The usual things are going on in many places.
War, hate, and killing of enemies
in order to love, protect, and nurture ones own.
Inflicting punishment on others
yet remaining free of consequences
is not possible for us
as human beings or nations;
for the revenge that brings joy
also brings grief.
This is the nature of our suffering,
that we believe our sorrows are more precious
than the tears of our enemies.
The story of life is written on the faces
of both the watching and the watched.
Paralysis provides the context
for the breaking news stories on the dinner table.
It does not help that our fingers
cannot touch across the television screens
and the eyes cannot meet to offer consolation.
Guilt serves as a buffer for one
for the other, hope underlies fear.
Closure is never at hand in this sphere of duality.
I am in a slightly bewildered state, having just come to the completion of two major projects; which, with my head down, had consumed much of my time and focus over the last two years. One of them is my new website, and the other is the submission of half my life’s work to a publishing company.* Continue reading
My wife and I have started working with Quality of Life Trust – India – http://www.qualityoflife.in/.
They are located right next to Tiruvannamalai and working on village issues. India is going through many changes, and the villages are seeing the most change, so we thing this is a good place for our efforts.
There are two projects they are working on. The first is with the elderly in the village. Some have no place to live and are sleeping on the doorsteps of houses, etc. In some cases it is the doorstep of the house they owned. Then their children got them to give the house to them. Then there was a problem like drinking, and the child lost the house, and the parent had no place to live. The Trust is providing meals to these elders, and helping them with medical treatments. They hope to build some kind of housing in the future. My wife has experience working with the elderly and will help this project.
The other project is for composting toilets. In villages many many people do not have toilets. People will go in nearby fields. Sometimes they are bitten by snakes. Always there is the concern for personal privacy, expecially for the women. There are also problems of disease, etc. This project is building a kind of toilet developed else where in India that does not need water or a sewer connection/septic tank. To add to the appeal, and based on what these local vilages said they are also adding a shower room. This trust has gotten funding from another trust, Bless, and has just started a project to build 50 toilets in the village. I am helping them with project management. These toilets seem to meet a real need, and in addition they produce high quality fertilizer that can be used in the fields.
Working with them this week I got a chance to see the excitement that this was creating in the village. As we were at on house, planning for the foundation (and taking down some banana trees) the neighbor got so excited that he had the crew go to his house and see what kind of site that he had to build on.
These are small things that have a real impact on the lives of the villagers. You should see how proud the man was to be involved in this project, and making life better for his family.
Philosophy of Sri Raj Mata-Ji
Sri Raj Mata-Ji is one of my earliest spiritual advisors and counselors. Here are some of her sayings in Hindi and Punjabi that I have translated into English.
Life is fleeting. Do something for yourself as well as others.
Grab some happiness when you can.
Happiness is having a caring family and cooking for them.
Happiness is having good friends and good neighbors to talk with.
Happiness is a state of mind.
Some people have everything but they are not happy. It’s a pity.
The secret to happiness is in giving.
If you serve others sincerely, you will be happy.
Nobody cares for the weak. Be strong.
You can only help and serve others if you are mentally strong.
Pray and ask God to make you strong.
If you eat too much, don’t complain afterwards.
Go take a walk after a big meal.
Take care of yourself. Nobody else can in the same way.
Make an appointment with the doctor and get a complete check-up.
Help others who need it. It will be good for you.
Give to charity whatever you can afford.
Make friends with your neighbors. Go shopping with them.
Stay active getting older and be part of a community.
Look for friends. They are looking for you.
Don’t look for perfection in others.
Life is a compromise.
You are better off than a lot of people.
Do the best you can and trust in God.
Editor’s note: Sada-Ji (Dr. K. Sadananda) is well known to the Hindu community in both the U.S. and in India. He is one of the most brilliant and thoughtful exponents of the Bhagavad Gita as well as the ancient philosophy of Advaita-Vedanta.
In this article, Sada-Ji discusses a practical question that frequently comes up among many students of Hinduism as well as many Westernized Hindus. The question is, “Should I become a vegetarian?”
I took the liberty to edit and restructure Sada-Ji’s original e-mail answer to this question for the purpose of this article to give it an easier reading flow. I hope that justice has been done to Sada-Ji’s explanations and that I have stayed within the limits of editorial license. Of course, any errors are mine and as soon as these are pointed out will be promptly corrected. Thank you for your understanding and patience.
Should I Become a Vegetarian?
Recently two questions were asked – Does Hinduism require one to believe in God? Does Hinduism require one to be a vegetarian?
In a recent article, I have addressed the first question. Here I will provide some thoughts for the second question. In relation to the first question, I have discussed what Hinduism stands for and who is truly a Hindu. In essence, Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma, and that Dharma is from time immemorial; it involves pursuit of Moksha through self-reflection, inquiry, and Self-Knowledge. Self-Knowledge in Hinduism is synonymous with Moksha (Liberation from the cycle of birth and death).
Therefore, the one who is seeking to understand the ultimate mystery of existence and thereby gaining salvation or release is a true Hindu, irrespective of the nationality, caste, creed or gender. With that catholic understanding, one can see that Hinduism becomes a way of life because the pursuit of the essential purpose of life is the goal of the ideal Hindu life. If you ask most Hindus whether they believe in God, you will get a firm “Yes”, in response.
With this perspective, it is easier to analyze all other questions including whether Hinduism requires one to be a vegetarian. Since the purpose of life is securing liberation or Moksha, until we reach that we need to maintain our body. Keeping the body healthy through proper nourishment is the Hindu Dharma. The human body is considered a temple of God. Therefore, it is sacred and should be treated with respect.
You asked whether a Hindu has to be a vegetarian. Well, it is a fact that not all Hindus are vegetarians. Hindu kings and princes and the warriors have eaten meat for thousands of years. So your question is not whether a Hindu should eat but whether you should eat meat. Since such a question has already arisen in your mind, perhaps you have developed a degree of sensitivity about harming other living forms to satisfy your physical hunger. If that is true, you may be better off not eating meat. That way you will be at peace with yourself. Since you are sensitive to this issue, your intellect may be directing you towards being a vegetarian. It is a possibility. However, your mind wants the pleasure of eating meat and your body may crave it due to past habits. So you have to reflect on this. Why has this question come up for you? What is the right thing for you to do?
Follow Your Self-Nature
When you go against your own intellect and good understanding of life you commit a sin. An act that is contrary to your SWADHARMA (your own nature) creates a conflict within you. So you have to reflect on whether being a vegetarian is natural to you or not. Now, of course, even the traditional non-vegetarians are choosing vegetarianism not because of any compassion to other animals but they are recognizing that meat is not good for their health.
I have already mentioned that Hinduism does not say to you “don’t do this and don’t do that”. You must determine your own actions based on your intellectual values, culture, education and primary goal in life. You will find that following your Swadharma (your own nature) will make you comfortable with yourself. It is not for others to judge what food is right for you! It is for you to decide.
While you are trying to decide whether to be a vegetarian do this experiment. Imagine your self to be a chicken or cow who is about to be slaughtered for food. Would you not advise the guy who wants to make a dinner out of you to be a vegetarian instead? The golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” can sometimes help shape our analysis.
Life Lives on Life
Life lives on life. That is the law of nature. Whether I eat an animal or plant, I am destroying a life in some form. Among all life forms, Man is different from the rest. He has the capability to discriminate right from wrong. That gives him the freedom of choice which animals and plants lack.
According to ancient teachings and our observations, plants have just a body and perhaps a rudimentary mind. Animals have both body and mind to express their feelings and suffering, but rudimentary intellect. Man has not only body and mind but also a well developed intellect to discriminate between good and bad, and to choose.
Man always has three choices: He can choose to do something, not to do it, or find another alternative way to do it that is more satisfactory. For animals and plants there is no freedom of choice. They are instinctively driven. The cow does not sit down before meals and inquires whether it should be a vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Same with the tiger or the eagle. They don’t say prayers before eating like we do. They just act according to their nature. No one can hold that against them.
Man and Sin
For a Man the discriminative intellect is much evolved. Plants and animals do not commit sin in their actions because there is no will involved in their actions. For a human, the story is different.
You may wonder why I brought sin in the argument. Let me explain. Sin is nothing but agitations in the mind. It is these agitations that prevent me in my journey to Moksha. Mind has to be pure (meaning un-agitated) for me to see the truth as the truth. (Bible also says blessed are those whose minds are pure).
To define sin more scientifically: It is the divergence between the mind and intellect. Intellect knows right from wrong. But we feel like doing things even though we know they are wrong . That is, the intellect says something but mind which should be subservient to the intellect rebels and does whatever it feels like. This divergence is sin.
After a wrong action is performed there is a guilt feeling. Intellect, although it was overruled, does not keep quiet. It keeps prodding “I told you it is wrong. Why did you do it?” With peace of mind gone, Man goes through a “Hell”. Man is not punished for the sin; he is punished by the sin! Think about it. All the Yoga schools, if you analyze clearly, are bringing this integration between the body, mind, and intellect so that there can be harmony. With harmony, there is peace.
For a true Yogi, what he thinks, what he speaks, and what he does are in perfect alignment. In our case, we think something but have no guts to say what we think. Our lips say something different from what we are thinking. Sometimes people say, “Watch My Lips or Read My Lips “. They mean to emphasize that what they say can be counted on. However, if you watch their lips as requested and follow their actions these are again different! There is no integration anywhere. Our lips and our hips have divergent paths. We live a chaotic life of freestyle dancing! Besides deceiving others, we deceive ourselves, and the worst thing is sometimes we don’t even realize that.
Animals and Sin
Now, when a tiger kills and eats, it does not commit a sin. Because its intellect is rudimentary, it does not go through any analysis before it kills and asks “should I kill or not kill this cute deer”? A tiger does not ask itself, “Should I be a non-vegetarian or a vegetarian?”. When it is hungry, to fill the natures demand, it kills its prey and eats what it needs and leaves the rest when it is full. A tiger does not overeat. There are no fat tigers in nature.
A tiger is not greedy either. It does not seek luxury beyond satisfying its needs. Animals and plants and birds and bees and insects and all living things follow a beautiful ecological system. It is only man who destroys the ecology by being greedy. But Man also has the beautiful instrument of the intellect and the ability to develop it and to meditate on the reality of the universe.
Should I be a vegetarian or non-vegetarian?
So yes, “Should I be a vegetarian or non-vegetarian?” is asked only by a man. Why does that question come? It comes due to reflection. Because man has a discriminative intellect, he can reflect on the nature of pain and suffering. Perhaps a man may think at some point in his life whether it is justifiable to harm and kill an animal to fill his belly. A person may reflect whether eating animals is consistent with the golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. A man may consider whether this maxim applies to all forms of life or just other human beings.
Plants are life forms too. “Should one hurt them?” you may ask. If one can live without hurting any life forms that is the best, but that is not possible. Life lives on life – that is the law of nature. My role as a human being with discriminative intellect is to do the least damage to the nature for keeping myself alive and well.
At least, I am not consciously aware of suffering of the plants. That is why eating to live and not living to eat is the determining factor. In Bhagawad Geeta, Sri Krishna emphatically says that a Sadhaka (one who is in pursuit of Moksha) should have a compassion for all forms of life. There may come a point when it is advisable to be a vegetarian – only taking from nature what you need to keep the body in optimal health.
In one’s spiritual growth, one develops subtler and subtler intellect. That is, the mind becomes more sensitive, calmer, and self-contented. Your sensitivity to suffering of others also grows. Hence, the thought about becoming a vegetarian may come. Only you can decide what is right for you and not someone else. Any decision that is imposed on you from the outside does violence to your nature.
Many young people are now becoming vegetarians. They all have their own reasons. Fortunately vegetarianism is mainstream now and accepted. Most schools and universities offer vegetarian and even vegan meals and so the option to become a vegetarian is easier today than ever before.
Flowers grow in their own time. Whether you are vegetarian or not does not matter ultimately.
You are all flowers blooming in the light of the divine.
Hari Om and Tat Sat. – Sadananda
This essay, adapted from a speech of Bill Gates, is one of the most beautiful, eloquent, and inspirational pieces I have read.
I was reminded of the the passage quoted by Sri subrahmanian of the Advaitin list to me recently which states:
“As life is dear to oneself, it is also just so to other beings. Men show compassion to other beings by putting themselves in their place”. [MBh 13.116.21cd–22ab; YDhS p. 31]
Surely people like Bill Gates are touched by some divine energy that not only opens their hearts but through them delivers the healing balms to soothe the suffering of millions of others.
We bow to such people.
May all beings be free from sorrow.