Spiritual progress comes when we expand our sympathies and reach out to help those coming up behind us, and when we develop the humility to open our hearts in respect and receptivity to those who are more advanced than we are.
The Gita doesn’t limit this help to other human beings, but extends it backward to animals and plants, and forward to saints, masters, devas, and other heavenly beings.
For some people, serving animals is a useful way to enter into this “bond of mutual service.”
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we need go out and get a pet. We are merely reflecting that there are many ways to serve God.
The young boys in Yogananda’s school at Ranchi in Bengal had a pet deer, among many other pets. Yogananda tells, in Autobiography of a Yogi, how the pet deer became ill, and how its appeared to him in a vision and begged for him to stop praying for its life, so that it could pass on to a higher life-form.
Swami Kriyananda emphasizes the importance of being impersonal when we serve others. Of course, this does not mean that we withhold our affection or behave coldly in our service. It is not right to be impersonal toward others. But we must be able to be a bit impersonal toward ourselves and forsake our own self-interest in order to experience the great joy and sense of inner freedom that come by serving others.
Above all, it means to try to serve in harmony with the God. Instead of allowing sentiment or personal desires to cloud our perceptions, we need to accept, as Yogananda put it, the “inescapability of divine law.”
Perhaps the most difficult situation that a pet owner faces is whether to prolong the life of a pet through medical procedures, and when to allow nature to take its course. Perhaps even more challenging is the decision whether to take a hand in ending a pet’s suffering through euthanasia.
A devoted pet owner spoke to me about her concern that she would soon face the need to ask the veterinarian to put her 19-year-old cat to sleep.
“How can it be right to take a life in that way?” she asked.
Autobiography of a Yogi provides an apt guideline. In this case, the creature at issue is a mosquito.
A mosquito was in the act of biting Yogananda’s thigh, when it was saved from execution by his remembrance of the principle of non-injury (ahimsa) from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. However, his guru, Sri Yukteswar, remarked, “Why not finish the job?” – since, as he explained, “The deathblow has already been struck in your mind.”
Sri Yukteswar explained that harmlessness means removing the desire to harm, but that this world “is inconveniently arranged for the literal practice of ahimsa.”
Naturally, we try to conform our outer lives as much as possible to spiritual principle. But it is our inner attitudes above all that God is concerned with. As Yogananda obsderved, “God reads the heart.”
Returning to my friend and her pet cat, we agreed that her inner attitude toward this beloved creature was entirely loving. She would only end its life to spare it suffering, not to inflict harm.
“You’ve already taken responsibility for its life,” I pointed out, “including the time of its death. Without your care and intervention, it would certainly have died years ago.
“Up to a point,” I said, “it is right to extend the life of a pet, to give it more time to associate with humans and thus hasten its spiritual evolution. It is good karma for an animal to be a pet. In the wild, it would only be able to associate with creatures on its own level of awareness.
“However, even the life of the most well-cared-for pet is limited in terms of opportunities for expanding its awareness. The nervous systems of animals can encompass only a limited awareness compared to the boundless expansion that becomes possible in the human form.”
After Sri Yukteswar drily asked why Yogananda didn’t complete the act of swatting the mosquito, he explained that the human body has ‘unique brain and spinal centers” that allow us to “fully grasp and express the loftiest aspects of divinity. No lower form is so equipped.’
Devoted pet owners, may mourn the loss of a familiar animal friend, but the soul inhabiting that pet’s form may be eager to continue its journey.
Various “pet psychics” have confirmed that pets feel no anxiety about their death. Insofar as they suffer, it is for their owners who are plunged into grief at the thought of a pet’s departure.
The same thoughts can be applied to trees and other living things. For the “bond of mutual service” extends to everything in the natural world.
Joy to you,