:
You take smells from earth; taste from water… [fades]

Ian:
And then he goes into an abstruse theological discussion about detachment which, I’m afraid, the Sanyassin and goat both lose. But we can hear the argument for nonviolence being made: arguments that increasingly often carry the day.

Although the Mahabharata itself is set in a mythical aristocratic world of hunting and meat-eating, it incorporates a sceptical view of their violence.

For example, after the final battle at Kurukshetra, the victorious king commands a traditional horse sacrifice, which includes the slaughter of hundreds of other animals. But at the end of it he’s reminded by a half-golden Mongoose – yes, a half-golden Mongoose, it is, literally, a long story – that the sacrifice could be outdone by a small gift given in the right spirit.

Mongoose [in Mahabharata – actor reading]:

This great sacrifice is not equal to a measure of powdered barley given away by a generous hearted Brahmana of Kurukshetra who was observing the vow to live by gleaning.

Ian:
Animal sacrifices are still working in this story, but the point is your personal devotion, which might involve lacto-vegetarianism, could be even more effective.

And the condemnation of Brahmanic animal sacrifices are continuing to come from the people who started that ball rolling in Episode one – like the Buddhists and Jains.

These arguments are really blunt in south India, where epics are full of miracles and spirits and theological disputations. In this scene from the mid first Millennium Buddhist epic Manimekalai, a boy hero Apputra turns on the Brahmins who are angry with him, because he tried to stop them from sacrificing a cow.

Apputra [in Manimekalai – actor reading]:

She grazes only from the pastures left uncultivated. From the day we are born, out of the kindness of her heart she nourishes us sweet, excellent milk. Why do you hold such hatred for her? Brahmins learned in the ancient vedas, what have you to say?

Ian:
So over time, in most places, it’s becoming standard for Brahmins to be vegetarian.

Tripathi:
And, there are some Brahmins especially living in and around Lucknow who eat meat who are allowed – I won’t say they are allowed to eat meat because everything is allowed and everything is disallowed in Hinduism. But meat eating was more associated with either Shakriyas…

Ian [as narrator]:
…Warrior Caste…

Tripathi:
… or with the outcast people or the lower-most people like Shudras or Chandalas or [?]Pasi, they are called…

Ian [to Tripathi]:
Chalandas?

Tripathi:
Yeah, these are the people who kill animals and they eat meat. And especially, they keep these pigs, swine. They live mostly outside villages, I mean at the fringes of the villages.

Ian [as narrator]:
Throughout most of history, meat is a scarce commodity. Being able to eat it and share it gives you social standing.

This association between meat-eating and being low-caste or out-caste completely turns that upside down. So much that in modern India, advocates for vegetarianism have to disentangle their advocacy from centuries of caste prejudice.

The Brahmanical rationale for vegetarianism isn’t simply ahimsa or non-violence. Sanjupta Gupta is emeritus Professor of Ancient Indian History and Philosophy at Oxford University.

Sanjupta Gupta:
And the main idea of the Brahmins saying they are the most important traditionalist is that they are very pure, they lead a pure life.

Ian [as narrator]:
How could you trust the Brahmins to do the rituals properly if they’re not leading a pure life?

Gupta:
And that gives them the respectable position in the society, because they’re pure. Vegetarianism is purity. If you have a situation where you are not so very pure inside – like, death in the family – then the closest relatives have to become vegetarian to get back the purity.

Ian [as narrator]:
In many places, vegetarianism is simply part of what it means to be a Brahmin. Richard Gombrich.

Gombrich:
And it’s of course also, “I saw that man having some mutton, he’s of low caste”.

Ian [to Gombrich]:
Self-fulfilling prophecy.

Gombrich:
Yes. Often enforced by village councils. “It’s been reported to us that Mr So-and-so who lives in number 16,” [laughs] “had mutton for lunch. Mr So-and-so has pretended to us that he was a middle-caste person, but actually we now realise that he can’t be. And from now on, we won’t recognise him as middle caste.”

Ranjan:
Because I’m pure vegetarian, I don’t take – eat – meat, and also no onion, garlic also. Now I feel, I cannot explain, how can I feel? Hmm? And I’m very strong.

Ian [as narrator]:
Ranjan’s Indian pure vegetarianism, without eggs or pungent root vegetables, is quite similar to the Jain diet. But the reason is different: it’s a mild diet that’s meant to be conducive to a peaceful spiritual temperament. It’s got more in common with European monastics than non-violent Jains.

Gupta:
More and more, the Brahmanical idea of purity influenced the rest of the society. For instance, womenfolk. They were mostly vegetarian, even when their menfolk were not. I can tell you that, because my mother was vegetarian, my father was not [laughs]. And so, it was because generally in society there is purity.

Ian [to Gupta]:
Why was it more important for women?

Gupta:
Because to keep the purity of the house, home.

Ian [as narrator]:
India is the land of a hundred thousand gods. In the first millennium, personal devotion, often to local figures that have nothing to do with that Brahmanical high vedic culture, becomes increasingly important in India’s religious life.

With help from the concept of reincarnation – minor deities can be incarnations of major ones – they come together. And one of these religions is a vehicle for vegetarianism.

Gupta:
At a certain point, difficult to know, the three important Hindu gods became very prominent: Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Shiva is called the destruction. And Brahma is called the creation. Vishnu is protective.

Ian [as narrator]:
Ranjan is a follower of Vishnu, a Vaishnavite.

[background music, people, car horn]

Ranjan:
Vishnu is very peace, and they are very vegetarian. So the followers are also following the same line. They are also the Vaishnav [unclear] jhevejher, pure vegetarian also.

Gupta:
Vishnu’s figure is kingly figure, with weapon, et cetera.

Ian [to Gupta]:
Why were the Vaishnavas more likely to be vegetarian?

Gupta:
The two things very important. They wanted to climb in the social ladder, up. And also they wanted to position themselves closer to the ordinary, traditional idea of Brahmanism. That would have been prestigious and brought them lots of money.

Ian [as narrator]:
Like with the Brahmins, this is also a slow, inconsistent march towards vegetarianism.

Gupta:
And whether, earliest Vaishnavas were vegetarian, there is no sign of it, nobody says so. But as it became more sectarian in the end of the first millenium, they started becoming more vegetarian you know, because somehow they took up the idea of Ahimsa. That the king controls, but protects, without violence.

Ian [as narrator]:
Ranjan took me inside the temple itself, where pictures around the wall showed what had happened to so many of the local gods and devotional Bakhti cults.

[to Ranjan] These are kind of paintings in the style of Indian miniatures hanging on the wall. [car horn] So, which incarnations are we looking at? I can see four.

Ranjan:
If you come in … [they enter the temple]

Now you can see, [?]patsi Matsya, [?]katsiha [could be “Chatursana” or “Kurma”]

Ian [as narrator, speaking over Ranjan]:
These are incarnations of Vishnu, starting with Krishna, and including a familiar face.

Ranjan [still naming the incarnations]:
… Rama, Balarama, Buddha, Kalki.

Ian [to Ranjan]:
And so, the penultimate one is just a classic image of the Buddha.

Ranjan:
Buddha’s speaking is very important. And Buddha’s speaking says: All variety of damaged mentalities [can be] changed.

Ian [as narrator]:
India then, as now, is a melting pot.

In south India, the rivalry between the followers of Vishnu, Shiva, Buddha, and Jainism is fierce. Ranjan praises the Buddha’s teachings, but I met a Vaishna professor in Madras who told me Vishnu became the Buddha only as a trick to distract the evil people – who became Buddhists – from getting the benefit of ancient vedic rituals.

The strictly vegetarian Jains don’t escape either. In 7th Century Tamil south India, the poet saints who celebrate Shiva seem to develop a habit of trolling the Jains. There’s even a myth of Jains being massacred in their thousands after losing an argument to a child saint whose verses include:

Campantar [in Teveram – actor reading]:

Do not listen to the words of the mad Jain monks who wear mats, and pluck their hair, and eat their food standing.

Ian:
Or this, from a fellow follower of Shiva, about his past as a Jain monk:

Appar [in Tevaram – actor reading]:

I was a deadly snake, dancing to the tunes of evil men, filthy, foul-mouthed. I wandered aimlessly, begging for food, eating with both hands, truly a wretch.

Ian:
Jains are attacked for the same unworldly, sometimes impractical principles that drive their vegetarianism.

And when Jains and Buddhists argue, vegetarianism is a big part of why. For example, in this 10th Century Tamil Jain polemic, the demon-come-goddess Neelakechi is sent to deal with a troublesome Jain monk who is interfering with a village sacrifice.

But instead he converts her to Jainism, and she travels from place to place winning theological arguments on Jainism’s behalf. Including on the claimed hypocrisy of Buddhist meat-eating.

Neelakechi [in Tamil Jain polemic – actor reading]:

Buddhist art in the form of painting and sculpture depicts the Bodhisattva in different forms of animals and birds. The Buddhists venerate these figures and even offer worship to these as forms of Buddha.

Still neither affection nor veneration would stand in their way whenever they desire the flesh of the very same animals and birds for the purposes of eating!

Ian:
You might remember from episode two, how the early Buddhist rules of discipline described a Jain protest against the Buddha eating meat; which the Buddha allows as long as you don’t think the animal was killed for you. That’s pretty much the point this Buddhist nun is making to Neelakechi – it’s already dead..

Kundalakeci [in Tamil Jain polemic – actor reading]:

The man who kills the animal does not do so for our sake; nor does he commit the crime because of our instigation. He brings the flesh to the open market, not having anybody in view, as a special purchaser.

Anyone can offer the price and purchase the meat in the open market.

Neelakechi:

Your giving money to purchase meat after the act of killing certainly fixes the responsibility on you because you know very well that the man who sells meat must have obtained only after killing and that he kills the animal for the sake of money which he desires and which he hopes to get from you in exchange for his meat.

Ian:
They’re arguing about supply and demand.

That modern word Hinduism is an umbrella term for India’s religious traditions. Particularly when they overlap as well as compete. For example, Professor Tripathi is a Brahmin, he’s a devotee of Shiva, and he happily worships at the Jain temple we sat outside.

Tripathi:
We worship Shiva usually. It’s our Ishta Devata but we worship gods, all Vishnu and goddess also. And we come also to the spot now at the temple and… [fades under:]

Ian:
Tripathi told me how Padmāvatī herself came into Jainism from another strand of Indian religion – tantra.

Tripathi:
But later on, under the influence of Tantrism, not only Buddhism but also Jainism adopted the worship of goddesses and also gods in the form of Yakshas. And this goddess is supposed to be a Shakti.

A Shakti is a typically Hindu Tantric concept. Just as Buddhists have also Shaktis of, say, Avalokiteshvara, Tara is the Shakti. So this temple is dedicated to Padmāvatī who is supposed to be the Shakti. Shakti, or energy of Parshanad.

Ian [as narrator]:

Parshanad being a Jain enlightened teacher – a tirthankara. Like Mahavir.

By the way, other strands of the tantric movement rebel against the vegetarian trend. Tantra has got taboo-breaking meat-eating rituals. And it influences the meat-eating Buddhism of Tibet.

If you’ve got an excellent memory, or you are binge-listening to this, you might remember the Ajivikas – the lost and mysterious, probably vegetarian, fatalistic religion that emerged, along with Buddhism and Jainism, in the Śramaṇa subculture of the iron age Ganges plain.

Neelakechi spends a chapter of her epic arguing with one, and that’s actually our main source of evidence about them in this first millennium. Their mentions peter out, but they hang on in south India into the 14th Century, melting into the main pro-vegetarian groups, Jainism and the sect of Vishnu, lasting for almost 2000 years.

Another big step forwards for vegetarianism in this first millennium, probably bigger than the social rise of Brahmanic vegetarianism, is the emergence of a more pro-vegetarian form of Buddhism: Mahāyāna.

[sound of birds calling, softly in background]

I visited its intellectual heart, the medieval Buddhist university of Nalanda with Dr Deepak Anand from its nearby modern namesake.
But before we talk about that, I wanted to share a roadside shrine we passed on the way that epitomised, for me, the Hindu melting point.

Dr Deepak Anand:
So this deity, Bodhisattva Marichi, you can see on the head-dress this is Buddha. Buddha sitting on the head-dress. [children’s voices, softly in background] And actually is having a sword in her hand, right hand. And there are many noble deities, they are flanking this, the central image of Marichi. And there is now… pig. Pig you can see.

Ian [to Anand]:
Lots of little pigs below the image on the floor.

Anand:
Yeah yeah yeah, the pedestal. So this is the Bodhisattva.

Ian:
So she was built as an image, at Nalanda. Do we know how old this particular sculpture is?

Anand:
This is from 10th Century.

Ian:
It’s over a thousand years old. It was dug up… do you have any idea when?

Anand:
It was lying here in open only.

Ian:
Just lying in a…

Anand:
Open sky. It wasn’t worshipped by local people, it was lying open.

[children’s voices playing]

Ian:
Standing by, I mean it’s a very… a completely modern temple, concrete blocks, [clinking of gate] iron gate, and there is… and painted on two sides, an advertisement for a brand of underwear.

Anand:
Yeah. [laughs]

Ian:
But this is… and within all that modernity. Reincarnated a thousand year old Buddhist image, recreated, dressed in red cloth and gold tapestry, as a Hindu deity.

Anand:
Yeah.

[children’s voices playing]

Ian [as narrator]:
Nowadays, there are two broad types of Buddhism – Mahāyāna and Theravada.

Mahāyāna coheres in the 2nd or 3rd Century Common Era. It’s more ritualistic, more mythological, as well as more pro-vegetarian.
In noisy Delhi University one Friday afternoon, I talked to Prof K T Saroa, head of the Buddhism department and himself a Mahāyāna Buddhist.

Prof. K T Saroa:
I, as a teacher as Buddhism, very strongly believe that all my degrees from Cambridge, and teaching for so many years would be pointless if I end up eating meat. Because meat is a cruel [?]pie, causing hurt and harm to something that is living, which has feelings, which feels pain, which misses its young ones. And I’ve learnt this from Buddhism and Jainism.

Ian [as narrator]:
Theravada probably came together a couple of hundred years earlier, and relies on some of the earliest texts. But Saroa doesn’t agree that that gives it primacy.

Saroa:
And one person actually called Mahāyāna as in export-quality Hinduism. But I personally feel that Mahāyāna was kind of more enlightened, more open, more humane.

Theravada is more rigid, more kind of disciplined. Mahāyāna actually seems to have become powerful only, only powerful in India. Let’s say Nalanda University in the 6th, 7th Century and later, more basically in control of Mahāyāna.

Ian [as narrator]:
Nalanda’s monastery-come-university is in the old Śramaṇa heartland, perhaps a day’s walk from the Mahabodhi tree where the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. They say the Buddha Gautama himself was given the land it was built on.

When we stood amongst the massive redbrick structures, Dr Anand described what it would have been like when it was active.

Anand:
In its heyday, it was all covered with lime plaster. And on this lime plaster, there was colourful motifs of, you know, Buddhist deities and Buddha. Everywhere it was, like, you know eaves and projections of, you know, stuccos. So it was very colourful and, you know, it was not just red, it was all bright-full, of many colours.

Ian [with Anand]:
It’s absolutely enormous. Massive temple, 30, 40 metres high to our left. And more mounds in the distance?

Anand:
This is a temple row. This is a monastery rows. This is a monastery row, this is a temple row. So monks would stay here in this monastic row. So many other temples are still buried, and many of the monasteries are still buried. Because, in 12th Century there was another monk scholar who studied here. He says there were 80 monasteries, you know, in Nalanda.

Ian [as narrator]:
In that south Indian Jain polemic you heard earlier, Neelakechi attacked the Theravada Buddhist idea that it was okay to eat meat as long as the animal wasn’t killed especially for you.

But by the 5th Century Common Era, places like Nalanda are discussing a Mahāyāna text called the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, in which the Buddha Gautama tells his student Mahāmati something quite different:

Mahāmati [from Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra – actor reading]:

Blessed One, even those philosophers who hold erroneous doctrines will prohibit meat-eating and will themselves refrain from eating it. Why not prohibit in his teachings the eating of flesh not only by himself but by others?

Buddha Gautama [from Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra – actor reading]:

It is not true, Mahāmati, that meat is proper food and permissible for the disciple when not killed by himself, when he did not order the killing, when it was not specially meant for him.

Again, Mahāmati, there may be some unwitted people in the future time who are in thought evilly affected by erroneous reasonings.

In the canonical texts here and there the process of discipline is developed in orderly sequence.

But in the present sutra all meat-eating in any form, in any manner, and in any place, is unconditionally and once and for all, prohibited for all.

Thus, Mahāmati, meat-eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit, I will not permit.

Saroa:
Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra mentions over two dozen reasons as to why Buddha could not have condoned meat eating. And why it is sinful to eat meat or to sanction meat eating. In detail they talk about it. When you read that, one clearly gets the impression that this must have been a very serious issue.

Ian [with Anand]:
I’m standing with Deepak Anand in a small, tall chamber of very old bricks. Where are we?

Anand:
This is one of the monastic cells of ancient Nalanda remains, and these monks would stay here. And this is the place where they would stay. These monk’s cells would be allotted to monks, depending upon their seniority. Every year they were allotted fresh monk cells. And probably this was on a shared basis. Three or four monks would share each cell.

Ian:
It’s pretty small.

Anand:
Yeah.

Ian:
What were the monks here eating?

Anand:
Monks, you know… Venerable Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese monk scholar, from China in the 7th Century, he was here and he said that you know, every day they were given some buttermilk, rice, and then some other local fruits and vegetables. It was offered to him. Since they were monks, so, you know, they didn’t take lots of fancy food.

Ian [as narrator]:
Nalanda is at the heart of a network of Mahāyāna Buddhism that reaches into central Asia and China. And that’s one of the trails we’re going to follow next episode.

So why did Mahāyāna Buddhism become vegetarian?

Obviously, KT Saroa and other Mahāyāna Buddhists put it down to ahimsa. After all, the principle of non-violence has been at the heart of Buddhism since the beginning. The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra hints that they’re being shamed into it by philosophers who hold erroneous doctrine but compassionate practice.

Would that be Jains or someone else? Richard Gombrich.

Gombrich:
By the time that the Mahāyāna moved to China, which began in the 2nd Century A.D., but even then on a very small scale, really only got going in the 3rd Century A.D., and that, you know, is more than half a millennium after the Buddha.

By that time, the Buddhists were trying to keep up with the Brahmins. What did that mean? The Brahmins had introduced into their myriad of rules, rules about purity in cuisine: what you were and were not allowed to eat.

Broadly, they excluded meat-eating. And then they said, “you Buddhist monks have a very, very impure diet. We, of course, don’t eat this nasty stuff that you will eat”.

When Buddhism got to China, Buddhism had this Brahmanical tinge to it, that Buddhist monks were not supposed to eat any meat. And that is the case to this day.

[background noise with voices]

Man at temple:
I’m from Mumbai.

Ian [as narrator]:
When I visited the Mahabodhi temple for episode two, I asked pilgrims where they were from. Buddhism has spread across the world.

Ian [to woman]
Where are you from?

Woman at temple:
I’m from Vietnam, I live in USA.

Another Man at temple:
From Burma.

Ian [as narrator]:
In episode four, Ashoka helped spread Buddhism throughout India. But it’s in the first millennium that it spreads throughout Asia. Theravada Buddhism taking the southern route into Southeast Asia, and Mahāyāna Buddhism going north.

Anand:
In among the scholars from here, we used to go. They were also Dharma-dutas, like, you know, they would go and try to look on these people about, you know, Buddhism and good aspects of the Buddhism.

Ian [to Anand]:
Dharma warriors, they are warriors for dharma? For the Buddhist code.

Anand:
They would go and preach the teachings of the Buddha.

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Ian [as narrator]:

Next episode we discover how vegetarianism fares across Eurasia, from the heretics of Christendom, to the Buddhist emperor of China.

[Theme ends]

With the music of Robb Masters, the voices of Chetan Pathak, Selva Rasalingam, and Sandeep Garcha.

Please follow on Facebook and Twitter dot com slash veganoption. And find out more at Veghist dot Org.

If you like this series – and I’m guessing you do if you’ve listened this far – please do get the word out. Review on iTunes or your podcast provider. Share it on Twitter or Facebook. Embed the Soundcloud player on your blog, and tell your friends. It is taking me many months of unpaid work, so please do spread the word if you think it’s worth it. And thank you very much for listening.

[Theme – music with sound of gongs]

END EPISODE 6

This transcript was posted March 14th 2018, but dated so that it appears after the show itself in listings. Many thanks to Amy Carpenter. The featured image is a Tamil Shaivite Temple inscription, photograph CC-BY Sai Dhananjayan.

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About Ian McD

I'm a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I'm producing The Vegan Option.

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