“Most believers in the Judeo-Christian world-view believe that humans can do anything with animals which do not have rationality and consciousness. Very different is the world-view manifest in the Upanishads, Vedas, Puranas and the great epics, Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In the last, Yudhistira refused to enter heaven unless a little brown dog that had followed the Pandavas as they travelled in their last journey from their capital, Hastinapuri, was also allowed entry.” – Hiranmay Karlekar
According to a New York Times report by Rick Gladstone, Pope Francis, during a recent public appearance in Rome, said, while trying to console a boy distraught over the death of his dog, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” The Pope, who has taken his papal name from St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, may well have started a controversy. His remark implied that dogs had souls, otherwise they could not ascend to heaven. On the other hand, conservative Christian, particularly Roman Catholic, theologians believe they do not. Pope Pius IX (1846-78) held that dogs and other animals had no consciousness and even tried to prevent the establishment of an Italian chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In sharp contrast, Pope John Paul II asserted that animals did have souls and were “as near to God as men are.” His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, seemed to totally negate his view when he said that an animal’s death meant the end of its existence on earth.
Most believers in the Judeo-Christian world-view believe that humans can do anything with animals which do not have rationality and consciousness. Very different is the world-view manifest in the Upanishads, Vedas, Puranas and the great epics, Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In the last, Yudhistira refused to enter heaven unless a little brown dog that had followed the Pandavas as they travelled in their last journey from their capital, Hastinapuri, was also allowed entry. As he stood his ground, the dog assumed the form of Dharma, the Lord of Virtue, who said that it was he who had been following the Pandavas, and Yudhistira could never have entered heaven in his mortal body had he abandoned Him. Two things are important here. Dharma thought nothing of assuming the form of a dog; Yudhistira was prepared to forego heaven rather than abandon a dog that had followed him faithfully.
Krittibas Ojha‘s Ramayana in Bengali tells the story of Ram, installed as king in Ayodhya after defeating Ravana and rescuing Sita, admitting a street dog’s complaint against a sanyasin, and giving the latter the punishment the dog demanded. The punishment was making him the king of Kalinjar. As the dog explained to the startled court, it was itself the king in its previous birth and, by a curse of Lord Shiva, every king of Kalinjar was reborn was a dog.
Both these accounts have to be seen in the context of the basic premise of Hinduism that the brahman or universal cosmic soul created the universe as a manifestation of himself and pervaded every aspect of it. The Taittiriya Upanishad says,“The Cosmic Soul thought to itself, ‘I will become many, I will be born.’ He then practised austerities, in his case he only thought. He then created the world, which would be of living and non-living things. He created them and then entered into them….” (translation by Swami Lokeswarananda). Addressing Brahman, the Svetasvatara Upanishad says, “Thou art woman, thou art man / Thou art the youth, thou art the maiden / Thou art the old man tottering with his staff / Thou faces everywhere. / Thou art the dark butterfly / Thou art the green parrot with red eyes / Thou art the thunder clouds, the seas / Without beginning art thou / Without time, without space….” (translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester) Vishnu had reincarnated himself as, among other beings, a boar, fish, tortoise and Nrisimha (man-lion). From the beginning, Hinduism held that humans, animals and even inanimate objects like stone and sand, belonged to the same universe of morality and had the same claim to ethical treatment. Unfortunately, many Hindus pay only lip service to their faith. Animals continue to suffer. – The Pioneer, 18 December 2014
» Hiranmay Karlekar is Consultant Editor of The Pioneer and former Editor of Hindustan Times. He has authored four books in English and two novels in Bengali.