This past week, a very troubling incident occurred in my neighborhood. A young Korean woman, apparently in a drunken rage, was caught on camera abusing her neighbors cat and ultimately throwing it to its death from a 10th floor balcony. The whole situation has not gone unnoticed by the public who was infuriated and is now calling for a strong punishment for the accused (seen here accosting the owner of the now-deceased cat). Animal rights in Korea have never been one of its strong points. Historical poverty and class divisions created an environment where animals were seen not by the love and joy they can share, but by the meat and fur they offer. Still today, bears, snakes, seals, dogs and sharks are ritualistically, albeit silently, killed for their medicinal value and while the government wrestles between a culture mainstay and international pressure, thousands of animals are caught in between every year.
I feel that taking a Jain approach to animal rights is perhaps the best way for any person to truly understand the need for animal equality and non-violence.
The Arhats and Bhagavats of the past, present, and future, all say thus, speak thus, declare thus, explain thus: all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. (Akaranga Sutra, Book 1, Fourth Lecture, Called Righteousness, First Lesson)It is thought that all creatures have the potential for divinity and, following that logic, no one has the right to impede such a journey. Here is a common story used to illustrate Jain compassion for animals.
The young prince was overwhelmed with compassion. Arriving at the wedding chamber, he spoke with the father of the princess. “Immediately and unconditionally all those animals enclosed to be slaughtered for the marriage feast must be freed,” he said. “Why?” responded the father. “The lives of animals are there for the pleasure of humans. Animals are our slaves and our meat. How can there be any feast without the flesh?!”
Prince Parshwanath was puzzled. He could not believe what he had just heard. He exclaimed, “Animals have souls, they have consciousness, they are our kith and kin, they are our ancestors. They wish to live as much as we do; they have feelings and emotions. They have love and passion; they fear death as much as we do. Their instinct for life is no less than ours. Their right to live is as fundamental as our own. I cannot marry, I cannot love and I cannot enjoy life if animals are enslaved and killed.” Without further ado he rejected the plans for his marriage, he discarded the comfortable life of a prince, and he responded to his inner calling to go out and awaken the sleepy masses who had been conditioned to think selfishly and kill animals for their pleasure and comfort.
Moving story, but in order to truly understand the reason why Jains feel this connection and concern for animals, we must look at their Karmic beliefs and especially how they view reincarnation and transmigration.
As you can see, all creatures are stuck in the same karmic cycle. At the bottom is an Infernal Kingdom not to be mistaken with Christian Hell. These are hell-beings or Naraka -meaning people who must endure a great amount of suffering. It is not a physical place, but a place here on Earth. At the top is the Celestial Kingdom which is full of demi-gods or Deva. Animals and humans are caught somewhere in the middle.
The very goal of Jainism is to free ourselves from this cycle by obtaining enlightenment. As humans, we are closer to achieving that goal than animals are, but if we choose to squander this opportunity by leading a life full of greed, deception, materialism, attachment, violence and anger, we are sure to be punished by karma and sent down to a lower level on the scale.
Only if we succeed and shed our karma (Nirjara), will we be free from this cycle (Samsara) and achieve liberation (Moksa). Even if we don't take part in violence and anger, more is required of us than just casually scooting by and saying that we're "good". We must practice good and treating all animals with respect is just one area where we mustn't fail.
It's said that caring for old animals is one of the most important roles a Jain can play. I like this concept, but I think we can expand on that more. Can you imagine anything for dear and innocent than an old dog? They are loyal, wise, calm and tempered. Regardless of how tired they might be, they will always do as asked and be right next to you when needed. No one would ever abuse an old dog because the presumed benefit of punishment has long passed them. However, young dogs and animals don't have this luxury as many are beaten, tortured, abandoned or killed. I think we need to remember the innocence and grace of old dogs when we look at young dogs and then we might understand the futility of abuse.
The poor cat that was thrown to its death had a name. It was called 'Eunbi' which in its infinitive form means "to be left alone". Ironic, huh? The creature's last moments on Earth were full of torture by the hands and feet of an ugly soul. And for what reason? Was it a "bad cat"? How can you define "bad"? Did it use the restroom inside? Maybe it ate your shoes, but those things don't make an animal bad. What makes an animal bad is an abusive and violent life.
I look at my dog and I see a responsibility. It is my job to ensure that he has every opportunity to reach the next karmic level. Who am I to deny this? I am just a soul in a body like he is. If he does not reach the next level, then I feel that it is my responsibility. A good person does not hit an animal and a good dog is not hit. Part of my journey towards Moksa is already proving to be inspiring. Last month (and in April), I discussed my admiration for the Quaker tenet of oneness with God--total equality. However, that truth didn't extend to animals. Jainism gives me hope that animals of my past and every other amazing creature on Earth has a chance to reach Moksa with me.
My dog now might die tomorrow or he might die in 15 years, but as long as he is here, it is my duty to ensure that he transmigrates northward and ultimately joins the rest of his family after liberation.
On a side note, a student just offered me a hot dog. I almost vomited at the sight.