Question from a student: As a Hindu living in the U.S., should I remain a vegetarian? If I include meat in my diet there are so many more choices in restaurant menus. Also, when I go to parties I feel awkward telling the host that I can’t eat many of their meat dishes. It is really uncomfortable. I see many of my Indian friends eating meat and fish and caviar and whatever is available and I feel they are more accepted socially in the western culture and that will help them get ahead professionally as well and make more money. As an American born in India, I feel very conflicted about this whole vegetarianism issue. There is pressure from my family to remain a vegetarian but my friends who are not vegetarians are having a better time at my college it seems.
A seeker asks: In Hinduism, there is a belief in reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation is that when the body dies, I will be born again. However, we are taught to pursue Moksha (salvation) which puts an end to the cycle of birth and death. As a Hindu, why should I pursue Moksha? Is that not a permanent death forever? At least with reincarnation, I have a chance to be reborn. Perhaps I will get to meet old girl friends in my next birth and go to Las Vegas and Bombay again. But if I get Moksha, according to Hindu teachings, I will never be reborn. That is scary, is it not? Why should I then seek Moksha as stated in our scriptures? How does this idea of Moksha as salvation or liberation make any sense?
Editor’s note: Moksha in Hinduism is not viewed as permanent death but an awakening into eternal life. Moksha is essentially the recognition that one’s very nature is that of freedom and wholeness. The questioner’s presumption that his next life would be according to present desires or expectations (going to Las Vegas or Bombay with his old girlfriends) is not consistent with the doctrine of Karma. According to the doctrine of karma, the next birth is determined by a combination of actions taken in previous lives and the present life. The merits and demerits generated thus will determine future experiences of pleasures and pains. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the expectations to be with specific individuals and repeat pleasurable experiences would come to fruition in the next life. Although the seeker premises the question on a faulty understanding of the ancient teachings on karma and reincarnation, Dr. Subramanian clarifies logically the nature of Moksha and why it is considered the most worthy goal in Hinduism.
As a way of introduction,Dr. Shyam Subramanian is a professor of medicine and also well trained in the classical traditions of Vedanta. Shyam-Ji’s knowledge of Sanskrit and understanding of subtle truths of the Upanishads makes him a brilliant exponent of various Eastern philosophies and religions from a Vedantic perspective. His writing is clear and easy to follow and very helpful for the novice and the advanced students of Hindu philosophy. If any errors have crept in Shyam-Ji’s presentation due to my minor editing, these will be corrected as soon as pointed out.