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            Information: This article was kindly sent to the Anna Kingsford Site by Mr. Brian McAllister. Its first part was published in The Vegetarian News, Vol. I, n° 12, December 1921; and the second part in Vol. II, n°13, January 1922.





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(President of the Croydon Vegetarian Society).



            By “ancients” is understood those who lived in former ages, as distinct from those of our own or recent times, who are classed as “moderns,” from which it is clear that the names of an ever increasing number of persons are constantly being added to the ancients, and no permanent line of demarcation can be drawn between the two classes of persons. The attitude of the ancients, generally, towards that which we understand by “Vegetarianism,” was (at any rate so far as Europeans were concerned) not very different from that of the moderns. That this is so, is evident from the denunciations against bloodshed and flesh-eating which were uttered by the great teachers of antiquity – denunciations which, for the most part, fell on ears as deaf then as they are now to any call to a better and higher mode of life in this respect.


            I propose to consider the opinions on the question of food and feeding and allied subjects of some of the great teachers of antiquity, and of these I shall confine myself to those who lived before the commencement of the so-called “Christian Era.”


            It has been suggested by Mr. Howard Williams in his classical work The Ethics of Diet, that the first move in the West towards abstinence from flesh foods was due to the rules of living which prevailed in the Orphic Societies, which originated about the eighth or seventh century B.C. These rules were ascetic, and “to some extent at least required abstinence from flesh foods.” If this suggestion be true, then to Orpheus is to be ascribed the honour, among other things, of having inaugurated in the West the rule for which your Society stands, and we may regard Orpheus – who lived at the time of Moses – as the Father of the food reform movement in Europe.


            Orpheus is now regarded by many as a mythical personage. By the Greeks he was regarded as the most celebrated of the poets who lived before the time of Homer. According to tradition, he was of Divine origin, and was presented with a lyre by Apollo, and having been instructed in its uses by the Muses he enchanted with its music

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not only the wild beasts, but the trees and rocks upon Olympus, so that they moved from their places to follow his golden harp. Therein lies a parable.


            In the writings of Hesiod, who lived about 735 B.C., and who was one of the earliest Greek poets, we find reference to the age known as “the Golden Age,” and the gradual fall of man from the ideal thereby represented – a fall which was accompanied by violence, bloodshed, flesh-eating, and war – for, of “the Brazen Age” it was said: –


“Bloody their feasts, with wheaten food unblessed.”


            In an interesting book on The Great Initiates, by Schuré (which has been translated into English by Mr. Rothwell, a well-known member of your Society), there is an account of Orpheus, and however mythical some of the stories about him may be, I do not think that there is justification for regarding him as a mythical personage.


            After Orpheus, the next great name in the golden chain is that of Pythagoras, who taught that “those alone are dear to Divinity who are hostile to injustice.” It was said by Iamblichus that “A greater good never came, nor ever will come, to mankind than that which was imparted by the Gods through Pythagoras.” Pythagoras was born in the Island of Samos. He lived from about 570 to 500 B.C., and if Orpheus be regarded as a legendary rather than a historical character, then it may be said – as it has been said – of Pythagoras, that he was “the first historical founder of anti-kreophagy in the West,” and even now, in our own day, after a lapse of over 2,400 years, there are vegetarians who to make known their principles describe themselves as “Pythagoreans,” and their pure, humane, frugal, and bloodless diet as “Pythagorean.”


            Pythagoras regarded himself as one destined by the Gods to reveal to his disciples a new and purer mode of life. He is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest teachers of antiquity. His teaching has endured through the ages, and it is now a potent influence for good in the world. He was a teacher sent from God, a teacher God-inspired. Plato, it is believed, was indebted to him, as have been many others. Not much is known of his life, but one thing is certain, and that is, early in life he travelled far and wide in pursuit of knowledge, his absence abroad extending over a period of nearly thirty years, and in his travels he visited Egypt where he remained over twenty years and where, there is little doubt, he was initiated in the Mysteries. After his return to Samos, he went to Hellas, and while in Atica he was probably initiated in the sacred mysteries of Eleusis. After that, he went to Southern Italy, and settled at Crotona, and it was there that he formed his select Society of non-flesh eaters – the School of Pythagoras – to which women as well as men were admitted. It was a Society which Howard Williams describes as “the first historical anti-flesh Association in the Western World,” and “the prototype, in its religious character, in certain respects, of the (earlier) ascetic establishments of Greek and Latin Christendom.” As with the Egyptian religion and the Eleusian Mysteries, the esoteric method was adopted, and members of his Society were bound to secrecy and silence regarding the Mysteries. Iamblichus says that “many of the mandates of the Pythagoreans were introduced from the Mysteries,” and some things were “learned from the followers of Orpheus.” Pythagoras did not leave any writing recording his teaching. It is, however, known that great stress was

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laid upon the principles of Temperance and Justice – a justice “of all things towards all” – and the Common Life among the members of his community was adopted, all their goods being held by them in common. Iamblichus also says that Pythagoras “entirely abstained from wine and animal food, confining himself to such nourishment as was slender and easy of digestion; his sleep was short, his soul vigilant and pure, his body in a state of perfect and invariable health,” and, regarding offerings to the Gods, he says that he commanded that “no blood or dead bodies must be brought,” for “neither he nor any one of the contemplative philosophers, sacrificed animals.” Pythagoras believed in the transmigration of the soul, and “he commanded his disciples to regard the animals as their friends so as neither to injure, slay, nor eat any of them.” Iamblichus also says that “His particular pupils he ordered to abstain from all animals and certain other foods which were hostile to the reasoning power and impeded its energies.” Others who committed themselves to the guidance of his doctrines might partake of the flesh of certain animals, but they rarely took fish – “They considered that animals innoxious to the human race should not be injured or slain.” “There were many reasons why Pythagoras ordained abstinence from animal flesh, one being because it is productive of peace. Those who are accustomed to abominate the slaughter of animals as iniquitous thinking it more unlawful to kill a man or to engage in war. The most contemplative of philosophers, who had arrived at the summit of philosophic attainments, were forbidden to eat anything animated, or to drink wine, or to sacrifice animals to the Gods, or to injure animals in any way. Pythagoras himself lived after this manner. Those who acted as legislators were required to abstain from animals, for to act truly justly they should not injure kindred animals. Even those whose life was not entirely purified, sacred, and philosophic, and were allowed to eat certain animals, were required to abstain at definitely appointed times and were enjoined not to eat the ear, nor the brain for these are parts belonging to the ruling nature, ladders and seats of wisdom.”


            The following reported sayings of Pythagoras admirably sum up his teaching on the question of food and feeding: –


            “Sacred nature reveals to them [the Students of the Divine] the most hidden mysteries.

            If she impart to thee her secrets, thou wilt easily perform all the things which I have ordained thee.

            And by the healing of thy soul, thou wilt deliver it from all evils, from all afflictions.

            But abstain thou from the meats which we have forbidden in the purifications and in the deliverance of the soul.

            Make a just distinction of them, and examine all things well,

            Leaving thyself always to be guided and directed by the understanding that comes from above, and that ought to hold the reins.

            And when, after having divested thyself of thy mortal body, thou arrivest at the most pure Aether,

            Thou shalt be a God, immortal, incorruptible, and death shall have no more dominion over thee. (1)



(Second part: published in The Vegetarian News, Vol. II, n°13, January 1922.)


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            Contemporary with Pythagoras was the great teacher of India, Sakya Muni, known to us as Buddha (the Enlightened One), whose followers comprise one of the largest religious communities in the world.


            Buddha lived from 590 to 510 B.C. His life and teaching were such that he has been called “the Christ of India.” For general readers, the best account of his life and teaching is to be found in Sir Edwin Arnold’s well-known book The Light of Asia. Buddha came to a country better prepared to receive his teaching (which included a non-flesh regimen) than did Pythagoras, because the Vedas, the sacred books of the Brahmans (the priestly caste), taught that doctrine which was followed by the Brahmans on religious grounds. Buddha proclaimed the doctrine not only on religious grounds, but also as a great moral truth for all, founded on Justice and Compassion. Buddha was born at Kapilavastu, and was the son of a Rajah (or King). Early in

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life he renounced the high position of his birth and all the wealth and worldly privileges which it brought with it, in order to gain Divine knowledge and become a Saviour of men, and he thereupon adopted the life of a mendicant. He then became to Brahamanism what Christ afterwards became to Judaism, a great religious reformer. He began to preach at the age of thirty-six. He attracted disciples around him – his disciples including women as well as men. He broke down all caste barriers; the religion and salvation offered by him was not for the priestly caste alone, but for all who would believe and follow in his precepts. Salvation was for all, without distinction of sex, caste, or race, but each man must work out his own salvation. Buddha’s last words to his disciples were: “Mendicants! I now impress it upon you, the parts and powers of man must be dissolved. Work out your salvation with diligence.” The following texts from Buddhist scriptures, which I have taken from a collection of similar texts to be found in a little book The Imitation of Buddha, make this clear: –


            “Not by birth does one become low caste, not by birth a Brahman; by his deeds he becomes low caste, by his deeds he becomes a Brahman.”

            “Causing destruction to living beings, killing and mutilating, stealing and speaking falsely, fraud and deception, these are what defile a man.”

            “Whosoever harms living beings, and in whom there is no compassion for them, let us know such as ‘base-born.’”

            “In whom there is truth and righteousness, he is blessed, he is a Brahman.”

            “Whoso hurts not living creatures, whether those that tremble or those that are strong, nor yet kills nor causes to be killed, him do I call a Brahman.”

            “In this mode of salvation there are no distinctions of rich and poor, male and female, people and priests; all are equally able to arrive at the blissful state.”

            “Even the most unworthy who seeks for salvation is not to be forbidden.”


            Buddha taught the sacredness of all life, and the obligation of observing justice and compassion to all beings. One of his first acts was to abolish the bloody sacrifices of the Brahmans, and one part of the Noble Eightfold Path, as taught by Buddha, was “right means of livelihood,” and, like Pythagoras, he taught the doctrine of reincarnation. A Buddhist priest is under obligation to abstain from destroying the life of beings, and the use of intoxicating liquors, as well as eating at unseasonable times. The effect of Buddha’s teaching is not confined to his nominal followers. It is world-wide. It is stamped ineffaceably upon modern Brahmanism, and there is little doubt that Christianity has benefited by it. There are those who think that the Christian Gospels are indebted to it. In his Preface to The Light of Asia, Sir Edwin Arnold says: “In point of age most other creeds are youthful compared with this venerable religion which has in it the eternity of an universal hope, the immortality of a boundless love, the indestructible element of faith in final good, and the proudest assertion ever made of human freedom.”


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            Let us now consider some points in the teaching of this Divine man who identified himself with all beings. The following verses are taken from The Imitation of Buddha to which I have referred: –


            “Whether now any man kill with his own hand, or command any other to kill, or whether he only see with pleasure the act of killing – all is equally forbidden by this law” – [the law of Buddha.]

            “My teaching is this, that the slightest act of charity, even in the lowest class of persons, such as saving the life of an insect out of pity, that this act shall bring to the doer of it consequent benefit.”

            “Shall we in worshipping slay that which hath life? This is like those who practise wisdom, and the way of religious abstraction, but neglect the rules of moral conduct.”

            “How can a system requiring the infliction of misery on other beings be called a religious system? To seek a good by doing an evil is surely no safe plan.”

            “Even so of all things that have life, there is not one that [the Buddhist anchorite] passes over; he looks upon all with deep-felt love. This, verily, is the way to a state of union with Brahma.”

            “The Scripture saith: ‘Be kind and benevolent to every being, and spread peace in the world. If it happen that thou see anything to be killed, thy soul shall be moved with pity and compassion: Ah, how watchful should we be over ourselves.’”

            “Hear ye all this moral maxim, and having heard it keep it well: Whatsoever is displeasing to yourselves never do to another.”


            I have said that one of his first acts was to abolish the bloody sacrifices of the Brahmans. The story of his action in this respect is told in The Light of Asia in the following words: –


The King stood in his hall of offering,

On either hand the white-robed Brahmins ranged

Muttered their mantras, feeding still the fire

Which roared upon the midmost altar. There

From scented woods flickered bright tongues of flame,

Hissing and curling as they licked the gifts

Of ghee and spices and the Soma juice,

The joy of Indra. Round about the pile

A slow, thick, scarlet streamlet smoked and ran,

Sucked by the sand, but ever rolling down,

The blood of bleating victims. One such lay,

A spotted goat, long-horned, its head bound back

With munja grass; at its stretched throat the knife

Pressed by a priest, who murmured, “This, dread gods,

Of many yajnas cometh as the crown

From Bimbisâra: take ye joy to see

The spirted blood, and pleasure in the scent

Of rich flesh roasting ’mid the fragrant flames;

Let the King’s sins be laid upon this goat,

And let the fire consume them burning it,

For now I strike.”

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                        But Buddha softly said,

“Let him not strike, great King!” and therewith loosed

The victim’s bonds, none staying him, so great

His presence was. Then, craving leave, he spake

Of life, which all can take but none can give,

Life, which all creatures love and strive to keep,

Wonderful, dear, and pleasant unto each,

Even to the meanest; yea, a boon to all

Where pity is, for pity makes the world

Soft to the weak and noble for the strong.

Unto the dumb lips of his flock he lent

Sad pleading words, showing how man, who prays

For mercy to the gods, is merciless,

Being as god to those; albeit all life

Is linked and kin, and what we slay have given

Meek tribute of the milk and wool, and set

Fast trust upon the hands which murder them.

Nor, spake he, shall one wash his spirit clean

By blood; nor gladden gods, being good, with blood;

Nor bribe them, being evil; nay, nor lay

Upon the brow of innocent bound beasts

One hair’s weight of that answer all must give

For all things done amiss or wrongfully,

Alone, each for himself, reckoning with that

The fixed arithmic of the universe,

Which meteth good for good and ill for ill,

Measure for measure, unto deeds, words, thoughts;

Watchful, aware, implacable, unmoved;

Making all futures fruits of all the pasts.

Thus spake he, breathing words so piteous,

With such high lordliness of ruth and right,

The priests drew down their garment’s o’er the hands

Crimsoned with slaughter, and the King came near,

Standing with clasped palms reverencing Buddh;

While still our Lord went on, teaching how fair

This earth were if all living things be linked

In friendliness and common use of foods,

Bloodless and pure; the golden grain, bright fruits,

Sweet herbs which grow for all, the waters wan,

Sufficient drinks and meats. Which when these heard,

The might of gentleness so conquered them,

The priests themselves scattered their altar-flames

And flung away the steel of sacrifice;

And through the land next day passed a decree

Proclaimed by criers, and in this wise graved

On rock and column: “Thus the King’s will is: –

There hath been slaughter for the sacrifice

And slaying for the meat, but henceforth none

Shall spill the blood of life nor taste of flesh,

Seeing that knowledge grows, and life is one,

And mercy cometh to the merciful.”


            The teachers to whom I have referred are some only of the great teachers of antiquity. There was also, before the Christian Era, the

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poet and philosopher Empedocles, who lived about 450 B.C. He was a Gnostic, and was regarded by his followers as semi-divine. He also exhorted the world to abstain from flesh-eating. “Will you not,” said he, “put an end to this accursed slaughter? Will you not see that you are destroying yourselves in blind ignorance of soul?” There was also Plato. He was a Greek, a native of Athens. He lived 429-347 B.C., and was a pupil of Socrates. Early in life he, like his great predecessors, travelled in pursuit of knowledge, and in his travels he went to Italy, where he became acquainted with the teaching of Pythagoras which he greatly admired, and to such an extent followed that he may be regarded as a lineal descendant of Pythagoras. Upon his return to Athens, at the age of about forty, he established his celebrated Academy where he lectured, and among pupils was Aristotle. Plato was an Idealist, and, from his writings, his sympathies appear to have been with the non-flesh-eaters rather than with the flesh-eaters, for in his Replublic, which deals with the question of dietetics, he favours the vegetarian regimen. Other names might also be mentioned, a reference to The Ethics of Diet (to which I have referred) will supply them, but I have written enough to show that there have been in the past great teachers (who lived before the Christian Era) who with no uncertain voice call to us Moderns – and particularly to our religious teachers – to live purer and more humane lives, and to believe that “those alone are dear to Divinity who are hostile to injustice” – that is, “injustice” as Pythagoras and the other great teachers to whom I have referred understood the term – and, believing, to live up to such belief. “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” “By their fruits shall ye know them.” It is recorded in the Talmud that “Moses and David were appointed by God shepherds of Israel, because they had been compassionate towards the lambs when they were shepherds. God said: “He who has feeling for an animal will be compassionate towards men.” (2) And this I commend to all whom it may concern.





(1) See The Golden Verses of Pythagoras and other Pythagorean Fragments, selected and arranged by Florence M. Firth, with an introduction by Mrs. Besant.

(2) Gleanings from the Talmud by the Rev. W. Mackintosh.