Asha Praver's Monthly Letter
July 2007

Dear Friends,Asha Praver photo

“Animals evolve more rapidly if they mix closely with human beings,” Swamiji writes on page 136 of The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita. “This is the benefit to them of being pets.”

Based on this passage, our most recent Gita class included a long discussion of the right relationship between animals and human beings. (July 10, if you want to download it from our website.)

Mutual Service
The first point in the Way of Ananda Sanghis, after the universal prayer for enlightenment (“May the Divine Light awaken and purify my heart, and bring enlightenment to all beings”), is this lovely statement of our interdependency: “We believe in a single, blissful, eternal consciousness, Satchidanandam, which pervades the entire universe, unifying it and all creatures in a bond of mutual service.”

I have often read that phrase “mutual service,” but it wasn’t until I was preparing for this class on the Gita that the importance became clear to me.

In the Gita, Swamiji explains, that as we progress toward Self-realization, there will always be beings whose consciousness is less evolved than our own, and beings who have a higher state of realization than we have attained.

Spiritual progress comes when we expand our sympathies and reach out to help those coming up behind us, and when we develop the humility to open our hearts in respect and receptivity to those who are more advanced than we.

In the Gita, and in the Way of Ananda Sanghis, this help is not limited only to other human beings, but extends back to animals, plants, nature spirits and other such entities, and forward not only to saints and masters, but also to devas and other angelic beings.

For some people, animals are an important way to enter into this “bond of mutual service.”

I am not saying that if you don’t already have a pet you should go out and get one! I am only reflecting on how many different ways there are to serve God.

Master’s Pet Deer
It is interesting to note that Master included in Autobiography of a Yogi, a touching story about his own relationship with an animal. In this case, a fawn he cared for when he was running his school for boys in India, which was only one of many pets they kept at the school.

In the Gita commentary, Swamiji emphasizes the importance, when we serve others, of being impersonal in our love. This does not mean to withhold affection or to be cold in our relationships. It is not right attitude to be impersonal toward others. It is to be impersonal towards oneself and one’s self-interest.

Above all, this means to serve in harmony with divine law. To recognize, as Master put it, the inescapability of divine law, rather than allowing sentiment, or personal likes and dislikes to cloud our perception of “What is trying to happen” in a divine sense.

Pet Euthanasia
In terms of pets, perhaps the most difficult situation that pet owners face is when to prolong the life of a pet through (sometimes quite expensive) medical intervention, and when to allow nature to take its course. Perhaps even more challenging is when to take a hand in ending a pet’s suffering through euthanasia.

This is where the story in Autobiography of a Yogi should be kept clearly in mind.

In that story, the pet fawn is dying from accidental overfeeding. Master, in his love for the deer, prays that its life be spared. His prayers are so powerful that the fawn begins to recover. That night, however, the soul of the deer comes to Master in a dream and asks to be released from that form.

Immediately, Master withdraws his divine demand. Moments later, the fawn dies. Master ends the story with a beautiful discussion of life and death.

After class was over, a devoted pet owner spoke to me about her concern that some day soon she will face the necessity of putting her 19-year old cat “to sleep,” meaning, of course, to end its suffering by putting it to death.

“How can it be right to take a life in that way?” she asked.

A Mosquito is Saved from Death
Again, Autobiography of a Yogi provides a guideline. In this case, it is the discussion of ahimsa (nonviolence or harmlessness), in the chapter Years in My Master’s Hermitage. The creature at issue there was not a beloved pet, but an annoying mosquito.

A mosquito in the act of biting Master’s thigh was saved from execution by Master’s timely remembrance of Patnajali’s principle of ahimsa. Instead of receiving praise from his guru for his restraint, however, Sri Yukteswar’s surprising response to Master was, “Why not go ahead and finish the job?” Since, he explains, “The deathblow has already been struck in your mind.”

Ahimsa means the removal of the desire to kill, Sri Yukteswar says, since this world is “inconveniently arranged,” for the “literal practice of ahimsa.”

Naturally, we should make our outer life conform as much as possible to the principle of harmlessness, but it is our inner attitudes above all to which we must attend. Master said, “God reads the heart.” (The full excerpt of the mosquito story is also included following this letter.)

Pets Must Go On
Coming back to my friend and her cat, we readily agreed that her inner attitude toward this beloved creature was entirely loving. She would only end its life to spare it suffering, not to inflict harm upon it.“You have already taken responsibility for its life,” I pointed out, “and by extension, therefore, for the time of its death. Without your care and medical intervention it would certainly have died years ago.

“Up to a point,” I said, “it is right to extend the life of a pet, to give it more time to associate with humans and thus, as Swamiji explains in the Gita commentary, hasten its evolution by contact with beings more advanced than itself. It is good karma for an animal to be a pet. In the wild, it would only be able to associate with creatures on its own level of consciousness.

“However, even the life of the most well cared for pet is one of very limited potential in terms of consciousness. The nervous system of an animal can only encompass a limited level of awareness, compared to Self-realization which is the destiny of all creatures.”

In the story of the mosquito, Sri Yukteswar explains, only the human body has the ‘unique brain and spinal centers” needed to “fully grasp and express the loftiest aspects of divinity. No lower form is so equipped.’

So at some point, like Master’s pet deer, the soul of the creature will have exhausted the potential of that particular form. In order to evolve it has to go on to its next stage. That is why the deer pleaded with Master to be allowed to die.

Highly Evolved Pets
A complicating factor for some pet owners when it is time to allow or even facilitate the death of a pet, is that many owners are convinced that his or her animal has already achieved a high state of evolution, perhaps higher even than the pet owner himself. Most pet owners have many experiences to back up this assertion.

Because animals don’t have individual egos, and are therefore spared the “thwarting cross-currents of ego”—a major impediment to spiritual understanding—they often do manifest remarkable attunement to subtle realities.

In this way, and many others, animals can be our teachers. This is a beautiful example of how all creatures are unified in a “bond of mutual service.”

And for purposes of this discussion, it really doesn’t matter whether the perception of high consciousness in a pet is a true or not. The point is, especially for those who are most concerned about letting a high consciousness pet die, is that one characteristic of a high state of awareness is nonattachment to one’s body.

Devoted pet owners, may mourn the loss of a familiar and much loved animal form, but the soul inhabiting that animal form may be eager to go on to its next stage of evolution.

Various “pet psychics” have confirmed that pets feel no anxiety about their own death. Insofar as they do suffer, it is for their distraught owners who are plunged into grief and loneliness at the thought of a pet’s impending demise.

All of Creation
The same discussion can also be applied to trees and other plants. For the “bond of mutual service,” extends to everything in the natural world.

In The Path, Swamiji tells the story of Master reprimanding careless gardeners for their rough treatment of a tree they were planting. “Be careful!” Master exclaimed. “Can’t you feel that it’s alive?”

On the other hand, when Swamiji was building Crystal Hermitage, he didn’t hesitate to remove quite a few large, long-standing trees in order to clear the view from the garden to the hills beyond.

Some people in the community were dismayed by what they considered to be his callous indifference to those trees.

“Trees enjoy giving pleasure to people by opening up the view,” Swamiji said in reply. He hadn’t yet coined the phrase, “the bond of mutual service,” but clearly Swamiji was referring to it.

In the soon to be published book, In Divine Friendship: Letters of Counsel and Reflection, Swamiji addresses the same subject.

Referring first to both plants and animals, Swamiji writes, “Lower forms of life don’t work from ego, and are not deeply concerned about themselves individually. Their karma, as Master said, is group karma.”

Then about trees, he writes, “Trees do have feeling, as Master indicated, but their feelings—much more than most people’s—is for the general rightness of things, and not for themselves particularly, or for personal likes and dislikes. Life and death are, for them, more or less meaningless, and death is not a cause of suffering.

“The vibrations of a place,” Swamiji went on to say, “can be spectacularly uplifted when the place is developed not with a view to destroying trees, but to making it beautiful and cared-for. The very devas (angelic beings) are attracted to places where there is pure, devotional energy.... Wildness alone, especially ‘unkempt’ wildness, attracts rakshasas (demonic beings) and lower entities. Angels are attracted to places that reflect the higher regions where they live....

“Man’s sensitivity has been given him by God to refine and develop material reality,” Swamiji writes. “God needs channels of His blessings on earth. It is not His way to want us to say, ‘You do it all, Lord. It’s your business, not mine.”

God In Nature
Years ago, there was a movie about St. Francis called Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Many people were enthusiastic about the movie, but Swamiji was not impressed.

“They completely missed the point,” Swamiji declared. “They made it seem as if Francis worshipped Nature, as a thing in itself. Francis was devoted to God. And because of the purity and intensity of his devotion, he saw God everywhere. It wasn’t the sunflowers or the doves in themselves that inspired Francis. It was the presence of God he saw within them. God at the heart of everything.”

When Francis declared this, it was a spiritual revelation. Until then, in order to commune with God, people separated themselves completely from all aspects of creation. It hadn’t occurred to them to see God in Nature.

In his Canticle of the Creatures, Francis refers to aspects of Nature as his “brother” and “sister.” It is a declaration that there is no reality apart from God. To portray Francis as worshipping those separate aspects of God’s creation is a complete contradiction of what he intended.

All creatures are united, to refer again to the first point in The Way of Ananda Sanghis, “in a single, blissful, eternal consciousness, Satchidanandam, which pervades the entire universe.” Man’s “highest duty,” Swamiji goes on to say, is “to realize himself as an expression of all-pervading Satchidanandam.”

Creation’s One Goal
Even though plants and animals lack the ego development needed to consciously be aware of this divine goal, still, they participate in the gradual expansion of consciousness.

In the Festival of Light we say,

“From the hearts of mankind,
And of creatures everywhere,
Goes up in wordless yearning a prayer for redemption.”

In this context, redemption means to be freed from all limitation and to know ourselves as we truly are: One with the Infinite Light. Creation has no other purpose.

“The forming of stars and moons and planets,
Of galaxies revolving on the tides of space,
Of drifting continents, upheaving mountains,
Snowy wastes and dark, silent ocean deeps
Had but this for its design: the birth of life,

And with life’s birth, the dawn of self-awareness:
Passage through dim corridors of waking consciousness
To emerge at last into infinite light --
Into perfect joy!

O Children of Light, forsake the darkness.
Know that, forever, you and He are one!”

Joy to you,
Asha