The moral question of life and right to life – Bhagavad Gita ch2:21-22

Life is not so clear and obvious. Rather it has subtle nuances, paradoxes and ironies. This is seen in the moral dilemmas we grapple with when writing our laws or experimenting in medical science. For example, we all want a world filled with peace and goodwill to all life. We all agree that killing is bad and preservation of life is paramount. And yet we still continue to kill masses of warm blooded and feeling creatures in slaughterhouses globally. Also, we still have laws in some lands that execute murderers. In other words, we want peace and life preservation, yet we will go to war or take a life of an offender to keep that peace.

reincarnation cycle.jpg

We certainly don’t call it a crime or an offence for a soldier to kill in battle or for a butcher to slaughter on mass the millions of cows, etc. That is one example of the paradox of life. We demand the right to life and yet we kill to preserve that right. That is irony for you, and somehow we live with it as normal. The judge can freely condemn a person to death by execution while himself or herself staying innocent of a crime or a moral faux pas.

Furthermore, today medical science is able to use stem cells to create synthetic human embryos without using a human female egg or male sperm. It seems as if we are creating the foundation of life in a test tube. That said, the scientists are not calling them human embryos but rather embryo models. They are one step away from growing those into a human baby. Are they creating life from matter? No, not really, since the embryo is created from single living human stem cells and they are yet to succeed at actually going all the way to making a human life from it.

However, they are dangerously close. Morality and ethics still prevent a test tube embryo from being grown more than 14 days. International law forbids it, out of moral concern. Yet these synthetic embryos are considered to be in another category, and so may be outside the rule for human stem cell embryo research. We could end up with human life being born without a sperm or egg, but purely from a stem cell.

The moral dilemma is one of epic proportions. And this industry is not the only one where science is running ahead of our ability to keep up on a moral or ethical level. Progress in AI is also pushing our envelope regarding what is ethical and what is not. Science is racing ahead so fast now that we don’t have the time to debate the moral parameters and restrictions that should be in place.

Yet these moral dilemmas have always existed. Soldiers have always been faced with inner questions and doubts regarding their job of killing other humans. Even Arjuna, the great prince and soldier, was faced with a moral dilemma regarding whether he should kill his relatives who now stood opposing him on the battlefield for the kingdom. And it is here that Krishna gives some clarity on the subject of what is moral and where killing is justified or not. You may have thought that Bhagavad Gita would teach non-violence, and it does, in the form of the philosophy of “ahimsa” which decries the killing of any living creature, any cow or pig, millions of whom are slaughtered all year long today.

Indeed unnecessary killing is obviously a crime to be punished, yet who decides where to draw the line? Krishna explains paradoxically that you can’t kill the soul, which is indestructable. And since you are the eternal soul, then you can’t be killed. You never die. In fact you were never born. You are eternally existing. And this logic is used to justify Arjuna’s right to kill on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It sounds strange to some. Just like the legal killing of millions of cows in slaughterhouses sounds strange to many others too. Yet is goes on.

Similarly Krishna explains in the Gita that if the killing is righteous, then it is fine. Just like a judge might say that execution of a criminal is fine. It is for a higher cause which protects all humanity. I don’t claim to know where to draw the line, or claim to take any moral high ground. All I can do is quote the message of Krishna in the Gita to Arjuna, and thereby to all of humanity. And I can only give my subjective opinion on the laws of mankind regarding killing of any life form.

What seems justified for one may not be morally justified for another. Yet the timeless ancient Veda here calls for the killing of the impious when they try to usurp power illegally. Kill those criminals who dare to break the code and kill others. It dispels future killers from taking the law into their won hands. I get that.

However, I don’t get the killing of millions of warm blooded animals when we can live a healthy life without a single drop of their blood being shed. Vegetarianism is my moral high ground, you might say. I agree.

And what about the possibility of creating life in a test tube? Where do we draw the line in that regard? At present the law forbids "life-generating activity" beyond 14 days in the lab. Yet it allows abortion at any time period of pregnancy. I struggle to see the fairness in that.

But this is how the world is. It’s not going to look fair to everyone. Which is why I find it fair to call for the killing of murderers, and for righteous war, as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, though I condemn the killing of harmless warm blooded creatures for the pleasure of your tongue. Everyone must take a moral stand, we can’t sit on the sidelines but have to choose sides. And you choose by your actions, your wallet and your vote, for now. Those systems may soon be overhauled in coming years. It happens constantly throughout history. What was fashionable in one era may not be so in another.

One thing that does not change though, is the nature of the soul and consciousness. Life has always come from life, is always sacred and is always a result of the indestructable spirit soul entering the body at conception. So regarding the question of “when is a human alive in the womb as an individual?”...the answer is “from conception”. The soul enters the womb of the mother at conception. That is my understanding, based on the ancient Sanskrit Veda. For now, creating life out of a stem cell is not yet possible, and has failed, both in mice trials and in human trials. We shall see if it is possible, like taking a cutting of a tree and sticking it in the soil to watch it become another tree, without the need for male and female fertilization.

Then we will need to ask the question “what is a human?” because we may end up creating humans that have come from one person’s stem cell. Will that new human have the same rights as we do? Ultimately all life have rights. Even the cows. So respect life, yet protect life too, in a paradoxical system where you can never kill the soul and yet you have to kill to preserve life, and meat eaters have to kill just to survive. In a world where life is dependent upon death, we can’t really say that it is a perfect place to call home. It isn’t our home as an eternal soul. It is a temporary playing field, which has a beginning and an end in each lifetime.

Bhagavad Gita ch2:21-22

वेदाविनाशिनं नित्यं य एनमजमव्ययम् ।
कथं स पुरुषः पार्थ कं घातयति हन्ति कम् ॥ २१ ॥

vedāvināśinaṁ nityaṁ
ya enam ajam avyayam
kathaṁ sa puruṣaḥ pārtha
kaṁ ghātayati hanti kam

veda—in knowledge; avināśinam—indestructible; nityam—always; yaḥ—one who; enam—this (soul); ajam—unborn; avyayam—immutable; katham—how; saḥ—he; puruṣaḥ—person; pārtha—O Pārtha (Arjuna); kam—whom; ghātayati—hurts; hanti—kills; kam—whom

O Pārtha, how can a person who knows that the soul is indestructible, unborn, eternal and immutable, kill anyone or cause anyone to kill?

Everything has its proper utility, and a man who is situated in complete knowledge knows how and where to apply a thing for its proper utility. Similarly, violence also has its utility, and how to apply violence rests with the person in knowledge. Although the justice of the peace awards capital punishment to a person condemned for murder, the justice of the peace cannot be blamed because he orders violence to another person according to the codes of justice. In Manu-saṁhitā, the lawbook for mankind, it is supported that a murderer should be condemned to death so that in his next life he will not have to suffer for the great sin he has committed. Therefore, the king's punishment of hanging a murderer is actually beneficial. Similarly, when Kṛṣṇa orders fighting, it must be concluded that violence is for supreme justice, and, as such, Arjuna should follow the instruction, knowing well that such violence, committed in the act of fighting for Kṛṣṇa, is not violence at all because, at any rate, the man, or rather the soul, cannot be killed; so for the administration of justice, so-called violence is permitted. A surgical operation is not meant to kill the patient, but to cure him. Therefore the fighting to be executed by Arjuna at the instruction of Kṛṣṇa is with full knowledge, so there is no possibility of sinful reaction.

Bhagavad Gita ch2:22

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय
नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि ।
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा-
न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही ॥ २२ ॥

vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya
navāni gṛhṇāti naro ’parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny
anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī

vāsāṁsi—garments; jīrṇāni—old and worn out; yathā—as it is; vihāya—giving up; navāni—new garments; gṛhṇāti—does accept; naraḥ—a man; aparāṇi—other; tathā—in the same way; śarīrāṇi—bodies; vihāya—giving up; jīrṇāni—old and useless; anyāni—different; saṁyāti—verily accepts; navāni—new sets; dehī—the embodied

As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.

Change of body by the atomic individual soul is an accepted fact. Even some of the modern scientists who do not believe in the existence of the soul, but at the same time cannot explain the source of energy from the heart, have to accept continuous changes of body which appear from childhood to boyhood and from boyhood to youth and again from youth to old age. From old age, the change is transferred to another body. This has already been explained in the previous verse.
Transference of the atomic individual soul to another body is made possible by the grace of the Supersoul. The Supersoul fulfills the desire of the atomic soul as one friend fulfills the desire of another. The Vedas, like the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, as well as the Śvetāśvatara Upanisad, compare the soul and the Supersoul to two friendly birds sitting on the same tree. One of the birds (the individual atomic soul) is eating the fruit of the tree, and the other bird (Kṛṣṇa) is simply watching His friend. Of these two birds—although they are the same in quality—one is captivated by the fruits of the material tree, while the other is simply witnessing the activities of His friend. Kṛṣṇa is the witnessing bird, and Arjuna is the eating bird. Although they are friends, one is still the master and the other is the servant. Forgetfulness of this relationship by the atomic soul is the cause of one's changing his position from one tree to another or from one body to another. The jīva soul is struggling very hard on the tree of the material body, but as soon as he agrees to accept the other bird as the supreme spiritual master—as Arjuna agreed to do by voluntary surrender unto Kṛṣṇa for instruction—the subordinate bird immediately becomes free from all lamentations. Both the Kaṭha Upaniṣad and Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad confirm this:
samāne vṛkṣe puruṣo nimagno
'nīśayā śocati muhyamānaḥ
juṣṭaṁ yadā paśyaty anyam īśam asya
mahimānam iti vīta-śokaḥ
"Although the two birds are in the same tree, the eating bird is fully engrossed with anxiety and moroseness as the enjoyer of the fruits of the tree. But if in some way or other he turns his face to his friend who is the Lord and knows His glories—at once the suffering bird becomes free from all anxieties." Arjuna has now turned his face towards his eternal friend, Kṛṣṇa, and is understanding the Bhagavad-gītā from Him. And thus, hearing from Kṛṣṇa, he can understand the supreme glories of the Lord and be free from lamentation.
Arjuna is advised herewith by the Lord not to lament for the bodily change of his old grandfather and his teacher. He should rather be happy to kill their bodies in the righteous fight so that they may be cleansed at once of all reactions from various bodily activities. One who lays down his life on the sacrificial altar, or in the proper battlefield, is at once cleansed of bodily reactions and promoted to a higher status of life. So there was no cause for Arjuna's lamentation.



Interesting perspective. I watch a few who channel spirit beings and it is said we creat the life we live by the thoughts we thing. I like to believe this to be true. Even the new thought leaders of the late 1800's and early 1900's say that we get what we think about.

My world is a world of love where everyone cherishes life and creates to benefit not just themselves but others as well. so let's all grow our food and make houses and furniture and clothes for eachother while writing stories for future generations.


That's good to hear moon. I like your perspective. Indeed we are what we think.