Studying Aggression Against Those Who Don’t Eat Meat

WHY, ONE WONDERS, DO some people—even vegetarians—display such animus towards vegans? Is it really because vegans are insufferable in their “holier-than-thou” smugness and proselytization? Or that a vegan’s presence at a traditionally meat-centric meal disrupts social convention in predominately meat-eating societies? Certainly that would explain a reaction of the moment. But a long-term abhorrence toward all vegans? Not likely.

In an article in Psychology Today, Gorden Hodson Ph.D. describes some interesting results from his lab’s ongoing studies of prejudice and discrimination against vegetarians and vegans in Canada. Some highlights from their work show that, among their subject pool, such discrimination from meat-eaters was on par with expressions of angst towards immigrants and racial minorities. Results also showed that prejudice towards vegans is higher than towards vegetarians; that meat eaters who do show prejudice are less likely to have moral concern for animals; that vegans and vegetarians in Canada feel discriminated against and marginalized, even by friends and family; and that the amount of beef that one eats directly correlates and can predict the degree of one’s anti-vegetarian sentiment.

Social scientist Hank Rothgerber of Bellarmine University in Kentucky considers this phenomenon a defense mechanism. “Basically,” he says, “we live in an era today, at least in the Western world, where there’s more and more evidence, more and more arguments, and more and more books about how eating meat is bad.” The eating of meat has been challenged on many fronts—the environmental toll of animal agriculture, the diseases associated with the consumption of meat, the cruelty of factory farms, the basic ethics involved in killing and eating other sentient beings. It seems the more these messages gain official status, the more challenged the meat eaters feel. Aware they may be judged as callous, cruel, unethical and environmentally irresponsible, they become defensive; and as the saying goes, the best defensive is a good offense. Some devise arguments to justify their practice, and others simply react with rage.

Tellingly, humans seem to be made most insecure by people who live more fully by our own morals than we do ourselves. Psychologist Benoit Monin of Stanford University says some vegetarians feel even more threatened by vegans than meat eaters do.


Namaste for Health!

Better than a handshake: A young girl in Mumbai gives the traditional Namaste greeting. Credit: Shutterstock

IN THESE DAYS OF CONCERNS about COVID-19, the pandemic spread by the new coronavirus, many people are looking for a way to offer a courteous and graceful greeting without the physical contact involved in shaking hands. The ancient Hindu greeting of Namaste has recently been endorsed by both Prince Charles of England and Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.

The Namaste gesture, dating from the time of the Indus Valley, is made by placing the two hands together, thumbs near the chest and fingers pointing upwards. Used as both a greeting and farewell, it expresses reverence for our inner divinity which Hindus consider the essence of the soul. The gesture is usually accompanied by the word “Namaste” (these days, some say, “Namastay safe and healthy”) and sometimes by a slight bow as an additional show of respect. In addition to avoidance of physical contact, the Namaste greeting is appreciated for being free of the power-play aspects of a handshake.

With Johns Hopkins University reporting over 3 million cases and 200,000 deaths worldwide at the time of this writing, and most transmission of the coronavirus believed to be from hand to face, the importance of a handshake alternative seems unquestionable.


Discover the Tiger Caves

The granite Sivalingam in the Tiger Cave’s recently discovered chamber. Credit: Balakumar Muthu

APPROXIMATELY THREE miles from Mahabalipuram, on the shores of the Bay of Bengal some 35 miles south of Chennai is the little-known rock-cut “Tiger Cave,” so called for the eleven fierce tiger-like heads carved around its entrance. Actually not tigers but yalis, ancient mythical guardian creatures, each has goat-like horns on its head. Four steps lead up to the entrance, which is bordered by two pillars carved as standing tigers (or yalis). To the left, two massive elephant heads are carved into the rock. Above each of these is a small square chamber, and inside these are sculptures apparently representing Siva and Parvati, as if riding on the elephants. The cave itself now contains little more than a bare floor. Archaeologists speculate the ruler may have sat in this pavilion—probably much cooler than the surroundings—to give audience or observe festivities.

The cave’s entrance, replete with yali carvings. Credit: Balakumar Muthu

On the same site is a small rock-cut cave temple to Lord Siva, which was only discovered in 2005 after inscriptions on the Tiger Cave were deciphered. Inside is a black Sivalingam, with sculptures of Lord Siva adorning the walls. A small Nandi faithfully faces a tall Lingam in front of this temple. A large stone nearby bears an intricate carving of the Goddess Durga, mounted on Her tiger, slaying demons.

These edifices are variously credited to the Pallava kings Narasimhavarman I (7th century) or Rajasimha (8th century). The site is now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India; admission is free.


Ode to New Zealand’s Youth

THE FOURTH NEW ZEALAND HINDU Youth Conference, hosted by Hindu Youth New Zealand (HYNZ) and New Zealand Hindu Students’ Forum (NZHSF), was held in Auckland on February 29, 2020. The conference attracted over 120 delegates of all ethnicities from around the world, including Fiji, Australia, Malaysia and India. Inaugurating the conference was Jenny Saleza, the NZ Minister for Ethnic Communities, who pointed out that Hindus are the fastest-growing and second largest community in New Zealand. Saleza encouraged the participants to become involved in politics. Offering mentorships and partnerships, she told attendees their faith and community would be a big part of the country’s future. The offer of mentorships was repeated by National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi. HYNZ has created a registration portal for those interested:

Participants at the fourth New Zealand Hindu Youth Conference in Auckland. Credit: NZ HINDU YOUTH CONFERENCE

Five panels, including international guest speakers, addressed a range of topics that included economy, education, politics, media, human rights and engagement with the government. Other sessions focused on effective communication, mentorship and making your voice heard. Various international organizations offered exclusive internship opportunities. Participants took full advantage of chance to network during the day-long program.

It is planned that delegates from this conference will represent New Zealand at the World Hindu Youth Conference in Mumbai this coming December.


The World’s Tallest Sivalingam

EARLY IN JANUARY 2020, THE India Book of Records certified the now-tallest Sivalingam in the country, a 111.2-foot-tall icon at the Maheshwaram Sri Siva Parvathi temple in the village of Chenkal, in the Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala.

An aerial view of the completed monument

The hollow structure contains eight floors. On the bottom floor are 108 Sivalingams, where pilgrims can perform abhishekam. The other seven floors represent the chakras of the human body and are colored accordingly. A spiral ramp leads up through muladhara (red), svadhishthana (orange), manipura (yellow), anahata (green), vishuddha (blue) and ajna (indigo) to the top—sahasrara (violet), a model Kailasam where the pilgrim is treated to the sight of Siva and Parvati in the snow-covered Himalayas. Each floor has a meditation hall where pilgrims can meditate on the respective chakra. Along the walls are murtis, paintings and carvings of meditating monks.

The 111-foot-tall lingam under construction in 2018

Maheswarananda Saraswathy, the spiritual leader of the temple, designed the structure and supervised its construction, which began on May 3, 2012. Incorporated into the structure are soils, rare ayurvedic medicines and water from holy places including Kashi, Badrinath, Gangotri, Gomukh, Gaimukh, Rameswaram, Dhanushkodi and Kailasa. Quoted in a 2018 Times of India article, he explained that the Lingam was constructed primarily to promote meditation: “Everyone now is in a rat race for money and gains. This has disturbed the peace and co-existence in the world. … That’s why we wanted to construct a symbol to foster peace.” Meditation, he said, “helps cleanse our minds of hatred and promote universal co-existence.”

Credit: Times of India