The Concept of Vegetarianism
The name derives from the Latin word vegetum/vegetabile meaning healthy, pertaining to vegetables. According to Baltzer vegetarianism is a conscious fulfillment of life’s requirements. Therefore it encapsulates a complete life style which accords to an inner conviction that nature and its order provide the norm for bodily and spiritual good. Natural nutrition is only a chapter of this order which depends on our knowledge of nature’s laws. A healthy human impulse grows out of these eternal laws and accords with them. Who goes against these laws suffers both physically and spiritually.
Vegetarianism specifically warns us against the harmful effects of meat and intoxicants and attempts to do away with such harm. It also cares about other needs of life such as sunshine, clean air, light, water, work, rest etc. Vegetarians act as individual helpers and tools for such endeavors. According to the type of food they eat vegetarians are divided into three groups. The first group eats only raw vegetables. The second group constitutes those who eat both raw vegetables and cooked ones. The third group are those who along with vegetables also eat milk products. As far as the motivations for becoming a vegetarian, there are three levels. The first are those who live by the fifth commandment “Do not kill!”. The second are those who wish to attain higher spiritual goals, the third are those who become vegetarian for health reasons. More will be said about this later. All of these categories also stay away from alcohol, tobacco, opiates and the like. Their lives excel in kindness and temperance.
The History of Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism is as old as the human race. The first man was not born with a weapon in his hand in order to hunt animals and kill people, but with hands and feet fit to gather fruits and do good deeds. In the Ice Age when vegetation was scarce man began to eat fish, in the further development of the nomadic life man became a meat eater to finally, thanks to “culture”, man became omnivorous. Thanks to religious and philosophical teachings about the transmigration of souls, vegetarianism came to Greece from the East.
From this Indian and Egyptian origin vegetarianism spread throughout the lands of the ancient Hellenes, the proof of which are the works of the Greek classics. With Pythagoras as a spiritual leader of the Orphic traditions famous philosophers became vegetarians such as Plato, Seneca, Juvenal, Plutarch etc. Poets such as Euripides and Ovidius glorified vegetarian ideals. Christianity found its first adherent among the Essenes who were strict believers in nonviolence. Jesus Christ stems from this group and he substituted the blood sacrifice with the bloodless one. Although many of his early disciples followed the example of their great teacher, the meat eaters soon prevailed. The church managed to keep things somewhat in check only with the various fasting injunctions. So instead of vegetarians beating their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4) vegetarianism humbly retreated into the hearts of the Nassirians inspiring a higher purpose of life.