In the Vaishnava tradition, too, we believe that humans are on the
threshold of eternal life, as we are members of the only species that can
understand our relationship with God, and thus be liberated from the cycle
of repeated birth and death, and return to the spiritual world from where we
fell from grace.
When Narahari Swami, a sannyassi (monk) from Hawaii visited the San Diego temple, and was asked if any humans were ready for the message of Bhagavad-gita, he said practically speaking, anyone who has a human body, the human form of life, etc. is ready (this also means we don't discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).
But even in the Srimad Bhagavatam (and reprinted in introductory "pop" literature, like the paperback, Coming Back: the Science of Reincarnation), there is an account from past ages millions of years ago, of some thieves who encounter Jada Bharata, deliberately keeping silent and dumb, and they mistake him for being mentally defective, and mistakenly think they can thus offer him as a sacrificial animal to the goddess Kali.
So if there's a quality or attribute which separates humans from other animals, it clearly isn't based on species membership.
Srila Prabhupada scoffed at the religious leaders and politicians who talk about "universal brotherhood," yet exclude animals from moral concern. He taught that nonviolence is the first principle of spiritual life (Letter to Bhakta dasa, August 3, 1973) and that the saints and mystics see all living entities with equal vision. We are all equal in God’s eyes—whether one is incarcerated inside the body of a bird, fish, reptile, mammal, demigod, poet, merchant, insect, etc...He taught that social ills such as racism, sexism, caste-ism, nationalism, speciesism, etc...arise because eternal souls falsely identify with their temporary bodies—on the spiritual platform, we are all equal. (Compare Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:28)
Srila Prabhupada responded to the Declaration of Independence by saying animals also have the right to life; animals as well as humans are protected in an enlightened civilization. Srila Prabhupada taught that our present civilization cannot even be considered human, because of the practice of slaughtering animals for food and sport. He equated eating meat with cannibalizing small children, and candidly told a Catholic priest in London in 1973 that, "Animal-killers cannot understand God. I have seen this. It is a fact."
Srila Prabhupada taught that spiritual life and devotion to a personal God liberate one’s spirit from the bondage of the flesh. On the other hand, "...one who has not heard the message of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead—even for a moment—he’s an animal. The general mass of people, unless they are trained systematically for a higher standard of life in spiritual values are no better than animals. They are on the level of dogs, hogs, camels, and asses."
In an interview with India’s Bhavan’s Journal in August 1976, Srila Prabhupada commented on the "widespread deterioration of moral values" as follows: "...religion is on the wane...when there is no religion, it is simply animal life...So when the human beings become uninterested in religious things, then they are animals...In human society either you become Christian Muhammadan, Hindu, or Buddhist, it doesn’t matter. There must be some system of religion. Human society without religion is animal society...because religion is declining, the human beings are becoming more and more like animals."
The Srimad Bhagavatam says that one who considers the body to be the self is no better than a cow or an ass. Srila Prabhupada called Hindus who become Westernized "new crows." He said, "Crows eat stool, but new crows eat more stool." (Compare this to the teaching found in the New Testament, where St. Peter likens sinners to irrational brute beasts; II Peter 2:12.) When Srila Prabhupada made candid statements like these, he spoke truthfully. During the 1960s and 1970s, he repeatedly warned young people that if they weren’t careful, they could be reborn as dogs.
A similar warning can be found in the Upanishads:
"Those who are of pleasant conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a Brahmin, or the womb of a Kshatriya, or the womb of a Vaisya.
"But those who are of stinking conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter either the womb of a dog, or the womb of a swine, or the womb of an outcast."
Active participation in devotional life, however, is meant for all of humanity, and is not restricted only to those who follow vows and religiously observe the nonsectarian principles of austerity, mercifulness, truthfulness and cleanliness. According to Srila Prabhupada, this opportunity for love and service is open to everyone:
"...if you want to be a family man—if you cannot dedicate twenty-four hours daily—then earn money and use it to spread Krishna Consciousness...if you cannot earn money, then use your intelligence. There is so much intellectual work to do—publication, research, and so on. If you cannot do that, then utilize your words to tell people about Krishna. So where is the scarcity of opportunities? You can serve Krishna in any capacity, provided you want to serve."
Elsewhere, Srila Prabhupada explains: "One who isn’t initiated may chant Hare Krishna (and should certainly be encouraged to do so) and serve in his own way, and gradually by doing so he may want to be initiated." (Letter to Satsvarupa dasa 11/14/68)
According to the ISKCON public relations guide, Who Are They?, congregational outreach is now reality. Mukunda Goswami introduces the reader to the Hare Krishna movement in strictly congregational terms:
"You’ll probably be surprised to learn that you don’t have to wear traditional robes or change your hairstyle or religion to be a part of the Hare Krishna movement.
"You’ll discover that Krishna Consciousness is much more than a religion. It’s a spiritual movement; a universal, time-tested process for achieving inner happiness, satisfaction, and higher awareness. And you’ll meet people from all walks of life who are applying their knowledge, skills, and resources to bring about a better world, beginning with the all-important realm of consciousness.
"The Krishna Consciousness movement is a transcendental outreach program unparalleled anywhere in the world."
In the section of Who Are They? entitled "A Worldwide Congregation," Krishna’s congregation—legal secretaries, surgeons, biochemists, ordinary folks—are depicted. ISKCON’s Southwestern U.S. Regional Membership Director, Rose Forkash, writes:
"With a worldwide congregational membership well over six million, the Hare Krishna movement has a growing responsibility. We are committed both to our rapidly expanding membership and to nonmembers in all walks of life...Whatever you do, whatever your age, race, sex, or religious affiliation, the Hare Krishna movement can offer you many benefits. If you do nothing more than chant the Hare Krishna mantra, you’re already closer to spiritual success."
Since the 1980s, loose-knit temple congregations have begun to emerge. In an introductory pamphlet, intended for congregational use, entitled Krishna Consciousness at Home: A Practical Guide, Mahatma dasa quotes Bhagavad-gita 2:40, concluding:
"The beauty of Krishna Consciousness is that you can take as much as you are ready for. Krishna Himself promises in the Bhagavad-gita, ‘There is no loss or diminution in this endeavor, and even a little advancement on this path protects one from the greatest type of fear.’"
Ravindra Svarupa dasa (Dr. William Deadwyler), recognized as one of the leaders of reform in ISKCON, reflects upon Srila Prabhupada’s words on page 31 of the November/December 1991 issue of Back to Godhead:
"In commenting on the twelfth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada makes it really clear that the Hare Krishna movement is in principle made up of three groups of people. Krishna says, ‘Surrender to Me.’ So first are those who are spontaneously attracted to surrender to Krishna.
"Then Krishna says, ‘If you can’t do that, follow the regulative principles of devotional service.’ And in the purport Srila Prabhupada makes it clear what this means: rising early, taking a shower, going to the morning program, and so on, under the supervision of the spiritual master. So those who do this are in the second group.
"Then Krishna says, ‘If you can’t do that, then work for Me.’ And Srila Prabhupada says that this means that at least one should be sympathetic to the propagation of Krishna Consciousness. Every organization requires land, capital, labor, and organization, so you can contribute one of these things. Those who do this are in the third group.
"These three groups make up the Hare Krishna movement. So there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the movement’s having all kinds of people who aren’t following the strict regulative principles.
"Where we have a problem is with people who have at one time or another taken formal vows to follow the principles of the second group and then found themselves unable to keep them."
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