Ahimsa: Cruelty-Free Living


I am a vegan & try to avoid animal products. I try cruelty free living wherever possible. Music is my passion & have been singing since childhood. I wanted to learn instruments (piano & guitar) but came to know that most instruments have animal ingredients like glue, felt, leather etc. Music is a sacred & divine for me especially when singing for God.

How can we allow leather etc to be a part of it? I am in a dilemma — what should I do? Do you think its fine to buy them & make music? Plz guide.

—SP, India


Dear Friend,

I am curious to ask whether traditional Indian instruments, for example, sitar or vina and even drums, were made with any animal by-products. I would have thought NOT!

Your question is one that your conscience alone can answer. But let me share some thoughts that you may find helpful:

1. In Autobiography of a Yogi Paramhansa Yogananda tells a charming story of how he almost swatted a mosquito that was about to sting him when he dropped his upraised hand remembering the scriptural injunction against killing.

But his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar said, “Why didn’t you go through with it?”

“But Master,” Yogananda replied, “isn’t it a sin to kill?”

“Yes, but you had already committed the sin in your mind.”

Intention, you see, is more important than action taken or not taken. When we drive a car, bus, train, or plane many insects (etc.) are killed. But it is not our intention to harm them; we are simply traveling for one purpose or another. When we boil water or buy medicines or processed foods, numerous insects or bacteria are killed. We cannot literally practice ahimsa in a world of duality. Even self-defense can be justified scripturally speaking. But you are not talking of self-defense, admittedly, but you are talking of an activity that is very normal in this civilization (playing music on human-made instruments).

2. Lower life forms normally give their lives, or have them taken, for the benefit of higher life forms. While sensitive souls, yogis, devotees, and people like yourself, wish to avoid unnecessary killing, you do so for the sake of your conscience and consciousness; only secondarily do the animals benefit since, more than likely, their sacrifice is going to be made one way or the other. So while avoiding actions that require the killing of animals is certainly laudable where it is feasible, the most important consideration is the cultivation of a peaceful nature. Your inner peace will be tested by day-to-day annoyances and irritations and possibly from time to time by very big tests such as insults, or violence to you or a loved one, or to others with whom you naturally feel sympathetic. You can commit violence by thought, word and emotion, not just actual physical harm. So isn’t working on your own peace-filled consciousness the most important thing?

3. There are no lack of examples of great saints and rishis who eat fish or other animals. Perhaps in their time or culture, this was normal, and to not do so would distract others from their central spiritual teachings. But nonetheless, to quote Swami Kriyananda, “It’s not what you do, but how (or why) you do it!”

4. What if, by refusing to play music for the reasons you question above, you deprive your spirit and those who would listen to your music of uplifting, divinely inspired, or positive music? What if, by not playing music, your life drifts into activities that do not feed your soul nor help others? Would the benefits to any animals really justify such inaction?

Do pray to God, guru or Divine Mother for guidance in applying your good intentions to your life’s decisions. “When higher dharma conflicts with a lower dharma, the higher dharma should be followed.” (This quotation Swami Kriyananda often gave though I have not taken the time to find its source; it sounds like the Bhagavad Gita but in many readings of the Gita I don’t recall it. But the truth of it seems self-evident.)

Blessings to you in your life’s journey!
Nayaswami Hriman