Sunday, June 12, 2005

An Ethical Dilemma-VIII

{Items originally in Gujarati that appeared in Navajivan, 4-11-1928 and 18-11-1928}


Letters in connection with the calf incident still continue to pour in. But I have had my full say already and such letters as needed a reply I have already answered. I however feel in duty bound to deal with some posers addressed to me by some correspondents. Not to do so might lead to consequences not warranted by my action.


One of them writes:

"My baby is four months old. It fell ill a fortnight after its birth and there seems no end of its ailment in sight. Several vaidyas and doctors have tried their skill upon him, but in vain; some of them now even decline to administer any medicine to him. They feel, and I feel with them, that the fate of the poor thing is sealed. I have a big family to maintain and I feel myself reduced to sore straits as I have an accumulation of debts. Nor can I any longer bear to see the terrible sufferings of the baby. Would you kindly tell me what I should do in the circumstances ?"

It is clear that this friend has not been reading Navajivan carefully or he would not have asked this question. There would be no warrant for taking the life of the baby even if all the doctors in the world were to pronounce the case to be hopeless because it would always be possible for its father to nurse it. He can soothe the baby in a variety of ways, its size unlike the calf’s being manageable. It is only when every possible avenue of service however small is closed and the last ray of hope of the patient surviving seems extinct that one is justified in putting him out of pain, and then too only if one is completely free from the taint of selfish feeling. In the present case, not only is the service of the ailing baby possible, but the main consideration that, on the father’s own admission, weighs with him is the personal inconvenience involved in nursing the baby. Largeness of the family or one’s pecuniary difficulty can never serve as a justification for putting an end to the life of an ailing patient and I have not the slightest doubt that in the present instance, it is the bounden duty of the father to lavish all his love and care on his suffering baby. There is however one thing more which he can do: if he has sense enough to see it, he should resolve forthwith to lead a life of perfect self-restraint and further stop procreating irrespective of whether his present baby survives or not.


Another friend writes in the course of a Hindi letter:

"I am the manager of. . . goshala. There are in my charge some 500 head of cattle. They are all utterly useless for any purpose and are simply eating their head off. Out of these from 350 to 400 animals on the average are constantly at death’s door, destined to die off one by one in the long end every year. Now tell me what am I to do?"

As I have already explained, giving the short shrift, from considerations of financial expediency, can never be compatible with non-violence. And if it is a fact that not a day passes in this goshala without some animal or other dying painfully in the manner of that calf in the Ashram, it makes out a strong case for closing the goshala at once for it betrays fearful mismanagement. The calf in the Ashram was reduced to such piteous plight only as the result of an accident but daily instances like this should ipso facto be impossible in a well-managed institution. The duty of the management in the present case is thus clear. It is incumbent upon them and upon the organizers of all similarly placed institutions to devise the most effective means of nursing and ministering to the needs of diseased and ailing cattle. Iwould also recommend to them for careful study and consideration my description of an ideal pinjrapole and the way it ought to be managed that I have given more than once in these pages.


Writes a Kanbi friend:

"There is a grazing-ground for the cattle near our village. It is overrun by a herd of deer about five to seven hundred strong. They work havoc upon all our cotton saplings. We are in a fix. We can easily get rid of them by employing professional watchmen who would kill them for the venison they would get. What would be your advice to a man in my condition? Again when insect pests attack our crops the only way to deal with them is to light a fire of hay which means making a holocaust of the insect pests. What course would you suggest in these circumstances ?

This question is of a different order from the other two questions; it falls under the category of the monkey question, not the
calf question. I am unable to guide anyone in the path of himsa. In fact no person can lay down for another the limit to which he may commit himsa. This is a question which everybody must decide for himself according to the measure of his capacity for ahimsa. This much however I can say without any hesitation that to use the analogy of the monkeys to justify the killing of the deer would only betray a laziness of thought and lack of discrimination; the two cases are so dissimilar. Besides, I have not yet decided to kill the monkeys, nor is there any likelihood of my doing so presently. On the contrary it has been and shall be my ceaseless anxiety to be spared that painful necessity. Moreover there is quite a number of ways of keeping off the deer from the fields which would be impossible in the case of elusive creatures like monkeys. Whilst therefore reiterating what every farmer knows from his daily experience also to be true, viz., that destruction of small insects and worms is inevitable in agriculture, I am unable to proceed any further, but must content myself by stating generally that it is the sacred duty of everybody to avoid committing himsa to the best of one’s power.


Still another friend writes:

"You say that an absolute observance of ahimsa is incompatible with life in the body, that so long as a man is in the flesh he cannot escape the commission of himsa in some form or other as the very process of our physical existence involves himsa. How then can ahimsa be the highest virtue, the supreme duty? Would you set forth as the highest religious ideal a code of conduct which is altogether impossible of being fulfilled in its completeness by man? And if you do, what would be the practical worth of such an ideal?"

My humble submission is that, contrary to what this writer says, the very virtue of a religious ideal lies in the fact that it cannot be completely realized in the flesh. For a religious ideal must be proved by faith and how can faith have play if perfection could be attained by the spirit while it was still surrounded by its “earthly vesture of decay”? Where would there be scope for its infinite expansion which is its essential characteristic? Where would be room for that constant striving, that ceaseless quest after the ideal that is the basis of all spiritual progress, if mortals could reach the perfect state while still in the body? If such easy perfection in the body was possible all we would have to do would be simply to follow a cut-and-dry model. Similarly if a perfect code of conduct were possible for all there would be no room for a diversity of faiths and religions because there would be only one standard religion which everybody would have to follow.

The virtue of an ideal consists in its boundlessness. But although religious ideals must thus from their very nature remain unattainable by imperfect human beings, although by virtue of their boundlessness they may seem ever to recede farther away from us, the nearer we go to them, still they are closer to us than our very hands and feet because we are more certain of their reality and truth than even of our own physical being. This faith in one’s ideals alone constitutes true life, in fact it is man’s all in all. Blessed is the man who can perceive the law of ahimsa in the midst of the raging fire of himsa all around him. We bow in reverence before such a man; he lays the whole world under debt by his example. The more adverse the circumstances around him, the intenser grows his longing for deliverance from the bondage of flesh which is a vehicle of himsa and beckons him on to that blessed state which in the words of the poet,

Even the Great Masters saw only in a trance
Which even their tongue could not declare,

a state in which the will to live is completely overcome by the ever active desire to realize the ideal of ahimsa and all attachment to the body ceasing man is freed from the further necessity of possessing an earthly tabernacle. But so long as that consummation is not reached a man must go on paying the toll of himsa for himsa is inseparable from all physical existence and it will have its due.

Young India, 22-11-1928