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Active Kindness

As we have remarked in the beginning of this book, there is in general very little positive kindness to animals even in such a country as India, where eighty per cent of the people can be said to profess — outwardly, at least — life-centered religions, and to be, for long centuries, familiarized with the idea of the oneness of all life.

The condition of the unowned animals there, especially of dogs and cats, is often appalling. We have seen them — thin, miserable, famishing creatures, with ribs jutting out, lame or diseased more often than not, and nearly always scared at the sight of a human being walking towards them; not daring to come within the reach of the two-legged friend who offers them some food, or wishes to stroke them, for the two-legged ones, they know, are treacherous: they only brandish sticks and throw stones; they are hostile demons to be feared. We have seen them-and cursed the hypocrisy of the men who can tolerate the existence of such distress while worshipping the Great God Whose name — Pasupati — means “The Lord of Beasts,” and taking pride in being the Buddha’s compatriots.

We must admit that, in the blessed Land which has managed to keep alive up till today the tradition of so many faiths all proclaiming the unity of Life, most grown up people are not aggressively cruel to animals; they just “do not interfere” in the cases of positive cruelty which they might happen to witness and, in ordinary life, they are simply indifferent. They will not kill an animal, certainly not — not even a bug or a flea, most of them; nor eat meat, of course; nor commit, nor support, most of the crimes that the believers in man-centered creeds find so “natural.” Ahimsa — “not


injury,” harmlessness — is the consecrated word which comes back, over and over again, like a leitmotiv, on the lips of the Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, etc., exalting the excellence of their respective creeds before outsiders or among themselves, as though to convince the world (and themselves) that they are the inheritors of the most perfect of all civilizations. “Harmlessness” — non-aggressiveness towards all living beings — they say “is the supreme religion, the duty of duties.” And they take it literally-not in its spirit. Kill a living creature? never. They would not do that. Hit it? not even that. But never matter what a creature suffers at the hands of other people, less enlightened, provided the proud “ahimshavadi” (the believer in harmlessness) is not himself the author of the mischief! Never mind, also, what it may suffer from sheer neglect, from want of active sympathy provided he does no positive harm to it, no “injury”! We once saw a respectable believer in “harmlessness” pass before a group of street urchins busy trying to bring down a bird’s nest from a tree, and say nothing. We asked him — after reprimanding the young rascals and forcing them to disperse — why he had said nothing. “Oh!” answered he, “they are children of the lowest of the low; they don’t know any better.” It is probable that they did not. But it never occurred to the gentleman either to teach them better, or — if he was a priori convinced that they were unteachable — at least to prevent them, then and there, from harming the birds. It was “no business of his.”

We have seen rich men and women, upholders of the ideal of “harmlessness,” pass by starving dogs lying at their door — or at the door of the hotel where they had enjoyed a good meal — and never even think of asking a servant to give the poor creatures something to eat; never even tell him to throw them the leavings of the food instead of casting these into the garbage can among the ashes, from which no animal could possibly pick them out; never protest at the sight of people kicking the dogs or chasing them away. We have seen well-to-do householders, believers in “harmlessness,” chase away starving cats from the approach of their kitchen instead of asking a servant to put down some food for them, if necessary out of doors. As they did not actually hit the creatures, but just caused them to remain hungry when they could have done otherwise, all was well, they thought; and their conscience did not reproach them with cruelty. Man’s conscience is what upbringing, habit and individual sensitiveness make it. And where individual sensitiveness is lacking — as is the case with most people every-


where — a faulty upbringing is never recognized to have been faulty, and habits of callousness never taken to be bad.

Yet, as we have remarked in former chapters, there have been times when positive kindness to animals (and not merely abstention from harming them) was widely preached and made a duty by law throughout India; times when hospitals and homes for sick or aged beasts were maintained there by the government, and when people were prompted by the example of the ruling king himself actually to help any living creature. Those laws and institutions, that whole state of affairs, were the result of the initiative of a very few individual men who happened to be both vividly aware of man’s duties towards all sentient beings, and to possess either absolute power — like King Asoka — or an enormous influence upon those in power — like those saintly mendicants of old who once carried the Buddha’s message of love all over Asia and were heard with reverence at the courts of kings. They do not seem ever to have been the outcome of widespread spontaneous interest in animals on the part of a whole nation. And though we do not deny that, even today, the ordinary, humble folk of India often show somewhat less callousness to animals than the so-called educated people do, we have yet to come across any nation having spontaneously, as a matter of course, in ancient or modern times, lived up to the law of active love preached, as regards all creatures, by the world’s greatest seers. Ancient India, even after Buddhism had left its stamp upon it, was no exception; otherwise what need had Harshavardhana (seventh century A.D.) to be so drastic in his punishment of cruelty to animals? Ancient Egypt, with all the attention her people paid to sacred animals of various sorts, was no exception either; otherwise hunting and meat-eating would have disappeared there, from earliest times. Active — and impartial — kindness to all that lives was never looked upon as a duty but by the better few, and never practiced, even in Hindu or Buddhist countries, save when enforced or particularly encouraged by a ruling elite.

* * *

What about the countries that profess man-centered creeds? In most of them — in nearly all of them — the way animals are treated is revolting; the less said about it the better. We shall only recall Norman Douglas’ vivid and all too accurate description of the massacre of lambs in Greece at the time of Easter; we shall recall the cruel way both those and other animals are killed in public


slaughterhouses, in markets or at the back of butchers’ shops any where in the Near East or in Mediterranean countries; we shall recall the atrocities daily committed in France for the gratification of man’s gluttony: the stuffing of poultry “de Bresse,” or of those geese from the enormously overdeveloped livers of which “foie gras” is prepared — to say nothing of the horrors of vivisection in all the laboratories of Europe and America (save of the one or two States in which it has been made illegal).

Even taking into consideration the few excellent laws passed in recent years in Germany and in England for the prevention of cruelty to animals, the West as a whole has absolutely nothing to boast of compared to India or to any country of Hindu or Buddhist tradition. And North Africa — Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco — is one of the few regions of the world (of the old hemisphere at least) in which the wanton cruelty displayed in the killing of cattle, and man’s usual brutality to pack-animals, especially to donkeys, beat those witnessed in Mediterranean Europe or in India.

Yet, along with the apparently healthy condition of the horses he meets in the streets, there is one thing that cannot but favorably impress a lover of animals on his arrival in England or Germany, and that is the special care generally given in those countries to cats and dogs. I shall never forget the sight that greeted me on a cold November night of 1945, as I walked out of Victoria Station in London, coming from India: a magnificent, panther-like cat, fiery yellow with tawny stripes, fat and glossy, his tail erect; an animal accustomed to be loved, that was not afraid of human beings, but came at once when I called him. I took him up in my arms. How heavy he was! I thought of the dozens and dozens of miserable starving cats which I used to feed in India; of the hundreds and thousands that have remained out of my reach: of all the creatures, all over the world, that are born, live and die without knowing a human caress. And tears fell from my eyes as I stroked the soft, thick, royal, furry creature that purred and purred in response to my touch. And — although I had, on ideological grounds, actively fought against her during the war — I blessed England from the depth of my heart, “Whatever be their rulers — or those who sit and ‘pull the strings’ at the back of these — her people, of overwhelmingly Nordic stock, are thoroughly good,” thought I.

The following day I saw other cats, all in good condition, all friendly, all taking it for granted that a human being could do them no harm. I saw beautiful well-fed dogs with their mistresses in the subway and in the buses. The mistresses were not looked upon as


“queer” creatures, nor the dogs as a nuisance, by the other passengers, as they would have been in many parts of the world. On the contrary; more than once a child would stretch out its little hand to stroke a silky snout, with two large, intelligent, loving eyes. And the mother, far from showing signs of anger, would say, speaking of the dog: “Look! he is a beauty! He looks just like our poor Top.” And sometimes she would start talking about members of their owner’s families. They are loved; they had died at the age of sixteen or seventeen, or about dogs and cats in general. One felt that, here, pets are just like members of the owners’ families. They are loved; they are looked after; they have their place at the fireside. And to know that these people had suffered, that they had just emerged from a great war during which their endurance had been tried to breaking point, and that they were still strictly rationed, and one realizes all the more the possibilities of true love that lurk in them. How many times have we not thought: “Had these English men and women had the privilege of being brought up in the teaching of the Buddha, or of the Pythagorean — or in the long forgotten Religion of the Disk — instead of in man-centered Christianity, they would probably have been the finest people on earth.” We would no doubt have thought the same of the Germans, and of most Northern Europeans among whom kindness to pets is an undeniable fact.

However, as one lives longer in these countries where no animals are visibly ill-treated (save the victims of “scientific research” and the hunted deer and foxes) and where cats and dogs are given a place in the home, one gets to know more about them, and one admires them less — even when coming from the wretched East. One learns the true value of those demonstrations of affection for “poor old Top”; one understands what an amazing amount of selfishness lies behind half the care which most owners of cats and dogs lavish on their pets. The unsurmountable weaknesses of the man-centered and man-ridden civilization are everywhere visible under the pleasing appearance of cozy, comfortable animal life, spent on cushions, at the fireside. And they are all the more shocking in that the surroundings are more tidy, if not more sumptuous, and in that the people are more well-to-do and that, outwardly, they make more of their pets and of animals in general.

One soon gets the impression that, in the only countries of the world where they are well fed and kindly treated, pets are kept for the pleasure of their owners, not for the sake of their own lives,


recognized as beautiful and therefore considered precious in themselves. It is the convenience of the animal’s owner — and sometimes of the owner’s neighbors; always, at any rate, of human beings — that decides the destiny of the animal, cat or dog. When “poor old Top” became sickly (as it is only natural that he should, one day), and when it is too expensive, or too tiresome to look after him, he is just sent to the “vet” and “put to sleep.” “Painlessly,” say his masters. It may be. Yet life is sweet, even to an old sick dog, as it is to an old sick man. Top was still full of affection; he still used to wag his tail as his master or any of the children passed by his bed; he still would have been happy to warm his old bones a year or two more at the fireside in winter and in the sun during the brighter days. But his presence was no longer a source of joy to his owners. They did not love him as he loved them.

They loved only themselves, like most human beings do. Top was too old for them to play with, though not too old to feel the sweetness of daylight. He was also getting “dirty” and needed care — as his masters probably will, when they grow old. And his masters were not prepared to put up with so much bother from their four-legged friend; so Top was “put to sleep” — that is to say, killed as humanely as possible. He was selfishly sacrificed to human convenience.

In another household, the cat had just had three kittens — three tiny blind creatures no more and no less conscious of being alive than any newly-born mammals, including human babies; but three little creatures that would have grown into delightful, fluffy, playful and sensitive things, balls of fur, running after each other and catching each other’s tails, or rolling on their backs and kicking with all fours at a scrap of crumpled paper. They would have grown into that, and then into adult cats, enjoying food and love and adventure; gazing at the Sun with their dreamy emerald eyes; in winter, comfortably rolled up on cushions and eiderdowns — cats, with all the grace and experience that this word means. And their mother, the house cat, was so glad to have them! To her, they meant fulfillment, joy, success of a great purpose beyond her. She purred and purred as she licked them, nearly as soon as they were born, her three little treasures, her kittens. How she would have loved to feed them and bring them up! But no. She was not allowed to do so. Her owners could not afford “so many cats about the house.” So the little kittens she had left in her basket asleep, fully confident that she would find them there again after her meal, were carried away and drowned. And the poor mother cat wanders


about the house in search of them. She calls them, with a special cry: “Meow! Meow!” as if to say: “Where are you, my little ones?” They must be somewhere, she imagines. They cannot have walked away; they were too young. And the human beings living in the house-those kind creatures that feed the mother cat and caress her and take her on their laps-cannot have taken them away. Why should they? The unfortunate beast looks up to the murderers of her babies with inquiring confidence and says: “Meow!” — that is to say: “Do you know where they are? Can you help me to find them?” Poor mother cat! Her beautiful green eyes express no horror and no hatred — nothing but distress. For she does not know what has happened. She does not know what treacherous creatures they are, those two-legged ones who feed her and caress her. And gradually, as days pass her grief seems to subside. She mews no more. She seems to have forgotten about her lost kittens . . . until she gives birth to more, in due course; and the same old tragedy begins again.

In how many households do such tragedies regularly take place, without anyone even realizing the cruelty of them? And if one points it out to them, the “kind” people just remark that they “cannot have dozens of cats about the house,” especially when food is as expensive and as scarce as it is now; they can hardly afford to feed their children properly!

Other “lovers of animals” deliberately refuse to take a female cat, for fear that the problem of her kittens will arise sooner or later. They hate the idea of having them drowned or chloroformed; and they know they are not able to find suitable homes for them. So they only accept a male cat as a pet. That seems reasonable enough. But tomcats are highly sexed; they get “in season” pretty often, and pretty violently; they meow in a particular manner, and very loudly, at that time, and it disturbs the neighbors. They spray here and there — against the walls, against the furniture — and that upsets their owners, especially when the latter consider the possession of expensive cushions, carpet, and so on, as essential to their happiness. So what is to be done? Go without a cat, and put food out of doors for the stray cats that might come to eat it? No. That could be done, of course; but that is not what kind people do in the West of Europe. They keep a cat, but they have it castrated, that is to say they thwart it in its natural development; they deprive it, for life, of the only means it has, as an animal, of putting itself now and then in tune with cosmic Reality — all for their own petty convenience; for the neighbors not to complain; for the sofa


in the drawing room not to be spoilt. They might be all the time caressing the pet’s glossy fur; they might put a blue silk ribbon around his neck and feed him tinned salmon and cream, and allow him to sleep on their own bed. Still, we would say, they do not really love him. They are pleased to keep him as an ornament and as a plaything. But they have no sense of his rights as a living being. They really love nothing but themselves, the selfish creatures.

The same can be observed of all those who keep birds in cages; of all those who have dogs and keep them half the time on a leash, or shut them up in some back yard with hardly any exercise; of all those who put their own convenience before the real, natural interest of their pets. One has only to look around among one’s friends and acquaintances in the West of Europe to see what an appalling proportion of people, pretending to love animals, fall into that category. We say nothing of the altogether repulsive sort of “animal lovers” who have their pets “put to sleep” simply because they are leaving town — or leaving the house — and find it “inconvenient” to take them with them.

* * *

There is more to say. We have recalled the widespread practices of the West in which cruelty to animals is involved, the legal crimes committed every day and in nearly all countries, in the name of man’s food, clothing, amusement, health and scientific research. a What seems to us utterly shocking in the West is precisely the coexistence of such criminal institutions side by side with a certain general interest in dogs and cats as pets; the fact that, for instance, so many English men and women would go far out of their way to make Puppy and Pussy happy at their fireside, while so few are actually ready to start as energetic and thorough an agitation against vivisection as they once carried on in support of women’s suffrage or other such reforms. What makes us sick is to see that three quarters of those owners of pets never seem to have given a thought to the daily horrors implied in the exploitation of animals in general. Numbers of them are meat eaters, without the slightest sense of guilt; many of them occasionally go hunting, or find it natural to count among their friends people who happen to indulge in that sport; others can be seen. in winter wearing animals’ skins — including “astrakhan” and “caracul” — upon their backs. We even know, in France, of a woman who herself used to perform


vivisections and who, at the same time, was said to be extravagantly attached to a pet cat.

The attitude of the average owner of pets towards animals in general, even in Western Europe (we should say, especially in those countries of Western Europe in which pets are given the most care) appears as nothing less than damnable hypocrisy, to any consistent lover of animals, innocent of the everyday crimes in which all meat-eaters have their share, and inspired by a life centered creed. It shocks him, or her, as much as the occasional “philanthropy” of cannibals would shock a man inspired by the Christian standards of morality. It appears to him ridiculous and pitiable — and abominably selfish. The fact of having pets and of feeding them properly only proves that certain people enjoy the presence of certain animals (cats and dogs, of often exceptionally beautiful breeds) in their immediate surroundings. It does not prove in the least that those people do their duty towards living creatures as a whole; it does not ever prove that they love those very pets they have with true, disinterested love for the animals themselves.

In other words, when one comes to examine closely its institutions and its mentality, the West of Europe (and America) with its well fed horses, cats and dogs, is hardly better than the rest of the world. It is, at the most, not quite so bad as a whole — and of the truth of this statement we cannot be sure. The only thing that can, if not serve as an excuse for the non-Hindu world — for there is no excuse — at least make its crimes less grievous, compared with the criminal indifference of so many Indians to animal suffering, is the fact that India has had the life-centered teachings of her greatest sons to guide her conduct, and should know better, while poor Europe has slowly evolved in the sense of kindness to animals in spite of the long conscience-killing tradition of man-centered Christianity. One should indeed congratulate the Western continent for the little progress recently realized against such odds; one should congratulate the few who, especially in certain Western countries, like England, and in Northern Europe in general, are aware that we have duties towards all sentient creatures; one could, above all, congratulate Germany’s now persecuted, heroic ruling elite for the stress it lay, throughout its twelve years of power, upon the right of animals and trees; for its admirable “code concerning hunting” — more a protection of the wild beasts than a “hunters’” code; — for the severity with which it punished any cruelty to animals, including


pigs1, and last but not least, for its bold stand against experimentation upon live beasts.

We would, no doubt, like to see the cats and dogs of Asia, of Mediterranean Europe, and of all the world, in as good a condition as that majestic feline we met in November 1945 on our arrival in London. But we would no less like to see, in England itself and in other countries priding themselves in being “kind to animals,” no kittens or puppies taken away from their mothers and “destroyed,” no tomcat emasculated, no horses shot (or sold to the slaughterhouses) when they are too old to work — and, of course, no animals bred for the meat industry, the fur industry and so on, or used for scientific experimentation. And that too is not enough. That is just harmlessness. What we want is harmlessness coupled with positive, active kindness, not merely to cats and dogs, horses and cows, but to all living things; to those that are useful to man and to those that are not, impartially; positive, active kindness, reflected both in every individual man’s behaviour towards animals, and in the national institutions of every country — in the world’s various civilizations.

We should like to see the mothers, in every human home, teach their children to put by a portion of their bread, of their rice and of their milk (or of whatever other edible substance they might share) for the unowned cats and dogs of the locality; we would like to see the women put by their potato peelings, cabbage leaves and other kitchen scraps for the old horses, donkeys, cows, etc., maintained by men until they die a happy, natural death, instead of being either killed or left to starve; we would like to see restaurant owners all over the world put by their customer’s leavings for the same purpose of feeding living creatures — put them by neatly: the bread and soup leavings in one container, the rice and milk in the other, so that the animals of different species might pick and choose what they like. How many poor starving dogs and cats, cows and donkeys, could live and thrive, if only every hotel or restaurant owner would see to it that his staff just puts by for them the

1 We know of the case of a person who spent three and a half years in a German concentration camp for having killed a pig “in a cruel manner” while at the same epoch (1943) — but under an entirely different regime — a Calcutta butcher (named Mahavir Kahar) was sentenced to one month imprisonment only for flaying goats alive (in order to sell the skins — more easily stretched — for a few annas extra.)


tremendous amount of food now carelessly thrown away day after day? We have seen in India — in starving Bengal itself, during the very time of the great famine of 1943, much spoken of abroad — what criminal waste takes place in the hotels and restaurants, out of sheer lack of positive kindness (out of lack of care for creatures other than themselves) in the hearts of men: whole portions of good boiled rice, potatos, vegetable dishes (meat and fish dishes in the non-vegetarian restaurants) remorselessly thrown into the trash can, into piles of ashes and stinking rubbish, when it was so easy to give them to some starving creatures, men or beasts, or both.

And it is not merely in the daily habits of the people all over the world, it is also in their official institutions, in their laws and regulations, that active kindness towards all living things should find its expression.

One often hears Christians boast of the fact that the philanthropic spirit of their religion still influences the whole of the civilized world inasmuch as, in spite of creating religious skepticism, the thinkers of the whole world today show more and more interest in human welfare, and that the world’s institutions reflect the social preoccupations of its thinkers. But people who earnestly feel and think as we do, having transcended once and for all the selfish creeds centered around the mere love of humanity, are the heralds of a far better world. The, ideal society on Christian lines, or according to the spirit of any man-centered creed, religious or non-religious (not to mention any clumsy attempt at its establishment) appeals no more to us than would, to the Christians, or to the humanitarians of any denomination, a ferociously and falsely national-minded society in which no men, save those of a definite ethnic group, would enjoy the slightest rights even as temporary guests. We want a society in which not only would slaughterhouses and vivisection laboratories be remembered with general horror and disgust — and the civilizations that tolerated them be looked down upon as inferior civilizations — but in which comfortable homes for different unowned animals would be as common, and appear as natural and necessary, as orphanages and homes for aged people do now, in a world that can imagine nothing higher than Christian ethics. We want a society in which public conscience would be truly life-centered, not man-centered; in which there would be no preference for human beings in times of food scarcity any more than there is now — or than there is supposed to be — for men of any particular


race or country. Such preference shocks us as the mark of a definitely mean mentality; as the expression of moral standards utterly inferior to our own — the standards of savages, compared with ours. If it is, in certain cases, to appear at all, it should first appear among human beings, in favor of the better races, and amidst every race, in favor of its natural elite.

The little that is done now against such a state of affairs is done through purely individual initiative, under the dictates of a better heart than that of the average people. One man out of twenty — in some countries one man out of a thousand — will spontaneously give the whole of his milk ration to a cat, and half his bread ration to a dog, though he needs them himself. For not more than one out of twenty — and generally far less — are earnestly indignant at the fact that, in times of emergency, when food is rationed, governments allot no ration cards to any living creatures but human beings. The majority of men find this injustice only natural. In their eyes, they and their children must come first; and if there be not enough food for all, it is the animals which should perish first — perhaps even be killed in order that the human beings, including the deficient ones, the useless ones, and even the dangerous ones, might feed on their flesh.

We never could have any respect for civilizations based on such a mean outlook as this. The doctrine of active, universal kindness, preached by a few of the earth’s greatest seers, knows of no distinctions in matters of material help, between two-legged and four-legged mammals, between bird and fish, man and beast. We can only respect a society in which not only would human diet, dress, therapy, etc., be absolutely harmless to subhuman creatures, but in which, in times such as those which the world is now going through, governments, acting under the pressure of an evolved public moral conscience, would include all animals depending upon man in their rationing schemes as naturally as they now include in them all human beings nay, definitely give them, if they be healthy, priority over deficient or objectionable men.

Not merely to be “harmless”; not merely not to exploit, for human ends, any beast, and even the vegetable world as far as possible, but to extend our active love to all that lives; to do our utmost, even at our own cost, so that every individual creature, bird or beast, might continue to enjoy the sight of the sun, in health and beauty, — these are our ethics. Arid, as we have said already before, there are no metaphysics behind them. We do not need theories about the unknowable in order to love the beautiful living


things that grace this planet: beasts and birds, insects, reptiles and fishes; trees and creepers. At most, if any everlasting words, ever echoing in our heart, express better than we could that joyous communion of all creatures in the common thrill of Life of which we are so vividly aware, these are the inspired verses of Akhnaton’s hymn to the Sun:

Cattle frisk about upon their feet; creatures that fly, and insects of all kinds spring into life when Thou risest upon them. The birds fly round and round, flapping their wings in praise of Thy Essence . . . The fish leap up from the depth and greet Thy rising . . . O Disk of the day, great in majesty!