“Among the many animals and birds, some are vegetarian and others are carnivorous, but none of them transgress the laws of nature, which have been ordained by the will of the Lord. Animals, birds, reptiles and other lower life forms strictly adhere to the laws of nature; therefore there is no question of sin for them, nor are the Vedic instructions meant for them. Human life alone is a life of responsibility.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shri Ishopanishad, 1 Purport)
“Introduce any person to sanatana-dharma, the real version of spiritual life descending from the Vedas, and they are bound to be blown away. Certainly by the philosophy, with its emphasis on the dichotomy between body and spirit.
“Aham brahmasmi: I am spirit soul. The human birth is the chance for realizing and experiencing this truth. The animal has no idea that it is an animal. The tree does not know the distinction between plant and animal life. It has no concept of time. It cannot contemplate the future and it cannot defend itself against the attacks from the neighboring vicinity.
“While the philosophical side is appealing, what likely will get more attention is the list of restrictions assigned to the people willing to volunteer for the path of enlightenment. The people taking the religion seriously, for lack of a better term, refrain from certain behaviors.
“Chief among the prohibitions are eating meat and uncontrolled sex life. To the outside world, these two interests are everything. What can I enjoy to eat for dinner tonight? With whom will I enjoy conjugal relations? How can I extend the enjoyment so that I am not bored moving forward? How do I keep the flame of interest lit?
“Who wants to give up eating meat? Especially if they are accustomed to it since birth, if they know no other way of eating, if everyone around them is following the same – the preaching from the person officially aligned with sanatana-dharma will be a tough sell. There will be pushback.
“One of the responses will be that animals do not abide by any such regulations. They kill one another without a second thought. There is no remorse. I will ask that why should the human being act differently.
“The counter might be that human beings are a higher species and that the animals are behaving according to their nature. Well, aren’t human beings also part of nature? Why don’t they get to participate in the same way that the animals and other forms of life do? Why the unnecessary restriction?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the human life is one of responsibility. From beginning to end. In sanatana-dharma, the corresponding events are known as samskaras. Rights of passage, of staying within the proper bounds of behavior and consciousness.
The animals do not have samskaras. There is no opportunity for a second birth. They cannot be enlightened as to the ways of the world. They have an inherent link to God and they solely depend on His mercy to continue living, but they have no way of acting on that link, acknowledging it, or even appreciating it.
The human birth carries increased potential for intelligence, and simultaneously nature injects a life of responsibility. The human being hankers and laments. It can revisit past behavior and make assessments as to the proper way moving forward. It can conduct experiments involving observation, trial-and-error, hypotheses, and so forth.
Therefore, restrictions on eating and sex life are based on intelligence. They are not created out of thin air. They apply exclusively to the human being because these are the behaviors where the human being separates from the animal. If there were no such restrictions, then human life would be the same as any other birth.
In fact, it would make the experience inferior. If I am going to enjoy eating, why not take birth as a hog or a dog? If I am going to enjoy sex life, why not ask God to make me a monkey, life after life? If I am only interested in living a long time, perhaps a tree form would best suit me. I could stand naked, in the same place, for thousands of years.
Human beings do not have to follow the animal instincts. They have the opportunity for jnana and vairagya, and these tools help to purify the consciousness. That is the ultimate stage of perfection, wherein the living being transcends both the body they live in and the nature surrounding them.
That stage of perfection is a constant link to the Divine, who is the greatest well-wisher and unlimitedly compassionate towards His innumerable children, who can be found in the sky, on earth, and in the water. They may even be in other planets in the universe, with bodies not visible to the naked eye.
We can take birth anywhere, but fortunately we have the human intelligence at the moment. We should make the most of this wonderful opportunity by not following the ways of the animals. Instead, we should take the example of the acharyas, who have blazed the trail for success in this otherwise vast ocean of suffering. Restriction coupled with dedicated practice in devotion, to both enlighten and strengthen the bond to the Almighty, is the best use of our time.
No restrictions there to find,
Why not like animals in kind?
Where following nature’s way,
Eat to liking and with lovers stay.
To human being a responsible life,
To control intake and keep a wife.
To higher purpose appeal,
That no more on karmic wheel.