Years ago in a Satsang (wisdom meeting) at our home, my son (who had just become a teenager), was having a discussion with a friend of his (a few years younger). They were having a talk about meat-eating. In the Satsang we had discussed how it was inhumane to unnecessarily kill animals for food, and that afflicting pain on defenseless creatures (like cows) was an act of violence. My son told the younger boy that whatever actions we did in this life would come back to us in another life, and that if a person killed a cow for food and ate it, that person would face a similar fate in a future life. The younger boy made the following comment:
“Well, maybe I am eating the cow because in the last life that cow was a human being and I was the cow, and that person killed and ate me. Now I am doing the same thing.”
My son replied: “Where will the cycle of violence end? It can only end with us, because we are human beings and can make a conscious choice. So it is up to us to stop the cycle of violence. Only we can do it, animals cannot.”
This story really illustrates the importance of our decisions, our choices. As human beings, we have free-will; we have the ability to carefully consider the consequences of our actions and make up our own mind. Of course we are influenced by many internal and external factors, but really the most significant factor of all is the fact that we are human beings. Being a human being means that we are inherently humane. However, it certainly doesn’t mean we won’t also have tendencies of violence. We have both good and bad tendencies; we have tendencies which are conducive to our well-being and those that are detrimental to it. What we do with our life is our choice. We are free to do whatever we want, but we are not free from the consequences of what we do.
As human beings, we have the ability to break the cycle of violence in our lives. We can deliberately choose to go against the negative current of our mind, or we can be swept away by that current. Unlike animals, we can deliberately change our habits and consciously form new inclinations and tendencies. Eventually, the good that we do becomes an effortless effort, but to arrive at that state requires tremendous effort.
We were born with the tendency to be selfish, but we were also born to be loving and kind. No one wants to see anybody suffer. If you go to a slaughterhouse, you will not be happy to see the suffering of the animals there; you will likely feel repulsed and even horrified. Of course, if you are subjected to inhumane behavior over and over, again and again, you might lose your own humanity. If you use the objective tools of perception (seeing, hearing, tasting, thinking, etc.) for subjective identification, you can justify any wrong doing. It is a common malpractice of people to justify their actions to prove themselves right, for the sake of their belly or bloated ego.
Malpractice, or wrong practices, leads to malcontentment. When we malign our mind to satisfy our selfish tendencies, it eventually becomes our habit to do what is wrong or unhealthy. To realign our mind with our real nature (our human nature) we need the wisdom of Consciousness.
The wisdom of Consciousness (AtamGyaan, or Soul Wisdom) is the understanding of our Real Self. If we lack this understanding, we are bound by our ego to repeat our mistakes until they become an ingrained habit, and then we mistake what is unreal as real, what is false as true, and what is harmful as helpful. We become the victim of our own self-delusion, which eventually leads to our own self-destruction.
Whenever we violate our own true nature we are being violent. Our true human nature is to be loving and caring, to be merciful and forgiving, and to be kind and considerate. If we do not imbibe these qualities we are NOT being true to ourselves, we are NOT being honest with ourselves. If we lie to ourselves, how can we trust ourselves? Because we lie to ourselves we feel insecure, uncertain, and live our lives in constant turmoil and conflict. We are the perpetrators and perpetuators of our own cycle of violence, and only we can break that cycle.
Accepting responsibility for our actions means to act responsibly. It does NOT mean just saying “Well, I accept responsibility for what I am doing, and I am going to keep on doing it even though I know it is wrong.” This kind of thinking is called “self-sabotage” because we are sabotaging our own well-being. If we are not well (mentally and physically) we are going to become a liability to others. This too is selfish and is an act of violence.
We don’t have to point the finger at others and use their mistakes or wrongdoing as an excuse for our own wrong actions and thoughts. This will be no consolation to us when we end up suffering for those wrong actions and thoughts. We need to see what we are doing and foresee the consequences of our actions and change them before it is too late. Otherwise, the cycle of violence will continue.