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Kala Afghana on Non-Vegetarianism
A translation and analysis of chapter 38, entitled Hunh Takk Dii Vichaar Daa Sankhep [A Summary of the Discussion Thus Far], from the book Maasu Maasu Kari Moorakh Jhagdhey [Fools Debate Non-Vegetarianism] by Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afghana. This piece also appeared in The Sikh Bulletin, October 2003, Vol. 5, No. 10, pp. 7-9.
By PUNEET SINGH LAMBA
Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afghana retired in 1981 as inspector of police. In 1984, while he was visiting Canada, India cancelled his passport and confiscated his property. Now based in Canada, the Sikh author's books Biparan Kii Riit Ton Sach Daa Maarag and Bachittar Natak: Gurbani Di Kasvuti Te contend that the Dasam Granth was not entirely authored by Guru Gobind Singh. Renowned Sikh scholar Gurtej Singh, jathedar of Takht Damdama Sahib Giani Kewal Singh, and many others have stoutly defended Kala Afghana's writings. Sikh scholar Giani Bhag Singh Ambalavi had to apologise in the late 1970s for having questioned the validity of the Dasam Granth. Gurbakhsh has questioned the commonly held belief that Guru Tegh Bahadur died for Hindus. He has written, 'the only complaint before the emperor was that Guru Tegh Bahadur was fanning insurgency against the government. Thus those claiming that the Guru sacrificed his life for Hinduism are sullying the principles of Sikhism.'
The Sikh Times, Sep. 8, 2003
1. The Adi Granth does not concern itself with either vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism.
2. Whereas the Adi Granth expounds at length about the need to abandon various vices, it says nothing about the need to abandon non-vegetarian diets.
3. The Adi Granth does not attempt to pass judgement on the dietary components required for maintaining a healthy human body.
The Adi Granth does, however, recommend against consuming substances that either cause grief or generate mental turbulence.
4. Those that choose to dwell on the consumption of substances rather than focus their minds on remembering God have been derided by the Adi Granth ('consumed by the desire for substances').
This 'desire' can be either for a single substance or for a number of substances.
It is worth noting that the Adi Granth mentions the desire for meat at the very end of a list of nine desires:
'The desires for gold, silver, women, fragrances,'
'horses, beds, palaces, sweets, and meat.'
(Verse 43/1, p. 34) [Guru Nanak, Adi Granth, p. 15]
It is clear from Guru Nanak's verse (above) that he accords meat a status similar to gold, silver, women, fragrances, horses, beds, palaces, and sweets.
To forget God and remain obsessed with substances is 'desire.'
For those that are immersed in the rememberance of God, no substance is 'desirous.'
To obsess unduly on meat, i.e. only one of the nine desires acknowledged by the Adi Granth, is tantamount to ignoring the fundamental messages of the Adi Granth.
5. To attach undue importance to matters of eating and drinking rather than focusing on remembering God has been termed by our Gurus as harmful to the pursuit of a spiritual lifestyle. Furthermore, our Gurus have placed meat on par with other superior substances such as fruit, butter, jaggery, and refined flour.
'What good are fruits, butter, sweet jaggery, refined flour, and meat?'
(Verse 44/2, p. 34) [Guru Nanak, Adi Granth, p. 142]
Verses such as the one above make it abundantly clear that it is not incorrect to view meat on par with other superior substances such as gold, silver, butter, jaggery, and refined flour.
6. Bhai Randhir Singh and other writers opposed to non-vegetarian diets have omitted verses that do not suit their purpose.
Consequently, these writers have zoomed in on just two of Guru Nanak's verses, namely: 'Mortals are first conceived in flesh and subsequently dwell on flesh' and 'Fools argue about flesh and meat but know little about meditation and spiritual wisdom.' (Guru Nanak, Adi Granth, p. 1289).
Even these two verses have only been mentioned out of compulsion since the Sikh community is already exposed to these verses. Preachers, Guru Nanak's biographies, and other historical texts have widely publicized these verses due to their said reference to Guru Nanak's visit to Kurukshetra.
Nevertheless, these writers have tried their level best to distort the meanings of these verses.
Clearly, Bhai Randhir Singh has been guided not by an in-depth understanding of the Adi Granth but by his own agenda, wishes, and desires.1
7. The meat that Muslim's have always referred to as 'halal' began to be referred to by brahmins as 'kutha' meat of the 'malech.'
8. The following are the reasons why Sikhs were forbidden from eating kutha meat:
a. During Mughal rule, kutha meat was used to destroy the Hindu faith.
Eating kutha meat resulted in spiritual weakness among Hindus.
b. According to Mughal law, Hindus were neither permitted to keep weapons at home nor allowed to cook and eat any form of meat.
Sikhism's tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, placed two major impediments in the way of Mughal oppression via his decision to a) arm the Sikhs and b) ban Sikhs from consuming spiritually detrimental katha food preparations.
9. Only those Adi Granth verses that refer to Islam have used the term 'kutha.' Otherwise, the terms 'kuh' or 'kuhi' (slaughter) have been employed.
Therefore, it is clear that the convention of referring to meat prepared in the Muslim style as 'kutha' existed at least since Guru Nanak's time.
10. The body may die, but never the soul.
11. Mankind (as opposed to God) has devised different names for identifying the various types of externally distinguishable living organisms.
It is mankind that considers it sinful to eat certain living organisms and not others.A
12. The Adi Granth has compared the bodies of living organisms to gowns, clothing, etc.
Therefore, it is mankind that has invented convenient terminology such as flour, meat, spinach, wood, etc. to refer to various bodies/coverings/clothing.
Disputes over the difference between spinach and meat are simply the result of either human ignorance or mischief.
13. The human body is unique among all other species.
This is because of all species God has awarded the ability to distinguish moral right from wrong only to humans.
14. Only the human mind is capable of yearning for relief from sorrow or attainment of happiness.
All other species lack the ability to yearn.
15. The Adi Granth only works on diseases of the human mind.
It is a recipe for winning the world by being victorious over the human mind.
The Adi Granth teaches us how to channel the immense forces of the human mind into positive directions.
The Adi Granth has to do with the soul.
None of the great holy books preaches about the welfare of living creatures.
We have continuously been engaged in the endeavor of reigning in the human mind.
16. The Adi Granth frequently refers to the human body as rare (unique) or God's temple.
The human body has been likened to a horse that carries the soul into God's country and a ladder that helps humans climb great heights to reach God's palaces.
It is for this reason that the human body is supreme among eighty-four lakh (84 times 100,000) species.2
Therefore, human society did not accept the idea of eating human flesh.
All other species such as animals, birds, insects, and micro-organisms are ingested into the human body in one form or another. In many other ways these animals and birds are slave to the superior human species.3
17. Eating and drinking are pure acts. However, the Adi Granth code of conduct places restrictions on the consumption of those substances which humans have manifested as desires that either harm the human body or cause grief.
18. Humans have treated meat as a part of their diet since ancient times.
Even today there are several peoples on this earth whose primary diet consists of animals, birds, and fish.
19. All living things - including lentils, vegatable oils, insects, micro-organisms, animals, and birds - possess equivalent life.
Our merciful behavior toward animals and birds should include every effort toward attention to their diet and comfort, protection from their mistreatment as beasts of burden, offering relief from pain and suffering.4
Whenever treatment is not feasible, it is merciful to assist helpless animals by sparing them pain and discomfort by ending their life swiftly via a blow to the head, electricity, etc.
20. No faith founder has campaigned against the trade of millions of pounds of meat, fish, and eggs - trade in non-vegetarian commodities continues just as seamlessly as trade in grains.
Since ancients times animals and birds have been cultivated and harvested for trade just like crops.
Therefore, to raise issues pertaining to vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism is sheer foolishness.
The decision regarding whether or not to consume non-vegetarian diet should be upto each individual.
Neither does one become sinful by consuming meat nor does one become pious by renouncing meat.
The Adi Granth, which embodies the spirit of Guru Nanak, does not attempt to define restrictions pertaining to religious duties and horoscopes?.
Let us not distort the true import of the following verse from our Guru:
'Fools argue about flesh and meat but know little about meditation and spiritual wisdom.' [Guru Nanak, Adi Granth, p. 1289]
'Which is meat? Which is spinach? Which is sinful?' [Guru Nanak, Adi Granth, p. 1289]
A. The offices of stated king Chitragupt and others maintain no record of the sins and merits of either visible or invisible life forms.
Among all the nameless offices of the nameless God only Guru Nanak had the wisdom to recognize this.
There is an account of the same in the Adi Granth.
No other major holy book carries a similar account.
For a detailed explanation, please see my multi-volume book entitled Bipparan Kii Riit Ton Sachh Daa Maarag.5
1. Chapter 24, entitled Maas Khaanh Dii Virodhataa Vich Guroo-Banhii Phuramaan? (Adi Granth's Edict Against Non-Vegetarianism?) is particularly critical of 'misinterpretations of the Adi Granth' by anti-non-vegetarianism writers.
Those at the receiving end of the author's wrath are the founder and two senior leaders of the supremacist/segregationist Akhand Kirtani Jatha (A.K.J.) namely, Bhai Randhir Singh (founder), J.P. Sangat Singh (author of Sikh Dharam Te Maas Sharaab [Meat, Alcohol, and the Sikh Religion]), and Bhai Joginder Singh Talwara (author of Teyn Kyon Murgii Maarii? [Why Kill a Chicken?]). Talwara has been identified by The Sikh Bulletin (Giants of Sikhi, Oct. 2003), The Spokesman (Chandigarh), and other reliable sources to be the chief instigator of Kala Afghana's excommunication (Jul. 10, 2003) from the Sikh Panth.
The chapter expounds on the following verse which, on the surface, appears to admonish in no uncertain words those who consume fish and, by extension, meat. The verse has been used extensively by the above-mentioned authors to advocate against non-vegetarianism.
'Kabir, those mortals who consume marijuana, fish, and wine,'
'will go to hell despite all pilgrimages, fasts, and rituals.' (Kabir, Adi Granth, p. 1377)
The author implores the reader to carefully consider Kabir's choice of words. The author dismisses outright the possibility that Kabir utilized marijuana and fish in the symbolic sense to imply all narcotics and all non-vegetarian foods.
Instead, Kala Afghana points out that 'marijuana, fish, and wine' have been used in the colloquial sense as reference to those who frequent brothels. The author claims that this meaning of the phrase was, and still is, popular in Varanasi (formerly known as Banaras or Benares), Kabir's place of origin. The phrase derives its colloquial meaning from the notion that the consumption of 'marijuana, fish, and wine' increases sex drive.
In other words, Kabir is admonishing not non-vegetarianism but sexual promiscuity. Bhai Randhir Singh employs faulty logic - a kind of guilt by association - when he substitutes 'marijuana, fish, and wine' for Kabir's intended target: sexual promiscuity.
2. Although, the author uses the commonly accepted figure of eighty-four lakh (84 times 100,000), he clarifies that in fact the Adi Granth recognizes that the total number of species is not a constant but has been fluctuating over the ages as old species disappear and new ones come forth.
3. The author references the following verse in support of his assertion that according to the Adi Granth all other species in this world are slave to the superior human species.
'Other life forms may be your water-carriers [here, water-carrier is used as a euphemism for slave],'
'you may be the ruler of this world.' (Guru Arjan, Adi Granth, Aasaa Dii Vaar, p. 374)
4. The author implies that the Adi Granth teaches compassion for all life forms but does not approve of pretentious gestures such as wearing masks to prevent the ingestion of micro-organisms or walking barefoot to avoid stepping on insects (both practices are popular among orthodox followers of the Jain faith).
5. Furthermore, Kala Afghana is of the opinion that a misinterpretation of the Adi Granth has lead scholars to conclude incorrectly that the Adi Granth supports the ideas of reincarnation, heaven, and hell.
Translator's General Note:
It should be noted that the author supports his arguments throughout the book with quotes from Professor Sahib Singh's translation of the Adi Granth.
1. When I first delved into the controversy surrounding Kala Afghana's writings, I discovered that few people had actually read his work. Therefore, with a view to enhancing the accessibility of his writings, I decided to translate appropriate sections from Gurmukhi to English. During my search for appropriate sections to translate, Ishwinder Singh Chadha was the first to suggest that I consider Kala Afghana's book Maasu Maasu Kari Moorakh Jhagdhey [Fools Debate Non-Vegetarianism]. Ishwinder's idea blossomed into reality when I asked Kala Afghana to summarize his main ideas and he pointed out that his book Maasu Maasu Kari Moorakh Jhagdhey [Fools Debate Non-Vegetarianism] actually has a summary chapter 38, entitled Hunh Takk Dii Vichaar Daa Sankhep [A Summary of the Discussion Thus Far].
2. This translation and analysis has benefited immensely from Kala Afghana's generous interview with The Sikh Times on Sep. 6, 2003.
3. An earlier version of this translation was published in the Oct. 2003 issue of The Sikh Bulletin.
Kala Afghana on Non-Vegetarianism (Transliteration), By PUNEET SINGH LAMBA, The Sikh Times, Sep. 1, 2003