We have already written an article on Swami Vivekananda‘s quotes and comments on beef eating and cow slaughter. Now we are going to discuss a sensitive topic— did Swami Vivekananda himself eat beef?
There were allegations against Swami Vivekananda that during in his stay in the United States, he ate beef. We’ll discuss the allegations and some scholar’s observations here.
John Henry Barrows’ allegation
Rev. Dr. John Henry Barrows (1847–1902), was an American clergy and was the president of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (1893).
Dr. Barrows told that he observed Swami Vivekananda eating beef in the United states. He also told, right after the close of the first session of the Parliament of the World’s Religion, he took Vivekananda and some other participants to a restaurant in the basement of the Art Institute, there Vivekananda preferred to eat beef.
In an article appeared on The Outlook on 17 July 1897, Barrows wrote—
“After the first session of the Parliament of Religions I went with Vivekananda to the restaurant in the basement of the Art Institute, and I said to him, ‘What shall I get you to eat?’ His reply was “Give me beef !””
Barrows wrote in his book Christian Conquest Of Asia—
I knew how common it was in Calcutta for young Brahmans to go to the Great Pastern Hotel and secretly indulge in a meat dinner. And I knew, also, that the Hindus are accustomed to kill the goat before the hideous idol of the goddess Kali, and that no rational argument could be offered which would make the goat loss sacred than the cow. . . . . . At the close of the first session of the Parliament of Religions, I invited the Swami Vivekananda and other Asiatics to go with me to the restaurant in the basement of the Art Building, and I said to the Swami: ‘What shall I give you to eat?’ and he answered : ‘Give me beef.’ ” This simple remark was a thunder-bolt out of a clear sky. It changed the aspect of the whole meeting, and there were no further remarks about meat-eating.
(Unsurprisingly?) Narasingha Prosad Sil was interested to highlight this is his Reassessment—
In fact John Barrows reportedly observed that in the United States, Vivekananda used to devour beef somewhat ostensibly.
Before we conclude that Vivekananda actually ate beef, we’ll discuss the the relationship between Barrows and Vivekananda.
Dr. Barrows was one of the planners and makers of the World’s Parliament. Nivedita Raghunath Bhide wrote in Swami Vivekananda in America—
Barrows expected that the Parliament would end in the triumphant recognition of Christianity as the best religion in the world. In ‘defence’ of the Parliament idea he cited the example of St. Paul, who ‘was careful to find common ground for himself and his Greek auditors in Athens, before he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.’ There were objections from orthodox quarters as what was the need to listen to heathen faiths. While answering to these objections Dr. Barrows wrote that ‘those who have the full light of the Cross should bear brotherly hearts toward all who grope in a dimmer illumination.’
This wish of Barrows to get recognition of Christianity as the best religion in the world remained unfulfilled. An unknown Hindu monk from India suddenly appeared in the scene and became the best speaker of the Parliament in no time.
We must also note that Dr. Barrows had a “silent debate” with Vivekananda. Dr. Barrows, in his “Review and Summary” of the Parliament, attacked Vivekananda’s idea of “Universal Religion,” and called it a ‘threat’ to Christian supremacy. His concerns were—
- The idea of evolving a cosmic or universal faith out of the Parliament was not present in the minds of its chief promoters.
- They believe that the elements of such a religion are already contained in the Christian ideal and the Christian Scripture.
- They had no thought of attempting to formulate a universal creed.
At the same time Theosophists of the United States and Vivekananda’s “old friend” Brahmo leader Protap Chunder Mazoomdar were campaigning against him.
A disturbed Vivekananda wrote in a letter to Swami Brahmananda, dated 20 September 1896—[Source]
Take no heed of Mazoomdar’s madness. He surely has gone crazy with jealousy. Such foul language as he has used would only make people laugh at him in a civilised country. He has defeated his purpose by the use of such vulgar words.
At one stage Dr. Barrrows even stopped talking to Swami Vivekananda.
Dwijendra Narayan Jha wrote in his book The Myth of the Holy Cow, Vivekananda “vehemently defended his action”. According to Manishankar Mukhopahyay (Shankar), Vivekananda learned about these allegations, but as he was busy with his own mission and some other issues, he preferred to remain silent.
Here we’ll not be able to conclude whether Dr. Barrows’ allegations were true or false, but we must note that Dr. Barrows was not a supporter and well-wisher of Vivekananda and the relationship between him and Vivekananda did not remain friendly and nice always. Also note, it took Barrows almost 4 years to report the restaurant incident. Barrows wrote— “‘Give me beef.’ ” This simple remark was a thunder-bolt out of a clear sky. It changed the aspect of the whole meeting”. If it really was a “thunder-bolt out of a clear sky” and it “changed the aspect of the whole meeting”, why did he remain silent for four years?
You may see the main article too—
- Barrows, John Henery (1 January 2007). Christian Conquest Of Asia (the). Concept Publishing Company. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-81-7268-134-0.
- Bhide, Nivedita Raghunath (2008). Swami Vivekananda in America. Vivekananda Kendra. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-81-89248-22-2.
- Jha, Dwijendra Narayan (2002). The Myth of the Holy Cow. Verso. pp. 145–. ISBN 978-1-85984-676-6.
- Sil, Narasingha Prosad (1997). Swami Vivekananda: A Reassessment. Susquehanna University Press. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-0-945636-97-7