There is an expression, “You are what you eat.” In countries of the East where vegetarianism has been the diet for thousands of years, people recognize that whatever they eat forms a part of their body and also influences their thoughts. They believe that if they eat the flesh of an animal that the mental and emotional vibrations or characteristics of the animal will form a part of their own nature. Today, science is researching the effect that our own stress hormones have on our body and the damage that long-term stress does to our organs. Imagine eating animals whose last days or minutes of life on earth were drenched with the hormones released in their state of fear they were in when they were about to be slaughtered. Those who eat meat are ingesting not only the flesh, but all the hormones of stress that are released due to the animal’s fear as well. Thus, many people brought up in the traditions of the East prefer to live on plant foods, which are more conducive to mental equipoise.
Others can often pick up the effect on our vibrations based on what we eat. To illustrate this, there is an instructive story from the life of a great Sufi lady saint named Rabia Basri. Once when she had gone to the mountains, a group of wild animals- deer, gazelle, and mountain goats-gathered around her. They came and looked at her and stood close to her. Suddenly, her friend, Hasan, arrived. When he saw Rabia he came near her. When the wild animals saw Hasan, they all fled in fear. Hasan was perplexed when he saw this.
He looked at Rabia and asked, “Why did they run away in fear from me while they acted friendly to you?” Rabia asked, “What did you eat today?” He said, “Some onion, fried in animal fat.” She said, “You eat their fat, why shouldn’t they flee from you?”
Many enlightened beings, saints, mystics, and spiritual teachers have traditionally advocated a vegetarian diet for spiritual and moral reasons. For those pursuing a spiritual path, a vegetarian diet is essential for several important reasons. First, spiritual teachers have always taught that we are more than just a body and a mind; we are also soul. They have also taught people the process of meditation to help rediscover our true nature as soul. To help gain proficiency in the spiritual practices, vegetarianism is a helping factor. To be able to concentrate in meditation, we need to be calm and collected. If we eat the flesh of dead animals, our own consciousness will be affected.
In the East, vegetarianism has been considered essential to spiritual development. Spiritual teachers promote a life of nonviolence. Helping factors for spiritual growth include developing the ethical virtues of nonviolence, truthfulness, purity, humility, and selfless service. The vegetarian diet is a natural by-product of nonviolence, in which no harm is done to any living creature. That is why saints through the ages have recommended a vegetarian diet, avoiding meat, fish, fowl, and eggs.