I’m a bit stuck. Between being Hindu, and being vegan.
I thought I could never be 100% vegan due to my religion, mainly because of our relationship with the cow.
In Hindu mythology a cow is seen as Mother Earth and today cattle continue to be seen as sacred. She provides us with milk, the epitome of nourishment. We use this milk to make ghee, a clarified butter seen in most Indian households – including mine. Milk and ghee can be found in our cuisine and even our religious rituals. They’re both used to make sweets that are offered to the gods in our mandir; ghee is used to create the wicks for religious candles; and we wash statues of both the cow and other gods with milk.
But if the cow is a symbol of the earth with its milk denoting the rivers, then why don’t we just wash these statues with pure water?
The main issue I have here is that we Hindus believe in karma and non-violence towards animals and humans (ahimsa). So shouldn’t we all be vegans?
Hindus are not usually vegans, however hard the West want to believe that and push it; they tend to be lacto-vegetarians. A huge surge in yoga and meditation as fashionable has led people to push this view of Hindus and vegans being one, even throwing Buddhists and Jains in the mix.
Cows were part of the family, part of a home, and they offered milk to the home because they’re nurturing like mothers. These cows weren’t harmed; they weren’t in factories or farms with harsh conditions. So according to Hindu belief, they’re still practising ahimsa – they don’t believe that taking a cow’s milk is exploitative. My gran believes this. She has had no exposure to Cowspiracy and the likes. But she’s also had no exposure to violent animal rearing, having grown up in a village where cows were treated kindly, and weren’t separated from their calf.
However, my gran does understand and has made me vegan kheer using almond milk which tasted amazing, and no one even noticed that it wasn’t made with cow’s milk. But at the same time I also found myself accepting non-vegan prashad, and not feeling guilty about it. I shouldn’t feel bad for participating in non-vegan religious practices. But then again, there are ways to make our rituals more vegan friendly. 1) Use oil instead of ghee in the candles, 2) wash statues with water, 3) offer fruit to the gods rather than non-vegan sweets. Seems pretty easy.
Vegans are a minority in my family, and when it comes to religious aspects of our life, I don’t have much of an influence to change the rituals that my relatives have been practising for centuries.
If I were born in India, I’d be a lacto-vegetarian. No doubt about it. I’d also be more religious, understanding our scriptures and what they teach about ahimsa. I’d make my own mind up about veganism (if it ever got to that stage), just as I’m trying to do now.