Questioner (Q): Dear Acharya Ji, for the sake of not sounding hypocritical, I have to admit that I have killed more than one mosquito in my life and many other insects too, but never intended to cause pain and suffering to them. Now hearing, let alone seeing the relatively conscious animals being tortured evokes almost unbearable pain and helplessness in me.
Acharya Prashant (AP): Yes, of course. If you understand where your pain, helplessness and concern come from, then you will be more determined, more unflinching in your stand. Otherwise, you will remain a bit shaky, uncertain.
When it comes to killing mosquitoes, you must remember the fundamentals. Man, as he is, is bound to kill. Killing is necessarily associated with the human form. That’s how we are, and that’s why the Saints loathed the human form. They didn’t say that it is a great joy to be born as a human body. They said, “Please, we do not want to come back again as a human body, we want to be liberated.” Because to be human is to be violent.
Now, that’s a fine thing that you must understand. To be a lion does not mean that you are violent; to be a rat is not necessarily to be violent. In fact, the word ‘violence’ does not apply to the lion or to the rat. They apply only to human beings. The Lion kills all his life, but he cannot be called violent. He cannot be called non-violent either; he is just doing what his physical conditioning compels him to do. He has no option. Man has the option to kill and to not to kill. Man has the option to choose what he wants to eat and therefore, only man can be violent or non-violent. The most fearsome carnivore is not violent at all. The mosquito is not violent even if it survives only on your blood. But if you can avoid killing the mosquito and you still kill it, then you are violent.
It’s a strange thing. The rules are different. The rule that applies to a mosquito does not apply to you, because the mosquito owing to its form does not have a consciousness crying for liberation. No mosquito is crying for liberation, no rat, neither the elephant, nor the lion are eager to get liberated. It’s only the human form that seeks liberation. It is the human form that has a choosing consciousness. The word ‘consciousness’ itself implies choice.
What is non-violence? When you make the right choice, it is called non-violence. You always have to choose in favour of Liberation. What is non-violence? To always choose in favour of Liberation. What is violence? To choose in favour of bondages. And such a choice is not relevant to the mosquito or to the lion at all. And therefore, they are absolved of all guilt. But man is guilty, if man does not choose properly. To not to choose properly is called violence. Violence does not necessarily mean killing. Violence, I repeat, means choosing in favour of bondage.
How will consciousness gain liberation? Consciousness gains liberation by being sympathetic towards itself. Follow it. Consciousness gains liberation by being sympathetic towards itself. It is concerned towards your pathetic condition that impels you to seek freedom. Why does man remain in bondage, and why do some people strive for freedom and attain it? Why do most people tolerate, happily tolerate remaining in bondage? Because they have no self-love. They have no empathy towards themselves. So, to gain liberation, what you require is a consciousness that empathizes with itself; a consciousness that empathizes with consciousness, that looks at its own condition, its own form and says—“I’m so sorry for myself. I don't like the way I'm suffering.”
So, consciousness that respects consciousness will gain liberation. Please understand this. Why do most people not gain liberation? Because they do not have any self-respect or any self-love. They suffer and they keep suffering because they tolerate suffering. They do not love themselves enough to rebel against suffering. They do not respect themselves enough to say no to suffering. You, therefore, I say, require a consciousness that is in love with consciousness itself.
And if you have a consciousness that is in love with consciousness, how will you choose indiscriminate killing? When you kill, you do not kill a stone, right? What does the word ‘killing’ refer to? Consciousness! In some way the mosquito is like you. If you love yourself, how can you kill the mosquito? It's a strange logic, but this is it. Liberation requires that you do not kill the ones who are like you. Jesus pointed at it when he said—*“behave with the neighbour as you would behave with yourself”*—why? Because the neighbour is like you. Just as the neighbour is like you, the goat or the bird too is like you.
The greater your circle of empathy is, the greater will be your empathy towards yourself.
It's almost as if it is your own empathy that spreads radially outwards in concentric circles. The greater is the intensity of the source of empathy at the centre, the greater is the spread of empathy—then it starts encompassing more and more conscious beings. In other words, the more deeply you want liberation for yourself, the more will be the domain of conscious beings you would seek liberation for.
Understand it this way. You would have thrown a stone into a pond. If you just drop it with almost zero speed, how big will the ripples be? Very small, without any power. Because there is not much depth in the impact that you are creating. Take the impact as the y-axis; there is not much depth that you are attaining in the y-axis. Therefore, the effect in the X dimension will also be negligible. The ripples that you will see will be very faint, very feeble. But if you throw the stone vertically, right into the surface of the pond with power and velocity, then the vertical impact of the stone will be large, right? And because vertically the impact will be large, horizontally the ripples will spread far and wide.
Now, understand—vertically, what you want is for yourself. You are the y-axis. Horizontally, what you want is for others. The bigger the circle, the more are the number of people that are included in your circle of compassion and empathy. The point where you drop the stone is the center of your personality. Closest to the centre are the ones closest to you. For example, your parents, your spouse, your kids, your friends, a little further away are your neighbours, a little farther away are other human beings, a little farther away are people of let’s say other countries, other continents, even farther away are non-humans, other conscious beings. Even in the category of non-humans, radially outward first you will encounter, let's say, mammals. Then you will encounter, let's say, birds, then you will encounter insects and so on, then bacteria and so on. As you keep moving farther away from the center, you are encountering more and more beings that are conscious, but not like you. Your circle of empathy will never reach those beings if it does not have depth. But the more you love yourself, the more you are empathetic towards yourself, the bigger will be your circle. And then you will be empathetic towards conscious beings far and wide.
Therefore, if you are someone who can eat even a human being, it only proves that your circle of empathy is very-very small. You can eat even a human being; even human beings lie outside your circle of empathy. So, your circle is very small. And if your circle is small, what does it prove about the intensity of your self-love? It has very little intensity. Therefore, the circle that it created was very small. If you can eat a human being, it means you do not love yourself at all. If you do not love yourself at all, there is no possibility of liberation. You are a very violent person. If there is no possibility of liberation at all for you, then you are a very violent person—that is violence. To make a choice that will not lead to liberation, that is violence.
Who is the most like you? You, yourself. So, first of all, be empathetic to yourself. Then who is the one most like you? Your mother, your father, your siblings, be empathetic to them. Then who is the one who's like you? Your neighbours or extended family. Then who is the one most like you? Be empathetic to all. If you are not displaying compassion towards other conscious beings, it will only hurt you. Kill the animal and in some way the animal is liberated of its misery, at least in the physical sense. But you having eaten the animal will now live to suffer the effects of eating that animal; that is your punishment. You will survive to see tomorrow; that is your punishment. The animal is gone, but you will not be allowed to go. You have just had flesh. The flesh will keep you alive. And you will stay put. There will be a tomorrow for you, and it will be a very dark tomorrow—that will be your punishment.
Now you also know what is meant by oneness. The feeble ego has a very small circle of identification; it identifies only with four-five people. It says, “only for the sake of these four-five people, I can set the world to fire.” It has a very limited circle of identification. Your circle of identification is also your circle of empathy, it is also your circle of compassion. You care only for those people you feel identified with. And then, there is the one whose ego takes a broadening. This person, this consciousness identifies with a bigger set of people. And then, there is the one who has an even more accommodative, inclusive identity. His circle is really large. It includes not only human beings but animals as well. Obviously, the wider your ego identity is, the greater is the possibility of liberation for you.
Now you will ask why did I begin my response by saying that “to be born human is a curse?” Because some kind of violence becomes unavoidable when you are a human being. That is why the Saints have said that final liberation will come only after you are physically gone as well. On one hand, they have talked of the Jeevan-mukt who is liberated while being physically alive; on the other hand, they also said that something remains—the last step still remains. Because as long as you are alive, killing will be a prerequisite, a compulsion for you. Some bacteria are getting killed in your gut, millions of them. You are walking and the grass is getting trampled. You tried to eat some fruit and you found that the plant itself got killed. You are sleeping, the mosquito was there on your back, you just scratched, and the mosquito got killed. This much killing will necessarily take place. It is unavoidable. Because it is unavoidable, so on one hand, you are absolved of the guilt; on the other hand, it is a fact that killing is indeed taking place. It is taking place without your consent; it is taking place without your consciousness. Nevertheless, it is taking place through your physical form. That much killing will happen, you cannot avoid it.
What is your Dharma then? What is your duty then? Your duty is to minimize it. It is not an absolute thing. You will never be able to absolutely not kill. That is the curse of the human form. You will never be able to say that you are an absolute non-killer, because killing is happening. Every moment you are killing, you cannot avoid that. But if you want liberation, then you have to minimize it, minimize it, minimize it as much as possible. And minimization of killing, you must understand, is the maximization of your consciousness. Can the minimization ever be zero? No, which means your consciousness really cannot become unlimited, but it can at least rise so much—so much, that it becomes a strong and crying petition to be miraculously uplifted.
Your job, therefore, is not to attain liberation using your own agency and effort. Your job, please appreciate this, is only to elevate your consciousness to the maximum level allowed by the human form. The human form will not allow your consciousness to reach infinity; you will be limited somewhere. The test is to at least reach the limit. And once you reach the limit, then you are helpless, but a miracle happens—Help descends! Help descends!
So. do not fall for the absolutest arguments. Absolutest arguments say. “even if you are eating a potato, killing is happening. So, why not the lamb?” They are talking nonsense. Eating a potato is the compulsion of basic physical survival, eating a lamb is not. You cannot absolutely stop killing. Your job is to minimize it, bring it as close to zero as possible—that is your job. Your job is not to turn it zero, your job is to bring it as close to zero as possible. Absolute zeroness—that will come to you as a miracle that is not in your hand. That is Grace. How will that happen? We don’t want to talk about it. That’s beyond us. It’s a relative thing. It has to be relative because we are beings of duality, relativity. That’s a compulsion of being born human; you have to live in relationships, in duality. Your job is to do your best within the compulsions of duality. And it is not at all a compulsion of duality that you must have beef or pork or meat or fish or something, that is not at all a compulsion—it’s pure violence. Avoid it. Avoid it for your own sake.
When you are slaughtering an animal, you are actually slaughtering yourself, see that.