[Advaita-l] Respecting All Living Beings Equally

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Fri Dec 17 18:05:45 CST 2004

It is commonly believed that VedAnta is "elitist" since the philosophy
is studied chiefly by BrAhmaNas, and caste distinctions are accepted at
the vyAvahArika level. But the basic teachings of VedAnta are not in
conflict with *respecting* all living beings as forms of the Brahman -
even at the vyAvahArika level.

The "dog story" in the rAmAyaNa is an example of how the complaints of
animals against BrAhmaNas are given consideration. Here is yet another
example from scripture, demonstrating that equal respect can be shown
to all jIvas, at the right time and place, no matter what their outward

The following passage in the jIvanmuktiviveka quotes two verses in the
shrImad BhAgavatam.h that preach treating all living beings equally
(page 63 of the translation by Swami Moksadananda):

chittakAlushhyahetornamaskaarasya pratishhedhe.api sarvasaamyabuddhayaa
prasaadaheturnamaskaaro.abhyupeyate . tathaa cha smR^itiH --
Ishvaro jIvakalayaa pravishhTo bhagavaaniti . 
praNameddaNDavadbhUmAvashvachANDaalagokharam.h ..
(shrImadbhAgavate 3.29.34-2,11.29.16-2 iti)

"Although salutation causing tumult is forbidden yet the salutation
which brings about perfect tranquility through the idea of equality of
all things is permitted. In this respect the Smriti has it thus: "One
should salute prostrating oneself even before a dog, a Chandala, a cow
and an ass acknowledging them as God Himself since He, the Almighty,
has entered into and is present in everything in the form of an
individual soul. (BhAgavata 3.29.34 and 11.29.16)"

I believe that the above reference to "tumult" is the Gautama dharma
sUtra 17.20:
"One shall not eat the food of one who treats equals as unequals or
unequals as equals".

Shankara notes the above verse of Gautama in his GItA BhAshhya 5.18-19
and explains that it is referring to those who are filled with conceit
and are offended when treated equally along with those they perceive to
be inferior. Therefore, one ought not to show equal respect to all
jIvas when in the presence of those who possess conceit, but otherwise,
one may show equal respect to all living beings.



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