brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
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]. – Bhagavad Gita, verse 5.18
The truth of equality lies beyond human and animal rights. It doesn’t depend on speciesism. Equality has existed forever. Krishna reveals that humility and knowledge make one eligible to see every living being equally because all souls are parts and parcels of Krishna. So at the level of transcendental reality, there is no difference between a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian, an animal and a human. However, we have been covered with the three modes of Krishna’s illusionary energy: Goodness, Passion, and ignorance, and so, we need to be treated, and we need to treat others according to the bodily existence and the level of consciousness. For instance, you won’t expect a fish to sleep on your bed or eat chapattis. A fish is the happiest in the ocean. Keeping her in an air-conditioned apartment and eating with her on the same dining table on the name of equality is foolishness. The souls who are embodied as dogs and cats are supposed to experience their karmas before they can become humans. The Vedic scriptures have a general recommendation that humans shouldn’t keep pets such as dogs and cats. If we don’t go deep into the texts and just interpret them in isolation, we would end up misunderstanding them. We should let the dogs and cats be where they are, we should feed them according to their bodily needs, and for their souls we should pray that their consciousness is raised to the highest level at the earliest. We achieve the highest level of consciousness by taking refuge in God, Krishna. Krishna loves those the most who are humble and treat everyone equally. That is, He loves those who not only take care of the bodily needs of the living beings according to their nature and species, but also help them become liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
Once H.H. Gopal Krishna Goswami, an amazing disciple of Srila Prabhupada was travelling to Vrindavan when a pigeon was hit by the cab he was riding in. He asked the driver to stop and park the car on a side. Maharaj sat near the pigeon that was breathing his last few breaths and chanted a few rounds of the Hare Krishna mahamantra. The soul who was embodied as pigeon must have done many good karmas in the past that it got the association of a saint like H.H. Gopal Krishna Goswami who chanted for the soul at the time of departure so that it could get a human life and practice devotion to Krishna. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has repeatedly said: ‘sādhu-saṅga’, ‘sādhu-saṅga’—sarva-śāstre kaya / lava-mātra sādhu-saṅge sarva-siddhi haya. Every scriptures emphasizes that even a little bit of the association of a pure devotee can award us the highest bliss ever possible.
From Srimad Bhagavatam we learn about the case study of the king Bharat who gave up his family and kingdom to achieve God-realization. However, toward the end of his life became attached to a deer. Because he was thinking of the deer at the time of death, he was reborn as a deer. “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” – Bhagavad Gita, verse 8.6. But his memory and consciousness didn’t deteriorate due to Krishna’s mercy which He always showers on His devotees. The point is we are souls who transmigrate through different species. So, from eternity’s point of view we are all the same. But because our consciousness evolves differently from each other saints treat us accordingly. His Holiness Radhanath Swami says a true friend is one who cares for our mind, body, and soul. Without the soul care, there is no care. Every act of affection or love is temporary if it’s not directed at the soul, too.
I’ve heard from two different people the accounts of dogs who used to attend Srimad Bhagavatam katha every morning, eat Prasad, and then leave immediately. These dogs would reach the katha hall exactly at the time when katha began. They would listen to the katha attentively and eat a little bit of prasad. These dogs were special. They must have been devotees in their past lives who, because of some attachment, were demoted to the species of dogs. Because they were devotees in the past, their consciousness remained intact even in the species of dogs.
I spotted a 6 feet long snake just at the main gate of the building last night. We had to kill it for the safety of the security guards and of ourselves, too. I said to some residents that the scriptures say it’s fine to kill a snake or a scorpion for your safety. A soul enters a species of snakes when in its previous incarnations it harbored lots of jealousy for others (if I remember it correctly). Snakes are dominated by the mode of ignorance. Some of the residents vehemently started talking about peace and love for all beings. I had to say to them, well, let’s begin this charity at home by stopping the consumption of meat, fish, and eggs. Ideals are easy to flaunt and hard to follow. One of them said well some people think that by eating non-veg food they are helping maintain the equilibrium of nature. Really? It’s our arrogance if we think we can maintain equilibrium of nature like this. So far we have only destroyed it. God’s creation doesn’t depend on us for its maintenance. On the contrary, our survival depends on His creation.
After one man killed the snake, I remembered how I should have chanted the Holy name for the departed soul. It was still not late. It’s said that the soul remains near its body for around 2 hours after it has vacated a body. As soon as the thought arose, I prayed for the eternal bliss for the soul. My prayer was not intense but I tried. I hope that Krishna accepts my prayer and awards that soul the association of devotees. I pray to Krishna that He bestows me with the sincerity to pray and chant for every soul who crosses my path.