Castle Medical Center, which is run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, serves only vegetarian fare at its cafeteria. Dr. John Westerdahl and grill cook Brian Arcio recently showed off some of the vegetarian dishes offered, including, from left, a loco moco, quesadilla and veggie burger.

Believers adopt vegetarian
diets as an integral part
of religious relationships

By Mary Adamski

Back in the Garden of Eden, the first humans lived in perfect rapport with God, and, according to several religious traditions, a key facet of that relationship was a vegetarian diet.

"God gave Adam and Eve that diet," said nutritionist John Westerdahl, director of the Wellness and Lifestyle Medicine Center, which opened last month at Castle Medical Center.

He is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which practices what it preaches at the hospital it operates, providing vegetarian choices for its patients and selling only vegetarian fare in the hospital cafeteria.

Church members believe that the Bible establishes God's health laws as well as moral laws, he said. The Book of Genesis states, "Behold, He said, I have given you every herb yielding seed ... and every tree with seed-bearing fruit: To you it shall be for food."

Westerdahl said that only after the great flood, which wiped out all vegetation, did Noah and his descendants begin to eat meat.

The dietary laws adopted by the Adventists are based in the first books of the Bible, which date back more than 2,500 years and begin with the account of Creation and Eden, which, according to Jewish tradition, was nearly 6,000 years ago. In the books of Genesis, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Moses laid out God's dietary rules, which included prohibitions on eating pork, shellfish and all animal fat and blood. The rules are observed today by Orthodox and other Jews.

"We don't say, as Christians, vegetarianism is required for salvation," Westerdahl said, and about half of the church's members are not on a vegetarian diet. But he believes "the Bible is the best book on preventative medicine ever written."

"The element of health and the element of ethics both come into play when we talk about religion and vegetarianism," said Ramdas Lamb, a University of Hawaii religion professor.

"In Judaism and Islam, the dietary restrictions are essentially health-originated," he said, and the ritualization of preparing kosher foods "seems to have health implications and health roots. When you get into Eastern religions, the restrictions have more to do with ethics."

Lamb and Westerdahl will speak at a program on "Vegetarianism in World Religions" at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Ala Wai Golf Course Clubhouse. The program, sponsored by the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii, is free and open to the public.

Lamb said there is archeological evidence -- no animal bones found -- from the Indus Valley that people followed a no-meat regimen in 1500 B.C. "This is the same place where we get (the idea of) reincarnation of souls and the concept of karma. So very early on, we get vegetarianism articulated as the diet because all living beings have souls.

"Killing of any living being is bad karma," said Lamb. "Karma, reincarnation and nonviolence become closely connected."

Those concepts are fundamental Hindu beliefs, and early Buddhists, as well, were vegetarians.

The professor said traditional Chinese Buddhists still are but Japanese Buddhists are not. The vegetarian concept was dispelled in Japan in the 1868 Meiji restoration when Shinto was pushed as the national religion and Buddhism was suppressed.

"You will still see local Japanese Buddhists, if they go to an Obon ceremony or go to a funeral, will probably have a vegetarian meal," Lamb said. "They still understand vegetarian diet as a ritual practice."

Lamb said that the concept of eating a vegetarian diet is well established in western Christianity, too, "an element of monastic and aesthetic traditions."

"The two things we do that most connect us with the physical, material plane are sex and eating. Monastics, hermits, seek to get beyond limitations of the material plane. So celibacy becomes a common practice, and they forgo those foods that tie us very much to the flesh.

Food for thought

Health and spirituality will be discussed at the following free public events:

>> Tomorrow: At 2 p.m., Manoa Japanese Seventh-day Adventist Church — Nutritionist Neal Pinckney will speak on "The Healing Heart Diet."

>> Wednesday: At 7 p.m., Ala Wai Golf Clubhouse — "Vegetarianism in World Religions" will be discussed by John Westerdahl, director of Wellness and Lifestyle Medicine Center, Castle Medical Center; Ramdas Lamb, University of Hawaii Religion Department graduate chairman; Kusha Devi Dasi, president of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Honolulu; and the Rev. Fat Wai, Chinese Buddhist Association of Hawaii.

>> Aug. 26: At 7 p.m., Castle Medical Center — "Forgiveness, the Greatest Healer" will be the topic of a talk by Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, founder of the Center for Attitudinal Healing in California, and Diane V. Cirincione. Reservations are required. Call 263-5400.

"If one is leading an interior, reflective life, it is natural for one to begin to reflect on one's activities, the ramifications of your actions ... and of the diet that you eat," Lamb said. Some of the Catholic monastic orders such as the Trappists have adopted vegetarianism although "obviously, vegetarianism is not a Catholic belief."

Lamb said Pythagoras, a Greek philosopher in the sixth century B.C., taught that a vegetarian diet had to do with ethics, the relationship of humans to other living beings.

Observing a vegetarian diet "starts with the idea of minimizing the burden," said Kusha Devi Dasi, president of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, also a speaker at the Wednesday forum. "We don't enjoy life at the expense of others; we try not to even survive on the expense of others.

"The idea of not killing has extreme significance," she said. "We believe in transmigration of the soul from one body to a more elaborate body the next birth. If we interrupt the life cycle, he has to do over."

The Coelho Lane Hare Krishna temple operates a vegetarian restaurant open to the public at lunch.

Devi Dasi quoted from the 2,000-year-old Bhagavad Gita, a source of Hindu teaching, in which Krishna says, "If one offers me, with love and devotion, a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it." Devi Dasi pointed out, "He doesn't say, 'Offer cow, fish or eggs.'

"Like most religions who say grace, we are acknowledging that it comes from God.

"From the viewpoint of pure consciousness, what he is looking for is purity, our love and devotion. It is very difficult to offer that when violence is involved."

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