Tuesday, 9 August, 2022
HomeOpinionA belief in mathematical justice guides Hindu responses to suffering: Maneka Gandhi

A belief in mathematical justice guides Hindu responses to suffering: Maneka Gandhi

The belief that sufferings in this life is a result of bad deeds in past lives stops Hindus from doing things that can make the human society more comfortable.

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Savitri Devi, born Maximiani Portas in 1905 to Greek-English parents, wrote a very thought-provoking and profound book called The Impeachment of Man in 1945 on different religions and their “compassion factor”. She spent 30 years in India undertaking a systematic study of the world’s great religions. Savitri Devi spoke seven languages and supported herself by teaching and translation work. She died in 1982, in poverty, sustained somewhat by her admirers around the world.

Why am I fascinated by her writings? Because she has brought new insight into something that I believe in — reincarnation — and holds this belief responsible for all the viciousness that ‘devout’ Hindus show.

This lockdown has been an eye-opener for me, and I have never been so shaken. I have never seen so many Indians being so cruel to their fellow beings — especially to women — and to animals. Poisoning and beating animals have become the norm and harassment of single women has become a blood sport. Where does all this animosity come from?

This is what Savitri Devi has to say about the Indian (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism) view of reincarnation.

Also Read: Media rumours and vicious RWAs have been worst for animals during Covid: Maneka Gandhi

Belief in reincarnation

“The Indian view can be summarised in one sentence: it consists of seeing, in all forms of life, manifestations of the selfsame divine power at play on various levels of consciousness. It is centred around the fundamental idea of the everlastingness of the individual soul and of its life in millions and millions of bodies, through millions of successive births. It proclaims the continuity of life in time and space and denies the breach between man and the rest of the animal world. Such a breach, according to it, is artificial.

A believer in the doctrine of reincarnation can never be quite sure that the mangy dog that he sees lying in the slush is not one of his deceased relative or friends. Maybe, the man’s human enemy is none but the hungry dog that lay at his door some thirty years before, and whom he did not care to feed. It may be that a woman’s son, source of joy to her, is none but the abandoned kitten that she once picked up in the street. No one can tell. And as soon as one admits the possibility for the same everlasting individual soul to pass from one body to another, according to its deeds, one can be expected to feel the majestic unity of life which underlies the endless diversity of the visible world, and to look upon animals (and plants) as potential men and supermen, and treat them with loving kindness.

The Hindu teaching stresses the fundamental identity of all the individual souls, be they incarnated in many or any stratum of the living world. Not only is every soul now embodied in an earthworm “on its way” to earn superior consciousness after millions of births, and to become, in course of time, an all-knowing, liberated sage, a tirthankara as the Jains say, but the soul of every individual earthworm, of every individual snail or toad, ass or pig, man or monkey – of every living creature – is by nature, substantially, identical to that of the god-like sage.

It only differs in broadness and clearness of consciousness, that is to say, in the degree of knowledge. And the sage himself has lived through untold millenniums of ignorance and unrest. King Bharat is said to have been reborn as a deer; and good king Asoka, the most powerful patron of Buddhism — was reborn as a boa-constrictor, in punishment for a temporary lack of equanimity, according to Buddhist tradition…”

(The Impeachment of Man, Savitri Devi)

So far, so good. This is my deepest, most genetically ingrained belief, and this is what propels my actions on a day-to-day basis. But she does not stop there.

“It would seem, at first sight, that nothing can prepare a man to love all living nature better than that Grand vision of universal evolution, physical and spiritual, provided by Hindu Pantheism.”

But it has not happened. Why?

Also Read: RWAs threaten animal lovers inside societies. This isn’t resident welfare: Maneka Gandhi

Personal interest and Hinduism

Savitri Devi explains — “The answer appears to be that a profound pessimism, and undervaluation of finite life as such, pervades the whole of Hindu thought.

To the Hindu, to the Jain, to the Buddhist, individual life itself is sorrow, with, at the most, few flashes of passing joy. To break the iron cycle of birth and rebirth, and never again to enter a womb, is the goal of every true Hindu. The obsession of the transience of earthly joy, the burdensome realisation that “all personality is a prison” and the consequent craving for “liberation” from the necessity of successive finite existences, are traits inseparable from Hindu thought.”

Those traits are not congenial to action. It may be that the selfless, emotionless, detached action urged in the Bhagwad-Gita is the ideal. But in ordinary everyday life, it is not the type of action that men generally do. In fact, without the impulse of personal love, fear or hate — they generally do nothing.

How does the concept of attaching little value to life makes one less compassionate?

“And the deep-rooted belief that individual life has little value, that the sooner it is overcome the better, and that creatures’ suffering in this world is nothing but the unavoidable result of their own bad deeds in past lives, that belief, we say, is the least capable of rousing in average people any personal feeling for the welfare of men or beasts. It [Hinduism] is the least capable of prompting them to do something positive, whether it be to make human society more comfortable for the majority of its members, or to make the world at large a better place for all living beings, including animals and plants.”

“….a Western vegetarian abstains from flesh solely out of a feeling of sympathy for animals, the Hindu vegetarian does so mainly on account of the concept he has of his own spiritual interest. He believes that, by avoiding meat, fish and eggs, and all food considered to be ‘exciting’ he secures himself an easier progress along the path that leads to ‘liberation’, i.e. to the final stage after which one is not compelled to be reborn…… But the idea of suffering of animals does not seem to be, to the average Hindu, as important as that of his own bodily purity, regarded as an indispensable help to spiritual progress. A Hindu vegetarian may or may not also be a lover of animals. His diet is regulated mainly by the interest of the eater, not of the eaten…… It is still his own interest that he primarily seeks.”

“The fundamental consciousness is that individual life, human or animal, is of little value, leading to a widespread callousness, an indifference to suffering. It is as though life, when known to be everlasting, loses its value, and as though suffering, when thought to be a punishment, ceases to move the casual witness of it to pity.

“The Hindus are impartial in their good or bad treatment of living creatures. …..That indifference is applied to the sick beggar child lying in the filth no less than to the famishing street dog. It is applied to the overworked “coolie” no less than to the overloaded ass, or to the tired, thirsty buffalo drawing a heavy cart under the merciless whip. A hungry human “untouchable” would be turned out of an orthodox Hindu kitchen no less ruthlessly than a hungry animal considered unclean. And among the true Hindus who believe in the efficacy of animal sacrifices and would not shrink, on principle, before the idea of human sacrifices, were such to be sanctioned by religious authority.”

A life-centred doctrine, like that of reincarnation, is used to justify entirely different practical attitudes towards living things.

Millions of Hindus would never interfere to prevent a child from kicking a sleeping dog, or from knocking down a bird’s nest. There are thousands who beat their overloaded bullocks and buffaloes, horses and donkeys, and mercilessly twist their tails to make them walk faster. There are those who carry unwanted newly born kittens away from their houses and leave them on the roadside to “fend for themselves”, and those who have never protested against the torture of animals in the name of science, or the killing of cattle in municipal slaughterhouses in the most barbaric manner. If asked why they show such callousness, they would merely reply that it was so planned that every living individual should suffer the fate determined by the sum of its deeds, and that animals who undergo tortures deserve it because they sinned in their previous lives. This is the consequence of a general belief in mathematical justice.

“It [the philosophy] may, at the most, urge people to avoid becoming the direct cause of any creature’s suffering or death; to be “harmless” — in order not to lengthen the record of bad deeds for which they are bound to pay the penalty in this life or in another. It does not, however, in general, urge them to go out of their way in order to help creatures actively.”

Live and let live, in my opinion, means live and let die. You live and ignore the way other people or other beings live — ignore their pain, their suffering. This, to me, is the way a dead person lives with no involvement in life and without a sense of responsibility to the world. It stops one from doing as much good as he/she can and makes one totally selfish. Which is why the motto of People For Animals is ‘live and help live’.

The philosophy that asks Hindus to look at all creatures as reflections of oneself has not made us help others. Is that what this glorious religion/philosophy has done to us Hindus?

Maneka Gandhi, Sultanpur MP and former women and child development minister, is an animal rights activist. She is the founder-chairperson of People for Animals organisation. Views are personal.

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  1. This article shows the lack of understanding of Hinduism by the author. Every Hindu God has one or other Vahanam, which is an animal, bird or creatures. We worship animals and inherently respect every creature.

    But, that it has changed in current culture of the Hindus as referred by Menakaji, is due to corruption of the followers, by surroundings and people of other religions, who are amidst.. what to say of one who goes for hunting as sport… Or one who looks at animal as delicious food…

    Just because one reads a book, where author has a point of view, appreciate that. But extending to a general case or to a Hindu or Buddist, shows lack of deeper consciousness of God.

  2. Hinduism inculcates in its adherents seeming detachment from suffering and the world around them. This is bad in way illustrated by you about inaction to stop suffering as seen in missionary religions.
    But there is also a counter philosophy of giving ( दान धर्म) which is also emphasized in hinduism.
    In my opinion, this attitude of indifference has come to aquire primacy in India due to widespread deprivation and poverty. If you see pain and suffering once in a while, it pricks your conscience but repeated exposure just dulls your sense and breeds despondency. Naturally a man is sad and sorrowful in such state and seeks release through indifference and belief in कर्म theory which liberates him from responsibility for suffering of others in society.
    Thank you.

  3. If Maneka Gandhi wishes to promote animal welfare, that is all by fine by itself. But her attempt to link failure of her cause to philosophical and spiritual thoughts of Hinduism are not at all convincing and are in fact illogical. There are strong aspect of cultural and social traditions and practices aspect with routine individual behavior and this cannot be linked to the philosophy of Hinduism directly. By her logic, there should not be acts of terrorism from some of the followers of other religions. While no one can deny the fact that we Indians generally do not care for the poor, it is also a question to ponder over as why our society and polity has not removed poverty over at least last 70 years? It seems keeping poor in poverty is a political objective of the system. No one will come out of poverty by just having pity at individual level.

  4. What happened? Changed the title of the article. The title calling Hindus vicious is what you strongly believe in and so it was the immediate and instinctive expression of your hate/dislike. So why not stick to it? At least stay honest. After all one cannot help hate and dislike for an entire category of people.

  5. Why is The Print publishing such shallow articles on Hinduism? A discussion on Hinduism is welcome. But at least get some respected scholars to write.

  6. Very odd piece by a so called “animal rights” activist born and brought up in India?
    Ujaan Ghosh, Amrita Chowdhury, now Maneka Ghandhi.
    Why does the pattern of The Print publishing this Hinduphobic content not make them subject to a lawsuit for “ offending religious sentiments”?

  7. Why did The Print change the original headline of this article?
    Was it because it was intentionally misleading and intended to cause controversy? The Print is very close to being branded as a Fake News portal.

  8. Oh! So, we now have advise on animal cruelty from a woman who’s claim to fame is posing for pics wrapped in a bath towel?
    Ms. Gandhi – stick to your knitting and stay out of topics you understand not about.

  9. Religions are regressive , outdated and in no way these could be used to convey a positive message and inspire people towards a noble cause such as animal rights. Modern theories of human and animal rights which are rational should be used instead. The idea of Optimistic Nihilism is one of the best way that could advance animal rights.
    Liberals already know about the foolish and bronze age philosophies of religions,question how these reach to general masses and the latter definitely not reading this article on The Print instead watching Ramayan or Fasting for Ramzan.

    • Brahmin basher spotted.

      For anything and everything bring in the brahmins. How convenient.

  10. Yeah my grandmom or grandfather may reincarnate as a dog and thinking that i would attack dog. No logic in this article.

    • It is not that there is no logic in the article, but your understanding of the Article is poor, read again if you find some free time.

    • That’s not what the article says. The article says that you’d be less likely to help someone or an animal if you rationalised that it was suffering because of its deeds of past lives.

  11. Madam, you have read the book written by a confused lady Savitri Devi, who had no idea of the every day life of hindus. She is an eurpoean, born and brought up in eurpose, supported nazism and married and Bengali brahmin soialist. And she concluded that reincarnation is responsible for visiousness in devout hindus!. i am not worried that she supported Nazism, but how easily you are taking a point of view, not considering the mind that nurtured that thought.
    You have to be careful when you make a blanket statement like this. I am not saying statement is all wrong. When any body in any religion is devout, that means they have stopped thinking and started worrying about what to follow and what not to follow, to please some celestial being and seek some better living conditions in there next life or in heaven etc… When you stop living and stop toting and following procedures, rules, superstitions and written words, then you get a dumb, numb and semi dead being, which gets pleasure in being vicious.
    So all you can say to an extent is this might be applicable to devout brahmins. It might be, but this is not applicable to all hindus. Most hindus, dont so much worry about the theory part, they are busy trying to get a decent living for themselves and there family.
    And your theory of, live and help live, is too simplistic and juvenile, i could have explained, but i am tired and lazy.
    I just want to point out one last thing. The caption of the article, if read by anybody in the umbrella of hinduism, will make him think that he or she might be holding a vicious trait, and this will induce a guilty feeling. Which is the feeling all hindus have been made to feel for two centuries now, saying this, that and that is wrong with there religion, which is the reason for the present love for hidutva.

    Think please.

  12. Most Hindus don’t realise that religious texts need interpretation. Not the kinds obtained through TV religious celebrities but somebody who understands religions in general. Though there are surface dissimilarities between religions, there are deeper similarities too and few people other than religious scholars tend to look for them. All religious texts are apocryphal (the stories they say are not verifiable with evidence) and all of them use allegory. (they tend to use stories to illustrate a point) The irony is that adherents of religion believe in the truth of the stories but do not adhere to its teachings. Let me use a few stories to illustrate my point. The mahabharata has the story of Abhimanyu – the injustice of many warriors attacking a single person when it was explicitly forbidden to do so is the basis of the story. Whether that really happened or not cannot be verified but it’s teaching has surely been forgotten when we have so many muslim men surrounded, attacked and sometimes even killed by many people seemingly in the name of the same religion which explicitly forbids such a thing.
    Ego and arrogance in his own invincibility made Ravan cross vast distances to abduct a lady who was someone else’s wife. He thought her husband was a nobody – someone who was asked to get out of his own kingdom. Someone who could do him no harm. The story illustrates that even a powerful ruler must not think less of anyone and must conduct oneself according to dharma (that which is correct) But everyday we have rulers who swear by the teachings of Hinduism run down political opponents, ridicule them and in some instances even jail people thinking that this is a state of permanence and all the support that they receive and the power they have accumulated means all their actions are justified and they can disregard correct behaviour towards opponents.
    The real tragedy of this article is that the celebrated author herself has not followed religious teachings of her own religion where Vidura has said that it is the duty of the minister to remind his ruler that one always ought to rule by dharma and not differentiate between someone you consider your own and someone you consider not belonging to you. A great religion is being cynically used by the political class to propagate their rule and either we are silent (like the author) or helplessly wringing our hands (like me) or egging them on (like majority of the commentators on this and many other news sites) The apocalypse which follows spares no one.

  13. Ma’am, instead of bothering to read a non-Indian, French-German Nazi spy’s book to decide on Hindu philosophy and pass a big typical intellectual judgement, you must pick up a Hindu book and read. Why don’t spend some time reading Sri Lala Lajpat Rai’s book – Unhappy India? Why don’t you actually read the Indian philosophies by Buddha or read Dr.Hiriyanna.


  14. Impeachment of Man is a book by Savitri Devi, in which the author recounts a history of the general indifference toward the suffering of non-human life. She puts forth a pro-vegetarian, anti-vivisectionist, biocentric, and misanthropic conservationist point of view. She does so within the context of her pro-Hitler and pro-Nazi political views, and devotes space to anti-Semitism and denouncing Jewish dietary practices. Source Wiki Pedia


  15. Funny logic from Maneka Gandhi. If Hindus seriously believed that suffering is due to bad deeds in previous lives wouldn’t they strive to perform good deeds in their present lives, not only to make their future incarnations more comfortable but also to attain Moksha. The truth is that India is an over-populated hell where nobody has the time to think of theology etc. Everyone from the poor to the rich are engaged in a soul destroying rat race. When one’s own survival is at stake who cares what for others including animals and birds. The same holds true for ‘Westerners’ whatever may be their reasons for vegetarianism. There is ample evidence from history where conquering Europeans completely wiped out both the indigenous populations and flora and fauna in America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and to some extent their colonies in Asia. Hindus, Buddhists, Jains would be hard put to equal this achievement whatever may be their beliefs. Maneka Gandhi is great at animal welfare but human sociology is out of her depth.

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