If a butcher is following their employer, as a soldier might follow a king, why does the butcher get karma, but the soldier doesn’t?
Transcribed by: Keshavagopal Das
Question: If a butcher is following their employer, as a soldier might follow a king, why does the butcher get karma, but the soldier doesn’t?
Answer: There is a difference. Other professions are in some way essential and there is a process of law involved in it. The criteria for getting or not getting karma is not simply dependent on external circumstances like somebody’s employer authorizing someone. The key is whether the action is dharmic such that it contributes to social harmony and practitioner’s spiritual growth.
Broadly speaking, although farmer may cut some weeds, such action is essential and integral part of the profession of farming. This needs to be done because one life survives on another (jivo jivasya jivanam). Therefore, some amount of killing is unavoidable. However, such killing needs to be minimized. When an executioner kills, there is a process of law involved which decides what wrong was done and how a person should be punished. When a soldier kills, he does so as a noble duty to protect the country from aggressors who may disrupt the kingdom and plunder people.
Beyond that, one also need to consider whether the activity contributes to one’s spiritual growth. One’s consciousness is also important. For example, quite often when soldiers win a territory, they plunder the property and exploit the women of the conquered. Such fighting is not free from karma.
The key thing is one’s consciousness. When one is not attached to the fruits of the results, the action is done in harmony with the principals of dharma, the action is according to one’s nature, the action contributes to society and helps in spiritual evolution, then such an activity is free from karma. Individual responsibility is never excused in the name of some subordination to authority. We are all responsible for our actions. In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to contemplate and then decide.
With respect to butcher, the slaughtering of animals is not necessary for the sustenance of the society. Human beings can live without non-vegetarian food. On top of that, today’s meat packing industry is far more brutal than the workplaces of butchers in the past. The animals are not only killed, but they have to live in crammed quarters, be subjected to various bodily pains and distortions for artificial growth. Hence, if someone is employed in a meat packing industry, they will be hugely culpable.
In Srimad Bhagavatam, in the eleventh canto there is a reference to Vyadha-gita. Vyadha means butcher. There is a dramatic incident where a renunciate is instructed by a butcher. Here, Srimad Bhagavatam is giving an extreme example that if somebody has wisdom and devotion, even if somehow circumstantially someone is engaged in a particular profession, then people should not be demonized based on the profession alone. Spiritual wisdom can be present even in the unlikeliest of places, people or professions. This is to indicate the universality of spirituality and the danger of prejudgment. This is not to imply that butchering animals is okay. Bhagavatam’s eleventh canto example is to illustrate that how even an animal killer can become a devotee, and such is the glory of the mercy of the Lord manifesting through bhakti. In principle, a butcher can also gain spiritual wisdom and grow spiritually. Based on that evolved consciousness, they may be able to give up the profession sooner or later.
If somebody is engaged in a profession for no selfish gains but that is literally the only way by which they can maintain themselves and circumstantially absolutely no option is there, (for example, somebody is in a particular profession for many generations and just cannot get out so easily) then for such people, there is hope considered in Vyadha-gita. However, the exception does not disprove the standard. We need to understand that our consciousness is affected by the kind of activities we do. Freedom from karma does not just depend on the externalities but also on the internal consciousness that results while doing such activity. Usually most of our external activities affects our internal consciousness quite strongly. That is why those involved in animal slaughter will not find it very easy to avoid the contamination of consciousness and karma culpability that comes with it. Although, in exceptional situation we need to accommodate and encourage everyone to do whatever it takes to grow spiritually.
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