As per theory of karma, every action done with an eye on material comfort has an equal reaction, and this applies to harming an animal or a plant as well. Let’s try to understand karma created by eating plant and animal based food.
Karma Created By Eating Animal-based Food
This topic has been discussed a lot in various Hindu scriptures. The best details come from Anushasan Parva of Mahabharata. As per Bhishma, the karma created by killing an animal for the purpose of eating, falls equally on five people or entities, involved in the whole chain. The person who actually raises and kills the animal for food, the person who dismembers and sells the meat, the person who transports the meat, the person who cooks the meat, and the person who finally eats it. The pain the animal has gone through while getting killed has to be repaid by these five people/entities in this or in future births.
In today’s world, most of the animals getting killed for food are raised for food, and when they are killed, they know for many days in advance that they are going to get killed, and they live in a state of terror. They are mostly kept without food and in many traditions they are even killed slowly leading a longer time to die with more pain and miseries for animal. Unlike in the wild, these animals cannot use their survival instincts to save themselves, in fact they do not have an opportunity to save themselves. In short, they endure a very long psychological and physical pain before and while getting killed.
Additionally, most of the animals are raised in very inhumane conditions, fed with lot of artificial food so that they grow faster and many times they grow so fat that they cannot even walk. Additionally, they are killed in very tender age, even before they could fulfill any of the animal instincts because somebody is craving for their flesh.
Every entity involved in the chain has to repay that back, by going through the same measure of pain and suffering.
How About the People Who Chose To Be Vegetarians ?
Things are less complicated for vegetarians, mainly because most of the plant- based food are derived from fruits, for example vegetables like tomato, beans are all fruit, and same is the case with apple, banana, etc. Unlike meat, fruits can be taken from plants without harming the plants. In fact, fruits are generally thrown out by the plants itself, even if we don’t pick them. So eating fruits does not really create any bad or good karma.
Having said that, there are some plant- based food for which one would either trouble or kill the plants. For example, for all the leafy vegetables, even though you don’t need to kill the plant, you need to trouble it. For root- based food like carrots, onions, you need to uproot the plant, thus killing it. Most of the time, when we do this, plants would have lived almost all of their life, but still it results in killing the plants.
In terms of generating karma, vegetarians are at far more advantage than their meat eating counterparts, as they generate far less karma when they eat plant-based foods. But having said that, it is not zero—they too are not completely out of it.
So, What Should We Eat?
We think the answer lies more in ‘how’ than in ‘what’. As suggested by Sri Krishna in the Bhagvad Gita, the secret of not generating any karma while eating food lies in how we eat food.
There are two approaches we can take. One, for those people who don’t believe in Personal God, if they could achieve a state where they are eating food, only because of the need of body, and not for taste, nutrition or any other material comfort, then in that case they don’t generate any karma by eating food, even though they choose to eat plant-based or animal-based food. Meal needs to be taken as a sacrifice where in the fire of hunger, the food is sacrificed. This is easier said than done, but achieving moksha is also not an easy thing!
There is an easier path for those people who believe in Personal God. As suggested by Bhagavad Gita, if these people wholeheartedly, first offer all the prepared food to God and then only eat it as an offering to be partaken, they do not generate any karma.
In summary, Everybody creates more or less karma in the process of eating food. Vegetarians have a clear advantage over the meat eaters, but are not completely saved from it either. So in order to completely avoid any karma getting generated due to eating any food, a person needs to practice either eating food for the purpose of sustaining the body, without attaching to the real nature of the food or by eating the food as an offering to God. Both these paths save us from creating new karma and slowly leads one to the path of liberation or moksha, as it is called.