All major religious scriptures enjoin man to live without killing unnecessarily. The Old Testament instructs, “Thou shal not kill.” (Exodus 20:13) This is traditionally misinterpreted as referring only to murder. But the original Hebrew is lo tirtzach, which clearly translates “Thou shalt not kill.” Dr. Reuben Alcalay’s Complete Hebrew/English Dictionary says that the word tirtzach, especially in classical Hebrew usage, refers to “any kind of killing,” and not necessarily the murder of a human being.

Although the Old Testament contains some prescriptions for meat-eating, it is clear that the ideal situation is vegetarianism. In Genesis (1:29) we find God Himself proclaiming, “Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing tree, in which the fruit of the tree yielding seed, it unto you shall be for meat.” And in later books of the Bible, major prophets condemn meat-eating.

For many Christians, major stumbling blocks are the belief that Christ ate meat and the many references to meat in the New Testament. But close study of the original Greek manuscripts shows that the vast majority of the words translated as “meat” are trophe, brome, and other words that simply mean “food” or “eating” in the broadest sense. For example, in the Gospel of St. Luke (8:55) we read that Jesus raised a woman from the dead and commanded to give her meat. The original Greek word translated as “meat” is phago, which means only “to eat.” The Greek word for meat is kreas (“flesh”), and it is never used in connection with Christ. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any direct reference to Jesus eating meat. This is in line with Isaiah’s famous prophecy about Jesus’s appearance, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.”

In Thus Spake Mohammed (the translation of the Hadith by Dr. M. Hafiz Syed), the disciples of the prophet Mohammed ask him, “Verily are there rewards for our doing good to quadrupeds, and giving them water to drink?” Mohammed answers, “There are rewards for benefiting every animal.”

Lord Buddha is known particularly for His preaching against animal killing. He established ahimsa (nonviolence) and vegetarianism as fundamental steps on the path to self-awareness and spoke the following two maxims, “Do not butcher the ox that plows thy fields,” and “Do not indulge a voracity that involves the slaughter of animals.”

The Vedic scriptures of India, which predate Buddhism, also stress nonviolence as the ethical foundation of vegetarianism. “Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures,” states the Manu-samhita, the ancient Indian code of law, “Let one therefore shun the use of meat.” In another section, the Manu-samhita warns, “Having well considered the disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of corporeal beings, let one entirely abstain from eating flesh.” In the Mahaharata (the epic poem which contains 100,000 verses and is said to be the longest poem in the world), there are many injunctions against killing animals. Some examples: “He who desires to increase the flesh of his own body by eating the flesh of other creatures lives in misery in whatever species he may take his birth.”;”Who can be more cruel and selfish than he who augments his flesh by eating the flesh of innocent animals?”; and “Those who desire to possess good memory, beauty, long life with perfect health, and physical, moral and spiritual strenght, should abstain from animal food.”

All living entities possess a soul. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna describes the soul as the source of consciousness and the active principle that activates the body of every living being. According to the Vedas, a soul in a form lower than human automatically evolves to the next higher species, ultimately arriving at the human form. Only in the human form of life can the soul turn its consciousness towards God and at the time of death be transferred back to the spiritual world. In both the social order and the universal order, a human being must obey laws.

In his Srimad-Bhagavatam purports, Srila Prabhupada says, “All living entities have to fulfill a certain duration for being encaged in a particular type of material body. They have to finish the duration allotted in a particular body before being promoted or evolved to another body. Killing an animal or any other living being simply places an impediment in the way of his completing his term of imprisonment in a certain body. One should therefore not kill bodies for one’s sense gratification, for this will implicate one in sinful activity.” In short, killing an animal interrupts its progressive evolution through the species, and the killer will invariably suffer the reaction for this sinful behavior.

In the Bhagavad-Gita (5.18), Krishna explains that spiritual perfection begins when one can see the equality of all living beings, “The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana (a priest), a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater (outcaste).” Krishna also instructs us to adopt the principles of spiritual vegetarianism when He states, “Offer Me with love and devotion a fruit, a flower, a leaf, or water, and I will accept it.”