Life without love is a waste. Every one of us should cultivate prema or love towards all beings, man, bird and beast. If we are full of this universal love, we shall feel no sorrow. Children overflow with prema; but as they grow older, prema decreases. Prema is exemplified in the mother’s love for her child. As the saying goes, an unaffectionate son may be seen in this world; but never an unloving mother. Like the mother’s attitude towards her child, we too should be prepared to consider the happiness of every creature as of more value than our own happiness.
That which has a beginning must have an end, is an inexorable rule. Prema is no exception to this rule and so prema is not unmixed with sorrow. When a beloved one dies, the survivor suffers grief. On that account is it wrong to cultivate love towards others? No. But there is a prema which does not produce grief in the end. We should seek this prema that is indestructible, namely, prema to God, who is indestructible. All things on earth and in heaven may die out; but God is eternal. Everything else springs from Him, lives by Him, and, at death, goes back to Him. Loving God, if we look upon all things as God, we shall have in effect loved them as intensely as we love God. To consider things as God, we should remember that they are all Isvara-svaroopam, possessing the chit and the sakti of God, without which none of them can exist or function. A non-luminous skylight illumines a dark room when the sunlight falls on it. So too do all objects of the world obtain their intelligence and power from the Omniscient and Omnipresent God. If we love everyone and everything around us as God, even if they disappear, we will not be afflicted by grief, because our love of God will continue to remain.
Ahimsa in thought, word and deed is the outward expression of this universal love. But desirable and necessary as ahimsa is, it seems to be impracticable at all times and at all places and in respect of all beings. Even Gandhiji, the apostle of ahimsa, had to permit himsa to a diseased calf, so that its sufferings may be terminated. He is also reported to have approved the military action in Kashmir, which was himsa. The followers of Gandhiji had to do himsa to his murderer, when they carried out the life sentence passed on Godse. Jesus Christ asked his followers to show their left cheek also if anyone smote them on their right. But it is the Christians of the Western world that brought about the holocaust of two world wars and are even now racing with one another in piling up armaments for committing himsa on an unprecedented scale. The Buddha inveighed against himsa of animals in Vedic Yajna, but it is a tragic irony that he died as a result of eating pork contained in the alms given to him, and that in the countries where Buddhism is the main religion, people are non-vegetarians, tacitly abetting the killing of animals for food. All this shows that excellent as ahimsa may be as a theoretical ethical maxim, it cannot always be put into practice.
It can be pointed out to the credit of Hinduism that orthodox Hindus are vegetarians. Orthodox widows of Bengal are strict vegetarians, though Bengalis as a class eat fish. These widows do not drink even a drop of water on Ekadasi day. In the South, many people among non-Brahmins have adopted saiva (vegetarian) food and on certain sacred days non-vegetarian food is taboo for the generality of non-Brahmins. The objection to meat is himsa to animals. By the same token, cutting vegetables too is himsa. By cooking grain, you scorch the garbha (seed) within it and that too is himsa. It has been laid down that ripe fruits and leaves which fall off plants and trees will have to be eaten if one does not wish to injure any living being. The Rishis of olden days took only such food and cow’s milk after the calf had its fill. If one lives on this kind of food, one will be free from kaama (lust) and freedom from lust is a more potent means for family planning than the methods recommended in modern days.
It is obvious that this injunction to eat only fruits and dried leaves cannot be universally followed. Certain people qualified for it must adopt it, while the others may eat food which causes the minimum himsa. Thus ahimsa, at whatever level, must be an ideal for the generality of mankind, but actually practiced by a selected few qualified to practice it. The Buddha, Christ and Gandhiji recommend ahimsa for everybody, without consideration for differences in aptitude or capacity. Hinduism, on the other hand, recognized adhikaarabheda and hence recommended it only for sanyasins, who are free from every family and worldly obligation. The others are hedged in with so many social obligations that they cannot practice ahimsa as uncompromisingly as a sanyasin. The Hindu practice of dharma is based on the individual’s status and the duties pertaining to it. That is why Sri Krishna commanded Arjuna to fight when Arjuna was in two minds on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, while in another context he told Arjuna to adopt ahimsa. A judge’s duty is to sentence a criminal to death or to other forms of punishment, which is himsa. We put one dear to us in chains if he becomes a lunatic and violent. The Buddha, Christ and Gandhiji failed to take note of this principle of adhikaarabheda and so failed to make people practice what they taught. By practicing dharma with due regard to adhikaarabheda, all the high ideals will be preserved, wrongs will not be committed unnecessarily, and even necessary wrongs will be reduced to the minimum.
October 23, 1957.