Esotericism and nutrition

N. K. Roerich

“Ovid and Horace, Cicero and Diogenes, Leonardo da Vinci and Newton, Byron, Shelley, Schopenhauer, as well as L. Tolstoy, I. Repin, St. Roerich – you can list many more famous people who were vegetarians.” So said the culturologist Boris Ivanovich Snegirev (b. 1916), full member of the Philosophical Society of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in 1996 in an interview on the topic “Ethics of Nutrition” in the Patriot magazine.

If this list mentions “St. Roerich”, that is, the portrait and landscape painter Svyatoslav Nikolaevich Roerich (born 1928), who lived in India since 1904. But not about him and his vegetarianism in the future will be discussed, but about his father Nicholas Roerich, painter, lyricist and essayist (1874-1947). From 1910 to 1918 he was the chairman of the artistic association “World of Art” close to symbolism. In 1918 he emigrated to Finland, and in 1920 to London. There he met Rabindranath Tagore and through him got acquainted with the culture of India. From 1928 he lived in the Kullu Valley (eastern Punjab), from where he traveled to Tibet and other Asian countries. Roerich’s acquaintance with the wisdom of Buddhism was reflected in a number of books of religious and ethical content. Subsequently, they were united under the general name “Living Ethics”, and Roerich’s wife, Elena Ivanovna (1879-1955), actively contributed to this – she was his “girlfriend, companion and inspirer.” Since 1930, the Roerich Society has existed in Germany, and the Nicholas Roerich Museum has been operating in New York.

In a brief autobiography written on August 4, 1944 and appearing in the magazine Our Contemporary in 1967, Roerich devotes two pages, in particular, to fellow painter I. E. Repin, who will be discussed in the next chapter; at the same time, his vegetarian lifestyle is also mentioned: “And the very creative life of the master, his ability to work tirelessly, his departure to the Penates, his vegetarianism, his writings – all this is unusual and large, gives a vivid image of a great artist.”

N.K. Roerich, it seems, can only be called a vegetarian in a certain sense. If he almost exclusively promoted and practiced a vegetarian diet, this is due to his religious beliefs. He, like his wife, believed in reincarnation, and such a belief is known to be a reason for many people to refuse animal nutrition. But even more important for Roerich was the idea, widespread in some esoteric teachings, of the various degrees of purity of food and the effect that the latter has on the mental development of a person. The Brotherhood (1937) says (§ 21):

“Any food containing blood is harmful to subtle energy. If mankind refrained from devouring carrion, then evolution could be accelerated. Meat lovers tried to remove the blood from the meat <…>. But even if the blood is removed from the meat, it cannot be completely freed from the radiation of a powerful substance. The rays of the sun eliminate these emanations to a certain extent, but their dispersion in space causes no small harm. Try an experiment near a slaughterhouse and you will witness extreme insanity, not to mention creatures sucking on exposed blood. No wonder blood is considered mysterious. <...> Unfortunately, governments pay too little attention to the health of the population. State medicine and hygiene are at a low level; medical supervision is not higher than the police. No new thought penetrates these outdated institutions; they only know how to persecute, not to help. On the way to brotherhood, let there be no slaughterhouses.

In AUM (1936) we read (§ 277):

Also, when I indicate vegetable food, I protect the subtle body from soaking with blood. The essence of blood very strongly permeates the body and even the subtle body. Blood is so unhealthy that even in extreme cases We allow meat dried in the sun. It is also possible to have those parts of animals where the substance of the blood is completely processed. Thus, vegetable food is also important for life in the Subtle World.

“If I point to vegetable food, it is because I want to protect the subtle body from blood [i.e. the body as a carrier of spiritual forces connected with that light. – P.B.]. Emanation of blood is very undesirable in food, and only as an exception We allow meat dried in the sun). In this case, one can use those parts of the body of animals in which the blood substance has been thoroughly transformed. Thus, plant food is also important for life in the Subtle World.”

Blood, you need to know, is a very special juice. It is not without reason that Jews and Islam, and partly the Orthodox Church, and besides them, various sects prohibit its use in food. Or, as, for example, Turgenev’s Kasyan, they emphasize the sacred-mysterious nature of blood.

Helena Roerich quoted in 1939 from Roerich’s unpublished book The Aboveground: But still, there are periods of famine, and then dried and smoked meat is allowed as an extreme measure. We are strongly opposed to wine, it is just as unlawful as a drug, but there are cases of such unbearable suffering that the doctor has no other way than to resort to their help.

And at the present time in Russia there is still – or: again – there is a community of Roerich’s adherents (“Roerichs”); its members partly live on a vegetarian basis.

The fact that for Roerich the motives for the protection of animals were only partly decisive, becomes, among other things, evident from a letter written by Helena Roerich on March 30, 1936 to a doubting seeker of truth: “Vegetarian food is not recommended for sentimental reasons, but mainly because for its greater health benefits. This refers to both physical and mental health.

Roerich clearly saw the unity of all living things – and expressed it in the poem “Do not kill?”, Written in 1916, during the war.

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