Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” According to the Vedas, nonviolence should extend beyond our relationships with other human beings to include all living creatures. There is a Sanskrit phrase, para duhkha duhkhi, which means “empathy”: to feel pain when others suffer and joy when they’re happy.

Wherever there is life, the soul is present, and the soul is a part of the Supreme Soul. Species other than humans may not share the same type of intellect as humans, but all sentient beings feel; that is, after all, what it means to be sentient. In their own ways and according to whatever body they inhabit, they enjoy and they suffer as we do. They also cherish their lives and in the case of many species, especially the ones we tend to eat, the lives of their offspring too. As the most developed of all forms of life, humans are meant to be caretakers of the environment and the world’s other living beings. Understanding and practicing this principle is ahimsa—not just nonviolence but empathy and compassion—and it is a basic tenet in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, sacred to the Bodhisattva dharma of Buddhism, and inherent within the Golden Rule of the Judeo-Christian faiths. It is also rominent in bhakti teachings. To be genuinely compassionate, to feel another’s suffering as your own, to make the serious, lifelong attempt, as far as possible, not to inflict pain on any living being, directly or indirectly, through our actions, words, or thoughts, is ahimsa.

The principle of ahimsa underscores the importance of a compassionate diet. The unnecessary suffering caused by killing animals for food is not only heartbreaking but creates serious negative karma for those associated with the killing, and on a collective scale, it affects almost everyone in the world due to its widespread effects. So in the spirit of compassion, bhakti practice encourages a vegetarian diet. As our consciousness expands, it’s natural that we become more sensitive to how we honor our relationships with other life-loving beings. The higher our ideals are and the more we’re willing to live by them, the more meaningful and fulfilling our lives become.

Without it we die. On a deeper level, what we eat affects our consciousness and therefore our spiritual development. Preparing, serving, and eating food can be a powerful meditation, and while performing these functions bhakti yogis remember that the food itself has come from the gifts the Supreme has given the earth, including sunshine, rain, seeds, and the intelligence to know what to gather for our health.


Food is a blessing central to health and enjoyment. As mentioned previously bhakti yogis offer their food to the Supreme Being and thus eat a sanctified vegetarian diet that adds spiritual well-being to the other blessings food brings.

This sanctified food is called prasada, or “divine mercy.” In India, millions of people keep altars in their homes. They cook with the thought that they are preparing food for the Supreme as an act of love, and then place what they’ve cooked on a plate kept separate for the offering and ask God to accept it. Their prayerful offering, accepted by the Beloved, transforms the food into prasada, which they then share with their families. As the bhakti culture has spread all over the world, people worldwide now follow this timeless tradition. Even when traveling, one can offer food with a quiet prayer before eating it. The transformative element is love of God: we are offering not only food but also our gratitude and devotion. Bhakti reorients our relationship with food by turning cooking and eating into spiritual practices. On the most fundamental level, food is sacred because it comes from nature and sustains us.