Question: How to understand religions, the treatment of animals and the role they play in religions?
Acharya Prashant: When you say religions, just for the sake of the conversation, I would want to divide them into two streams:
1. The Abrahamic stream
So, the Judeo-Christian view is that God has dominion over man and man has dominion over animals, something similar also comes up in the third Abrahamic religion, Islam, which talks about Allah having created all the animals, fish, insects for the sake of man.
And, then there is the view of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism which talk of Ahimsa, Ekatva, which is non-violence and oneness.
But I am not really convinced that when we use the word religion, we must really talk of the view that organized religions take of this matter. The moment religion is organized, it becomes something man-made.
So, I will take your question to mean, that we want to talk about religion as such.
Man, animals, man’s inner world and man’s relationship with the so-called outer world including animals.
So, there is man and man lives according to himself in this so-called universe, this universe that appears to him through his senses, there is no other way a man perceives universe, he perceives it through his senses and he interprets it through his reason, through his intellect and through his knowledge and memory.
Now, how does man relate with the world?
How does man know what to do, how to approach, how to touch, how to live, how to eat, how to talk, how to connect, that to me is the essence of religion.
Man’s relationship with himself and the world, that is religion and that is also the essence of all the organized religions.
Hence, I find it more beneficial to talk about religion itself than the various organized religions.
I have named just six in the course of this talk. But as you of course know, there are hundreds of them. It would be more useful to directly go into the one rather than the hundreds and get lost in the maze, that is not very useful.
So, man’s relationship with the universe; see, how do I look at anything or anybody, depends on how I look at myself.
If there is a pool of water and I am playful, then the pool of water is a sport for me. If there is a pool of water and I have a phobia, then the pool of water is danger for me. If there is a pool of water and I am thirsty, then the pool of water is physical sustenance and survival for me.
So, depending on who I am and what my self-concept and self-worth is, I take a view of the world.
Now, If I am someone who is always feeling incomplete within himself, if I am someone who exists in order to take something, snatch or extract something from the universe in order to fulfill himself, then my view of the universe will be very utilitarian, rather exploitative.
So, as there is that little squirrel there.
Even as we talk she is there with her tail up. How do I look at her?
I could look at her as food if hunger is what I most identify with.
I could look at her at as a companion too.
Whatever is the form she takes for me is very intimately related to the form that I have assigned to myself. The squirrel will disappear in a while, and she has indeed disappeared. She is no more there. She is all by herself somewhere. The squirrel will disappear but that which I carry as myself will not. I will carry it, I will keep carrying it.
If I am feeling incomplete, that incompletion will remain irrespective of the temporal presence and disappearance of anything outside of me.
If I always feel hollow and hungry, then everything in the universe is but a resource for me. I will want to exploit the man, the woman, the tree, the rock, the child, the animal, just everything.