The aim of every man should be to know the Truth and if any one dies before realizing the Truth, he will not have achieved the purpose of his birth. In the ultimate analysis, Truth is Isvara or Paramatma. When we realize the Paramatma, the ego in us will vanish. The jeevatma in us will get merged with the Paramatma, even as all rivers lose their identity in the ocean. This is what Vedanta teaches us. But the realization of the Truth or Paramatma is not an easy process. A course of preliminary discipline has to be gone through. Eight steps or ashta angaas, like yama, niyama, praanaayaama, dhyaana, etc., have been prescribed. Without climbing these eight steps, one by one, it is not possible to achieve realization, or, Brahma saakshaatkaara.
The first step, yama, consists of five observances pertaining to ethical codes of conduct. In other countries, ethics is an end in itself. But, in Hindu philosophy, ethics is one of the means to knowing the Truth. If children are trained to observe high ethical standards, many of the administrative worries of the government will cease to exist. Unfortunately, the governments believe that their responsibility is over if they make provision to give children education in the three R’s and in subjects like history, geography and science. This policy is causing the country several head-aches. Police protection has become necessary to enable people to exercise even their fundamental freedom of worship. If money is spent in building up the character of our people and in instilling devotion in them, the state will be able to economize in the police budget.
In the context of religion, we are concerned with ethics only as one of the necessary steps for realizing the Truth. Aparigraha is one of the observances enjoined in the first step, yama. Aparigraha literally means non-taking. But it should be understood, in the present context, as not taking more than what is absolutely necessary. For maintaining life, we require water, food, clothing and shelter – chhaaya, toyam, vasanam and asanam. If a careful scrutiny of the cloth budget of a family is made, it will be seen that much more than what is absolutely necessary is being spent. Our clothes should be durable and simple and should not be above the standard worn by the generality of the people. We are particular in observing ahimsa, non-violence, in the matter of our food; but we do not pause to consider how much himsa, violence, has been committed to produce a silk cloth we desire to wear. In the process of producing silk yarn, millions of silk-worms are killed. Coffee is another habit which is making a heavy inroad into the budget of even poor families. If we resolve not to go in for silk sarees and coffee seeds, the money now required to maintain one family will be sufficient to maintain five families. India is reported to be a country with the lowest average income. Plans are being conceived and executed with the object of raising our standard of living. This itself is a wrong approach. Western countries are able to have high standards of living because of their colonial possessions or trade monopolies. With more and more countries becoming independent, the scope for one country to exploit another is getting less. In such a situation, the emphasis should be on plain living. In saying this, I am not discounting the need for machinery and fast means of transport. But in the ultimate analysis, it will be better if we do not multiply our wants in respect of food, clothing and shelter. There is no advantage in creating flats in the name of high standard of living. A small hut is much more healthy than a cramped flat. Going back to the way of living that existed some 50 years ago will be a national gain and will reduce the problem of administration. Above all, the obstacles in the path of a man’s salvation will also be reduced.
Message of Vegetarianism
The following is the English version of the Sanskrit message given by His Holiness to the delegates of the World Vegetarian Conference, who had an audience with him, for being carried by them to their respective countries:
“Even as cannibalism is despicable compared to eating animal flesh, so too the latter is despicable compared to eating leaves and fruits of trees. As men abhor cannibalism, let them avoid eating other animals for food. Such abstinence cannot come about in a day. It should be developed by stages. Let people start abstaining from meat on holy days. Let them then extend that habit to certain days in a month. Let them adopt total abstinence after a certain age. The practice of this by degrees will strengthen the virtue and develop a sense of kinship, sneha bhaava, with all creatures. The Father of the world is one only. When there is one God, whose children we all are – man, bird and beast – if the flesh of other animals is eaten by man, the word, “brotherhood” loses its meaning. If it should retain its meaning, eating meat must be necessarily avoided.”
November 27, 1957