“We need another and wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of
animals… We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their
tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And
therein we err and err greatly. For the animal shall not be
measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours,
they moved finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the
senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall
never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they
are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and
time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth”
Other nations: a respectful and honoring view of the myriad
creatures that share our planet. How very exalted above the base
notions generally entertained by the species we are members of.
Modern society has almost completely lost respect for animals and
is deaf to the quiet wisdom they offer. We no longer even have
the capacity to regard them as equals, let alone superiors, as
many of the shamanistic cultures did and still do. The very idea
seems absurd. Yet, it may be that if we only had eyes to see,
four-legged Buddhas walk among us.
Apart from the shamanistic cultures, every religious tradition
without exception debases animals in some subtle way, and
stresses the superiority of the human race. Moreover, a
scientific justification for demeaning and mistreating animals
has now been added in the form of Evolution. In other words, the
entire process of millions of years of natural history has led to
the flourishing of the fittest species: ourselves!
Actually, it is hardly surprising that virtually every tradition
– religious or scientific – seeks to stress the superiority of
mankind over animals. After all, it is mankind who created these
philosophies! Not so long ago, we also believed that the Earth
was the center of the universe. Why? Because WE live on it.
However, those tribal cultures that remain in extremely close
relationship with the animal kingdom, and rely upon animals for
their survival, also have the most respect for these other
nations. From prehistoric times up to the present day, many such
cultures have honored and prayed to the very animals they hunt.
They understand and respect that the animal is giving its life,
its very flesh, for their sustenance. They are thankful and
respectful, as if a sacred pact was being mystically entered
Indeed, that is precisely what IS happening. You don’t have to
look too deeply to see this exact same mystical significance
behind many ritual meals of religious sacrifice. The Christian
Holy Communion is an exact counterpart of this primeval
tradition, and serves the same purpose. Here, Christ as the
sacrificial lamb, willingly undergoes ritual death in order that
those he feeds may have life through the sacrifice of his flesh
and his blood.
Actually, mankind’s incessant need to stress it’s superiority
over animals is due not merely to self-serving arrogance, but
also to a massive and deeply buried racial inferiority complex.
For countless millennia, if not for millions of years, mankind
really WAS inferior to the animals; running, hiding, ever
fearfully watchful, terrified of every rustle in the grass,
petrified of being poisoned, eaten alive or ripped apart by
whatever was sneaking through the bushes or lying hidden in the
It is only in the last few millennia, and truly only in the final
few hundred years, that we can truly claim to have achieved
ascendancy over the animals and thereby reversed our position on
the food chain. Hence, it is a very recent occurrence.
Hence, like the nouveau riche – uncomfortably insecure with their
suddenly acquired wealth – the human race feels a rather pitiable
compulsion to demonstrate its new-found “superiority” as often,
and in as many ways, as humanly possible.
This deep seated inferiority complex towards animals lies
entrenched deep in the collective psyche of the human race. It
reveals itself in the sad stories we have to tell ourselves to
persuade ourselves that we are superior. In the Western
traditions, we tell ourselves that God gave Man dominion over the
animals. In the Eastern traditions, we find ourselves at the top
of the Karmic scale and, should we err too often in this human
life, we face the threat of rebirth as an animal. God forbid!
“So what?”, you might be thinking. Does any of this really
matter? Yes, it does.
The stories we tell ourselves create the reality we choose to
live. If these stories purely serve our own ends, but do not
correspond to external reality, then we must collide with that
reality sooner or later. Moreover, like a blind man, we will
continually wonder what hit us and why.
There are many practical consequences of our ignorant
mistreatment of animals, and the distorted philosophical glasses
through which we insist upon viewing them. Here are just a few to
(1) We lose the window on the sacred that animals offer us. Quiet
observation of, respect for, and closeness to animals can lead to
many revelations of the sacred at the deepest level. Such
revelations are beyond words. Those who have them know. Those who
do not will consider the notion nonsensical.
Animals can be among our most profound teachers, if we let them.
Many animals, and most commonly domestic pets, can be sources of
the purest Love; a love that far anything we can find from human
kind. It is a love that transcends words, concepts, mutual
expectations, and even species. It is the very Love that the
universe is composed of.
Animals can be a window on this if we let them. The fact that
they so obviously demonstrate it indicates that it was always
latent within them. If it was always latent within them, it means
that this Love comes from the heart of the universe itself.
(2) When we disrespect animals and regard them as little more
than instinct-dominated flesh robots, we will eventually
disrespect ourselves too. Like it or not, we are part of the
animal kingdom, although many of us prefer to think ourselves
apart from it.
Throughout history, many human beings have sometimes been treated
as little more than animals by other human beings. How difficult,
even impossible, this would be if we revered animals (indeed ALL
life) in the first place and treated them as other nations,
rather than just an exploitable natural resource.
Once you divide up the world’s species into the sacred and the
exploitable, it is only a matter of time before you find a reason
to dump your human enemies into the latter category and treat
Even if we must eat the flesh of an animal, we can at least spare
a moment to silently thank that creature for giving its very
life, in the ultimate sacrifice, in order to sustain our own. It
costs us nothing to do this, but a few seconds of silent
contemplation. And surely, we are better off for it? This is
continuing the tradition of the ancients; giving the respect due
to others in the cycle of life and death, who have given their
very lives for us.
(3) We fall ever deeper into the trap of our own ignorance and
prejudices. For instance, there is demonstrable evidence that
many animals, most notably the apes, use language to communicate
relatively complex messages. Pigeons have actually been trained
in one scientific experiment to distinguish between the paintings
of Renoir and Picasso (incredible but true!). Many animals use
tools to find and extract food.
All of these capacities (linguistic, aesthetic, tool-use) were
formerly considered to be exclusively human. However, now we know
better. Or rather, do we? Sadly, the levels of prejudice, even in
the scientific community, are so high that virtually unattainable
levels of evidence are required to “prove” these assertions
beyond reasonable doubt. Many human children, and some mentally
handicapped people, would probably fail these insufferably high
standards of evidence. Perhaps we are just a little too afraid of
the philosophical consequences of having the belief structures of
many millennia totally undermined? Hence, it is better to remain
blind to these matters.
Yet, it becomes increasingly clear that the distinction between
the human race and animals is only a matter of degree. Animals
possess many of our capacities, although not always as well
refined. Moreover, we lack many of the capacities that they
Should we be tempted to get just a little too arrogant, lèt us
not forget that were it not for a large meteorite striking the
earth 65 million years ago, and thereby creating the space for
our presence here, the earth might still be occupied by some of
the most successful animals in history – creatures that thrived
for over 100 million years compared to our paltry 1 million – the
dinosaurs! We really had very little to do with our own existence
here. It may be the result of a lucky astronomical accident.
Lucky for some; unlucky for others.
We do not have to be sentimental about animals. Life lives on
life. That is the inevitable truth of life itself. This is not a
plea for vegetarianism. However, it is a plea for seeing things
as they really are; for throwing off our millennia of
self-serving ignorance and deep-seated phobias, and stepping into
the sunlight of respect and reverence for all living things.
What goes around comes around. As we disrespect, demote and
nullify animals, we increasingly do the same to ourselves too.
Only in respecting the animals for what they are – other nations
worthy of life, honor and respect – can we ultimately respect
ourselves within the entire natural cycle of existence. This will
help raise ourselves to a healthier, congruent and more truthful
state of consciousness.
Copyright 2003. Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.
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