Disciple: Pray, Swamiji, do tell me if there is any relation between the discrimination of food taken and the development of spirituality in man.
Swamiji: Yes, there is, more or less.
Disciple: Is it proper or necessary to take fish and meat?
Swamiji: Ay, take them, my boy! And if there be any harm in doing so, I will take care of that. Look at the masses of our country! What a look of sadness on their faces and want of courage and enthusiasm in their hearts, with large stomachs and no strength in their hands and feet — a set of cowards frightened at every trifle!
Disciple: Does the taking of fish and meat give strength? Why do Buddhism and Vaishnavism preach ” — Non-killing is the highest virtue”?
Swamiji: Buddhism and Vaishnavism are not two different things. During the decline of Buddhism in India, Hinduism took from her a few cardinal tenets of conduct and made them her own, and these have now come to be known as Vaishnavism. The Buddhist tenet, “Non-killing is supreme virtue”, is very good, but in trying to enforce it upon all by legislation without paying any heed to the capacities of the people at large, Buddhism has brought ruin upon India. I have come across many a “religious heron”!* in India, who fed ants with sugar, and at the same time would not hesitate to bring ruin on his own brother for the sake of “filthy lucre”!
Disciple: But in the Vedas as well as in the laws of Manu, there are injunctions to take fish and meat.
Swamiji: Ay, and injunctions to abstain from killing as well. For the Vedas enjoin, ” — Cause no injury to any being”; Manu also says, ” — Cessation of desire brings great results.” Killing and non-killing have both been enjoined, according to the individual capacity, or fitness and adaptability on those who will observe the one practice or the other.
Disciple: It is the fashion here nowadays to give up fish and meat as soon as one takes to religion, and to many it is more sinful not to do so than to commit such great sins as adultery. How, do you think, such notions came into existence?
Swamiji: What’s the use of your knowing how they came, when you see clearly, do you not, that such notions are working ruin to our country and our society? Just see — the people of East Bengal eat much fish, meat, and turtle, and they are much healthier than those of this part of Bengal. Even the rich men of East Bengal have not yet taken to Loochis or Châpâtis at night, and they do not suffer from acidity and dyspepsia like us. I have heard that in the villages of East Bengal the people have not the slightest idea of what dyspepsia means!
Disciple: Quite so, Swamiji. We never complain of dyspepsia in our part of the country. I first heard of it after coming to these parts. We take fish with rice, mornings and evenings.
Swamiji: Yes, take as much of that as you can, without fearing criticism. The country has been flooded with dyspeptic Bâbâjis living on vegetables only. That is no sign of Sattva, but of deep Tamas — the shadow of death. Brightness in the face, undaunted enthusiasm in the heart, and tremendous activity — these result from Sattva; whereas idleness, lethargy, inordinate attachment, and sleep are the signs of Tamas.
Disciple: But do not fish and meat increase Rajas in man?
Swamiji: That is what I want you to have. Rajas is badly needed just now! More than ninety per cent of those whom you now take to be men with the Sattva, quality are only steeped in the deepest Tamas. Enough, if you find one-sixteenth of them to be really Sâttvika! What we want now is an immense awakening of Râjasika energy, for the whole country is wrapped in the shroud of Tamas. The people of this land must be fed and clothed — must be awakened — must be made more fully active. Otherwise they will become inert, as inert as trees and stones. So, I say, eat large quantities of fish and meat, my boy!
Disciple: Does a liking for fish and meat remain when one has fully developed the Sattva quality?
Swamiji: No, it does not. All liking for fish and meat disappears when pure Sattva is highly developed, and these are the signs of its manifestation in a soul: sacrifice of everything for others, perfect non-attachment to lust and wealth, want of pride and egotism. The desire for animal food goes when these things are seen in a man. And where such indications are absent, and yet you find men siding with the non-killing party, know it for a certainty that herein, there is either hypocrisy or a show of religion. When you yourself come to that stage of pure Sattva, give up fish and meat, by all means.