By Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development
Most people who follow a religion never read its holy books. They simply follow social customs that pretend to be part of the religion. For instance, the Prophet Mohammed’s eating habits were very frugal and he espoused vegetarianism by his actions and teachings, but every Muslim will swear that eating meat is part of his/her religion. The Sikhs do the same with eating meat even though all their Gurus are vegetarian. So do the Buddhists.
The Tamilians grow up thinking they know the teachings of Thiruvalluvar, the poet who wrote one of the world’s finest treatises on practical morality, Thirukkural. But, like all proponents of religions and philosophies, they take selectively and out of context what they need to bolster a way of life that suits them – whether drinking, gambling, eating meat or bigamy, whether beating women, stealing or whoring.
During the recent mob violence in Tamil Nadu, that pushed the local government into a frontal attack on the Supreme Court, many people quoted Thirukkural as giving the sanctions for the annual assault on bulls that leaves many dead and maimed. There any many savageries on animals in India and this is one of the worst. Unfortunately, since the mob got away with it, many other states are now demanding that the Supreme Court allow their people to be equally savage – cockfighting, bullfighting, cow racing, bulbul fighting, all this is now being pushed along with the appropriate Hindu scriptures.
How sad to see the descendants of Thiruvalluvar pushing for permissions to be cruel to bulls and quoting his immortal Thirukkural as a reason. Give alcohol to a bull so that his liver is permanently damaged, tear out bits of his skin so that he is in agony, cut of his tail, put lime juice in his eyes and chillies on his genitals and then jump all over him till he falls and dies. This is not the sport that the poet advocated – it has become a furious, mad violence unleashed on an animal victim.
The Thirukkural is composed of 1,330 couplets in Old Tamil. Each kural, or couplet, contains exactly seven words, known as cirs, with four cirs on the first line and three on the second. Each one teaches you how to live life at its purest level in a way that makes you enjoy being alive.
What does the Thirukkural say about compassion?
Wicked men do not fear, but worthy men dread: The arrogance of sinful deeds. Only the forgetful plot another’s ruin; others remember : That virtue itself devises a plotter’s downfall. Let him who wishes to be free from afflictions’ pain:Avoid inflicting harm on others. One can escape from hate-filled enemies : But one’s own hateful acts will relentlessly pursue and destroy him.
Among the wealthy, compassionate men claim the richest wealth : For material wealth is possessed by even contemptible men. Find and follow the good path and be ruled by compassion: For if the various ways are examined, compassion will prove the means to liberation.
Those whose hearts are drawn toward compassion : Will never be drawn into the woeful world of darkness. Evil deeds dreaded by the soul will not afflict : The compassionate who foster and protect all life.
This wide and wind-swept fertile earth is witness to the truth : That misery is not for men who keep compassion.
They say those who act cruelly by forsaking compassion : Must have forgotten what it means to forsake morality.
As this world is not for the penniless : So is that world not for the pitiless!
Those without wealth may one day prosper : but those without Kindness are utterly forever doomed.
Practicing charity without compassion is as inconceivable : As realizing Truth without clarity of mind.
Before advancing against those weaker than yourself : Ponder when you stood before those more powerful.
The face’s smile and the heart’s joy are slain by anger : Does there exist a greater enemy than one’s own anger?
If a man would be his own guard, let him guard against anger : Left unguarded, his own wrath will slay him.
Drawing near it, men are engulfed in fury’s fire : Which burns even rescuing friends and family.
If hurting others would bring princely riches : The pure in heart would still refuse.
It is the principle of the pure in heart never to injure others : Even when they themselves have been hatefully injured.
To harm even those who antagonize us unprovoked:Will bring boundless suffering.
What good is a man’s knowledge unless it prompts him to : Prevent the pain of others as if it were his own pain?
Any actions which a man knows would harm himself:He should not inflict on others.
The supreme principle is this : Never knowingly Harm anyone at any time in any way.
Why does one hurt other lives : Doing what he knows can hurt oneself?
If a man inflicts sorrow on another in the morning : Sorrow will come to him unbidden in the afternoon.
Harm descends on those who harm others : Hence, those who wish not to be harmed, do no harm.
What is virtuous conduct? It is never destroying life : For killing leads to every other sin.
Of all the virtues summed by ancient sages the foremost are these : To partake of food one has shared and to protect all living creatures.
Not killing is the first and foremost good : The virtue of not lying comes next.
What is the good way? It is the path that reflects on : How it may avoid killing any living creature.
Among all who disown the world out of dismay, the foremost are : They who, dismayed with death-dealing, embrace non-killing.
Life-devouring death will not assail the living days : Of one whose code of conduct is to never kill.
Refrain from taking precious life from any living being: Even to save your own life.
By sacrifice of life some gain great wealth and benefits : But wise men scorn such gains.
The savages whose trade is killing creatures are defiled : Wise men know the defiling nature of being mean.
The beggar who suffers a sore ridden body and destitute life must have : Once deprived another’s body of life.
All of you who believe that an animal, or even a human being, who has less power than you, is simply a being to be hurt and used, read these immortal verses and think about the quality of your own mind and life. Are you happy?
Did you get any happier when you were hurting someone weaker than you?
*About the author: Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is a Member of Parliament and leader of animal welfare movement in India. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org