04 February 2008

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word meaning "non-injury" or "harmlessness". As one of the yogic niyamas or prohibitions, it specifically denotes harmlessness to other sentient beings in thought and deed.

It seems evident to me, both from personal experience and from reading the research of others, that sentience is not a quality limited to human beings alone. My cats are thinking, feeling creatures; so are the cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep that the farming industry treats as machines and economic units. Furthermore, the provenance of the natural processes that they go through in living out their lives naturally belong to them, and not to me; I would not drink the milk of a human mother, because that milk is intended for her baby. So it is with a cow and her calf, or a goat and her kid, or a sheep and her lamb. I have no revulsion at the idea of eating the unfertilized eggs of chickens, but the idea of keeping a chicken for the purpose of having an egg machine repels me, and I refuse to support it.

The practice of biology and medicine is also affected by extending sentience beyond humans. It renders medical testing on animals absolutely unconscionable. Acknowledging sentience in other species does not prohibit testing using computerized simulations, or tissue cultures, or human beings who are capable of consenting because they understand the risks. Acknowledging sentience makes the mass killing of fish, turtles, frogs, rats, pigs, cats, and others for the purpose of dissection into mass murder, but does not prohibit the sourcing of animal cadavers from those that have died naturally.

None of this means that animals are above humans, or equal to humans. No one species is equal to another, since they all serve different purposes in their environments. An animal does not hold property rights the same way that a human does, but in our incredible talent for abstraction, we can assign an animal a right to a habitat that is diverse in the resources with which it evolved. We can also extend definitions of consent and custody to our fellow beings, inasmuch as it is reasonable to do so.

I am convinced that all humans have in them the capacity to understand sentience the way that I do. I am also convinced that many humans deny this capacity with great energy, because they fear the loss of those things to which they are accustomed to having as a result of the exploitation of other sentient beings. I understand that fear, having lived with it for the first 21 years of my life, and recognize that I am unusual in having renounced it. I do not expect others to change their behavior based on what I do or say, as nice as it would be if they did. This does not mean that I am silent, nor does it mean that I never become angry or impassioned when I see injustice being done. I am harmless, but I am not voiceless or toothless.

2 comments:

Karthik Shetty said...

You said ["I have no revulsion at the idea of eating the unfertilized eggs of chickens, but the idea of keeping a chicken for the purpose of having an egg machine repels me, and I refuse to support it."]- where would the egg come if you didn't have the chicken? Till they 'invent' an egg machine, the natural resource will have to suffice. Plus, if you're repelled by the fact that a living creature is being reared for the ‘food’ it can provide, you don't explain why there aren't any feelings towards plants grown specifically for the food they provide (they're certainly not grown to beautify the field they're grown in).

Also, you said ["No one species is equal to another, since they all serve different purposes in their environments."] - now as someone who has understood the scientific theory of evolution, this is a lil hard to digest. Since the time they evolved and first appeared on the planet, living species of various organisms (plants included) managed to coexist either in a symbiotic relationship with other species or continued to live on through generations despite the presence of the other species. So really, the only purpose of existence of all species is to try to pass on genes to start the next generation. It may sound crude (in fact it does), but at the very basic biological level, that's all there is to it. Being philosophical is trying to sugar coat the hard facts of life. Very nice blog.
-KS

SivaHema said...

The point of humans "utilizing" plants as a source of energy is interesting but can still be explained by obejective reasoning. Plants are the ONLY creatures on Earth that have the ability to "create" food from natural resources like water, carbon dioxide and nitrates from soil etc. Due to their ability of producing energy sources ALL beings are at some level are dependent on plants. For example cow is directly dependent on green plants. By being an omnivore human beings only create redundancy in the energy cycle. PLANT==>COW==>MAN
Any earthly creature other than plants are evolved as dependent creatures. So why not do as least harm as possible? If We have really "evolved" then we sould be headed towards less harm as opposed to more.

Now coming to your point on evolution: ["now as someone who has understood the scientific theory of evolution, this is a lil hard to digest."] The theory of evolution DOES NOT place humans on TOP of the food chain. Infact food chain (or the pyramid) is a concept that we have created. Who are we to say that an earthworm, or a fish is less evolved than us? This concept has been more elaborately covered in Richard Dawkins' book "The greatest show on earth".
We have taken the concept of survival of the fittest way too far. IF we are talking about a tribe that lives in the brutal himalayan climate (where there are actually more pepole than trees) then using Yak's milk makes some "survival" sense..in a world like ours its just plain and simple cruelty.