This month, I celebrated the 14th anniversary of my turning vegetarian — a decision taken after returning from a pilgrimage. To cut a long story short, it was a voice in my head that said: ““Living out the effects of negative karma is so hard, let me not create any more negative karma knowingly.”
My atheist hubby terms this kind of talk mumbo-jumbo but trust me when I say I was clueless about religion and spirituality 14 years ago, and this voice was completely new to me. In fact, it was only after turning vegetarian that I veered towards spirituality, not the other way around. Following in my footsteps, my younger daughter too turned vegetarian when she was around 11 years old.
Two weeks ago, a mocking voice spoke up in my head just as I was falling asleep: “You say you are a vegetarian. And yet, you cook and serve animal meat every day. Hah.” My eyes flashed open; it suddenly hit me that I was, in fact, making non-veg food every day for either my family or the dogs, with my own hands, despite being a vegetarian myself. A deep dilemma set in, leaving me tossing and turning in bed.
The next day, coincidentally (or not), my colleagues brought up the subject of my turning vegetarian. And, though I usually never make a debate of my choice, I blurted out my previous night’s soul-searching moment, adding self-righteously, “Why should I cook and serve meat? Why should I take on all that negative karma on myself? Let my family cook it for themselves. And let the dogs be vegetarian too if I am to be their primary cook.” My colleague argued with me: “But they are animals, it’s not their choice. It’s yours. So why are you punishing them for it?”
That night was even more difficult than the previous. The morality of my choice confronted me and refused to budge from my vision until it was sorted. I woke up at 5 am and moaned. Hubby asked what was wrong. “I am crabby,” I said, sleepily. “I haven’t found the answer to the non-veg debate.” He coaxed me back to sleep and I drifted off.
Just as the question had come a couple of days earlier, the answer too came in a voice in the sleepy brain: “Learn to live with the consequences of your choices.” This time I woke with clarity. I knew what my path was to be.
I explained it later to my friend P: “Karma is not just about taking action but also about living with its consequences. When I had my first baby who grew to enjoy eggs and chicken, married a man who loved his fish and meat, adopted two large dogs who need a non-vegetarian diet in order to be well nourished, then I cannot wash my hands off my responsibility towards them in the name of some vague morals. I am their source of nutrition; if they eat non-vegetarian food, then I must cook and serve them that. The alternative is to watch them crave for it, or worse, grow weak, and the elder of our dogs is already arthritic. Either way, the karma is mine to live with.”
I went on: “It concerned me that I have the blood of some innocent animals on my hands in order to feed other innocent animals whom I call my own. But that is the nature of life and the law of nature. One dies to feed another. But where I stand, I cannot write off my worldly duties in favour of some other-worldly rewards. If this means I have earned some negative karma knowingly, so be it.”
It felt like I had just taken an Arjuna-esque leap into Kurukshetra, choosing murder willingly so that the order of the universe may be restored. There will be penance, perhaps, due in this life or another. But even the mother lion kills deer for her cubs to eat; even the mother bird snaps off the life of a worm for her little ones to feed on. It is in the DNA of motherhood to willingly take on the sins of mankind in order to nourish it. (Weighty words, big mama! Go get a cup of green tea for yourself.)
There’s only one change now in my self-description; I can no longer call myself a pure vegetarian. And it’s alright, as long as my child, man and dogs are strong and happy.