Dada Vaswani - “It is time for a charter of animal rights” —Dada Vaswani
by Suma Varughese
Dada Jashan Pahlajrai Vaswani, the spiritual head of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission, exudes the openness and humility of the truly enlightened. One is as comfortable in his presence as in one’s own, so easy is he to be with. Dada, who has been running the Mission ever since the demise of his uncle and the Mission’s founder Sadhu Vaswani in 1966, is, at 85, active, eager and engaged with life.
He oversees a large organisation of mainly Sindhi followers with centres in India and representatives all over the world.
At the Pune headquarters, the Mission’s commitment to the ideals of simran (meditation) and seva (service) is evident, from the snaking line of indigents waiting for their daily meal to the sea of golden grain for the ashram’s pigeons.
The Mission’s reverence for all life is one of its best-known values and is embodied not just in an active concern for birds and animals but also in the proclamation of November 25, the death anniversary of Sadhu Vaswani, as a Meatless Day. Crores of people all over the world have pledged allegiance to this oath.
In Mumbai to record his daily talks with a TV channel, Dada spent time with Life Positive to make a passionate plea for vegetarianism.
What are your main reasons for advocating vegetarianism?
I object to meat eating on three counts: humanitarian, hygienic and aesthetic. I believe that one life flows into all—men, birds and animals. No one has the right to take away life. Life is God’s most precious gift. From the health and hygiene point of view, non-vegetarian food is high in cholesterol. From the aesthetic point of view, the cruelty to animals is insupportable. Have you ever visited a slaughter-house?
But isn’t it nature’s way that we serve each other with our lives?
Each one should serve the other provided the service is voluntary. The animal loves his life as much as we do. This is exploitation by humans. The time has come when all exploitation must cease. The piteous soul of humanity is crying for peace. But there can be no peace until we stop all killing. If I kill an animal for food, then I can also kill an enemy.
But is this inference really borne out by facts? After all, the West is more concerned about human rights than we are and they are largely meat-eaters.
They are more war-minded. The latest war (in Iraq) was an infliction by America on a country that did nothing.
Is non-vegetarianism a reason for this?
It is one of the reasons. The West believes that might is right—a great fallacy. You cannot have either culture or peace as long as you believe that. Not many are aware that on an average a human being eats up over a 1,000 creatures who value life as much as those who eat them up. We must recognise the moral inviolability of the individual—human and non-human. Just as blacks don’t exist as resources for whites or women for men, even so animals don’t exist as resources for men. There can be no peace without vegetarianism.
Is vegetarianism enough to guarantee peace or is this the first step?
I believe that it is the very first step. Today, I hear of animal welfare. But what is needed is animal rights. Men have rights. Do animals not have rights? Who has befriended man since the dawn of creation? Do men have no duty towards them? It is time to formulate a charter of animal rights. The very first right will be the right to live.
Just as blacks don’t exist as resources for whites or women for men, even so animals don’t exist as resources for men. There can be no peace without vegetarianism.
That’s radical. Will everyone agree to this?
It might take time but it will surely happen. The same questions were asked when abolition of slavery was mooted. This step is to be taken because otherwise, humanity cannot live in peace and happiness. We cannot take away what we cannot give. And we cannot give life. The 19th century gave rights to slaves. The next century gave rights to women. The 21st Century will surely give right to animals.
Does vegetarianism have an impact on our spiritual progress?
Food has an effect on the temperament of man. I know of a total meat-eater who had a bad temper. After he converted to vegetarianism, he became calm and patient.
How did the Meatless Day come about?
Sadhu Vaswani passed away on November 25, 1966. Our American devotees suggested that we observe that day as Meatless Day, where people pledge to stay off animal food for that one day. Sadhu Vaswani said: “Believe me, the day will come when meat-eating will be condemned as murder. I have seen God’s image shining in birds and animals. Not to love them is not to love God.” Last year we received 4 crore and 36 lakh pledges from all over the world. We have also joined forces with PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals). Recently, the UN asked me to deliver a lecture and I said that the only way to peace is to give rights to all, including animals.
What came of it?
I don’t think they have a charter of animal rights. But no matter. We continue to strive for it, offering our work at the lotus feet of the Lord. The time spirit is in favour of vegetarianism. People are more receptive. We plan to open a veterinary hospital in Pune as soon as we get land. Meanwhile, a mobile hospital goes to all the villages every year on November 25, giving vaccines to cows to avoid foot and mouth diseases. Members of our centre at Bangalore go to slaughter houses, purchase animals and set them free.
Are your mission members vegetarian?
About 80 to 85 per cent are. But there is no coercion. It is quite a surprise to find that some of our close associates are not vegetarian. A vegetarian is not superior to a non-vegetarian. So many priests and fathers are close to God despite being non-vegetarians.
What is your opinion about the state of the world? Terrorism, for instance?
All this is temporary. As for India, we have regained freedom after 12 centuries. The baser instincts are bound to surface. I believe the soul of India is very strong. It will set itself right. I see its future as very bright. India is coming up spiritually, materially and economically.
On a personal note who are your role models apart from Sadhu Vaswani?
Krishna, Christ and Buddha. Krishna is my father. Christ and Buddha are my uncles.
And your mother?
Sadhu Vaswani is my mother. It was he who gave me birth.
What is the one thing that has seen you through life?
If anything, it is faith. As I entered this world, I understood that there is a meaning of mercy of everything in life. It may appear to be a trial, a very difficult experience, but there is a meaning behind it. God is my father and loving. And no loving heart would wish to do this to me otherwise.
So you live in a state of surrender to all that comes? How does it feel to live like that?
Very beautiful. Like a wave in the sea. All credit goes to the Mother Divine.
What message do you have for Life Positive readers?
Be positive. Life is full of trials and tribulations. But being positive means not to think of the trials. You may be surrounded by the most adverse conditions but you will continue to look for best results. Hence, you are undaunted and invulnerable.
Is liberation only through God’s grace?
More than a process, it is a gift. Of course, you have to keep purifying yourself but remember you have no control. We are so many zeroes. Only when ‘one’ is added does the sum have value. But God will surely give you liberation when the time is ready. When Sadhu Vaswani was alive, a few of us were debating on who he was. Was he an educator? A saint? Just then he passed by and we told him: “We want to know who you are.” He said: “I am a zero, a Sindhi zero” (which is just a point). It is that which Sadhu Vaswani represented. We have to get to that.
What is your personal path to the Divine?
There are many paths—selfless service, inquiry, self-surrender. I know a little of self-surrender. When you surrender, He uses you. One of my favourite prayers is: “Our wills are there to make them thine.” I resist nothing because I am confident that what is happening is for the best. Even if there is some resistance, I tell myself that it is God’s will and not mine.
There was a king who became a fakir and he used to talk of surrender. When people asked him what he meant by surrender he gave the example of a handsome little serving boy he once had while king. Drawn to the boy’s lustrous appearance he asked him: “What is your name? The boy replied: “How can a slave have a name? What master calls me is my name.” That is surrender. Then all turmoil is taken from life. There is no stress or strain.