In Section XIII of her book “The Key to Theosophy,” H. P. Blavatsky deals with the issue of meat eating and vegetarianism and also that of drinking alcohol and using drugs.
Although the vast majority of spiritually inclined people steer well clear from the use of such things as recreational drugs, it is the case that many continue to eat meat and drink alcohol, just as they did before becoming involved with spiritual things.
For those who give credence to the words and teachings of Madame Blavatsky and the Masters she represented, we will summarise here the essence of what she had to say about the matter . . .
* Eating meat has the effect of “clogging” and “weighing” our “brains and bodies” and “hampering and retarding the development of [our] intuition, inner faculties and powers.” It “retards our progress.”
* “We believe that much disease, and especially the great predisposition to disease which is becoming so marked a feature in our time, is very largely due to the eating of meat.”
* “Every kind of animal tissue, however you may cook it, still retains certain marked characteristics of the animal which it belonged to.”
* “When the flesh of animals is assimilated by man as food, it imparts to him, physiologically, some of the characteristics of the animal it came from.”
* “Occult science teaches and proves to its students . . . that this “coarsening” or “animalizing” effect on man is greatest from the flesh of larger animals, less for birds, still less for fish and other cold-blooded animals and least of all when he eats only vegetables.”
* Just as the eating of meat has a negative and undesirable effect on our inner nature, so does the drinking of alcohol and the use of drugs.
* Any type of alcohol is bad for our “moral and spiritual growth” and has a “very deleterious influence on man’s psychic condition.” Drinking wine and spirits to any degree at all is “destructive to the development of the inner powers.”
* Drinking alcohol is more detrimental than eating meat, and using drugs is more detrimental than drinking alcohol.
So we can see that the “order of detriment” (for want of a better phrase) for these things is, from most to least detrimental: (1) Drugs (2) Alcohol (3) Meat.
In her article “Practical Occultism” – which bears the subtitle of “Important to Students” – HPB quotes 12 of the 73 “private rules” which apply to all serious aspirants for chelaship (discipleship) in the esoteric Tibetan Brotherhood. In other words, these rules relate to certain practices and modes of thought and living which must be strictly followed by anyone, man or woman, who would pass through the portals of initiation and become a Master, an Adept, a true and effective Helper of Humanity, in their own right.
One of these is as follows: “No animal food of whatever kind, nothing that has life in it should be taken by the disciple. No wine, no spirits, or opium should be used; for these are like the Lhamayin (evil spirits), who fasten upon the unwary, they devour the understanding.”
In her note on this rule, HPB explains that “Wine and spirits are supposed to contain and preserve the bad magnetism of all the men who helped in their fabrication; the meat of each animal, to preserve the psychic characteristics of its kind.”
A few of the other rules quoted which are especially worthy of our contemplation are –
“7. None can feel the difference between himself and his fellow-students, such as “I am the wisest,” “I am more holy and pleasing to the teacher, or in my community, than my brother,” etc., – and remain an upasaka. His thoughts must be predominantly fixed upon his heart, chasing therefrom every hostile thought to any living being. It (the heart) must be full of the feeling of its non-separateness from the rest of beings as from all in Nature; otherwise no success can follow.”
“11. Meditation, abstinence in all, the observation of moral duties, gentle thoughts, good deeds and kind words, as good will to all and entire oblivion of Self, are the most efficacious means of obtaining knowledge and preparing for the reception of higher wisdom.”
“12. It is only by virtue of a strict observance of the foregoing rules that a Lanoo can hope to acquire in good time the Siddhis of the Arhats, the growth which makes him become gradually One with the UNIVERSAL ALL.”
As for the eating of meat, Theosophy teaches that all life is sacred, all life is precious, all life is divine. All life is the ONE Life.
Yet in spite of all the above, Theosophy rightly maintains that we should never judge people for their personal eating habits, nor for anything else. It also presents the balanced and important view that a person’s diet is not the most important thing in life. For those people who find through direct personal experience that they have to eat some meat in order to maintain a reasonable degree of health and strength, and also for those who feel simply from “long habit” that they cannot become vegetarian, H. P. Blavatsky makes this important statement in that same section of “The Key to Theosophy” . . .
“Don’t you grasp yet that we never impose any hard-and-fast obligations in this respect? Remember once for all that in all such questions we take a rational, and never a fanatical, view of things. If from illness or long habit a man cannot go without meat, why, by all means let him eat it. It is no crime; it will only retard his progress a little; for after all is said and done, the purely bodily actions and functions are of far less importance than what a man thinks and feels, what desires he encourages in his mind, and allows to take root and grow there.”
It is a widely observed fact that quite a few vegetarians and especially vegans adopt a stance towards other people’s dietary habits which borders on dogmatism and intolerance. We have noticed that many strictly vegetarian and vegan Theosophists tend to avoid ever mentioning or referring to the above HPB quote when writing about or discussing this subject. Yet it is clearly an extremely important statement and, without it, one is not faithfully or accurately presenting the Theosophical view of this subject. “The Key to Theosophy” says that eating meat “is no crime.” Everyone knows that eating meat is not a legal crime; therefore, these words of HPB can only mean that eating meat is not a crime from the esoteric perspective either. She makes it clear that it is not ideal but emphasises that our mental diet, our emotional diet, our moral diet, is of vastly greater importance.
We have also noticed that some of those Theosophists who most ardently criticise meat eating are nonetheless – often by their own admission – drinkers of alcohol, which thus seems somewhat hypocritical, seeing as Theosophy makes clear, as we have just seen, that from the occult or metaphysical or esoteric perspective, alcohol is much more damaging to a person’s inner nature than meat.
As for an idea suggested by some, that H. P. Blavatsky was the first person in the West to “promote vegetarianism” (some have even claimed that she promoted veganism, which is simply untrue; a vegan diet is never mentioned in any way even once in the Theosophical literature) this is also untrue. Even in her lengthy and important article titled “Have Animals Souls?” which certainly does seem to be a type of manifesto against all killing of animals, she nonetheless adds, speaking in the third person: “But the writer does not preach vegetarianism, simply defending “animal rights” . . .” Usually, one might think that animal rights and vegetarianism are basically one and the same thing and that there can be no animal rights without the mass adoption of vegetarianism. Interestingly, HPB implies otherwise but does not really elaborate on this point.
Interestingly, the Esoteric School or Esoteric Section which HPB established towards the end of her life never prohibited meat eating to those who chose to join it but it did strictly prohibit the drinking of alcohol.
And William Q. Judge, HPB’s closest colleague and co-founder of the modern Theosophical Movement, writes:
“What, then, is the true theosophic diet? It is that which best agrees with you, taken in moderation, neither too much nor too little. If your constitution and temperament will permit vegetarianism, then that will give less heat to the blood; and, if it is practiced from the sincere conviction that it is not true brotherhood to destroy living creatures so highly organized as animals, then so much the better. But if you refrain from meat in order to develop your psychic powers and senses, and continue the same sort of thoughts you have always had, neither cultivating nor practicing the highest altruism, the vegetarianism is in vain. . . . True theosophic diet is therefore not of either meat or wine; it is unselfish thoughts and deeds, . . .” (“Theosophic Diet” article)
“So while we thus live we must eat, some of flesh and others of the vegetable. Neither class is wholly right or wrong. It becomes a wrong when we deliberately without actual need destroy the lives of animals or insects. . . . the kingdom of heaven is not of meat nor of drink: it cometh not from eating nor refraining – it cometh of itself.” (“About Killing Animals” article)
“The other branch of the subject is that regarding spiritual development and vegetarianism. It has been so often dealt with it is sufficient to say that such development has nothing to do with either meat-eating or the diet of vegetables. He who gives up meat-eating but does not alter his nature and thoughts, thinking to gain in spirituality, may flatter himself and perhaps make a fetish of his denial, but will certainly thereby make no spiritual progress.” (“Forum Answers” p. 129-130)
“Don’t teach that vegetarianism is the road to heaven and spiritual growth. Was not the great Nazarene right when he intimated that, the kingdom of heaven being within, it did not come from eating or drinking? And has not our old friend H.P.B. written suggestively that cows and elephants are pure vegetarians? Reflect on the fact that some of the very best people on earth were meat-eaters, and that wicked or gross thoughts are more hurtful than the eating of a ton of flesh.” (“Theosophical Don’ts” article)
There are numerous other places where William Judge comments on this subject – always in the same tolerant and balanced way – and the last one we will share here is this piece of advice which he sent in a letter to a Theosophist and which may possibly surprise some due to its openness. Naturally, this was advice to a particular individual and should not be taken as a wholesale recommendation to all. Nonetheless, it clearly will apply to some: “Now in respect to the questions you ask, let me say that Theosophy requires no man to abandon a mode of life which is not in itself wrong. The use of meat diet is not a sin; it is not even an offence; it is a habit which the race has now largely conformed to, and is not a question of morals or right. At a certain stage of advance as a chela or disciple, the use of meat food has to be abandoned because of its psychical and physiological effects. But you have not reached that stage, nor is it likely that you will for a long time.” (“Letters That Have Helped Me” p. 99-100)
On the other hand, in a letter to the English Theosophist A. P. Sinnett, HPB passed on the message from her Guru, the Master M., that “Mr. Sinnett is advised by M. to make a special duty to prevent his little son being made to eat meat – not even fowls, and to write so to Mrs Sinnett. Once the Mother has placed the child under K.H.’s [i.e. the Master Koot Hoomi] protection let her see nothing pollutes his nature.” The Masters or Mahatmas also stated in private correspondence that the pursuit of Occult Science is “fatal” to the practices of “wine drinking and flesh eating.”
Perhaps the key to reconciling such statements is given in the above WQJ quote, that “At a certain stage of advance as a chela or disciple, the use of meat food has to be abandoned because of its psychical and physiological effects.” We are warned against imagining we are already at such a stage when in fact we have not yet reached it. Those who have reached such a stage will know it.
But even between now and then, all who wish to do so are welcome and even encouraged to become vegetarians if they feel they are able to do so. We would encourage those with existing chronic health issues who may be considering vegetarianism to seek medical advice first. Hardly any doctors nowadays will discourage vegetarianism but they may be able to recommend ways to avoid depletion of certain important nutrients which tend to be most lacking in vegetarian – and especially vegan – diets. And for those who do eat meat, we would encourage where possible the purchase of only such meat as is known to have come from animals which were well cared for and not subjected to cruelty or appalling living standards during their lives. These things do matter but unfortunately the pricing of such meat is often well beyond many people’s affordability.
What we do and how we live our lives is entirely up to us. No Theosophist is thought of as being any the worse if he or she chooses to eat meat or drink alcohol. At the end of the day it is solely a matter of our own conscience. Theosophy emphasises the central importance of COMPASSION. But let us always remember to apply compassion not only to the animal kingdom but to our fellow members of the human kingdom too.
It may perhaps seem frustrating to some readers that this article is not clear enough in definitively stating whether or not one ought to be vegetarian, seeing as on the one hand HPB and the Masters strongly advocate it and that then on the other hand we find both her and WQJ saying that it isn’t the most important thing and that eating meat is in fact permissible, even if not ideal. But this is because it is up to us to decide for ourselves what is the best course of action for us to take at this point in our lives.
We close with some words from Robert Crosbie, a colleague and pupil of William Q. Judge and H. P. Blavatsky, and who founded the United Lodge of Theosophists after their death, followed by a quote from Crosbie’s co-worker John Garrigues . . .
“Experience has shown that it is so easy for students to slip into bodily observances and stay there; this is the wrong end to begin on. It is best not to make any particular selection as to diet; take what best agrees with you and sustains your body best. . . . The first thing, then, is to have the right kind of thoughts; the other, and by far the least important, is diet, in which the main thing to be observed is, eat whatever will keep the body in the best working condition, so that it may be as effective an instrument for work in the world as possible.” (Robert Crosbie, “The Friendly Philosopher” p. 145-146)
“Many Theosophists eat flesh and wish they didn’t have to, but they do it just the same. . . . we, according to our nature and our ideas, set up an arbitrary criterion and say: This is good; that is bad. Then, instead of acting upon our perception – if it is good, do it; if it’s bad, don’t do it – instead of doing that ourselves (in other words, practising ourselves what we believe), we go out and try to ram it down other people’s throats. . . . All of us see things, unless we are stone-blind, that are relatively bad – that is, imperfect – and we see how they could be much better. We go out and do the best we can to put our ideas before others and educate them to the same view. But suppose they don’t want to be educated. Then most people feel like resorting to violence. I have seen vegetarians who, if they could, would hang a man who ate meat. . . . H.P.B. was a vegetarian who ate meat; so was Mr. Judge; so was Mr. Crosbie. . . . So we have to get a truer view. People use the profoundest words of Brotherhood, God, Spirit, Love and so on, as if they knew what those words meant. We need to think over our conception of fundamental verities, and we shall find that our conceptions of the highest things are often of the earth, earthy.” (John Garrigues, “Point Out The Way” p. 121-123)