‘Kurukshetra – the battlefield – is our mind where Daryodhana and Arjuna keep battling. We become one who keeps winning. Sadly, what happened to them happens to us too. Who wins? Do our fears win or does our ego win?’ I wrote this on social media some time ago. Earlier on the same day, I had also written: ‘We see what is within us, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. We see what we want to see. It takes one to know one. Good and bad, noble and evil are subjective. What may appear noble to one may appear evil to another. None of us is perfect, yet we become judges. What goes around comes around. We reap what we sow.’
The above thoughts were intended to target the individual human level. However, some learned readers unexpectedly extrapolated them to the broader community and national levels. For a long time, they debated enthusiastically on the definition of dharma, whilst associating it with victory. Their discussion prompted me to ask, ‘Who decides what are dharma and adharma?’
People act with objectives. For many people – thankfully, not all – the end justifies the means. In war, the opposing armies fight for their respective dharma – for their respective countries, in which case, it becomes a case of dharma versus dharma. Between the two, who can decide and how can one decide which dharma or whose dharma is higher? Isn’t it all a matter of one’s consciousness, a subjective matter?
Empathy is dharma. Care is dharma. In my personal world, any physical or mental act that lacks empathy and care for other people can’t be deemed as dharma. Being powerful does not mean having to use your power for subjugating others. For example, the safety of a rider lies with the horse that he rides. The horse can kill the rider in a number of ways but it chooses against it. Is he afraid of the rider? No, as experts suggest. Powerful beings, unless they become rogues, seldom use their strength and power to kill other beings. Strength is meant for saving lives, and not taking them. Power is for providing protection and not for persecution.
What may appear as ‘dharma’ to one person may appear as ‘adharma’ to another person. People can have different perspectives. For example, at a tender age of 3, I realised sheep were slaughtered and ‘meat’ – as food – was produced from them. Upon this sudden realisation, my sensitive mind shuddered. As a direct consequence, I rejected meat instinctively as food, as well as the very act of killing animals and eating their dead bodies. And I have not changed since. It was a horrifying experience for me to realise the brutality of this horrendous act of killing animals and eating them. For many years, my family used all forms of persuasion – intimidation, coercion, bribe and blackmail – to make me consume meat but all in vain.
Interestingly, after all these years, someone close to me recently asked me, “How much bribe would you pay to someone who puts a gun on your head and orders you to eat meat?”
I replied, “I’ll offer my life and ask the person to kill me. I just can’t get myself to eat meat.”
Many people also ask me teasingly, “How come you consume vegetables? They too have life.”
My reply is always the same: “Yes, vegetables too have life but there is difference between botany and zoology, as is difference between vertebrates and invertebrates. Please study the science and understand these natural differences before asking that question again.”
As Vaishnava (vegetarians by conscience, and not by religion), if we can’t justify killing of animals for human consumption or sport, how can we justify or support killing of humans? Non-violence is a religion of peace. The Vaishnava dharma is a religion of peace. Use of force thwarts peace. The Vaishnava dharma means not only providing physical protection to one and all, it also means supporting and working for the psychological and spiritual protection of one and all – humans and animals alike.
In my personal world, therefore, I consider meat consumption as ‘adharma’. Nevertheless, I ask for forgiveness for my audacity and if this bold assertion sounds blasphemous to some readers of faith. I also request learned scholars to NOT refer me to any religious literature, or provide any anecdotal explanation from the lives of famous saints of Kashmir or elsewhere, or any social justification in support of sacrificial killing of animals and the consumption of meat by humans. I am not a saint nor have I met many saints. I don’t support forcing people into doing something that we think is right or construed as dharma, socially or religiously. Despite my personal stance, I have never ever enforced or coerced anyone – not even my children – to follow my shadow and become vegetarians. Such decisions are personal matters and must remain subject to one’s individual choice.
In my personal world, I set rules and follow them. I follow my conscience and not the conscience of anybody else or any literature written by any other person. My rules apply strictly to me and me alone, and not to anyone else. My rules don’t apply to my ancestors, who consumed meat and other animal food, or my children and parents who also do the same. If I call their act of meat consumption as sinful, I would be committing a much bigger sin myself and my action could indeed be deemed blasphemous. A true Vaishnava does not judge others.
We humans are all born equal and, as such, no one is greater than anyone else. We humans have the right to think independently and the freedom to do as we wish to do as long as the intent behind our action is noble and does not infringe on the freedom of others or consciously cause any mental or physical pain or hurt to anyone else. An individual who takes away the freedom of other people deserves to be bereft of freedom. Thinking about it, a prisoner and a jailer both remain imprisoned in the same jail, one keeping an eye on the other. Likewise, when we take our dog for a walk, with leash around his neck, the dog also thinks he takes us for a walk, with the same leash around our wrist and hand; both remain tied to the same leash. We become trapped as soon as we trap others. Our freedom lies in setting others free. Only when we understand the essence of our freedom, we respect the freedom of others. Bullies are always bullied by other bullies.
Borders and boundaries trap me, regions and religions trap me, left and right trap me, up and down trap me, laws and regulations trap me, dos and don’ts trap me, good and bad trap me, right and wrong traps me. My body traps me. I want to be home, free.
We humans are born to find ourselves, to know who we truly are and to attain absolute freedom from everything, including our own ego and prejudices. We are not born to slavishly follow others like herd animals. Our individual freedom sets us apart from other herd animals. The moment we follow others like herd animals, and / or act without thinking, we lose our natural gift of freedom to think, contemplate and act.
In this dharmashetra of conscience, we humans are all free to take our own decisions and follow our own conscience. We are answerable to our own individual consciousness, which dictates whether we experience a heaven-like state of mind or a hell-like state of mind. If and when we act to the satisfaction of our consciousness, we experience a heaven-like state of mind and true happiness fills us to the brim. Opposite is the case when we don’t listen to our consciousness and / or act against it. As such, I don’t believe there is any separate hell or heaven outside of this life. Our heaven and hell are all here, in this very world and our own creation in this very life.
This article could be re-titled as “Dharma versus Dharma – how can anyone decide which Dharma wins?”
Sincere apologies to the readers who may feel offended by this article; it is not meant to be blasphemous or offensive. … Bill Koul (10 March 2020)