Saturday, 7 May 2016

Loose Thoughts on the Vegetarian Spectrum

The Trang vegetarian festival

The provincial town of Trang in southern Siam is known, amongst other things, for the vegetarian festival observed by the region's Chinese population during a full-moon every October. The festival is Taoist in origin but now includes many Boodhist appropriations. It is said that the Chinese, who came to the Malay peninsula for tin mining, temporarily lapsed from their ancestral customs and that, because of this, a visiting opera troupe was stricken by disease. To make amends, the Taoist priests instituted a nine day period of purification featuring abstinence from meat-eating as recompense - the disease was allayed, the opera singers healed and the period of abstinence has been observed ever since. The rules of purification are: those participating wear white garments for purity for the duration of the festival, they abstain from meat, animal foods and the pungent vegetables (onions, shallots, garlic and tobacco). 

The present author has encountered vegetarian customs throughout his recent travels through Hindoostan and Farther India, and his most recent sojourn in Trang has brought many matters concerning the whole spectrum of vegetarian practices, east/west, traditional and modern into focus. The following are some loose - which is to say unedited and unarranged - thoughts on the topic, along with relevant scattered observations from his travels. The main point to be made, however, is this:

Throughout the Asian traditions (and there is no reason to think occidental traditions would be any different) vegetarianism is, first and foremost, a purification and specifically a purification of the life force (chi, etc.) as manifest in the breath (spiritus, pneuma). This is why in vegetarian traditions abstinence from meat eating very often goes hand in hand with abstinence from onions and other pungent vegetables. The breath is the life force of the organism. Onions, garlic, tobacco etc. stain the breath and are therefore believed to impair the life force. 

Similarly, meat-eating causes bad breath as well. Meat is therefore believed to be polluting. Purification consists of abstaining from all things that stain the breath. This is the whole basis of vegetarianism in traditional oriental culture. It has very little to do with 'compassion to sentient beings' and similar constructions typical of Boodhist modernism and neo-Hindooism. On the contrary, throughout these traditions - let us call them the 'dharma' traditions, Hindooism, Jainism, Boodhism and so on - animals are universally regarded as 'failed human beings' and one abstains from eating them so as to not be dragged down to their level. Animals are inferior and unclean. Eating meat is an impurity. One abstains from meat-eating not out of love for animals but out of a horror for the lowness of the animal state. 

Accordingly, traditional vegetarianism has a completely different foundation and motivation than modern, Western vegetarianism, and the real basis of the traditional doctrine - purification of the life force - is forgotten in the West.

* * * 

Rubens - Pythagoras proclaiming vegetarianism

Some meditations on the vegetarian spectrum:

*In most eastern traditions, and elsewhere, vegetarianism is rarely a 'lifestyle' but is only practiced at certain times for the purposes of prufication.

*Even where Indians advertise ‘Pure Veg’ you might often find fish on the menu. This is especially the case in places like West Bengal and Kerala. Many Hindoos do not regard fish as animal flesh. The present author was told with confidence on several occasions that “there is no karma attached to fish” – the Hindoo piscatarian. Note that eating fish (and other white meats) does not stain the breath like eating red meat and accordingly fish and white meats are often exempt from traditional vegetarian strictures.

*Even where the Boodhists of Siam – a kingdom where a good 95% of citizens count themselves Theravadan Boodhists – proclaim themselves ‘vegetarian’, everything is nevertheless soaked in fish sauce.

*The traditional Japanese had no word for ‘vegetarian’ – it is an English loan word. This is despite there being a genuine vegetarian tradition in Zen Temple cuisine. Again, vegetarianism is a seasonal practice, not a 'lifestyle' or an identity. 

The Zen Temple Cuisine, especially as preserved in Kyoto

*Outside of Jainism, the oldest form of vegetarianism in the Hindoo world seems to come from Udupi. Thus 'Udupi' restaurants are found throughout India. It is further adapted in the diet of the Hare Krishna and related movements and is spiritually anchored in the incarnationist spirituality of Vishnoo. Avoiding the 'pungent vegetables' is as important as avoiding meat. 

*The idea that the 'pungent vegetables' and meat are to be avoided because they 'stir the passions' is a moralistic rationale. The real basis for such practices, however, lies in alchemistic vitalism (which is much older than such moral explanations and is now largely obscured or forgotten.) 

*In certain parts, the sign ‘Pure Veg’ outside a restaurant or street stall in India might often mean specifically “Muslims not welcome!” In the Indian context – and in general - Mohammedans are meat-eaters by definition. Quite apart from more mature considerations, contemporary Hindoos will eat vegetarian (or some version thereof) in order to distinguish themselves from the Musselmans, and the Musselmans will eat meat (in copious quantities!) in order to distinguish themselves from the Hindoos.

*In the Hindoo spectrum you meet many people for whom ‘vegetarian’ just means ‘no beef’. So you can find ‘Pure Veg’ eateries that serve chicken and fish. For the average Hindoo beef-eating is the great dietary sin that incurs karmic retribution. Thus many eateries specify ‘No beef’ on the menu. Again, note that red meat impairs the breath to a far greater degree than does fish or white meats.

*In deference to the Hindoo, of all the creatures it is an affront to slaughter for meat, it is surely the cow, the most serene and most beautiful of animals, emblem of the contemplative soul.

*Forms of vegetarianism found through Hindoostan and nearby are often not especially diverse or healthy. Meals will often consist of over-spiced lentil dishes (dal) and rice or bread, with vegetables, as such, conspicuously absent. The most common ‘vegetable’ is aloo (potato) and sometimes a wrinkled up old gobi (cauliflower) but there are few, if any, green vegetables in sight. Fresh leafy green vegetables are rarely seen at all. Carrots are commonly eaten as a sugared dessert (halva) in season. The contemporary Indian ‘vegetarian’ diet is surprisingly degraded, notably by sugar and potatoes and a dependence on spices rather than substance to provide satisfaction.

*The Hindoo knows absolutely nothing about salad. (Something called a 'green salad' appears on menus throughout India. Do not be fooled! It's not green and it is not a salad.)

*The Chinese culinary tradition (and variations thereof found throughout Sino-Asiatic civilization) is essentially omnivorous – albeit without dairy foods - but its ancient roots are better preserved than that of the Indian tradition and it is more easily adapted to a satisfying vegetarianism and especially a viable veganism in a modern context.

*Important to note: One of the lost keys to ancient ‘vegetarianism’ is a deep cultural abhorrence of cannibalism. In the first instance, meats that taste like human flesh are made taboo. Thus in Japan, for instance, eating monkey flesh was made subject to the death penalty, and in the Semitic order swine flesh was forbidden. (Noting that the instinct to avoid the cannibalistic was less developed in the Chinese world, in itself a spiritual failing of that civilization, although it remains more ‘primordial’ in other respects.)

*As Roger Sandall observes, the deconstruction of the ‘cannibalism narrative’ by the post-colonial counter-tradition is the cornerstone of the new barbarism, the anthropological toxin of our age. we have almost completely lost all understanding of this great theme of tradition now.

*Regardless of what certain New Age manifestations of Soofism propose, a legitimate vegetarianism is a theological impossibility in Islam. The sacrificial order of Abrahamism prevails among the Mohammadans. Islam very specifically does not end the institution of animal sacrifice. There is no way around this fact. Muslims are theologically bound to partake of the sacrifice at least once a year (on the Eid). Christianity, on the other hand, has abolished all sacrifices (or subsumed them in the sacrificial flesh of Christ – noting the primordial cannibalistic theme inherent in the Christian perspective) – Christians are free to be vegetarians, or indeed omnivores, so long as they eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ. A Christian vegetarianism is a legitimate spiritual possibility, but in that it has no distinct merit.

*Vestiges of the ‘primordiality’ of a vegetarianism scaled according to an abhorrence of cannibalism is found today in the so-called ‘macrobiotic’ cuisine as reformulated in a modern guise by the Japanese alchemist George Ohsawa. Thus the flesh of mammals and higher order animals is avoided but those lower on the evolutionary scale (fish, shrimp, moluscs etc.) might be eaten sometimes. The less an animal tastes like human flesh – which is to say the further it is from the human on the evolutionary scale – the better.

*In all religious traditions the avoidance of animal foods is associated with a spiritual vocation; it is priestly. In traditional cultures it is never a question of ‘ethics’ and even less of ‘ecology’ or some sort of smug political stance. What modern Westerners rarely appreciate is that a vegetarian (or vegan) diet without spiritual application can be destructive and the cause of psychological and other imbalances. That is, a secular vegetarianism is a nonsense, an aberration, a usurpation, a spiritual danger.

*Vegetarianism is often supposed to be alien to the occident, an oriental affectation, but let us recall that it was a feature of the Pythagorean tradition, and to an extent the broader Platonic tradition too, since ancient times. It is as natural to the West as Pythagoras and Plato.

*Although adored by countless simpering vegetarians and vegans in the West, His Holiness the Dalai Lama – that sanctimonious old phony – is a bad-breathed carnivore. He claims it is “on doctor’s orders.” Sure. (In all fairness, though, the entire Tibetan Boodhist tradition, of which this celebrity Lama is erstwhile leader, is resoundingly carnivorous , which makes the fact that most Western followers of Tibetan Boodhism are vegetarians all the more bizarre. The modern Western cult of Tibetan Boodhism is a strange phenomenon indeed!)

*Aside from vitalism, the whole metaphysical basis for oriental vegetarianism is dharma and hence reincarnation. (This is also true of occidental Pythagorean vegetarianism which has no other basis than metempsychosis.) Without such a metaphysical underpinning it is merely ‘ethical’ and sentimental. In general, if you do not believe in reincarnation/metempsychosis there is not likely to be a firm (deep) basis for your vegetarianism.

*The critique of vegetarianism that begins… “Science has shown that plants are sentient too…” is an instance of a corrosive scientistic relativism. It is increasingly common and we can expect more of it in the future as relativist deconstructions dismantle all reasonable norms in the decadent West. There is a clear and obvious difference between a plant and an animal; it is an abdication of reason and a sinister mischievousness to suppose otherwise.

*While we today associate a vegetable diet with health, in the past, in both east and west, meat was regarded as remedial. If you became ill you ate meat in order to get well. (The idea persists, especially among Jews, in the proverbial remedial powers of ‘chicken soup’.) There are amusing stories from the Middle Ages in whole communities of monks would regularly feign illness in order to get a feed of meat. This might seem contrary to concerns of purifying the vital force (breathe) but it is a question of animal energies. In such cases, one eats meat until one has recovered and then returns to a vegetable basis diet. We should not confuse animal 'health' with ethereal 'purity'.

*A lacto-vegetarianism arises naturally from the Hindoo world. Veganism is more natural to the Sino-Asiatic universe. The Hindoo diet has paneer. The Chinese diet has the soy bean. Milk is alien to the Chinaman. Soy is alien to the Hindoo. These differences are not accidental; they reflect profound differences in spiritual temperament and go very deep. A lacto-vegetarian will have a more Indo-Asiatic temperament, a vegan a more Sino-Asiatic temperament. We might generalize: a lacto-vegetarian will do yoga; a vegan will do tai chi. 

*The compromised 'objectivity' of science in the West - and especially in universities - is on display in the ridiculous reports that seem incapable of conceiving of a viable diet without meat and dairy foods. People are right to hold these judgments in contempt. These scientists only serve the meat and dairy industries - as if the Indian and Chinese civilizations were deficient for their vegetarianism and lack of dairy foods respectively. Western food science, so-called, is Eurocentric in the narrowest possible sense.

*Whatever merit might be attached to it the popular New Age vegetarianism of urban elites, social justice warriors and eco-spiritualists in the West is deeply sentimental and decadent. It is symptomatic of cultural collapse. Its motives are perverse and its manifestations cultish. We cannot overlook the fact that so many vegetarians are dissipated social degenerates. There is an honesty, a sincerity, a simplicity, an integrity, a wholesome attachment to tradition and history, a truthful aversion to fads of cultural vandalism, in the confirmed meat eater. Apart from our notes on Pythagoreanism above, occidental man is essentially and temperamentally a hunter.

*It requires a particularly vulgar insensitivity to not be appalled and disturbed by utilitarian industrial meat production. In no other age has the slaughter of animals for meat – on such a massive scale – ever been conducted without a sense of moral danger and a corresponding need to avoid Divine judgment for such a transgression. Factory farming is clearly an abomination. So secular vegetarianism on ‘ethical’ grounds is understandable in the first instance, but otherwise it fails to meet the depths of the case; it does nothing to appease Heaven and so is finally just self-righteous and narcissistic.

*Industrial halal meat production - where an imam says a quick 'bismillah' before pressing the 'on button' of massive assembly-line slaughter machines - is an especially obscene hypocrisy. The obsession with 'halal' meat among contemporary Mohammedans - absurdly Pharisaic - is one of the most advanced symptoms of spiritual decay in contemporary Islamic externalism. 

Vegetarians in white during the nine days and nights of the festival in Trang. 


Harper McAlpine Black

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