Love for the Birds and Beasts
By Acharya Chandanaji
The beneficent teachings of Tirthankar Mahavir flowed along in accordance with the principle of the oneness of life. He said:
Sawe Pana Piyauya Suhasaya Duhapadikula
Appiyavaha Piyajivino Tamha Naivaejja Kam Ca Nam
Every creature on earth wants to live. They all love life; nobody likes grief or pain. Noone wants to die. So do not kill anything. Do not even think of hurting or harming anyone.
Ahimsa doesn't just mean not killing, it means recognising the right to life of all sentient beings. It means the acceptance of their very existence. I think that Tirthankar Mahavir's ahimsa goes even further than that. It means loving all sentient beings. It means helping them and looking after their welfare. Ahimsa means behaving in a compassionate way and having empathy for all beings. This is the universal expression of Tirthankar Mahavir's ahimsa.
The trees growing on earth, the birds in the sky, the little fledglings flitting in and out of the groves, the fish in the sea, the frisky deer in the forests, running rabbits, leaping monkeys, the lordly lion, the stately elephant and even the tiniest of creatures like the ant, are all imbued with the same consciousness, with the same life force. What is within us is within them as well. They all have feelings. They all feel pain. Imagine our plight if a killer with a sword or a bloody knife in his hand confronted us. How would we feel in a situation like that? We would start to shake, our mind would be paralysed with fear. Our limbs would lose their volition. Would not the reaction of a cow, buffalo, lamb, deer, rabbit, duck or chicken when confronted with a butcher's knife be the same? Wouldn't the creature feel terrified as the blade approached its throat? Wouldn't it yearn for life? If you can watch without compunction an innocent animal being tortured or killed then you are not fit to be called a shravak, let alone a human being.
The first great' doer' of our age, Tirthankar Rishabhdev, taught various arts and skills such as agriculture, the preparation of food, the kindling of fires, the skills of writing, the rites of marriage and an organised system of society. He taught sixty four different types of these social skills to people, through his daughters Brahmi and Sundari, who were very good at figures and the rudiments of writing. Along with the studies of music, astrology, swimming and chemistry, he taught the art of understanding the language of the birds and beasts as well. The main objective of this study was to understand the feelings of these creatures and do something to alleviate their pain and suffering.
Birds and beasts also communicate in their own way. But will man, who is so selfabsorbed, ever stop for a moment to try and understand what they are saying? Will he ever respect their ability to understand things or recognise their importance in our world?
One day an extraordinary thing happened. A philosopher was wandering alone in the silence of the forest, concentrating on solving some complicated question. He was exhilarated by his quest and unaware of his surroundings. Suddenly he saw a lion standing right in front of him. The lion roared at him as if in welcome: "Oh man! You are just in time. I prayed to God only a minute ago and you have been sent to me as a gift from Him. Thank you."
The philosopher was extremely frightened. He was staring death in the face. The blood froze in his veins and rendered him dumb with terror. Gathering his last reserves of strength, he tried to run away. "Beware," roared the lion, "don't your dare take another step. I will eat you today! Oh man, our sacred scriptures say that man is the best food to eat, since he is fed on the best that money can buy. That is why his flesh is so delicious. To eat men is a sacred duty for us lions. Securing a man to dine on is the result of our doing good deeds in a previous life. God has created man for the lion to eat. Prepare yourself."
The philosopher could think of nothing but his own safety. In fact, he completely forgot about philosophy. Frozen with terror, he managed to say in a trembling voice, "Lord lion! In our scriptures it is written that everything has been created for the benefit of man, because man is unique. He is superior to all other creatures."
Man may think of himself as intelligent and boast of his logic yet faced with the lion's arguments he finds himself trapped. The lion said, "Foolish creature! Feeble man! Why don't you just keep quiet? Shut up! You know nothing. Our scriptures are beyond your comprehension. They contain everything. All knowledge is explained in them. They state that the lion is the king of all living things. No creature is greater than a lion, every other living thing exists only to " serve us.
Pleading for his life the philosopher said, "0 Lord of the forest! Our scriptures were not written by men, they were given to us by God himself!"
The lion roared again, making the whole forest shake: "0 fool! Was your tongue only created for you to talk rubbish? The scriptures of lions are the only valid words here on earth. Anything else is nonsense. You will rot in Hell for insulting these great words. I am telling you the truth. My scriptures are the only true scriptures." The philosopher was dumbstruck. Even if he could have spoken, what was there left for him to say?
Man is entirely ego-centric, he has proclaimed himself the most excellent of creatures and the only one deserving of attention. He uses his intelligence for his own selfish ends. All the rules are in his favour. He does not bother about the hurt done to others, he thinks only of his own comfort and happiness. In this way he has brought about fear and dread on this earth. Man has lost his humanity because he has forgotten the essence of the great prophets' teachings.
Birds and beasts are just as important as man. No-one has the right to take the life of another being. If you recognise the existence of others and give them consideration, they will reciprocate. It is true that birds and beasts don't understand man's laws, but they do understand those of nature. Fear brings about fear and violence begets violence, but fearlessness engenders fearlessness and love begets love.
Would you like it if someone hung a picture oozing blood on your bedroom or diningroom wall? How would you feel about it? Would any artist deliberately choose to celebrate scenes of violence in his paintings? Do you enjoy looking at scenes of violence and bloodshed? Can the screams of terrified animals be pleasant to the ear? Wouldn't you prefer to see the flowers blossom? Wouldn't you prefer to hear the merry chirping of birds? This is the law of nature. Man loves life and only life-giving scenes have the power to delight his mind.
Not only man, but every other creature loves life. All sentient beings understand the language of love and freedom from fear. While insects and other small animals like lizards and rats live alongside you, most birds and beasts like parrots, pigeons or ducks run away from you. These poor dumb animals are afraid of man. They are afraid we will catch and eat them. Wherever there is violence, there is also fear.
Whenever you are loving and compassionate, love and compassion will be generated everywhere. Wild animals like tigers, lions and deer come and sit beside seers meditating in their forest retreats. Why do they come? What do they get there? A feeling of security, of love and compassion. Instead of a feeling of hostility towards them, they find that the fountain of love and affection flows there. Cruelty breeds cruelty and brings distress to the cruel; compassion breeds compassion, and brings bliss to the compassionate. Throw a pebble into the water and countless ripples form. A voice in the stillness echoes and echoes a thousand times. In the same way our love and compassion awaken, answering echoes in every corner of creation. Cruel and sadistic feelings on the other hand produce a commensurate hatred and animosity in the atmosphere.
Our Indian culture has such an affinity with, and affection for, birds and beasts, that I sometimes think it is they who command more respect and are almost more revered in our lives than man. In the Vedic culture, the Garuda (eagle) is Lord Vishnu's chosen 'vehicle'. Shiva mounts the bull Nandi. Lord Ganesh, the son of Shiva and Parvati, uses the rat. His elder brother, Kartikeya, has the peacock, now India's national bird. Goddess Laxmi travels on the owl, Saraswati on the swan, Durga, Chakreshvari and Ambika have the lion and Yamaraj has the buffalo. In mythologies allover the world many gods and goddesses are associated with a particular bird or beast. In this way we are introduced to a thread of oneness with all living creatures and taught to love each and everyone of them.
The Jain religion embodies compassion. Of our twenty four Tirthankars, seventeen have been depicted with particular birds or beasts at their feet. The symbol of the first Tirthankar, Rishabhdev, is the bull. Ajitanath has the elephant, Sambhavanath, the horse, Abhinandannath, the monkey, Shantinath, the deer, Kunthunath, the goat and Parshvanath has the snake. This association of animals with the image of the Tirthankars is not just a decorative embellishment or an iconographic sign used for ease of identification. There are no astrological or other arcane mysteries encoded here. They are the outward signs that represent a great philosophy. If their purpose had been for identification alone, any sign or symbol could have been used. In my view three different concepts are clearly demonstrated here.
Firstly, they represent equality between man and animal. Man is not superior to the birds and beasts nor are they inferior to him. The symbols are the expression of the philosophy that as far as consciousness is concerned, every living being in creation is important.
Secondly, there is diversity amongst the birds and beasts. Each one has a special quality, i.e. the lion has strength, the bull is reliable and the elephant has gravitas. No living being is without a virtue of some kind. We should try to understand that each species has its own virtues.We should absorb these ideas and make them our own.
Thirdly, and most importantly, birds and beasts are worthy of love, affection, and respect. Until we respect all living things, note their different virtues and behave towards them as if they were our own children, brothers or colleagues, our consciousness will fall short of grasping the totality of creation.
By placing the birds and beasts at the feet of those it venerates, Jain culture has shown that we should not just be sympathetic towards them, but also become active partners in protecting and nurturing them. You will ask why the Jains need this message, because most Jains do not hurt animals or indulge in violent activities anyway. This is true, but it is not enough.
Not hurting animals is one thing, but we must not turn a blind eye when animals are being tortured, destroyed or cruelly slaughtered. We should stop up this river of blood. Jainism should take a much more active stand in battling cruelty to animals, whilst also engaging in nurturing and protecting them.
The Jain religion befriends the whole world. To do this we must learn to love the birds and beasts, and teach this love to others. To love the birds and beasts is to love creation. To care for them is to care about our responsibility to the environment. In these times of global awakening we must let ahimsa manifest itself in the universal form of befriending and defending all forms of life.
Source : "The Jains Through Time"
Veerayatan's Silver Jubilee A Commemoration-An English Translation of' Samay Ki Parto Mein' published to celebrate the Twenty-sixth Centenary of the birth of Tirthankara Mahavira, English Translation by Sadhvi Shilapiji
Published By : Veerayatan U. K. The Wentworth, Pinewood Close, Oxhey Drive South, Northwood, Middlesex HA6 3ET