Hitting hard on slaughter of animals by appalling methods with no legislative prohibitions or intervention to eliminate cruelty to animals, Ven. Rajakeeya Panditha Dodampahala Sri Rahula Thera speaking recently on “Towards an end to man’s inhumanity to animals” said that animals are slaughtered to feed humans. The commemorative Buddhist talk was delivered at the All Ceylon Women’s Buddhist Congress (ACWBC) Hall to mark the 14th death anniversary of Asoka Weeraratna – the founder of the German Dharmaduta Society, the Berlin Vihara in Germany and the Mitirigala Forest Hermitage where Mr. Weeraratne spent 27 years as Ven. Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thera.
Prince Siddhartha, Ven. Sri Rahula Thera said, was a vegetarian throughout His journey in the Samsara which gave Him the strength to attain Buddhahood. The First of His Five Fundamental Precepts is a voluntary pledge to refrain from taking the life of other living beings – humans and animals.
Historically, Ven. Sri Rahula stated that Lankans, following the Dhamma, have broadly been vegetarians. Animals have nurtured our culture and enriched village economy since the beginnings of civilization. Cattle have been the most precious of our animals providing us with milk, used in the fields and in transportation.
The transformation of food habits came about with the arrival of the Europeans and a forceful campaign is now called for to dispel the myth that meat-eaters are physically strong. There are vegetarians among strong men and women while the strongest animals such as elephants and cattle are non-meat-eaters. Meat-eating besides is seen as a cause of health problems in human beings.
Buddhism however, is not an extremist religion, the monk contended pointing out that the Buddha had said nobody has the right to stop others from consuming flesh. But He said that no animal should be killed on behalf of another.
While promoting vegetarianism, the monk however said that there must especially be a distinct difference between alms and meals as alms served to the Sangha should be completely free of flesh. Besides the consumption of meat, Ven. Sri Rahula Thera wondered whether people were aware that spectacle cases, handbags, belts worn by them were made out of leather? Leather purses are carried to show affluence and the use of slippers made with crocodile skin is said to control blood pressure. But, are they aware that the leather used to make these fancy accessories, comes from slaughtered animals?
How could these harmless animals, who had been feeding us with their milk and milk-products and providing invaluable services silently from as far back as the caravan era, be saved from being slaughtered and with barbaric means? Are they not morally entitled to our gratitude for the services rendered to humanity? The monk said that cattle, even those rescued, should not be allowed to roam around as they run the risk of being captured and taken to the slaughter-house. Rescuers should consider taking the rescued cattle to distant areas such as Sevenagala, Inginiyagala, Kantale and Pelawatte where there are thousands of acres of grazing land with no cattle to be found.
Tractors can be replaced with cattle in the sugarcane plantations in these areas which would be eco-friendly as cattle can be used in carts to drag sugarcane with no fuel used. They need only natural food – grass, water and poonac. Cowdung will fertilize the land.
Since the momentous words were spoken by Arahant Mahinda in the 3rd Century BC that all mammals, birds and all other animals enjoy equal rights to live on this land, the royal decree of King Devanampiyatissa that prohibited inhumanity to all animals, was enhanced and followed by succeeding monarchs of Lanka.
Many more State proclamations to protect animals decreed by our ancient Royalty made hunting, fishing, slaughtering and cruelty to animals illegal throughout our history until the advent of the colonial rulers who had no compassion towards protection of animals. Their culinary preference for animal flesh made meat-eating to spread and become relatively a common practice in Sri Lanka.
Today, feelings run high even in the West against cruelty, slaughter and abuse of animals. However, no government in post – independent Sri Lanka, had shown mettle in adopting concrete legislative measures to protect animals from man’s inhumanity.
The governing legislation i.e. the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance was enacted by the British colonial government in 1907 with Rs. 100 as the maximum amount of a fine for cruelty to an animal. It continues to this day unchanged. A recent amendment to the Animals Act of 1958, has allowed cattle, confiscated during illegal transportation to be handed over to an animal-care organization and be used in agricultural pursuits. Previously, confiscated cattle, at the end of court proceedings, had been handed back to the owner, who had perpetrated the act of cruelty.
A new Animal Welfare Bill drawn by the Law Commission is in the pipeline and is the product of continuous agitation of concerned animal rights groups. The Bill deals in detail with specific acts of cruelty to animals, confiscation, illegal transportation, slaughter with punishment and fines stipulated. It is urged that this Animal Welfare Bill be presented in Parliament as a matter of urgency and enacted without any further delay.
This Bill however, omits a specific reference to the practice of animal sacrifice which in the pre-colonial era was strictly prohibited in Sri Lanka as a morally indefensible practice. Today, animal rights activists are endeavoring to resolve this issue through dialogue and compromise between leaders of several communities, religions and the state.
Courtesy: Sunday Times (Plus Supplement)