“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.29)
samo ‘haṁ sarva-bhūteṣu
na me dveṣyo ‘sti na priyaḥ
ye bhajanti tu māṁ bhaktyā
mayi te teṣu cāpy aham
Friend-One: One of the nice verses from the Bhagavad-gita is the one that says that the wise person sees the elephant, the cow, the dog and the dog-eater as being the same.
Friend-Two: Don’t forget the learned and gentle brahmana. The verse goes from high to low. The brahmana sees Brahman, the spiritual identity of all living things. The dog-eater is so low that they’ll eat an animal that the civilized society would never dream of touching.
F1: And yet the humble soul, by virtue of true knowledge, sees them both as equal.
brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)
F2: It’s a spiritual vision. It’s fully inclusive. So many movements today are trying to eliminate inequality in just one area. Men against women.
F1: Black against white, Christian against Jew – and the list goes on. That’s why I like this verse so much. Everyone should learn it, no matter their religious persuasion or their level of interest in spiritual life.
F2: I certainly agree with you. It should be noted, however, that the treatment isn’t necessarily equal. You’re not going to go up to a tiger and pet it. That would be silly. The idea is that you know the tiger is a soul at the core and that it is going through the cycle of spiritual evolution. It still has its behaviors to which human beings should remain alert.
F1: Yeah, that’s important to mention. Here’s a seemingly obvious question. If the humble sage sees everyone like this, God would as well, no?
F2: Of course.
F1: I mean He would have to see even better. He knows past, present and future. He knows where that tiger was in the previous life. He knows what it will be going forward. So He has even more reason to apply the equal vision.
F2: I think I can guess your next question. If God knows all of this, how can He allow suffering?
F1: That wouldn’t be my question, but I could see people raising objections. For instance, if He knows that monkeys are souls at the core, why does He allow them to act like monkeys? I know that when He comes to earth He gives them special treatment. As Shri Rama, He befriended monkeys in Kishkindha.
F2: Yeah. He treated them like equals. Though they were uncivilized and roaming from tree branch to tree branch, Rama did not mind. Rama stayed under the trees, and so there was an immediate violation of etiquette. Rama did not care; He saw only the love they had for Him.
F1: Okay, so this is a more interesting topic for me. He treated the Vanaras, who were monkey-like, on an equal level. The idea is that God can become your friend, no matter which species you live in, right?
F2: Yes. Class, caste, gender, nationality, species and the like don’t matter to Him. He is the supreme father to everyone.
F1: Here is a potential issue to address. Rama is all-knowing. He is the Supreme Lord appearing in a personal form on earth, taking the guise of a warrior prince. He is antaryami, which means that He witnesses everything going on. Doesn’t it say in the Ramayana that the Vanaras were actually demigods who descended to help Rama?
F2: Yes. Whenever the Supreme Lord appears, He brings His close associates with Him. It’s like a travelling theater troupe. There is a large cast of characters, and they fulfill their roles very well.
F1: That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. So I could see someone objecting to giving equal treatment to others on this basis. They’ll say that Rama made friends with the monkeys only because He knew they were demigods. He gave special mercy to the boatman named Kevata only because He knew the real situation.
F2: The basis of this objection is that ordinary monkeys are not special and neither are people from lower castes? Tribal people have no good qualities, so why should we give them respect?
F1: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The Vanaras were not ordinary. The people living in the forests that loved Rama were also unique. You won’t find people like that today. Therefore we shouldn’t automatically give people the benefit of the doubt. Class distinctions are necessary because the people in the lower groups are making their way through the chain of evolution. If they play their cards right, in the next life they will be in a higher group.
F2: The higher subsequent birth may be true. There is no denying that. You will find bad apples amongst all groups of people. We’re not saying that every monkey has the qualities of Hanuman. Every boatman is not like Kevata and every vulture is not like Jatayu. That’s not what we’re saying. You’re missing a key element here.
F1: What is that?
F2: We are not antaryami.
F1: What do you mean?
F2: We don’t know who is divine and who isn’t. We don’t know who has descended to earth in what species. That person who is from a meat-eating background but is now chanting the holy names – they might be an eternally liberated soul. That cow we see grazing on the pasture, it might have descended from the heavenly region.
F1: I see. Rama knows these things, but we don’t. He sees the devotion inside of people, whereas we can’t necessarily. We make mistakes.
F2: We have imperfect senses. We are easily illusioned and we have a tendency to cheat. That’s why the instruction of the Bhagavad-gita is given to us. We’re supposed to learn that everyone is a spirit soul with the potential to love God in the same way that His closest associates do. Species, gender and class are not immediate disqualifications. And neither do they automatically bring entry into the eternal engagement that is devotional service. Only desire can bring that, and that desire can be found in any person.
Rama as antaryami to see,
Knows how monkey divine can be.
This vision we certainly lack,
Since by illusion under attack.
Looking with an intelligent eye,
Benefit of the doubt to apply.
Variety and species so many,
Devotion possible in them any.