Ahimsa & Nonviolence
by Laxmimoni dasi
The proof that there is a soul in a body is consciousness. Consciousness pervades the body and the body is alive...the soul is there. As soon as the soul leaves, consciousness leaves and then the body is dead. This is the same for humans as it is for animals.
We can all see that animals have feelings and relationships just like humans do...some humans have deeper relationships with animals than with other humans. Animals feel pain and suffer when they are treated harshly, starved or hit. Actually I would ask someone who says that animals don't have souls to prove it! I think it would be harder to prove they don't than that they do!
Thank you for your letter. Not eating animals because it's painful to them is only part of the reason that we don't eat meat. There are several reasons.
One is that Lord Krishna eats fruits, flowers, grains, milk and water...and since we offer everything to Him, we offer only those things. Secondly, we have to eat something. And the Srimad-Bhagavatam explains how one living entity is food for another, so in order to sustain ourselves, we eat those things which will suffer the least.
Most fruits are picked without harm to the tree that produces them. Most vegetable species produce many vegetables - picking them only strengthens them; the plant continues its life cycle and eventually dies. Grains are harvested only after the plants have reached maturity.
Most important, there is no bloodshed or violence. If one thinks of one's own emotional response to fear, it is easy to determine that many chemicals enter into the bloodstream when one is afraid. When an animal is slaughtered, such a fear reaction is there, and then the person who eats that meat is eating those chemicals that, in turn, lead to heightened fright and flight response, tension and all kinds of disease.
The human body is far more suited for a vegetarian diet. We don't have large, sharp canine teeth for tearing meat, therefore we have to cook it and spice it in so many ways before it can be digested. Our digestive tract is very long and convoluted; difficult-to-digest foods take a long time to pass through the digestive tract. This food can then putrefy and cause disease. Carnivorous animals have very short digestive tracts and heavy acid secretion to digest raw meat.
Ultimately, if we're trying to be devotees, we want to eat food that enhances the mode of goodness, rather than passion and ignorance. We want to eat food that brings health and good emotions to the body and at the same time can be offered to Lord Krishna for His pleasure so we can take the remnants.
This is just a brief summary, for more information you can look in the beginning chapters of "The Higher Taste" cookbook. There's more detailed information there.
What might cause a devotee to commit suicide and what are the consequences? Can he do that in the name of Krishna?
One may think that suicide will bring relief from the sufferings we're undergoing, But that's not the case. While the gross body dies, the subtle body (the mind, the intelligence, and the false ego) carries our thoughts and desires onward. If one commits suicide, he interrupts his own spiritual progress. We are not meant to take our life in our own hands, disrupting the karmic cycle.
Scriptures say that those who commit suicide will have to suffer in a ghost body in their next lifetime; this means life without a material body, but with material desires. It's a hellish existence and can go on for a very long time. In such a condition, one sometimes desires to take another person’s body in order to dull the pain. Please remember that the Supreme Lord, as the Supersoul, is always with us as a witness. He knows, better than anyone, our unique good qualities as well as the extent of our pain. He is constantly arranging circumstances to purify us. He goes with us from lifetime to lifetime.
Not knowing the plan of the Lord, we shouldn't intervene. Under no circumstances is suicide permitted. We are Krishna’s and this body is His. Although material life can be very painful sometimes, if we persevere and take full shelter of the Lord, we will find there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you are actually contemplating such a thing, please seek professional help.
If the root cause of our suffering is our karma, what about animals? Why does nature's law dictate that one animal is food for another? Why did God create bodies that suffer pain? Who's responsible for the pain of animals? Why should they be born and suffer? Who is enjoying their suffering? Why can't God stop the suffering? If we kill a cow it is wrong but if tiger kills it is nature, but either way the cow is the one who suffers. . .
Laxmimoni dasi answers:
First, karma isn't the root cause of our suffering. The root cause of suffering is our material desire, and our ignorance of our eternal spiritual nature—thinking we are matter and that matter will make us happy. Due to that illusion (the root cause of all our suffering) we work hard to enjoy the material world, and the result is karma. Selfish actions lead to reactions, and reactions—"good" or "bad"—lead us to repeated birth and death, which leads to temporary happiness and to suffering, and the cycle goes on.
The pain of the body comes with the package. The body is matter, and matter gets old, rotten, and dies. In this way, we suffer both mentally and physically. We suffer mentally because we want to enjoy and pain gets in the way. We suffer physically because pain prevents us from doing what we what we want to, or have to do, and that also causes suffering. Yet we still attempt to enjoy—often at the expense of others, such as animals—so we get karma, for which we suffer now and in the next life.
Animals are suffering due to past karma, past material desires, stemming from their attempts to enjoy in some human body before. The animals don't generate karma though; they simply move up the evolutionary scale, undergoing birth and death until they reach the human form. Once there, the soul has choices to make. In the animal forms there are no choices. In that condition, the soul is silent—instinct alone is driving one's actions—and so there are no reactions, just upward movement until they reach the life of choices, which is human life.
That one living entity is food for another in the animal kingdom is just the law of nature in action. To be born as a cow and killed by a tiger involves suffering but no karma. Rather, it's the end of some reaction. Free of that karma, the soul can continue his journey toward human life, where conscious choice determines future suffering and/or enjoyment, and where emancipation from all suffering is possible. If they become Krishna conscious and engage in Krishna's service—which is karma-free—then there will be no more suffering and no more birth and death. When we're engaged in Krishna's service, there is no reaction, no more birth and death, and therefore no more suffering.
You ask, "Who is enjoying the suffering of the animals?" Some people enjoy eating meat. They perpetuate the killing of animals so they can "enjoy" in the present, but in the future those people will suffer in animal bodies—and perhaps get killed by a tiger or a butcher. What goes around comes around. This will continue until we leave the wheel of repeated birth and death.
I hope this is of some help.
Thank you for the articles on cow protection. If we are to establish Krishna consciousness, it is imperative that we live our philosophy and support cow protection by supporting employment of the cows and oxen.
But it doesn't seem we are doing so well in that regard. Looking over the information about the farms, I noticed with interest that only a small number of the cows are actually being milked. For example, at Gita Nagari 2 of 69 were fresh [newly calved and therefore milking], and I suspect that more are dry than retired.
A devotee friend of mine explained to me that it's a matter of economics: the farms simply cannot afford to keep the cows fresh. I heard this with great astonishment. If we as a society are committed to cow protection, then we must arrange for it to make sense economically. Otherwise, as the article pointed out, cow protection will be abandoned.
Every temple, I am sure, uses large amounts of milk products. Why aren't these products of our own farms? My friend pointed out that the temples can buy dairy products from the store for less than what it costs to make them ourselves, because the store products are government subsidized.
But is that an excuse? That means we value dollars above cow protection. As a society we spend millions of dollars a year to distribute books and prasadam because we understand the great need for these programs, even though they may not pay for themselves. Why should cow protection be considered less important?
Many nondevotee vegetarians shun commercial dairy products because these products are linked to the slaughter of calves. Yet we, who profess to champion cow protection, buy these products instead of our own dairy produce because they're cheaper.
This doesn't make sense, nor is it morally sound. Not only should we not buy commercial dairy products, but we should offer our own nonviolent dairy products. Charge what we must, there are people out there willing to pay for it to support the principles they (and we) believe in.
I would like to ask the leaders of our farm communities to make these options available to us. Let us stop voting for cow slaughter with each dollar spent, and let us instead vote for cow protection when we make our purchases.
Hare Krishna Devi Dasi replies:
Historically, we in ISKCON have made the mistake of putting the cart full of milk cans in front of the ox. In other words, over the long term we can't have milk from protected cows without working oxen. Most of us have not yet grasped the need to work the oxen as a basic feature of a sustainable Krishna conscious society. And that’s the reason we're not getting milk from protected cows.
Another crucial point: The Krishna conscious economy Srila Prabhupada describes is a localized subsistence economy based on ox power and cow protection. It's not a centralized market economy that depends on petroleum and a highly technological infrastructure. Ultimately that means that if we don't serve Krishna within ten miles of a Hare Krishna farm, it's unfair for us to demand that milk products from protected cows be shipped to us by petroleum-fueled trucks.
Spiritually advanced people naturally want to avoid foods that support the sinful cow-slaughter industry. And in fact the most practical way to do this is to help work the oxen and protect the cows on a Krishna conscious farm. As Srila Prabhupada tells us, "Agriculture and cow protection are the way to become sinless and be attracted to devotional service."
Finally, those of us who can't directly work on a farm should stick behind those who have dedicated their lives to this part of Srila Prabhupada's mission. We should understand the courage and incredibly hard work of the devotees who make it their priority to care for cows. And we should support their decision to switch from pumping milk into the commercial market in favor of only breeding cows to yield oxen and milk for their communities.
If Srila Prabhupada said that anything is conscious if it feels pain, and even trees feel pain, why do devotees prefer vegetarianism since both animals and plants feel pain and have Krishna in them—apart from the fact that prasadam offered to Krishna is sattvic (in the mode of goodness)?
Every living entity is food for another.
"Those who are devoid of hands are prey for those who have hands; those devoid of legs are prey for the four-legged. The weak are the subsistence of the strong, and the general rule holds that one living being is food for another. ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 1:13:47)
Every living entity has to live, so we take our quota while causing the least amount of harm to any living being. Also Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that He will accept a leaf, a fruit, a flower, and water when offered to Him with love. He gives no indication that He wants dead animals.
Also in the tenth canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam there are many references to His drinking milk and eating milk products such as ghee and panir.
Another point is that we are not actually vegetarians. We are "prasad-ivores"—we only eat what can be offered to Krishna—so we eat what He likes. If things are done for Krishna's pleasure there is no karma.
Another consideration: many—even most—fruits are picked from the tree but the tree remains alive. Grains and vegetables produce their edible portion—the seed or flower—and then die of natural causes later on. So it's not necessary to kill them to take the vegetable. The plant will keep producing until it runs its life cycle. Grains come from the plant after it has died a natural death; so with a vegetarian diet there is much less cruelty even considering the welfare of the fruits and veggies.
I hope this is helpful.
The Krishna conscious standard of truth requires harmony between three departments of authority—shastra (scripture), sadhu (saintly persons), and guru (the spiritual master). If all three agree on an issue, we confidently accept their conclusion as true. If shastra doesn't address an issue, we fall back on the statements of guru and sadhu. If guru has nothing to say on a topic, we're left with statements of shastra and sadhu; and sadhus are sadhus by virtue of their words and deeds being consistent with shastra and guru.
Sometimes sadhus, or even respected Vaishnava acharyas, disagree on an issue, in which case we defer to the verdict of guru. Some shastras—such as the Manu-samhita—prescribe courses of action which ISKCON's founding guru, Srila Prabhupada, have dismissed as impractical for this day and age. ISKCON's history shows various attempts to establish new practices not supported by either shastra or guru; initiating women as sannyasinis is one such example. In such cases, the persons establishing the new practices do so without reference to sadhu or shastra, and simply consider themselves gurus with absolute authority.
Sometimes we hear that "the world has changed since Srila Prabhupada's time," to support doctrines and philosophies that Srila Prabhupada himself didn't advocate. The assumption in such cases is often, "if Srila Prabhupada were here now, he would certainly do X, Y or Z in response to the changed world situation."
We've also heard instances of Srila Prabhupada's disciples expressing doubt that he was fully aware of what was going on in the world, or dismissing certain aspects of Srila Prabhupada's presentation of Krishna consciousness as culturally relative; "Srila Prabhupada said X, Y, or Z because he was an elderly Indian gentleman who grew up in early twentieth century colonial Bengal."
Yet anyone familiar with Srila Prabhupada's modus operandi—especially in regard to instructions he wanted to impress upon his followers—knows that his habit was to explain a point very patiently, from top to bottom, back to front, inside and out, until he was satisfied that the recipients thoroughly understood him. This is why he expressed great disappointment that so many of his students didn't read his books, in which he painstakingly explains the entire gamut of Krishna conscious philosophy.
Srila Prabhupada made many statements in his books regarding milk consumption and cow protection. He clearly wanted his readers to take seriously his exhortations to develop self-sufficient, agrarian communities based on cow protection, because of milk being such an important element of a diet supportive of self-realization. He repeatedly condemns the modern slaughterhouse economy as the root of all the world's problems. He plainly expresses pain at the condition of modern industrial farming procedures, and the harm done to cows in the name of fiscal gain.
Absent from his teachings are any indications that he supported abstinence from milk products as a means of bringing about the desired result of a peaceful, Krishna conscious society. He instead consistently takes the position—as he does on a wide range of issues—of "making the best use of a bad bargain;" that all problems can be solved through promotion and application of Krishna conscious principles, individually and collectively. This, he indicated, is accomplished by working sincerely to develop cow protection programs as part of developing local, agrarian economies, and by offering available cows' milk to Krishna.
Since two of the three departments of authority are silent on veganism—shastra doesn't advocate it as a progressive spiritual principle, and neither does guru (Srila Prabhupada is considered the guiding spiritual master of all devotees in ISKCON)—it is difficult to accept veganism on the strength of sadhu alone. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but personal opinion isn't sufficient for establishing doctrine.
To boycott commercial dairy may seem cow-friendly, but it doesn't address humans' need for milk or how to benefit cows trapped in the dairy industry.
One way to benefit cows is to engage their energy in Krishna's service by offering Him their milk. Anyone can do it. Simultaneously, we can support cow protection programs or otherwise take steps toward creating local, agrarian economies; this includes tilling the land with oxen and offering truly ahimsa milk to Krishna.
Krishna is bhava-grahi-janardana; He accepts only the good from anything offered to Him. When the witch Putana masqueraded as a wet nurse, intending to kill Krishna by poisoning her breast, Krishna not only liberated her from her conditioned body and mind (by sucking out her life), but He awarded her a relationship with Him in the spiritual world as one of His mothers.
Considering this and other statements of shastra (scripture) describing Krishna's affection for cows, as well as Srila Prabhupada's teachings on similar topics, it's helpful to remember that Krishna consciousness is the purifying agent in all things. As Srila Prabhupada wrote to one disciple,
"One of the anomalies of this Kali yuga is that our foodstuffs have been grown with so many chemicals, etc. Actually nothing in this Kali-yuga is pure. The soil is polluted, the air, so many things as well as man's motives, but by firmly establishing our Krishna Consciousness Movement all over the world, such unfavorable conditions can be terminated.
That is our program. So for the present we must tolerate such conditions. Actually, these are material considerations only. By offering our foodstuffs to Krishna with love and devotion, Krishna says he will accept and it becomes spiritually purified because he is the supreme pure. So love and devotion to Krishna is the purifying agent and nullifies all the bad effects of this age of Kali yuga."
The aim of these pages is not to put anyone down, and we're very sorry if that's how you feel. We applaud the sentiments of all reasonable, thoughtful, caring people who are upset about the current state of world affairs and want to do something about it. At the same time, our mission is to promote Krishna consciousness as a practical and time-honored solution to not just one problem, but all the world's anomalies.
Anyone who drives a car is implicated in the exploitation and pollution of the earth. The same is true for anyone who owns anything made of plastic or any other by-product of the petroleum industry. Anyone wearing clothing manufactured under harsh conditions is implicated in the workers' suffering. Anyone who buys bananas or chocolate from a supermarket is implicated in the harsh conditions under which their farmers are forced to exist. Anyone wearing diamonds is supporting the hellish conditions within diamond mines. The list of ways in which we're implicated in others' suffering is quite long; just by breathing or drinking water we unknowingly kill other living beings.
If we want freedom from the cycle of suffering—which we're part of, just by existing in this world—we can either attempt to address all these issues individually or try to find the single underlying cause of all suffering and deal with that. Krishna consciousness aims at uprooting the core problem of material existence as a whole—our forgetfulness of the Supreme Person.
While this may sound simplistic, its implications are far-reaching. For example, if I truly and completely understand myself and all other living creatures to be eternally integral, infinitesimal parts of an infinite, supremely conscious, omnipotent, and supremely benevolent person—who's the ultimate source of all energies and who has made perfect arrangements for our well-being—I may likely experience such a level of contentment and peace that I won't want to cause suffering to anyone else or greedily consume that which isn't mine.
This is precisely the attitude of a Krishna conscious person; everything comes from Krishna, everything has its use in Krishna's service, and since everyone is part and parcel of the Supreme Person, everyone without exception deserves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
That indeed is a "holy" state of mind—and it's easier to talk about it than experience it—but the process of Krishna consciousness is practical, direct, and has a profound effect on the way we see and act on the world. All the most noble aims of veganism, humanitarianism, communism, free trade-ism, or any other ism, can be most completely achieved through the simple and straightforward practice of bhakti-yoga, Krishna consciousness. Believe it or not.
"Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong." (Sri Isopanishad, Mantra One)
- Does some aspect of our personality survive bodily death?
- If it does survive, where does it go?
- Eternal heaven or hell?
- Or perhaps we merge into some sort of spiritual oneness.
- At the end of one lifetime, do we embark upon another?
Some say no. But there are strong reasons for thinking it does. You’ll find some of them discussed later in this article. Meanwhile, here are the basic teachings of the Vedic philosophy, the teachings given by the ancient wisdom literature of India.
According to the Vedic literature, the psychophysical entity with which we now identify ourselves is not our true self. The true self is neither the body nor the mind, nor a combination of both. The Vedic sages tell us that the body and mind are but gross and subtle coverings of the self.
Underlying these temporary coverings, the real self is a spark of spiritual consciousness, eternal and unchanging but temporarily misidentifying itself with matter in the form of the body and mind. And this real self, the Vedic sages
tell us, survives the death of the body and lives on.
There are problems with that.
- It implies that God is cruel—he gives no second chance.
- It implies that God is unfair—he stacks the deck in favor of some souls, against others.
For example, a person born in a good Christian family will get every opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ, put his faith in Christ, and, according to Christian teachings, be saved. But if you’re born in an atheistic or unenlightened family—well, tough luck.
- It leaves no sensible way to explain why people (or, for that matter, any living beings) are born in different circumstances.
Why should one person be born rich, another poor, one healthy, another diseased? If we live only once, it seems the best you can say is “It’s just chance”—which is no explanation at all.
Perhaps. But this seems to presuppose that the soul has its origin in spiritual oneness too, emerges from that oneness as a personal being, and then returns to that oneness again.
This leaves many questions to be answered.
- How and why, from that oneness, would personality emerge?
- Why, from oneness, should a plurality of personal beings appear? Why in so many varieties? And what could determine what those varieties will be?
- And why would the living being automatically return to that oneness again?
The idea that personal beings somehow spring forth from an impersonal oneness runs into problems like the ones mentioned above. But even supposing it’s true, why suppose that at death we automatically merge into oneness again?
Of course, we can speculate that only some of us do, or that we do so only under certain circumstances. But then we’re back to the original question: What happens to the rest of us, or where do we go meanwhile? That is, If personality does survive, where does it go?
The Bhagavad-gita says, “As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”