DO FOOD HABITS AFFECT CHARACTER FORMATION?


The other day the neighbor maid while sweeping the courtyard accidentally and unawares picked a snake mistaking it for some natural waste. Realizing  the reality she threw the wriggling thing instantaneously with a sharp shrill. It was 7’o clock and my wife was about to depart for her workplace.She turned around to hear the strident voice and took a cudgel to strike the snake. The snake was lying still on the ground as the rough ground was too uncomfortable for it to move on. I was in a quandary, whether to strike or not was the question pestering me. I snatched the cudgel from her and commanded her to leave .

It was there a matter of prestige and pride for me.If I did not strike then all my esteem and prestige would have vanished into the thin air.  My inner voice stood against killing any living being.The external pressure of circumstances, at last, had the last word. For the first time in my life I was about to kill a living thing.(exceptions:mosquito, ants,very small insects and micro-organisms)My mind was unwilling, hands shivering still circumstances trigger me to commit killing in cold blood. I struck with the cudgel right on the hood of he snake. There was no need of another thump. Its tail till wagged. I closely examined the being to know that It carried all the traits of viper.

As for me the event turned the morning rather a moody,murky one. The scene of the wagging tail, wide open mouth of the reptile really had made me sick. The sick mind was not just thanks to the ugliness of the being but comprehensively due to the compunction heaved from the empathy with another living being which also had felt the same pain (any human would have felt) when it was thumped with a cudgel.After all, why humans turn inimical to snakes.His very reflex action is but killing the poor being. In the instant case the reptile was lying on the ground helplessly trying to get out of the rough patches..the maid picking it up inadvertently…. It is striking that the reptile did not strike. In spite of all the curtsy it was mercilessly attacked and killed. Now I understand that mostly the cause of violence is fear. The snakes hiss, bite humans; the humans kills them at the very sight…all this conduct grounded on fear and prejudices.

By any standard killing a snake may be a trivial thing. But as for me it looked like a deviation from my real nature. I have been unacquainted with ways of violence. Nonviolence was there in my blood.Yes, the stress on AHIMSA has been there in my blood, handed down from generations..My mom,Dad,their parents and all their forefathers were supposed to be Swaathikas or good natured, nonviolent people.They were pure vegetarians too! Are we all good natured just because we are pure vegetarians? Are all the ill natured people are so just because they eat non vegetarian food? Does food effect character? If so things would have been easier to reform criminals! The reality is that the seed and the Terrain do equally contribute to the formation of character.I am a pure vegetarian, still I do not think that I am nonviolent to all living beings because of this. Conversely I am a vegetarian due to my nonviolent traits. I have been so from the seed, from the homely terrain. The fact may be that I hold firm to the view that I am part of the whole world, nay! the whole universe where every living being is uniquely entitled to its life and share of resources.It is not just the survival of the fittest…it is the survival of the fittest who can survive the mutations and adapt themselves to the new challenges. Those who cannot adapt will wither away to oblivion.The term ‘fittest’, therefore, cannot be equated with muscle power.

The killing of the snake and the surrounding thoughts have revisited my mind at the glimpse of the sad visage of my young daughter, Surya. She was stunned to see a the sad spectacle of a dying cat. The cat carried no bleeding injury. It was weak and  had limped upto her and then collapsed before her…She had to witness the demise of the cat.The sight had stirred her mind…The feeling of empathy rose high and there were tears in her eyes. After a few words of wisdom I could relieve her of the intense feeling of grief. I was happy to see that my daughter literally takes after me in showing empathy to all living beings as I had taken after all my forefathers. Conversely it is the powerful expression of moral courage. It is never a frailty. My vegetarianism too has deep roots into the soil of moral courage which activates me to choose nonviolent life in every respect, at any cost.

Hence he answer is that the inability is rooted in moral courage and not grounded on the ineptitude of cowardice.The moral courage not to commit violence or an offence which is harmful to other living beings is not there just because of one’s food habits. A person, a vegetarian, may be incapable of perpetrating physical violence on others; but at the same time he may be a person who has no qualms to mentally harass others and that he may have no scruple to commit any sin. Food habits have, therefore, no role in evolving one’s character. The three forms of violence, violence of mind, words and physical deed, are equally harmful to the victims. A perpetrator of violence of the first two types are in no way of lesser culpability than the  third one.

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