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Vultures are gentlemen

Friday, 18 May 2012 / Published in Blog thoughts / 2,555 views

Gautam Saha: When I was in school, my class teachers would refer to a boy they considered good or decent as “a perfect gentleman”. Later on in life, at the college going age, I met young ladies of about my own age refer to a young man with good mannerisms and noble conduct as “a perfect gentleman”. In the rush of life, and the high speed at which events overtake each other, most of us do not have time to ponder as to who is a ‘perfect gentleman’, and who is not. But then, why is it that I stopped for a moment and reflected, “vultures are perfect gentlemen” ?

Most of us, when we hear the word ‘vulture’, immediately conjure up an image of a squat, ungainly bird, quite ugly in fact, dull greyish in colour, waiting patiently and occasionally flapping its large wings. Wikipedia defines ‘vulture’ as two groups of convergently evolved scavenging birds, which feed on the carcasses of dead animals, unattended dead humans and other dead creatures. The key word here is ‘dead’. Vultures feed on dead creatures, and thus play an important role in the Lord’s creation, removing from our midst dead and decaying bodies, which, if left to themselves, would rot and decay, giving out a foul stench and possibly be the source of contamination to other creatures or to ground water. A vulture, by definition, lives on dead animal flesh. It does not mostly attack creatures that are alive or try to kill any living creature by itself. It only descends when it spots a dead body or remnants of a dead body. Thus, even unknown to itself, a vulture plays a crucial role in the global ecology, removing from our midst dead and decaying flesh, which would otherwise be a source of foul smell or a danger to health by breeding unwanted organisms in the open air.

All the living creatures in this world, be they humans, animals, reptiles, fishes, birds, etc; are children of the Lord, who Himself states in the Srimad Bhagavad – Gita (14.4) : “sarva-yonisu kaunteya murtayah sambhavanti yah, tasam brahma mahad yonir aham bija-pradah pita”. “It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” And further, in (4.35) : “yaj jnatva na punar moham evam yasyasi pandava, yena bhutany asesani draksyasy atmany atho mayi.” “And when you thus learned the truth, you will know that all living beings are but part of Me – they are in Me and are Mine.” When a vulture eats a dead body, it is not harming that body, because, by virtue of being dead, and its souls having departed, the body is just a combination of elements and belongs to nature, and will disintegrate and assimilate into nature eventually. A vulture acts by its instinct and its genetic programming, and cannot commit a sin since it does not have the intelligence to distinguish right action from wrong, even if it attacks and kills a living being, in order to eat it. But, by default or by choice, it will not do so.

On the other hand we have many well dressed city slickers, who come from good families, are intelligent, well educated, well informed, mostly well behaved and quite “cultured” in fact, by virtue of having knowledge of literature or the fine arts, eating meat regularly, which has been obtained from the organized killing of living birds, animals or aquatic creatures, from small to large. It is the custom and ‘clientele’ of such persons which drives the great non vegetarian industry that is responsible for the cruel deaths of hundreds of millions of creatures around the world every year. Each of these deaths is attended by untold pain and suffering to the concerned creature. Does this pain and suffering of these pitiable creatures not cause any compunction or regret in their breasts ? The Srimad Bhagavad Gita states (6.32) : “atmaupamyena sarvatra samam pasyati yo ‘rjuna, sukham va yadi va duhkham sa yogi paramo matah.” “He is the perfect yogi, who, by comparison with his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, both in their happiness and in their distress, O Arjuna !”

While I am not attempting to castigate non vegetarianism here, even though such castigation might be justified on grounds of morality, or to talk about the nobility or robust common sense of vegetarianism, the moot point still remains that I find it very difficult to refer to any of these persons as ‘gentlemen’. The classical dictionary meaning of the word ‘gentleman’ is “a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well mannered man”. Any person who does not hesitate to be the cause of death of any hapless or helpless living creature, cutting off its life in its prime, which it loves, and has a right to live as its birthright, and is also simultaneously loved by the Supreme Lord, Who is its true father, cannot be considered a gentleman, by definition. Of course, considering the changes that have taken place in our values and social norms in modern times, and our inclination to use terms loosely, even when they are not really accurate or for that matter, relevant, some would still refer to such persons as ‘gentlemen’. As for me, even though I am pretty broad minded, I would stick to the straight path, and would rather prefer to call a vulture “a true gentleman” or even “a perfect gentleman”. By doing so, I am pretty certain that there is no obfuscation of meaning, albeit some might object to a bird, especially an unhygienic bird like a vulture, being alluded to as a ‘gentleman’.

Gautam Saha

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