(Or How I Became A Vegetarian)

Posted by Mukunda Charan under Personal Realizations/Talks, Spirits In The Material World, Vegetarianism

I was finishing-up my Master’s dissertation on the abolition of the slave trade in January 1997 at a friend’s place in Sun Valley, Cape Town.
My schedule was intense.  They would drop me at the University of Cape Town every morning at about 6:30am; and I would finish around 8:45pm.  I’d then take the 9:15pm train to Fish Hoek.  Their house was about half-an-hour walk from Fishoek Station.  I’d get in at 10:45pm.  I usually had a piece of toast and some juice.  I’d take rest at 11.

My friend, Andrew, had adopted a dog which he later named Justerini (”Justerini and Brooks” (J&B) is a South African whiskey).  She was what South Africans call a
brak or mongrel.  Teena and Andrew had another dog called Killer.  Killer was cute, but was a brak  just like Justerini.  Andrew’s wife Teena liked to spoil the dogs by giving them biscuits, odd bits of meat and sometimes even chocolate.  Justerini and Killer were, in my opinion, just pampered dogs.  This sentiment was exaggerated by a basic disliking, within me, of dogs - especially when they licked me or came close to me while eating.

If Teena and Andrew were not at home I would have to let the dogs in the house.  I’d open the door, and the dogs would come scrambling into the living room, sliding and scratching the parquet floor.  I was usually hungry after my fourteen-hour days in the Postgraduate Art Student’s computer lab.  I’d let the dogs in, then grab a snack from the kitchen.  The whole thing was becoming a ritual.  The dogs would follow me into the kitchen yelping, shuffling and wagging their tails.  They would rub their cold, wet noses against my legs.  Oh, how this would irritate me!
One night I arrived home and it was the same scene - the dogs flanking me into the kitchen.  I was quite hungry so I was annoyed that the dogs were begging food from me again.  I noticed a barbecued lamb ‘chop’ (cutlet) on top of the microwave.  The thought of eating the lamb-chop flashed through my mind.  Justerini, however, continued to brush against me with affection.  I thought, ‘Stupid dog.  Just wants some food.’ 
I’d get rid of her by throwing the meat down on the ground.  After all, the stupid animal just wants to eat.  To my amazement, however, she did not seem to notice the piece of meat!  Yet she was being so affectionate.  I cynically waved the meat in front of her nose, hoping to get rid of her.  But she just looked at me with her big, dark eyes.  Something touched me deep within.  I realized that this animal, this dog, had feelings and emotions just like me.  For the first time in my life I considered seriously that this dog had a soul - just like me.  Why was I so hard-hearted?  If our meat supply ran out would we put this poor creature on the table?  It suddenly dawned on me how cruel it was to eat meat.  To take the life of an animal who has feelings and emotions and so many other attributes.  I had the distinct feeling that meat-eating was an act of cannibalism - since animals have feelings, thoughts and emotions just like human beings.  I broke down and cried.  What kind of person had I become?

I had, strangely enough, considered giving up meat for Lent (the Catholic fasting month).  My reasons, however, were based on health issues (I was doing a lot of exercise and noticed that meat had a dulling effect on my body).  But now I was taking up vegetarianism for ethical and spiritual reasons.  It was a major step forward for me in terms of the development of my consciousness.  And Justerini was my 

The next day, by Krishna’s grace, I met a Hare Krishna monk in Rondebosch.  He was selling Vedic Literatures (Indian spiritual writings) from a book table.  We spoke for about four hours.  I wanted to buy an
Isopanisad but he thought it would be better if I got a copy of the Higher Taste.  ‘You’ll need this more…’, he said, ‘…now that you have become vegetarian.’  As we parted, Nicholas gave me a Science of Self-Realization.  His explanations of Krishna consciousness convinced me that Prabhupada’s teachings were giving the true culture and meaning of the Bhagavad-gita.  A door had opened in my life…and I walked through it….