“As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.21)
The mistreatment of animals is often a bone of contention between the followers of the different religious traditions of the world. Though the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God and ultimate synopsis on Vedic teachings, informs us that the soul can never be killed by anyone, mankind still does not have license to go on an unnecessary killing spree. Not only should our fellow man be afforded the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but so should the animal community. When one is free of the effects of intoxication and unnecessary animal slaughter, they can take the necessary steps towards the ultimate objective in life: reviving one’s dormant God consciousness.
When Lord Krishna – the Supreme Personality of Godhead and all-attractive, original form of the Lord – declares in the Bhagavad-gita that the sober person, the self-realized soul, is not bewildered by the various changes of the body, it would stand to reason that avoiding intoxication would similarly play an important role in the acquisition of knowledge. For example, most of us would agree that performing the essential functions of life would be made much more difficult if we were intoxicated while performing them. Drunk driving is a perfect illustration of this. Driving is a dangerous enough activity, but when the motor functions of the driver are impaired due to inebriation, the car essentially turns into a loose cannon, the most dangerous of weapons. Not only do drunk drivers harm themselves, but they often kill other innocent drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Therefore we can logically conclude that the importance of sobriety only increases with the difficulty of the task.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)
The most difficult task in this world is the altering of consciousness. The Bhagavad-gita states that whatever consciousness we possess at the time of death is the state we will attain to in the next life. This information provides much more clarity in explaining the different circumstances that we are born into. The plight of the poor and the downtrodden is often bemoaned by the kind-hearted and noble souls whose ultimate aim is to enjoy life. After all, the neophyte understanding of religion follows the conclusion that man is put on earth to enjoy while at the same time pledging allegiance to a specific spiritual figure. After enjoying for some time on earth, the individual goes to heaven automatically at the time of death.
Such a mindset represents an immature thought process because it fails to account for the individuals who don’t even make it out of the womb of their mothers. If the point of life – a life which apparently can only be instantiated once through all of history – is to enjoy, how does that square with those who are born in rotten circumstances? How does this purpose of enjoyment explain all the suffering that is endured? Moreover, the methods of enjoyment certainly do vary, so what can actually be deemed as an enjoyable life experience? For example, one person may be very wealthy but at the same time always miserable due to worries of losing their savings, business, or lavish lifestyle. On the flip side, another person may be a simple farmer who sits quietly all day in peace, not bothering anyone. According to the angle of vision of those who subscribe to the material enjoyment philosophy of life, the farmer is deemed to be less satisfied than the wealthy businessmen; yet in reality just the opposite situation is seen.
Enjoyment and happiness come from consciousness rather than simple acquisitions, relationships, and personal circumstances. Moreover, this consciousness is perpetual; it remains with the individual at all times. Since the individual goes through many lifetimes on earth, its identity comes from the soul rather than the body. The soul has consciousness, a mindset which carries it to its next life.
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.18)
These are facts of science and not just dogmatic principles exclusive to the Bhagavad-gita. Indeed, evidence of the effects of consciousness are already visible in our daily lives. Not only does consciousness determine our happiness and distress, but it also drives our activities. Since our activities lead to interactions with nature, the outer covering of the soul, or the body, must go through changes. So we see that the changes to the body are actually driven by consciousness. At the time of death, this mindset, which is full of desires, is measured, and a commensurate new body is immediately provided for the soul.
Since consciousness is more important than the activities the body takes up, the aim of life is to purify our way of thinking. Simply enjoying the senses surely isn’t enough to provide ultimate satisfaction, for it does little to purify our consciousness. If our mindset is not purified by the time of death, we are guaranteed to receive a new body in the next life and start all over again in our attempts at purification.
The first requirement for understanding these basic concepts of spiritual life is sobriety. While intoxication hampers our attempts to understand high philosophy, another activity is equally as inhibiting. This activity is the unnecessary killing of innocent animals, which manifests today through the existence of slaughterhouses. In the Vedic system, amongst the highest class of transcendentalists, the brahmanas, if another person is known to be a meat-eater or a regular drinker of alcohol, they are referred to by derogatory terms such as mleccha and yavana. Notice that the brahmanas don’t apply these labels based on a person’s wealth, social standing, or physical appearance. A person could be living in the most downtrodden of circumstances and still maintain their purity, provided that they refrain from these two most damaging of activities. A brahmana, a saintly man who understands the spiritual equality of all forms of life, strictly refrains from eating meat and drinking alcohol because of the effects these activities have on consciousness and the ability to understand the differences between matter and spirit.
“The word yavana means ‘meat-eater.’ Anyone from a meat-eating community is called a yavana. One who does not strictly observe the Vedic regulative principles is called a mleccha.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya, 18.213 Purport)
Ironically enough, some of the world’s most prominent religious traditions see no problem with slaughterhouses. It is one thing for people in general to not have issues with meat eating, for the majority of meat eaters don’t have to personally kill the animals. If they did, many of them would not be able to do so. It is much easier to eat the flesh of an animal that somebody else killed rather than to actually take the knife to the animal’s throat yourself. The heart of the issue lies with the religious leaders. As mentioned before, bona fide brahmanas – those who exhibit the qualities of peacefulness, knowledge, forgiveness, and devotion to God – expressly refrain from meat eating. Since they know that all forms of life have a soul in them, they understand that there is no reason to take to unnecessary animal killing. Moreover, adherence to this restriction is not dependent on the actions of others. For instance, if ninety-nine percent of society were to take to animal killing and intoxication, the true brahmana still wouldn’t budge on the issue. It is for this reason that the brahmanas are deemed as the spiritual leaders of society, the standard bearers for purity in religious practice.
“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.21)
In the same vein, if a spiritual leader has no problem with unnecessary animal killing, others most certainly won’t either. A good leader is one who sets the bar high so that others will have lofty expectations and goals to shoot for. Surely giving up meat eating would be difficult for those who are accustomed to it, but there is no chance of the practice stopping if the leaders of a particular spiritual movement are staunch meat eaters themselves. A Christian is one who believes in and follows the teachings of Lord Jesus Christ. One would be hard pressed to imagine Jesus ever opening up a slaughterhouse where innocent cows were killed by the millions each year. Yet this is precisely what occurs today, with the intellectually vacant argument of animals not having souls given as justification. The idea of animals being soulless is directly contradicted by the leaders themselves. For example, the killing of cats and dogs is strictly prohibited on the grounds of inhumane treatment of animals. Michael Vick, the infamous NFL quarterback, was vilified in public and eventually sent to jail for his violent behavior towards dogs. Moreover, the killing of infants, who are less intelligent than many animals, is also prohibited. If cats and dogs are without souls, then what is the harm in killing them?
The flawed arguments are put forth out of the strong desire to satisfy the tongue. As mentioned before, the aim of life is to purify one’s consciousness, so strict rules and regulations don’t always have to be followed to achieve a higher level of understanding. But at the same time, when stumbling blocks are encountered, especially by those who are accustomed to sense gratification, they must be removed. The demands of the tongue represent one of the greatest hindrances towards the acquisition of spiritual knowledge. For this reason teachers in the Vedic tradition advise everyone to put forth their best effort at controlling this vital organ, the tongue. By abstaining from eating animal flesh, not only does one’s karma improve, but so does their sobriety. A person who respects innocent forms of life will have a clearer mind that is more capable of understanding the constitutional position of the soul, the differences between matter and spirit, and the ultimate favorable condition in life.
The Vedas inform us that the Supreme Divine Entity is a person who has a transcendental and blissful body. Not only does He possess a form, but He has a transcendental realm, a kingdom of Godhead if you will. One whose consciousness is fixed on this Divine Entity at the time of death immediately ascends to the spiritual sky. Just as there is variety in the present world amongst different life forms which all take their identities from the spirit soul within, so the spiritual world is full of transcendental variegatedness. In Krishna’s favorite abode, Goloka Vrindavana, there are many transcendental species besides human beings. Cows are especially prominent in this land, as are deer, butterflies, and a host of other animals. In this way, we see that the Supreme Lord Himself has respect for all forms of life. If we follow His teachings and His example, we can reach the ultimate destination. The first step is to refrain from the most sinful activities of meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex life. Following these simple and straightforward restrictions, the rest of our time can be spent in devotional service. When the aim of life is taken to be Krishna’s satisfaction, one’s consciousness is sure to be purified. By respecting innocent forms of life and by regularly chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can reach the final destination of the spiritual sky.
Categories: meat eating