The Cruel and the Compassionate

Sri Krishna

The other night, I wanted to forget about the horrors in the news—the debate over abortion, the war in Ukraine, the mass shooting in Thailand.

“Let me  look at something else,” I thought. I got up and closed the window to keep out the chilly night air of autumn.   Then I got back to my computer and  went onto a site called Science Alert.

“This will be a  relief from all the horrifying news.”

So I clicked on the link.  Suddenly a horrifying face with big eyes peered out from the screen. It was something called a damsel fly.

I clicked again and the title jumped out at me:  “There’s Growing Evidence That Insects Feel Pain, Just Like Us.”

I sat up. “Astounding,” I thought. “Are the scientists finally coming around to what Krishna said five thousand years ago?”

“Thus he [the soul] meets with good and evil in various species.”(13.22)

Lord Chaitanya. He is Lord Krishna himself, but he appeared as a devotee in West Bengal 500 years ago.

He Has a Right To Live

My mind went back a few years to a summer afternoon in New York. My aunt  had just picked up a little bug from her living room carpet.

“I’ll throw it in the toilet,” she said.

“No,” I said. “Let him live. Throw him out the front door onto the grass.”

“No,” she said.

“Have some compassion,” I said. “He has a right to live.”

My aunt looked at me intently, obviously debating whether to listen to her Krishna-brainwashed nephew. Then she marched into the bathroom, threw the bug into the toilet, and went into another room.

“Just to spite me,” I thought. “Why else does she insist on killing this poor little thing? And not just to spite me but to spite Krishna too.”

I cupped my chin in my hand.  Poor little bug. Drowning is horrible enough. But drowning in someone’s toilet?

I strode into the bathroom. The little bug was swimming in the toilet. I held my breath and gritted my teeth as I reached into the toilet to scoop him up out of the water.

Then, I hurried over to the front door, the toilet water still dripping from my fingers, then out the front door and set him on the lawn.

I “Goodbye little buggie,” I thought. Then I said, “Hare Krishna,” out loud so he could hear it. He wouldn’t  understand it of course. But there would be some spiritual benefit for the poor soul trapped in that little body.

Then I hurried back to the bathroom and washed my hands. And washed them again.

Something in the kitchen fell down with a clatter and brought my mind back to the present. I was in my apartment again, sitting at my computer reading about insects and pain.

“What if she had read this article?” I thought. “Would it make any difference?”

“Probably not,” I answered myself.

“She eats the flesh of slaughtered cows and sheep. Would she care about a little bug? She can’t understand it: There’s a person—like her—living in the body of the bug.”

Cows, Ants, and Bells in Krishna’s Land

I clicked on my mouse and started reading.

Insects, said the article, produce the same chemicals in reaction to pain as humans. And even a bacterium avoids unpleasant stimuli.

My mind wandered off again. I was strolling once more with a companion on a country path in India, in Krishna’s holy town of Vrindaban.  In the distance were the sounds of cows mooing and temple bells ringing. A peacock ran across our path.

Suddenly my Indian companion gently pushed me aside. He pointed downwards.

A long trail of tiny ants were trekking along the path under our feet.

No need to say a word.  We both had the same thought. Could we bear to commit a mass murder of little ants?

How wonderful, this Krishna Consciousness. It awakens compassion in even the hardest of hearts.

I Enjoy Watching Them Die

The Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta tells about a hard-hearted hunter named Mrgari. (The very name means “the enemy of animals.”)

He did not kill animals outright. He would mortally wound them. “I enjoy watching them die a slow painful death,” He told the sage Narada.

But after he became Krishna’s  devotee, by the grace of  Narada, he deliberately broke his bow and would not even step on an ant.

But compassion is not just a gift for the hard hearted.

Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta also tells about a soft-hearted leper named Vasudeva. Whenever a worm would fall from one of his sores, he would pick it up and put it back on.

(If you’re wondering what finally happened to this gentle soul, Lord  Caitanya cured him and told him to preach Krishna consciousness and liberate all human beings.)

My spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, also showed me an example of compassion. The following is a passage from my book My Days with Prabhupada:

Prabhupada lived in a bungalow in Hollywood, in the north of Los Angeles. All the neighboring houses had neatly trimmed lawns, but at Prabhupada’s house the grass was growing tall.

I asked Prabhupada’s servant about it. “You have given the animals a home,” Prabhupada had told him. “Do not take it away.”

Although Prabhupada was focused on a worldwide institution for the benefit of all humanity, he was personal and caring, even down to the smallest intimacy, as with the picture of the disciples on his altar and in this case, the tiny insects in his front lawn.

But did anyone really care what tragedy, what heartbreak these little creatures would feel if their nests and dens and lairs were suddenly cut down by the blades of a lawn mower?

Who cared what a little bug felt anyway?

But now I saw that Prabhupada cared. He had the perfect vision described in the Bhagavad-gita:

That within the body of every living being—not just a human but even a little insect, even a blade of grass—lives a complete person. Yes, someone just like me, being dragged through the different species of life, sometimes feeling pleasure, sometimes pain.

I suddenly understood that I wanted this vision too. I wanted to be part of a movement that brought compassion into this hard world.

How about you?

Eternally touching my head to the floor at the lotus feet of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, for showing me all this.

~Umapati Swami, October 17 2022

Photo top: Naughty Krishna holding a piece of candy (Jishnu Das)

(Note: The opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organization or any other person.)

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© Umapati Swami 2021
Scriptural passages © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust

Srila Prabhupada

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the teacher who brought Krishna Consciousness from India to the West and then to the rest of the world. He is the founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement as well as the author and compiler of many works of Vedic knowledge. He left this world in 1977.

Umapati Swami

One of the first American devotees of the Hare Krishna Movement, he became Srila Prabhupada’s disciple in 1966. Since then, he has preached Krishna Consciousness in many countries and is the author of “My Days with Prabhupada,” available from Amazon. Now 85 years old, he has started this blog to share what he has learned.

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