‘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 into.
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 darkness.
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
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 ponder:
(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 them accordingly.
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 possess.
Should we be tempted to get just a little too arrogant, let 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 2011. Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.
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