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10 Big Questions About Hinduism, Answered

7

Are All Hindus Vegetarian?

cupcakes, temple
Mountains of cupcakes, alongside other sweets and vegetarian snacks, are displayed in front of the deities at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Temple during the Diwali festival, in Toronto. Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Contrary to popular belief, not all Hindus are vegetarian, but it's estimated that 30 percent of all Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs in India are vegetarian due to a shared belief in nonviolence.

This belief is rooted in the understanding that all living creatures are manifestations of the Divine. Violence against any living being will therefore have a negative effect on one's karma. Various Hindu scriptures teach that a meat-free diet is not required, but "meritorious" to the welfare of the soul.

"The sins generated by violence curtail the life of the perpetrator. Therefore, even those who are anxious for their own welfare should abstain from meat-eating."
— Mahabharata
"How can he practice true compassion, who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?"
— Tirukural

Mahatma Gandhi was famously vegetarian, adding credence to the belief (outside of India, at least) that all Hindus were vegetarian. In reality, that's never been the case. Even the gods and goddesses of Hindu scripture would occasionally feast on meat. For modern Hindus, the choice to eat vegetarian or not largely depends on regional food traditions. For example, large percentages of Hindus in the northern Indian states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab are vegetarian, while relatively few Hindus living in southern India keep a strictly vegetarian diet. A 2014 study out of India found that 71 percent of the population over 15 was not vegetarian.

Cows hold a special reverence among Hindus, but they are not "worshipped." In the Vedas, the cow is associated with Aditi, who is the mother of the gods. Cows are revered because they're seen as docile creatures who give to people more than they take from them. In India, cows are allowed to roam the streets and are given bits of food for good luck. Gandhi once wrote, "If someone were to ask me what the most important outward manifestation of Hinduism was, I would suggest that it was the idea of cow protection."

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