A correspondent asks:
I do not remember having said it was wrong to kill a water bug: hence there is no conclusion to be made from that to the question of feeding on animals, so far as I am concerned.
The questions of right and wrong are somewhat mixed on this subject. If one says it is morally wrong to kill a water bug, then it follows that it is wrong to live at all, inasmuch as in the air we breathe and the water imbibed there are many millions of animals in structure more complicated than bugs. Though these are called infusoria and animalculae, yet they are living, moving beings as much as are bugs. We draw them in and at once they are destroyed, slain to the last one. Shall we therefore stop living? The whole of life is a battle, a destruction and a compromise as long as we are on the material plane. As human beings we have to keep on living, while in our destructive path millions of beings are hourly put to death. Even by living and earning a living each one of us is preventing some one else from doing the same, who, if we were dead, might step into our shoes. But if we abandoned the fight - were we, indeed, able to so do - then the ends of evolution could not be attained. Hence we have to stay and endure what Karma falls from the necessary deaths we occasion.
So the true position seems to me to be this, that in certain environments, at certain stages of evolution, we have to do an amount of injury to others that we cannot avoid. So while we thus live we must eat, some of flesh and others of the vegetable. Neither class is wholly right or wrong. It becomes a wrong when we deliberately without actual need destroy the lives of animals or insects. So the man who was born in a family and generation of meat-eaters and eats the meat of slaughtered animals does less wrong than the woman who, though a vegetarian, wears the feathers of slaughtered birds in her hats, since it was not necessary to her life that such decoration should be indulged in. So the epicure who tickles his palate with many dishes of meats not necessary for sustentation is in the same case as the woman who wears bird's feathers. Again as to shoes, saddles, bridles, pocketbooks, and what not, of leather. These are all procured from the skins of slain animals. Shall they be abolished? Are the users of them in the wrong? Any one can answer. Or did we live near the north pole we would be compelled to live on bears' and wolves' meat and fat. Man, like all material beings, lives at the expense of some others. Even our death is brought about by the defeat of one party of microbes who are devoured by the others, who then themselves turn round and devour each other.
But the real man is a spirit-mind, not destructible nor destroying; and the kingdom of heaven is not of meat nor of drink: it cometh not from eating nor refraining- it cometh of itself. - ED
Path, March, 1892