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Ahimsa & Nonviolence

How can I prove to someone that animals have souls?

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!

Animals and plants are both living beings, so why do vegetarians (and Krishna devotees) think hurting animals is bad but killing and eating plants is OK?

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.

Hope this is helpful.
Laxmimoni dasi

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.

Questions about karma, animals, and suffering. . .

Full Question(s):

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.
Laxmimoni dasi

Shouldn't devotees avoid drinking cow milk from cruel factory farms?

It's true that the dairy industry is extremely degraded. It's best to take milk—or any dairy products—from protected cows. However, when asked this same question, Srila Prabhupada said, "What to do? Krishna must have milk!"

We can understand that these poor animals have a life of great suffering as a result of karma, past sinful activities. Their greatest—and perhaps only—solace is to make an offering to Krishna. If they're not able to do that, how will they become released from the pangs of birth and death before going through many more hellish lifetimes? The cows whose milk is offered to the Lord are blessed. They will benefit from that offering. We certainly don't sanction the way these cows are treated, but we don't consider refusing to accept their milk a more humane or spiritually enlightened proposal.

Imagine if inmates of a concentration camp were making some craft for selling in order to advance themselves. Would you refuse to buy those products because they were in a concentration camp? Wouldn't it be better to help those people by making their lives worthwhile and allowing them to offer some small, valuable gift?

That gift, for the cows, is their milk—offered to Krishna.

Should ISKCON make dairy products from protected cows commercially available?

Full question:

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.

Since both animals and plants feel pain, why are Krishna devotees vegetarian?

Full question:

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)?

Our answer:

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.
Laxmimoni dasi