Chapter 99 — Consciousness in Plants, Insects and Animals

Rama asked, “Truly we have a great many ways to relieve our pains, such as our reason, the teachings of the scriptures, the advice of our friends, and the society of the wise and good. There are also the applications of mantras and medicines, charitable giving, performances of religious austerities, going to pilgrimages and resorting to holy places. But tell me. What is the state of brute creations such as worms and insects, birds and flies, and the other creeping, crawling and bending animals? Like us, are they not also susceptible to pain and pleasure? What means do they have to remedy their pains and evils?”

Vasishta replied:—

All creatures, whether animal or vegetable, are destined to partake of the particular enjoyments that are allotted to their respective shares, and they are ever tending towards that end. All living beings, from the noble and great to the mean and minute, have their appetites and desires like us. The difference lies in their lesser or greater proportion compared to us.

Great Virat-like big bodies are moved by their passions and feelings. So also little puny tribes of insects are fed by their self love to pursue their own ends. See the unsupported birds of the sky, flying and falling in the air. They are quite content wandering in emptiness without seeking a place for their rest. Look at the constant efforts of the little ant in search of its food and hoarding its store like we do for the future provision of our families, never resting content for a moment. Little mollusks, minute as atoms of dust, yet are quick in quest of its food like a swift eagle in pursuit of its prey in the sky.

As we pass our time in the world thinking of ourselves — our egoism and mine and of this and that — so it goes on with every creature having its selfish thoughts and cares for its own kind. 10 The lives of filthy worms are spent like ours in their struggle and anxious care for food and provisions, at all places and all times for the duration of their lives in the world.

11 Plants and trees are somewhat more awakened in their state of existence than mineral productions, which continue dead and dormant forever. But worms and insects are as awakened from their dormancy as men in order to remain restless forever. 12 Their lives are as miserable as ours upon this earth of sin and pain. Their deaths are as desirable as ours in order to set us free from misery after a short-lived pain.

13 As a man sold and transported to a foreign country sees with wonder all things that are not his own. So it is with brute animals that see all strange things in this earth. 14 All animals find everything on earth to be either as painful or as pleasant to them as they are to us also. But they do not have the ability like us to distinguish what is good from what is harmful to them. 15 Brute animals are dragged by their bridles and nose-strings like men sold as slaves to labor in distant lands have to bear all sorts of pains and privation, only animals are not able to communicate or complain to anybody. 16 Trees and plants and their seedlings are subject to pains and troubles like us, when our thin-skinned bodies are annoyed by stormy weather, or assailed by gnats and bugs while trying to sleep.

17 And as we mortals on earth have our knowledge of things, and the wisdom of forsaking a famine-stricken place for our welfare elsewhere, so it is with the animals and birds to migrate from lands of scarcity to those of plenty. 18 The delightful is equally delectable to all. The god Indra as well as a worm are both inclined towards what is pleasurable to them. This tendency to pleasure proceeds from their own choice. This freedom of choice is not denied to any but is irresistible in all. He who knows his free will is altogether free and liberated.

19 The pleasure and pain arising from passions and feelings and from enjoyments in life, as well as the torments of diseases and death, are alike to all living beings. 20 The exceptions are the knowledge of things and that of past and future events and the arts of life. All the various kinds of animals are endowed with all other animal faculties and inclinations like those of mankind. 21 The drowsy plant kingdom, the dormant mountain, and other unconscious natures are fully conscious within of an empty intellectual power on which they exist.

22 But there are some who deny the consciousness of an intellectual spirit in the dormant and fixed bodies of trees and mountains, and they allow the consciousness of the empty intellect in only a very slight degree in moving animals and in the majority of the living and ignorant part of mankind. 23 The dense state of mountains and the sleepy nature of the plant creation, being devoid of the knowledge of dualism, have no sense of the existence of the world except that of a nonentity or mere emptiness.

24 Knowledge of the world is accompanied with utter ignorance of its nature, or with agnosticism. For when we do not know ourselves or the subjective, how is it possible for us to know the objective world? 25 The world is ever situated in a state of dumb sluggishness, like a dull block of wood or stone. It is without beginning or end and without an opening in it. It is like the dreaming wakefulness of a sleeping man. 26 The world exists in the same state as it did before its creation. It will continue to go on forever even as now because eternity is always the same both before and after. 27 It is not the subjective or the objective, not the full or emptiness, and not a mute substance or anything whatever.

28 Remain as you are and let me remain as I am. Freed from pleasure or pain in our state of emptiness, we find nothing existent or nonexistent here.

29 Say, why do you forsake your state of absolute nothingness? What do you get from your imaginary city of this world? It is all calm and quiet without, just as your empty consciousness is serene and clear within you. 30 The lack of right knowledge causes our error of the world, but as soon as we come to detect this false knowledge of ours, this error flies away from us. 31 The world being known as a dream without any reality, it is as vain to place any reliance on it as it is to place one’s affections on the son of a barren woman, or to confide in such a one. 32 Even in a dream we can recognize that we are dreaming of a false world, so what faith or confidence can we place in the world on coming to know its nothingness upon waking? 33 What is known in the waking state could not be otherwise in sleep. Whatever is known in the later hour of coming to its knowledge, the same must have been its previous state also.

34 There are the three times of present, past and future. Our knowledge of these proceeds from our ignorance of endless duration, which is the only real tranquil and universal substratum of all. 35 As waves crashing against one another do no harm to the waters of the sea, so the destruction of one body by another does no injury to the inner soul which is ever impregnable and also indestructible. 36 The empty Consciousness within us gives rise to the false conception of our bodies. Therefore the loss of the body or its false conception affects neither our intellect nor ourselves.

37 The waking soul sees the world situated in the emptiness of Consciousness, as it were in its sleep. This of creation in the mind, being devoid of materiality, is very much like a dream. 38 The ideas of material things are produced in the beginning of creation from their previous impressions left in the intellect. The world being only a dream or work of imagination, it is an error of the brain to take it for a reality. 39 Traces of prior dreams and reminiscences are preserved in the memory or mind and appear and reappear in it, representing their aerial shapes as substantial figures.

40 This error has taken possession of the mind in the same manner as the untrue is taken for truth. Meanwhile the transcendent and clear truth of the omniform soul is rejected as untrue. 41 In reality there is only Divine Consciousness that has existed forever. The most certain truth is that Brahman is all in all, therefore the doctrine of memory and forgetfulness goes to nothing. 42 Sheer ignorance devoid of this spiritual knowledge views things only in their material light, and in this realization lies true knowledge which breaks open the door of ignorance. 43 At last nothing remains after expulsion of the error of materiality, only the pure spirit of God who is both the viewer and the view, and the subjective and objective in himself.

44 As the reflection of anything falling on a mirror shows itself within itself, so the world shines of itself in the emptiness of Divine Consciousness, the reflection of anything else being ever cast upon it. 45 As the reflection of a thing exhibits itself in its manifestation, though nobody is there to look at it, so the world is shown in Divine Consciousness, though the same is invisible to everyone.

46 Whatever is found as true, both by reason and proof, must be the certain truth. All else is mere semblance of it, and not being actual can never be true. 47 Though the knowledge of the material world is proved to be false and untrue, yet it is found to mislead us, just as the act of sleep walking does in our sleep and dreaming state.

48 The light of the Divine Luminary casts its reflection into Consciousness and displays the intellectual sphere supremely bright. Tell me therefore, what are we and this spectacle of the world anymore than a rehash or a print of that archetype? 49 If there is a rebirth after our death, then what is it that is lost to us? Should there be no rebirth after death, then there is a perfect tranquility of our souls by our utter extinction and emancipation from the pains of life and death. Or if we have our liberation by the light of philosophy, then there is nothing here that is the cause of any sorrow in any state whatsoever.

50 Only an ignorant man knows the state of the ignorant. The wise are quite ignorant, just as only fish know the perilous state of a deer that has fallen amidst the waves and whirling currents of the sea. 51 It is only the open sphere of Divine Consciousness that represents the diverse images of “I”, “you”, “he” and this and that in its hollow space, just as a tree shows the different forms of its leaves, fruit and flowers in its all producing body or stem.