Srila Giri Maharaja “Animals Also Have Souls”

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dear __________________,

Please accept my warmest greetings and regards.

Although we were unable to join with you on Thanksgiving day, we were, nevertheless, thinking about and remembering you and your family. Your consistent kindness, generosity and inclusion, which you extend so graciously to our humble selves, are never lost on us, although we are not always able to reciprocate directly or sufficiently.

Although we do not live per se a cloistered life, our spiritual practicing life often deters us from societal interactions that expose us to meat eating, gambling, illicit sex and intoxication. Before receiving spiritual initiation we took a vow to strictly shun these four items we consider to be sinful activities. While it is sufficient for us to maintain our own personal vows in this regard, without attempting to impose such restrictions upon others, I think you can appreciate why we would feel uncomfortable in the presence of others engaged in such activities.

As an example, your own religious convictions may prevent you from viewing pornography, yet not demand you prevent others from doing so. At the same time you might, as I would, feel uncomfortable in the presence of those obviously viewing pornographic material or discussing topics related to it.

One of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not kill.” Some Christians interpret this to mean “Thou shalt not murder (“kill”) humans.” We take the passage more literally; simply: “Thou shalt not kill.” Of course our scriptures are not dependent upon Biblical teachings, but this serves as a convenient reference that may help you understand our thinking. We believe innocent animals deserve protections, not equal to, but similar to, those of humans. The reason is, we see all living creatures equally due to the fact that they, like us, are animated by a Godgiven spirit soul. Animal bodies are different from ours, but animated by a soul, just as ours are. Thus, just as we see, even among humans, many different types of bodies, and do not conclude that one has a soul and another does not, we cannot believe animals are bereft of a God-given spirit soul simply because their bodies are different from ours. Neither should they be killed needlessly, just as human life should not be ended prematurely, except in cases of self defense, and so forth.

A human baby has little resemblance to an adult; a human fetus, in its earlier stages of development, even less. Their bodies are very different from adults, as is their awareness, dexterity, ability to talk, reason, communicate or understand us. They are completely dependent upon the care of others, yet I think you would agree they bear a soul and the presence of God within them and, for these reasons, are entitled to certain protections by civilized men of reason.

It is said reason marks the demarcation between man and animal. Taking advantage of reason we can see a thing, not only as it is at present, but in its potential form. Thus we foresee in the somewhat grotesque appearance of a young human fetus the potential beauty of a child, youth and adult.

One of our gurus offered these thoughts:

In the beginning of the electric generation, the famous scientist Michael Faraday gave a public demonstration of the power of electricity. In one experiment, Faraday generated [static] electricity. With the current generated by his dynamo, he was able to move some pieces of paper. After watching the wave of current move some pieces of paper, a lady challenged him, “What is the utility of your electricity, Dr. Faraday?” And he said, “Madam, would you please tell me, what is the utility of a newborn babe?” (Subjective Evolution of Consciousness, Swami B.R. Sridhara)

The power of reason may not be recognized in the human fetus, newborn or an animal. At the same time, reason tells us there is little to distinguish one from the other. Therefore, the rights, courtesies and obligations of protection extended to one (the human animal), should logically be extended to the other (non-human animal), as they too are the recipients of God’s gift of life, present in each as a spirit soul.

The soul’s potential to be seen as pleasing in the eyes of God, be it embodied in any stage of human development or in any of God’s other creatures, should not be denied, nor should its body be violated in any manner that would cause its natural life to be inhibited or terminated.

The Bhagavad-gita explains our view in this way:

Bg 5.18
brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
paṇḍitāḥ sama-darśinaḥ

Word for word:
vidyā — with education; vinaya — and gentleness; sampanne — fully equipped; brāhmaṇe — in the brāhmaṇa; gavi— in the cow; hastini — in the elephant; śuni — in the dog; ca — and; eva — certainly; śva-pāke — in the dog-eater (the outcaste); ca — respectively; paṇḍitāḥ — those who are wise; sama-darśinaḥ — who see with equal vision.

The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].

[Purport excerpt]
“The bodies are material productions of different modes of material nature, but the soul and the Supersoul [God] within the body are of the same spiritual quality.”

As innocent humans should not be killed indiscriminately, so also with innocent animals. There are sufficient foods from the vegetable kingdom to satisfy all of man’s nutritional requirements. Thus, there is no need to slaughter innocent animals for food, or any other reason. Seeing the dead carcasses of animals being consumed, although a few steps removed from their slaughter, is still too close for comfort.

I do not want to burden you with an extensive philosophical or theological dialectic. I am merely attempting to express both my appreciation for your kind invitation and why we are sometimes reluctant to accept.

I pray this finds you both in good health and spirits.

Affectionately yours,

Swami B.K. Giri