This article is from the book “An Apostle of India’s Spiritual Culture”.
THE question of animal welfare is one that has engaged the attention of all reflective and kind-hearted men for a long time all over the world. Especially, people with a humanitarian temperament and religious bent of mind have taken an intense interest in this question and done a great deal towards minimising the unfortunate but undeniable cruelty exercised by man towards these less-fortunate creatures.
Exercise of such sublime virtues as kindness, mercy and compassion is one of the prime concerns of the life religious, of the practices prescribed for all higher attainments in the religious and spiritual life all over the world.
This question implies two factors. Firstly, it implies the exercise of a virtue: kindness or compassion. Secondly, it also implies the exercise of it towards a special group or a particular section of creatures upon earth.
Taking the first part of this question: it is a self-evident and axiomatic moral principle, and therefore, it does not require much stressing. Why should a man be compassionate? Because it is the human quality. Cruelty and the destructive propensity are recognised more to belong to the beast class which is devoid of intelligence. But man who is an intelligent creature, who knows what is right and what is wrong, who can discriminate between what is virtuous and what is vicious, is necessarily expected to manifest his higher nature, that of a refined and cultured being, belonging to the highest order of creation. As he is made in the image of God, it would be surprising if man were unkind and cruel.
But, unfortunately we find that though countless souls have arisen to the status of the human being in point of outward physical form, yet their evolution has been confined more or less only to this outward semblance; and the corresponding inward evolution in their nature and their subtle selves, is yet to be. Therefore, most of the elements of the lower sub-human planes from which they have just evolved still persist in all their crudeness and intensity and manifest themselves through the outward human form and name. Therefore we find quite a large section of human beings to be quite heartless, ruthless and cruel, and as beastly as some of the worst type of sub-human creatures.
It is in order that this anomaly may be removed and that, as far as possible, the evolved section of humanity may try to hasten the inward culture and refinement, that institutions to inculcate mercy, compassion and brotherhood have been brought into being by the Lord’s Will.
Institutions in the West like the S.P.C.A. have been doing vigorous work in this direction and trying to evolve practical ways and means of making man minimise his cruelty to animals, with whom we have to deal constantly and whose lives are inextricably inter-twined with our own. We have various movements which have sprung up in order to counteract certain specific forms of cruelty perpetrated by man upon these dumb creatures: one of them is the Anti-Vivisection League. We know that the practice of making animals the target of scientific experimentation and research in laboratories, etc., has been in vogue ever since the age of science dawned upon earth. Guinea-pigs, rats, rabbits and almost all domestic creatures are sacrificed at the altar of scientific research and progress. New drugs are tried upon them. They are dissected later on to find out the effect of these drugs upon the internal viscera. Medical Colleges also make use of quite a large number of these animals for their day-to-day anatomy classes. We, in Bharatavarsha, are not so much aware of this aspect of the ill-treatment of animals, because this branch of science has not yet taken deep roots in India; but in the West medical science is taking vast strides day by day. It has shocked the susceptibilities of the Westerner himself. And a hue and cry has been raised against this practice of vivisection of animals in the name of science, and the Anti-Vivisection League has got its branches in many of the Western countries and it is carrying out a vigorous programme of propaganda to root out this practice.
In England we have even Anti-Hunting Bills introduced in the Parliament, so that this inveterate practice of hunting may be recognised as something which does not become a human being and which ought not to remain in civilised society.
The S.P.C.A. has got its branches in India also; and the members try to do what they can to stop cruelty and ill-treatment to Tonga-horses and the bullocks. They are also trying to see if they can stop the practice of sending the old decrepit cows to the slaughter house. As long as the cows give milk, the owner keeps them; and no sooner do they become dry and weak than, instead of harbouring gratitude in his heart for what they had done when they were in good condition, man shows a very devilish trait of ingratitude and tries to sell these poor creatures to the butcher, thereby trying to make a little profit even in the exercise of this vice. Even by ingratitude he tries to get some money. This is the attitude of human beings whose conscience has become blunted by long periods of non-exercise of virtues, forgetfulness of ideals, and the exercise of these vices that go unnoticed.
The S.P.C.A. would be more successful in its attempts if it got more active public sympathy and co-operation, which are unfortunately conspicuous by their absence. As a matter of fact, the work of the S.P.C.A. ought to be the work of the people–to prevent all cruelty to animals is the sacred duty of every human being worth the name. The entire human society should be a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals!
The Jains as a community are a force towards such minimising of cruelty to animals and also towards the positive part of it–the carrying on of actual welfare work in connection with these animals. They encourage and aid the opening of Pinjarapoles where old cows, bullocks and horses, and animals that have become sick, lame or otherwise incapacitated are sent. The public should also take earnest and vigorous steps to establish private-owned veterinary hospitals as another measure of developing positive welfare work. Of course, there are governmental institutions; but it is not very flattering to the public that such humanitarian work should be left entirely to the administration. It should be the pride and privilege of men to sponsor such work through public charity.
In Delhi, the Jain community maintains a unique institution. It is a Hospital and an Asylum for Birds. Even though many human beings may not know it, almost all birds are aware of it. It is a wonderful way in which the birds recognise it as a haven where they will get treatment, kindness and every sort of facility. It is always full. Not only the domestic birds such as the pigeon and the parrot, but every kind of bird resorts to this Asylum. Operations are performed; and sick birds are treated with medicines; and diet also is provided for them. You know there are electric wires and fans in offices in Delhi: innumerable birds get injured in their flight in and out of the city–from small birds like sparrows to big birds like kites. Whoever happens to pick up such injured birds sends them to the Hospital. And, birds which are able to hop up to the Asylum, wherever they are, somehow or the other manage to come and present themselves at the Hospital for treatment. You know birds are migratory creatures. Birds like sea-gulls migrate in unbelievably large numbers, in flocks of thousands. It appears that as they pass over Delhi, it is their practice, if they have got ailing members in the flock, invariably to come and settle down in the Asylum until they are well! The migratory season is a busy season for the Hospital. This Hospital is completely managed by the Jain community in Delhi. It is the duty of others also. This virtue of kindness and compassion is not the exclusive privilege of any class of people; all people should emulate this laudable work of the Jains.
There is a high duty involved in this. We know that the fundamental tenet of Jainism is Ahimsa. But Jainism is only an off-shoot of Hinduism, of the Sanatana Dharma. It is Sanatana Dharma which says: Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah.Sri Vyasa has given us this supreme dictum: Paropakarartham Idam Sariram. We are trying to fulfil in a small measure these two admonitions of our ancient faith-by refraining from cruelty to animals and by using our bodies in bringing about the welfare of these creatures.
We know that the Hindu genius has sought to make the life of man upon earth a process of progressive evolution towards a high and sublime ideal, the ideal of all-round perfection. To this end, they have kept the order of Sannyasa as the glorious consummation of man’s social life here. Sannyasa is the manifestation of all the highest, sublimest, noblest, qualities in man, in their most perfect form possible to man upon earth. A Sannyasin takes the vow of “Abhaya to all creatures”. He takes the vow of working for the welfare of all beings. Therefore, when we take up this work of completely giving up cruelty to animals and the positive work of working for their welfare, we are but fulfilling this prime purpose of the Hindu religion.
In addition to this, we are carrying out the great dictum of Manu: that of cultivating Maitri, Karuna, Mudita and Upeksha towards equals, inferiors, superiors and evildoers respectively. If you want real happiness and peace, this is the wonderful method they have given. Thus, Karuna towards these unfortunate dumb creatures is but fulfilment of this dictum.
Then we also fulfil the sublime admonition of Krishna in the Gita–Adveshta Sarvabhutanam Maitrah Karuna Eva Cha. . . Sa Santim Adhigachhati–“He has no hostility towards anyone. He loves all. He is full of the qualities of friendship and compassion. He attains Peace.” Animals are our helpers and we ought to be their helpers. They are grateful: feed an animal and see how it is grateful to you till the end of its life. We should also be grateful to animals.
What about animals which are troublesome to us? We have to be indifferent towards them; but under no circumstances will we be justified in harming them. By harming them, we debase ourselves.
Before concluding, we shall draw inspiration from some of the sublime, soul-elevating demonstrations of this great quality of love for animals which bygone great ones have given to us. After all, when everything is said and done, we can get the greatest guidance for our conduct in life from the practical examples of saints and sages. It is the most unfailing guide, and the most inspiring and vital spark which enthuses us to live the life of virtue, of divinity. We have before us the sublime example of the Prince-Incarnate of Compassion, Gautama Buddha. You know how Buddha gave us the ideal life of conduct towards animals, when he demonstrated his perfect sense of oneness with them by offering himself at the sacrificial post for the sake of the poor goat to be sacrificed in the Yajna of Bimbisara. Then, you have heard about the noble gesture of King Sibi; in order to save the life of a dove, he offered his own body to the vulture which had come in pursuit of the dove. We have yet another sublime example of the great King Dil. While he is out hunting, he encounters a lion which is about to pounce upon a cow. At once he says: “This should not be victimised by you”. The lion says: “I am hungry”. He replies: “I am here; I offer myself to you to appease your hunger”. This is a lofty example of the feeling we should have towards animals. We have also the practical examples of the saintly beings of Mohammed and Christ. We learn that Mohammed was one of the most compassionate of men; especially he had the softest and tenderest heart for all animals. And, St. Francis was a great lover of animals. To him all animals were like brothers, and their welfare was the thing dear to his heart.
In the present-day itself we had before us the inspiring and powerful example of Gurudev’s own attitude towards creatures. His constant admonition to us was not to harm even the least among the Lord’s creatures however ferocious they might be. At Ananda Kutir, this kindness to all animals is being insisted upon to be actively practised by all inmates. We are forbidden to kill a scorpion or a snake. We are only to try to see that they are removed from the room without giving any pain to them. In the positive way Gurudev showed how we must love all animals, by feeding the monkeys, fish and birds–all these were regularly observed by him, and he insisted that all of us should develop this sublime trait. In our personal way we should try to see that this kindness to animals and working for their welfare is spread in every nook and corner of the land and especially all Grihasthas should try to inculcate this virtue in the hearts of children right from the earliest age. Children have no idea of pain or harm; and, therefore, they are wont to be seemingly cruel. But they do not know what they are doing. Parents should teach the children that they should not harm the creatures in the least. Headmasters and teachers, and all educational institutions, as far as possible, should try to inculcate this virtue in their wards. That is the most effective way of bringing about a generation imbued with this virtue, so that we may construct a world where human beings are filled with compassion.