The truth still matters

On Twitter I ran into a peculiar argument about vegetarianism and Brahmanism:

This is just factually wrong from what I know. The standard narrative I was taught is that the shift toward vegetarianism was driven by non-Brahmin-led religious movements, in particular the Sramanic sects like Jainism and Buddhism (that seem to have had a Kshatriya and Vaishya “class” base). Rather, post-Vedic Brahmanic ritualism was changed by the influence of these movements, with the Brahmin caste becoming followers and expositors. This probably aligns with the idea that much of late Indian Buddhism was actually incorporated into Advaita, so the idea that Buddhism is a “daughter” religion of Hinduism is actually not correct.

Now, it is totally true that today militant vegetarianism is often correlated with upper castes and is instrumentalized in an exclusionary manner.  But that is the endpoint and operationalization of vegetarianism, not its root. The original commenter was making a political and rhetorical point, so truth was pretty irrelevant. But those of us who value truth need to periodically bring up pedantic aspects because otherwise the lie becomes truth, and that is true perversion.

13 thoughts on “The truth still matters”

  1. Could have started as a way for the upper caste to separate themselves from the lower castes. Sort of how most vegans in the West are the elites or people who are striving to be in the elite class. Their justification maybe ethical concerns but I have always suspected that the underlying reason is a way to seperate themsevles from the masses. Similar dynamics probably played out in ancient India.

    1. For Jains no. It is central to Ahimsa. My family is vegetarian for that reason, not for some status game. If anything, in many N Indian urban circles, eating meat is considered “modern” and higher status/chic.

  2. It could well have been a fully brahmin thing. For one thing, Buddhism doesn’t seem to have been vegetarian in the Theravada traditions, with Mahayana emergence being much later.

    I suspect it had to do with ideas of ritual cleanliness, the reason being that wild game was never treated the same way as slaughtered livestock in medieval Hinduism – hunting seems to be fine, and as late as the early medieval period, it was assumed that young Brahmins wore cloaks of deerskin.

    With the rise of Islam, it perhaps settled in even more deeply, as a means of distinction.

  3. If the roots of vegetarianism were truly “casteist” then it is surprising that being vegetarian doesn’t track more consistently among upper vs lower castes. For example, Bengali, Kashmiri, Konkani brahmins etc aren’t vegetarian; however, vegetarianism is observed almost universally among Vaishnavite sects in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka etc. Among these groups, vegetarianism is predominant regardless of caste. In Shaivite and Smarta groups there is some tendency to vegetarianism in some regions, particularly in upper castes, but it’s not nearly as universal as in Vaishnavite traditions. On the other hand, in Shakti / Devi worship traditions, as we see in Bengal, there seems to be less adherence to vegetarianism. Many years ago, I worked among a Tulu-speaking farming community in Karnataka who were strongly vegetarian- it would be difficult to place those people’s eating habits into a casteist framework.

  4. i know many brahmin families who raise their children on never to kill anyone either for eat or otherwise.

  5. They might just be talking about the last 150 years, which to some is as good as all of history. The NW to E/SE cline of vegetarianism correlates to the lactase persistence in the general population, and not necessarily the greater/lesser influence of brahmins, however. That said, I’m guessing the tweet was by a south indian, and while the strident tone grates and foreshadows that I’d probably find much to disagree with elsewhere, its not all that wrong. Every community doesn’t trace its vegetarianism to the same root, some adopted the practice fairly recently and its interesting to understand why the weavers of X region felt the need to do this in the late 19th century or whatever. Also, the tweet is relevant to a western audience that only understands vegetarianism through the prism of ahimsa.

  6. 2200 years ago, Ashoka in his newly converted zeal, banned animal sacrifice and consumption throughout his empire to enforce the Sangha’s doctrinal tenets.

    The yajamanas laid down those ritualistic aspects and retreated to pursue more abstract forms of sacrifices. Maybe it’s time now to reinstate the Srauta and the Pasubandha.

  7. ref razib-This probably aligns with the idea that much of late Indian Buddhism was actually incorporated into Advaita…
    is this universally accepted?

  8. Razib, what do you consider Buddhism in relation to Hinduism if not a daughter religion? A cousin of sorts?

  9. I support that 5 line comment .
    Its all about domination ,You think your way is right and It should be practiced.and then there is Superiority complex.Like its me who is saying ,Thats why it is right.This whole gauraksha thing is the same.Anyway veg brahmins do try to belittle Maithali,Bengali, coastal ,nepali brahmins By saying We’re pure and all.But If you ask them.They will ignore ,shoo you off , say we have tradition of meat eating Or give reasons like We are allowed ,Allowed by guru by local beliefs or simply allowed.
    If a SC ask them about meat meating they will not even listen(Ab chamar hme btaega).
    Means the one who did not sacrifice earlier was bad because we used to do such things, now those who do such things are bad because we don’t do it now.

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