Monday, April 30, 2012

The Brahmin and the microscope

The Scrinium, in two volumes, by Rebecca Edridge,  published in the year 1822, has the following anecdote on Page 336, about a Brahmin who was a die-hard vegetarian. 

The Bramins abstain not only from what Europeans call with limitations, animal food, but also from feeding on anything that has life. 

Once in India such abstinence had been the theme of conversation in the presence of a Bramin, who was a very learned and a very liberal minded man, strongly attached to the doctrines of the religion in which he had been brought up, and deeming himself perfectly innocent of deviation from its injunctions.

Mr. Forbes, to convince bim that in every morsel which he put into his mouth and in every drop of water which he swallowed he destroyed millions, produced a microscope of prodigious magnifying power: and gave him some fruit to examine through the glass. 

The astonished Bramin, when be beheld the myriads, whose existence constituted the bloom of the plumb, was overpowered by his conviction. He investigated by the same microscopic means many other things that were upon the table, and all proved the wonderful gradations of life, and the universal prey of animal on animal. He became extremely melancholy and pensive, and appeared to be much distressed by the discovery he had made.

The next morning Mr. Forbes heard a noise under his window, and looking out, he saw the Bramin, who with a large stone was crushing the microscope. When Mr. Forbes remonstrated with him, he said, that whatever might be the value of what he had destroyed, he would pay it; or he would pay double the value of it, or any sum that might be required; but that having been made unhappy by seeing that it was impossible to sustain his own life, without destroying other lives, he was determined to prevent the same knowledge from reaching his brethren, and making them as wretched as he should be forever.

Update 01/015/12:
I’ve read earlier ( as cited here) that Lord Tennyson used to narrate this anecdote in a manner as to depict the Brahmin as one who destroyed the microscope because he foolishly believed that we could destroy facts by refusing to see them. 

Whereas the above description of the same incident- as it really happened- reveals a different dimension. The Brahmin accepts the fact and reality of animal life, but did not want to burden his fellow-Brahmins with a sense of guilt.What they won't know won't hurt them.

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