Mercy to Living Beings - Jiva Karunya Panchakam


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Mercy to Living Beings (Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam) is a treatise addressing two related virtues compassion and ahimsa (non-hurting or non-violence) to nonhuman animals. The poem composed by Narayana Guru in 1914 remains testimony to the Guru's non-dual philosophy and idealistic approach to ahimsa towards all life forms.

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Mercy to Living Beings - Jiva Karunya Panchakam

  1. 1. NPHIL Compiled by Sujit Sivanand For NPHIL Canada August 2013 Mercy to Living Beings ‘Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam’
  2. 2. Background to the Poem Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam was dictated by Narayana Guru to Sri. Achambava, while the Guru was at Cherai village near Eranakulam circa 1914. It is unknown whether there was any incident or prior discussion that led to the creation of this work. It is gathered that Achambava was a man of considerable means at that time and his family called the Nediyara tharavad (joint family homestead) of Cherai owned temples, schools, etc. Narayana Guru used to visit the Nediyara tharavad and stay at their madhom (hermitage).
  3. 3. Title Explanation ‘Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam’ The Sanskrit words forming the title of this philosophic poem have the following meanings:  Jiva = life, or life forms.  Kārunya = of having Karuṇā or compassion as a virtuous rational capability, leading to exercising mercy.  Panchakam = a poetic composition of five verses. The title transliterates as ‘Five verses on Mercy to Living Beings’.
  4. 4. Two Ethical Virtues Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam is a treatise addressing two related virtues in Eastern philosophical wisdom as follows:  Karuṇā – meaning compassion; and  Ahimsa – meaning refraining from injury to other living beings. Karuṇā, though considered an emotion, emanates from rational thinking. Ahimsa is an ethical principle. Both have a long history of adoption as virtues in India’s cultural heritage, more so in Jainism and Buddhism, two schools of Hindu reformative thought that later evolved as distinct dharmas.
  5. 5. History of Karuṇā as a Virtue Karuṇā is important in all schools of Buddhism. For Theravāda Buddhists, dwelling in karuṇā is a means for attaining happiness in present life and heavenly rebirth. For Mahāyāna Buddhists, karuṇā is a co-requisite for becoming a Bodhisattva (enlightened one). “Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed” - The Buddha. ICONIC REPRESENTATION OF SHAKYAMUNI DISPLAYING "GREAT COMPASSION" IN THE MAHA- KARUNA MUDRA.
  6. 6. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, dating back to 200-300 CE, provide guidance for practicing yoga, though most of the guidance is relates to the mental challenges, not the physical ones. In Sutra 1.33, for finding peace of mind Patanjali prescribes: Maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam "The mind becomes tranquil through the practices of friendliness toward the happy, compassion toward the miserable, joy toward the virtuous, and equanimity toward the non-virtuous." History of Karuṇā as a Virtue
  7. 7. Through history humans have found different reasons to justify their claim for the existence of an unwritten ‘law of supremacy’ over nonhuman animals. While these claims manifest in religion and other social systems, essentially it stems from man’s progression and ability to use weapons and easily overpower and kill nonhuman animals. Cultures have constructed social knowledge about human beings and other animals, especially ‘knowledge’ regarding views about the so-called ‘proper’, ‘justified’, ‘traditional’, ‘ethical’ relations between humans and nonhumans; indeed leading generation after generation to regard many animals as if they were ‘resource items’ or human ‘property’ for use and destruction at man’s will and pleasure. Why Karuṇā towards life forms
  8. 8. This thesis of assumed supremacy often overlooks the dubious and ingrained psychological connections between the harmful treatment of nonhumans and the comparable harmful treatment of underprivileged humans. The same warped law of supremacy could zealously possess certain sections of humans that wield power and political control over the weaker sections. History is testimony to such crimes. Karuṇā or compassion therefore finds its place in a ‘brotherly’ view of other life forms, which by nature are helplessly under domination and at the mercy of humans. Here, specifically Narayana Guru calls for nonhuman animal killing to cease, for the excuse of food and in the spirit of the universal kinship underlying his instance of Advaita philosophy. Why Karuṇā towards life forms
  9. 9. The History Of Ahimsa Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that means non-injury or non-violence to living beings. It is a fundamental ethical virtue in Eastern cultures and in particular the followers of Jainism. In Jainism ahimsa is the standard by which all actions are judged. For a householder observing small vows (anuvrata) the practice of ahimsa requires that one does not kill animal life, but for the ascetic observing the great vows (mahāvrata) ahimsa entails the greatest care to prevent one from knowingly or unknowingly being the cause of injury to any living substance.
  10. 10. The History Of Ahimsa Living matter (jiva) broadly includes not only human beings and animals, but also insects, plants and atoms as well, and the same law governs the entire cosmos. The Chāndogya Upani ad, which dates back to the 8th or 7thṣ century BCE, one of the oldest Upanishads, has the earliest evidence for the use of the word ‘ahimsa’ in the sense familiar in Hindu culture as an ethical virtue. It bars violence against all creatures (sarvabhuta) and like in Jainsim the practitioner of ahimsa is believed to be freed from the cycle of re-births. Although Buddhists and others generally from the broader Hindu culture were never required so strict an observance of ahimsa as the Jains, vegetarianism and tolerance towards all forms of life became widespread in ancient India.
  11. 11. Vegetarianism Vegetarianism as a voluntary practice can not go without mention in the discussion of ahimsa. Historically the Indian and Greek civilizations have adopted vegetarian diets, both attributable to ahimsa and philosophical wisdom. Even recent medical and anthropological studies seem to point towards humans not being meat eating in our evolutionary history. “Early humans had diets very much like other great apes, which is to say a largely plant-based diet, drawing on foods we can pick with our hands. Research suggests that meat-eating probably began by scavenging - eating the leftovers that carnivores had left behind. However, our bodies have never adapted to it. To this day, meat-eaters have a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems.” - Dr. Neal Barnard (President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) in his book, The Power of Your Plate.
  12. 12. ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma’ ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma’ means ‘Ahimsa is the Ultimate Righteous Virtue’. Ahimsa as an ethical principle continues to be applied to many aspects of life in India. Narayana Guru, as a true idealist, always professed and practiced ahimsa.
  13. 13. Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam (Five verses on Mercy to Living Beings) Introduction: The willful destruction of nature is beginning to be recognized as undignified behaviour for humans calling themselves civilized. Some form of killing is incidental to life, such as that involved in agriculture, so there is often a trend to justify killing without any real criticism of its injustice. Confusion between the unavoidable and the avoidable aspects of killing gives rise to a vagueness of the boundaries of right and wrong. Narayana Guru aims to clearly demarcate the boundaries, in terms of dignity of man and man as a measure of Self- realization in universal terms in his goal. Once this understanding has occurred, it is for each man to make up his mind where he will draw the line of what is inevitably necessary and what he should avoid for the sake of kindness to life forms. An easy excuse, such as for food, should not be the consideration for killing, as it is for personal taste and gain.
  14. 14. Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam (Five verses on Mercy to Living Beings) Introduction: The poem is composed in the Malayalam language in the metre (rhythmic structure) called Upasthita. JivaKārunya Panchakam together with other works by Narayana Guru like Ahimsa, Anukampa Dasakam and Atmopadesa Satakam etc., specifically stand testimony to the Guru’s idealistic approach as a staunch votary of Ahimsa. The five verses of the poem are set out in the slides that follow. The transliterations presented here combine the best of interpretations by various scholarly authors and therefore might not conform to any one author.
  15. 15. Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam (Five verses on Mercy to Living Beings) Verse 1: Isn't it right to state that all (living beings) are brothers in Universal- kinship? Be reminded!; How could we then kill living beings, And least mercilessly eat them too? Purport: When man claims to be the civilized and Truth-seeking one, isn’t he agreeing that all life forms are only manifestations of the Universal Self? How then could killing, within the brotherhood, be justified? Worse still, eating one’s kin without a grain of mercy! The reminder is to those who otherwise accept that the wise ones (rshis) have sought Truth and realized the Universality of all beings, and yet do not condemn, or worse continue, the killing and eating of beings existing at the mercy of man.
  16. 16. Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam (Five verses on Mercy to Living Beings) Verse 2: The non-killing vow is ideal indeed, And, greater still is the non-eating vow. A cause to remind this, within the essence of all faiths, Should not we say so, O' men of righteousness? Purport: Most faiths in some way presuppose a universal brotherhood for life, and even if selectively, also prescribe ‘refraining from killing’ as a virtue. The question is directly posed to ‘men of righteousness’ who as leaders of faiths try to keep the faithful on the path of righteousness (dharma). The pointer to them is that ahimsa is indeed one of the greatest of virtues in dharma. Killing is the material form of ‘himsa’ (injury) within the virtue ahimsa; so also the mental attitude that ‘I’ and ‘you’ are different, and that ‘you can be killed for my food’ also constitutes ‘himsa’.
  17. 17. Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam (Five verses on Mercy to Living Beings) Verse 3: If killing were inflicted upon oneself Who, as a favour, would treat such as a dire destiny? Shouldn’t that be your joint declaration, for a regulated life, As touching all in equality, O ye wise ones? Purport: The ‘wise men’ are put on the spot, by asking them the direct question whether - oneself faced with killing would consider such fate as a favour or advantage? So, O’ ye men of wisdom is it not your righteous duty to jointly and ‘in one voice’ declare that golden dictum - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you ". When karma is controlled by ethical considerations, it becomes dharma, or right action. Fostering dharmic actions in society is Dharmyam – what conduces a regulated life.
  18. 18. Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam (Five verses on Mercy to Living Beings) Verse 4: No killer would there be, if no other to eat there was, Perforce, himself must eat! In eating thus abides the cruder ill In that it killing makes. Purport: The aim of this verse is to beat the common argument that someone else has done the killing, and therefore one can eat without the uneasiness of one’s own conscience. The hollowness of that argument is exposed here in light vein. If there is no one to eat the kill, then there will eventually be no killer too. So the one who eats is the obviously the motivator, the motivation for the killing and the cruder crime!
  19. 19. Jiva-Kārunya Panchakam (Five verses on Mercy to Living Beings) Verse 5 - The Last Verse: Not-killing makes a human good Else an animal's equal he becomes No refuge has the taker of life Although to him all other virtues accrue. Purport: The one who refrains from killing and motivating to kill is the one who has the power of sensible discrimination (vivekam). Humans that lack such sensibilities are only equal to the nonhuman animals that do not possess such mental powers, living merely by the law of the survival of the fittest. When man willfully kills other animal life forms, or causes others to do so, such crude a crime it is that it overshadows all other virtues that he may possess, or whatever other good he hath done in life.
  20. 20. Conclusion Kindness to life and the noble virtue of ahimsa are traits that naturally find place in the non-dual vision of Reality. Killing for the purpose of eating prevails in all societies. We continue to live in conflicting social value systems, where on the one hand organizations like SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) actively exist in most countries, side by side with the abattoir and butcher shops displaying bloody animal carcasses in their street-side windows. We live in blindness of our such hypocrisies. Killing animals for food being a general practice does not take away the heinous mindlessness and lack of understanding of the Reality it involves. Those who insist on living a principled life might prefer to minimize the necessity for killing just to please the palates. As Narayana Guru says, it is the demand from the eater that maketh the killer. If theoretical speculation and transparency of vision form the one side of the coin in Narayana Guru’s philosophy, the self- contentment one experiences uninterrupted in life, absolutely perfect morality, compassion, ahimsa, and such other personal traits that become outwardly visible in practical life, comprise the other side. These two are the dialectical counterparts of the non-dual vision of Narayana Guru.
  21. 21. References & Acknowledgements • ‘The History of Western Ethics’ edited by Brian Duignan. • ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ – translation by Gary Kissiah. • ‘Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali’ – Rajendralala Mitra. • Field research on Achambava, for NPHIL – P. R. Sreekumar and K. M. Ananthan. • ‘The Social Construction of Human Beings and Other Animals in Human- Nonhuman Relations. Welfarism and Rights: A Contemporary Sociological Analysis’ - Roger Yates. • ‘The Religions of India’ - Auguste Barth. • ‘Shattering The Meat Myth: Humans Are Natural Vegetarians’ - Kathy Freston in the Huffington Post. • ‘Works of Sree Narayana Guru with Complete Interpretations’ by Prof. G. Balakrishnan Nair. • ‘Life and Teachings of Narayana Guru’ by Nataraja Guru. • ‘The Philosophy of Narayana Guru’ by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad (some conclusion excerpts). • Photographs and iconic images from the public domain (strictly non-commercial usage and for educational purposes only). • Gratitude to Narayana Gurukula Foundation for use of various reference material.
  22. 22. NPHIL Compiled by Sujit Sivanand For NPHIL Canada August 2013 The End