I’m a sophomore in college and it is the first day of my writing course, which focuses on animal rights. The instructor proposes a really interesting scenario for us all. He asks how we would react if a race of aliens, with IQ’s vastly outweighing humans’, came to Earth. Further, what if they rounded up the entire human population and put them in concentration camp-like spaces? In this way they could easily manufacture human flesh for the consumption of their fellow aliens. Upon hearing this it was clear the instructor was elucidating the treatment of animals in factory farms. He was questioning the ethical validity of such treatment by putting it into a more emotionally salient scenario, and of course the entire class felt the alien’s treatment unethical. And I think most people would also agree.
After all, isn’t it common sense to treat others how you want to be treated? Yet for some, this means eating a juicy steak and then cuddling up with your dog Sparky, who is treated more lavishly than even some children in third world countries.
So, what is the real basis which determines who should be on the receiving end of ethical, compassionate treatment? Why is it that some are treated lovingly while others are exploited? It is a question of vision.
The Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Indian text, describes: “The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcaste.” In other words, a person is truly situated in knowledge when they can see the unifying thread between every living being. Whether they are a scholar or a dog, rich or poor, Christian or Islamic—such a person exhibits equal, loving compassion towards them all.
This philosophy reaches far beyond just the treatment of animals in factory farms, but should expand toward all living beings we come into contact with. This unifying thread is the sacred spark of divinity that is inherent in all living beings. And in order to perceive this animating force or spiritual essence in others, we first have to recognize it in ourselves.
We hear through our ears, taste through our tongue, see through our eyes and think with our brains. Yet, we should not identify ourselves as an ear, tongue, eye or even a brain. Rather, we should recognize ourselves as the witness of thought and of the interplay between the senses and the sense objects. That witness is termed in the Bhagavad Gita as atma, or the soul, which is a part of the Divine. And although from an external perspective a cow’s body largely differs from a human’s, the soul is still of the same quality. Just as a man in a Rolls Royce thinks “I am important,” while a man in some beat up pick-up thinks, “I am poor”, but both of the men are equal as they are human beings. Yet, it is the false identification with their designated car that creates the inequality between them. Therefore, it is bodily vision which is the basis of all forms of inequality and unethical treatment in the world today.
Compassion is a valued feature amongst cultured individuals. But eating cows, pigs, and chickens and then taking your dog for a walk in the park does not show compassion. Loving only your family, yet hating your co-workers, neighbors or others in a different social or ethnic class is not love. Compassion and love are not conditional; rather, they expand the feeling of unity—the feeling of camaraderie amongst all life forms. Only this type of loving compassion, which is unmotivated by selfish desires, can positively affect the mistreatment of animals and humans alike.
I invite readers to consider a solution for unethical treatment that is alternative to methods such as political intervention. For even man-made laws are subject to change in this world. Instead, I encourage the cultivation of spiritual vision; vision that recognizes the eternal nature of every life. This is the beginning of self-realization; knowing our identity as spirit souls. The same spark of consciousness that blazes within every other living entity comes from one common Source. If you look around you, there is no real lasting equality on the material platform because everything is constantly changing and transforming. There can only be equality on the spiritual platform. With this understanding of our spiritual identity, we can begin to think of universal brotherhood and go even deeper, properly executing real loving compassion to all living beings.