Does being kind to animals mean not eating them?
Hunting animals for meat has a long tradition in human history. In many cultures, however, hunting has become a story from the past as modern farming removes families from the processing of meat, and people become less accustomed to killing and butchering animals. Consequently, hunters have developed a split image as both nostalgic historical figures and as tormentors of animals.
The Baha’i teachings ask us to be kind to animals:
Burden not an animal with more than it can bear. We, truly, have prohibited such treatment through a most binding interdiction in the Book. Be ye the embodiments of justice and fairness amidst all creation. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 87.
This creates a serious dilemma–can we be kind to animals, and still eat them? In various letters, Abdu’l-Baha indicated that if we consider our physical makeup, we have the body parts of plant eaters (we have no claws, for example), and that meat will one day disappear from our diets:
What will be the food of the future? Fruit and grains. The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 453.
Does this imply that Baha’is should abandon the practice of hunting? Should all Baha’is become vegetarians? Perhaps not—Baha’u’llah also provided guidance for Baha’is on hunting:
If ye should hunt with beasts or birds of prey, invoke ye the Name of God when ye send them to pursue their quarry; for then whatever they catch shall be lawful unto you, even should ye find it to have died. He, verily, is the Omniscient, the All-Informed. Take heed, however, that ye hunt not to excess. Tread ye the path of justice and equity in all things. – The Most Holy Book, p. 40.
In response to a question about “the eating of innocent animals,” Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
Be thou not surprised at this. Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. For every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance, nor any slackening whatever. In the physical realm of creation, all things are eaters and eaten: the plant drinketh in the mineral, the animal doth crop and swallow down the plant, man doth feed upon the animal, and the mineral devoureth the body of man. Physical bodies are transferred past one barrier after another, from one life to another, and all things are subject to transformation and change, save only the essence of existence itself—since it is constant and immutable, and upon it is founded the life of every species and kind, of every contingent reality throughout the whole of creation. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 157.
Does this mean that Baha’is should hunt, or that Baha’is should happily eat meat? (This is a case in which the Baha’i teachings, at first glance, may appear contradictory.) But in a word, no. These teachings are not contradictory from the perspective of the spiritual principles at work. The primary principle being: people should be healthy! We need a varied diet to supply us with all the components a human body needs, including vitamins and minerals, protein, fiber and fats.
People in materially prosperous countries may have access to a wide variety of non-meat foods that can comprise a well-rounded diet, but those who live in other countries may not. The Baha’i teachings, intended for the entire human race, leave enough latitude for everyone.
So yes, we should practice kindness to all things, including animals. As we learn more about nutrition and efficient farming, humans won’t need to use animals for food in the quantities we do today. Additionally, it will be less expensive to produce large amounts of vegetables and grains; a critical factor to consider if we are to keep the world’s rapidly-growing population from going hungry.
This illustrates the critical power of spiritual thinking when considering two perspectives of an issue that may appear to contradict one another. This key understanding of the Baha’i teachings can help us navigate today’s world of divisiveness, and avoid the destructive conflagrations that arise over issues in which two sides see no common ground–the eating of meat included. However, with an elevated spiritual understanding, a global perspective that includes all cultures and a focus on human health, we can resolve the conflict.