It is a common metaphysical question to ask, “If all living
entities are spiritually equal, then why is it acceptable to
eat grains, vegetables, etc., and not meat? Aren’t
vegetarians guilty of killing vegetables?” In response, it
may be pointed out that vegetarian foods such as fruits,
nuts, milk, and grains do not require any killing. But even
in those cases where a plant’s life is taken, the pain
involved is much less than when an animal is slaughtered,
because the plant’s nervious system is less developed.
Clearly there is a vast difference between pulling a carrot
out of the ground and killing a lamb. But still, one must
undoubtedly suffer karmic reactions even for killing plants.
For this reason, Lord Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita that
not only should man eat only vegetarian foods, but he should
also offer these eatables to Him. If we follow this process
of sacrifice, of offering our foodstuffs to God, the Supreme
Lord, Krishna, protects us from any karmic reactions
resulting from the killing of plants. Otherwise, according
to the law of karma, we are personally responsible. The Gita
states, “The devotees of the Lord are released from all sins
because they eat food that is offered first for sacrifice.
Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment,
verily eat only sin.”
Srila Prabhupada, the guru and Founder-Acharya of the Hare
Krishna movement, elaborates on this principle of spiritual
vegetarianism. “Human beings are provided with food grains,
vegetables, fruits, and milk by the grace of the Lord, but
it is the duty of human beings to acknowledge the mercy of
the Lord. As a matter of gratitude, they should feel obliged
to the Lord for their supply of foodstuff, and they must
first offer Him food in sacrifice and then partake of the
remnants.” By eating such sanctified food – prasadam – one
is protected from karmic reactions and advances spiritually.