[Advaita-l] Animal Sacrifice
shyam_md at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 6 07:52:22 CDT 2011
I am reproducing here an old post of mine which was in response to someone
posing a similar question on the mention of animal sacrifices vis-a-vis the
question of ahimsa/vegetarianism - the view of the Sage of Kanchi
which I reproduce in here are particularly informative.
What is immoral or unethical can only be determined based on the authority of
the VedAs. Humans with our limited scope of vision can never be in a position to
decide what is absolute dharma and what is absolute adharma - hence the endless
ethical debates with regards to capital punishment and the like. Some authority
that transcends human authorship alone can be a guide for do's and dont's.
It is amusing to hear you talk about Buddhism - Buddha did not prohibit any kind
of meat-eating and His own demise was on account of consuming infected pork. An
examination of food practices in Buddhist societies of South East Asia, Sri
Lanka, etc would be particularly illuminating to you in this regard.
Man is driven by his constituents and what man consumes in turn modifies his
constitients in a beginingless karmic cycle. Recognition of this Universal Order
where nothing is rejected but everything assimilated into a One that is beyond
and yet encompassing of dharma and adharma, is the true essence of Hinduism.
I would encourage anyone interested in this subject to read this excerpt from
the Sage of Kanchi's Hindu Dharma.
Is Sacrificial Killing Justified?
(HinduDharma: The Vedas)
A yaga or sacrifice takes shape with the chanting of the mantras, the invoking
of the deity and the offering of havis (oblation). The mantras are chanted
(orally) and the deity is meditated upon (mentally). The most important material
required for homa is the havis offered in the sacrificial fire-- in this "work"
the body is involved. So, altogether, in a sacrificial offering mind, speech and
body (mano-vak-kaya) are brought together.
Ghee (clarified butter) is an important ingredient of the oblation. While ghee
by itself is offered as an oblation, it is also used to purify other sacrificial
materials - in fact this is obligatory. In a number of sacrifices the vapa(fat
or marrow) of animals is offered.
Is the performance of a sacrifice sinful, or is it meritorius? Or is it both?
Madvacharya was against the killing of any pasu for a sacrifice. In his
compassion he said that a substitute for the vapa must be made with flour and
offered in the fire. ("Pasu" does not necessarily mean a cow. In Sanskrit any
animal is called a "pasu". )
In his Brahmasutra, Vyasa has expounded the nature of the Atman as found
expressed in the Upanishads which constitute the jnanakanda of the Vedas. The
actual conduct of sacrifices is dealt with in the Purvamimamsa which is the
karmakanda of the Vedas. The true purpose of sacrifices is explained in the
Uttaramimamsa, that is the jnanakanda. What is this purposse or goal? It is the
cleansing of the consciousness and such cleansing is essential to lead a man to
the path of jnana.
The Brahmasutra says: "Asuddhamiti cen na sabdat". The performance of sacrifices
is based on scriptural authority and it is part of the quest for Self
realisation. So how can it be called an impure act? How do we determine whether
or not an object or an act is impure or whether it is good or bad? We do so by
judging it according to the authority of of the sastras. Vyasa goes on to state
in his Brahmasutra that animal sacrifice is not sinful since the act is
permeated by the sound of the Vedas. What is pure or impure is to be known by
the authority provided by the Vedas or rather their sound called Sabdapramana.
If sacrifices were impure acts according to the Vedas, they would not have
accepted them as part of the Atmic quest. Even if the sacrificial animal is made
of flour (the substitute according to Madhvacharya) it is imbued with life by
the chanting of the Vedic mantras. Would it not then be like a living animal and
would not offering it in a
sacrifice be taken as an act of violence?
Tiruvalluvar says in his Tirukkural that not to kill an animal and eat it is
better than performing a thousand sacrifices in which the oblation is consigned
to the fire. You should not take this to mean that the poet speaks ill of
What is in accordance or in pursuance of dharma must be practised howsoever or
whatsoever it be. Here questions of violence must be disregarded. The Tirukkural
says that it is better not to kill an animal than perform a thousand sacrifices.
>From this statement it is made out that Tiruvalluvar condemns sacrifices.
According to Manu himself conducting one asvamedha (horse sacrifice) is superior
to performing a thousand other sacrifices. At the same time, he declares that
higher than a thousand horse sacrifices is the fact of one truth. If we say that
one thing is better than another, the implication is that both are good. If the
performance of a sacrifice were sinful, would it be claimed that one meritorious
act is superior to a thousand sinful deeds? You may state that fasting on one
Sivaratri is superior to fasting on a hundred Ekadasis. But would you say that
the same is better than running a hundred butcheries? When you remark that "this
rite is better
than that rite or another", it means that the comparison is among two or more
In the concluding passage of the Chandogya Upanishad whwre ahimsa or
non-violence is extolled you find these words, "Anyatra tirthebhyah". It means
ahimsa must be practised except with regard to Vedic rites.
Considerations of violence have no place in sacrifices and the conduct of war.
If the ideal of non-violence were superior to the performance of sacrifices, it
would mean that "sacrifices are good but non-violence is better". The
performance of a thousand sacrifices must be spoken of highly but the practice
of non-violence is to be regarded as even higher: It is in this sense that the
Kural stanza concerning sacrifices is to be interpreted. We must not also forget
that it occurs in the section on renunciation. What the poet want to convey is
that a sanyasin does better by abstaining from killing than a householder does
by conducting a thousand sacrifices. According to the sastras also a sanyasin
has no right to perform sacrifices.
There are several types of sacrifices. I shall speak about them later when I
deal with "Kalpa" (an Anga or limb of the Vedas) aaand "Grihasthasrama" (the
stage of the householder). What I wish to state here is that animals are not
killed in all sacrifices. There are a number of yagnas in which only ghee (ajya)
is offered in the fire. In some, havisyanna (rice mixed with ghee) is offered
and in some the cooked grains called "caru" or "purodasa", a kind of baked cake.
In agnihotri milk is poured into the fire; in aupasana unbroken rice grains
(aksata) are used; and in samidadhana the sticks of the palasa (flame of the
forest). In sacrifices in which the vapa of animals is offered, only a tiny bit
of the remains of the burnt offering is partaken of - and of course in the form
One is enjoined to perform twenty-one sacrifices. These are of three
types:pakayajna, haviryajna and somayajna. In each category there are seven
subdivisions. In all the seven pakayajnas as well as in the first five
haviryajnas there is no animal sacrifice. It is only from the sixth haviryajna
onwards (it is called "nirudhapasubandha") that animals are sacrificed.
"Brahmins sacrificed herds and herds of animals and gorged themselves on their
meat. The Buddha saved such herds when they were being taken to the sacrificial
altar, " we often read such accounts in books. To tell the truth, there is no
sacrifice in which a large number of animals are killed. For vajapeya which is
the highest type of yajna performed by Brahmins, only twenty-three animals are
mentioned. For asvamedha (horse sacrifice), the biggest of the sacrifices
conducted by imperial rulers, one hundred animals are mentioned.
It is totally false to state that Brahmins performed sacrifices only to satisfy
their appetite for meat and that the talk of pleasing the deities was only a
pretext. There are rules regarding the meat to be carved out from a sacrificial
animal, the part of the body from which it is to be taken and the quantity each
rtvik can partake of as prasada (idavatarana). This is not more than the size of
a pigeon-pea and it is to be swallowed without anything added to taste. There
may be various reasons for you to attack the system of sacrifices but it would
be preposterous to do so on the score that Brahmins practised deception by
making them a pretext to eat meat.
Nowadays a large number of animals are slaughtered in the laboratories as
guinea-pigs. Animal sacrifices must be regarded as a little hurt caused in the
cause of a great ideal, the welfare of mankind. As a matter of fact there is no
hurt caused since the animal sacrificed attains to an elevated state.
There is another falsehood spread these days, that Brahmins performed the
somayajnas only as a pretext to drink somarasa (the essence of the soma plant).
Those who propagate this lie add that drinking somarasa is akin to imbibing
liquor or wine. As a matter of fact somarasa is not an intoxicating drink. There
is a reference in the Vedas to Indra killing his foe when he was "intoxicated"
with somarasa. People who spread the above falsehoods have recourse to "
arthavada" and base their perverse views on this passage.
The principle on which the physiology of deities is based is superior to that of
humans. That apart, to say that the priests drank bottle after bottle of
somarasa or pot after pot is to betray gross ignorance of the Vedic dharma. The
soma plant is pounded and crushed in a small mortar called "graha". There are
rules with regard to the quantity of essence to be offered to the gods. The
small portion that remains after the oblation has been made, "huta-sesa", which
is drunk drop by drop, does not add up to more than an ounce. No one has been
knocked out by such drinking. They say that somarasa is not very palatable. .
The preposterous suggestion is made that somarasa was the coffee of those times.
There are Vedic mantras which speak about the joy aroused by drinking it. This
has been misinterpreted. While coffee is injurious to the mind, somarasa
cleanses it. It is absurd to equate the two. The soma plant was available in
plenty in ancient times. Now it is becoming more and more scarce: this indeed is
in keeping with the decline of Vedic dharma. In recent years, the Raja of
Kollengode made it a point to supply the soma plant for the soma sacrifice
wherever it was held.
An argument runs thus: In the eons gone by mankind possessed high ideals and
noble character. Men could sacrifice animals for the well-being of the world
because they had great affection in their hearts and were selfless. They offered
even cows and horses in sacrifice and had meat for sraddha. As householders, in
their middle years, they followed the karmamarga (the path of works) and
performed rites to please the deities for the good of the world. But, in doing
so, they desired no rewards. Later, they renounced all works, all puja, all
observances, to become sannyasins delighting themselves in their Atman. They
were men of such refinement and noble character that, if their brother, a king,
died heirless they begot a son by his wife without any passion in their hearts
and without a bit detracting from their brahmacharya. Their only motive was that
the kingdom should not be plunged in anarchy for want of an heir to the throne.
In our own Kali age we do not have such men who are desireless in their actions,
who can subdue their minds and give up all works to become ascetics and who will
remain chaste at heart even in the company of women. So it is contended that the
following are to be eschewed in the Kali age: horse and cow sacrifices, meat in
the sraddha ceremony, sannyasa, begetting a son by the husband's brother. As
authority we have the following verse:
Asvalambham gavalambham sanyasam palapatrikam
Devarena sutotpattim kalau panca vivarjayet
According to one view "asvalambham" in this verse should be substituted with
"agniyadhanam". If you accept this version it would mean that even those
sacrifices in which animals are not killed should not be performed. In other
words it would mean a total prohibition of all sacrifices. The very first in the
haviryajna category is agniyadhana. If that were to be prohibited it would mean
that, apart from small sacrifices called "pakayajnas", no yajna can be
According to great men such a view is wrong. Sankara Bhagavatpada, whose mission
in life was the re-establishment of Vedic dharma, did not stop with the
admonishment that Vedas must be chanted every day ("Vedo nityam adhiyatam"). He
insisted that rites imposed on us by the Vedas must be performed: " "Taduditam
karma svanusthiyatam. " Of Vedic rites, sacrifices occupy the foremost place. If
they are to be eschewed what other Vedic rites are we to perform? It may be that
certain types of sacrifices need not be gone through in the age of Kali.
If, according to the verse, agniyadhana is interdicted, and no big sacrifice is
to be performed in the age of Kali, why should gavalambha (cow sacrifice) have
been mentioned in the prohibited category? If agniyadhana is not permissible, it
goes without saying that gavalambha also is prohibited. So, apart from certain
types, all sacrifices are to be performed at all times.
According to another verse quoted from the Dharmasastra, so long as the
varnasrama system is followed in the age of Kali, in however small a measure,
and so long as the sound of the Vedas pervades the air, works like agniyadhana
must be performed and the sannyasasrama followed, the stage of life in which
there is no karma. The prohibition in Kali applies to certain types of animal
sacrifices, meat in sraddha ceremonies and begetting a son by the husband's
Shri Gurubhyoh namah
----- Original Message ----
From: Rajaram Venkataramani <rajaramvenk at gmail.com>
To: A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta <advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org>
Sent: Tue, July 5, 2011 11:18:30 PM
Subject: Re: [Advaita-l] Animal Sacrifice
According to few bhagavatha scholars, there is no sanction for animal
sacrifice in the Vedas. It is a misinterpretation of the terms such as
alambhanam which means to touch not cut. They argue that ahimsa is
supreme dharma and it is scriptural interpolations which support
animal sacrifice. What is your view? I have heard that the kalpa
sutras document the procedures for srauddha karmas (paka and havir
yajnass) and they contain clear references for killing and eating
animals albeit in a controlled environment. Is that so?
On 05/07/2011, Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com> wrote:
> On Tue, 5 Jul 2011, Rajaram Venkataramani wrote:
>> Are animal sacrifices allowed in Vedic Yajnas?
> Yes. Some dharmashastrakaras say most (but not all) of the pashuyagas are
> not possible in the Kaliyuga. Even in the case of those who would
> defend the practice in principle, there is a certain distaste which led to
> them becoming increasingly rare in practice.
>> Did we become
>> vegetarians due to the influence of buddhists and bhagavatas?
> The Buddhist objection to sacrifices is that karma means that the
> suffering of the victim will result in bad future consequences for the
> sacrificer. This view is found in "Hindu" shramanic philosophies as well.
> (For instance Samkhyakarikas also view animal sacrifices negatively and
> you have mentioned the Bhagavatas.) it did not necessarily extend to
> killing animals for food. In fact there is not a single traditional
> Buddhist culture with anywhere near the percentage of vegetarians found in
> Hinduism and therefore there is no reason to believe that Indian Buddhists
> were vegetarians either.
> If there is any "outside" influence it is from the Jains who are the only
> ones who are consistently and totally pro-vegetarian.
> Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
> Archives: http://lists.advaita-vedanta.org/archives/advaita-l/
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> listmaster at advaita-vedanta.org
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