Animals in Early Buddhism

Animals in Early Buddhism

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Item Code: NAF641
Author: Arvind Kumar Singh
Publisher: Eastern Book Linkers
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 9788178540948
Pages: 192
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 Inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 340 gm
About The Book

Buddhism is a religion of Compassion and Philosophy of Being and Existence. Animal does occupy an important position in Buddhism. Animal maintains a delicate balance between delicate balance between eschatology and utopia on which depends the very survival of mankind. The book deals with this complex problem from Buddhist philosophical perspective. The examination and analysis of this complex problem reveals and unfolds the new religion philosophical dimensions of animal world and its profound relation with being and existence. According to Buddhism, animal does from Buddha nature. This book highlights the sotoreological and sacradotal value and importance of animal world. This is original and profound work on this subject.


About The Author

Arvind Kumar Singh spent his early life in the spiritual ambience of Bodh-Gaya. He received his schooling in History (Hons.) from Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi. He did his M. A. & M. Phil. from Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi. He was awarded Ph. D. degree of University of Delhi. He has presented his research papers at the National and International Conferences. Currently he is teaching at the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi, Delhi.


If life has to reach the epitome to its development, we must be friends to all living beings."Earnest Bell is of the view that the man who is described as behaving "like a beast" would often in his behaviour be a disgrace to any known animal. Columnist Colman McCarthy wrote. "Dismembering animals begins with dismembering language". No one can dispute animals' importance, yet we use them with an alarming lack of care. Cleveland Amory points out that we often insult each other by calling each other by animal names such as pig, swine, weasel, skunk, baboon, jackal, monkey etc. We berate each other by using animal similes such as 'mean as a snake', 'stubborn as a mule', 'crazy as a loon', 'silly as a goon'. One person ridicules another with terms like chicken, bull-headed, dumb bunny, and a questionable situation is termed 'fishy'. Derogatory words for women include, bitch, cow, shrew, vixen etc. Unthinkingly, we develop callousness and indifference towards animals by using language that is euphemistic, inaccurate and deceptive. We label the flesh we eat from animal corpses as meat, pork, veal, beef or poultry. Carol Adams is of the opinion that we have "institutionalized the oppression of animals on at least two levels which are, (i) in formal structures such as slaughter houses, meat markets, zoos, laboratories and circuses and (ii) through our language. As Colman McCarthy points out, language shapes attitudes and attitudes shape behaviours. As our society attempts to cleanse itself of it, we must become aware and get rid of this habit and adopt a vocabulary that is accurate and dignifying to animals. Animals should be given proper treatment. A long time ago, we realised that anyone who cares about the earth...really cares, must stop eating flesh of animals. Of course, anyone who cares about animals must not eat animal flesh. What strikes one most forcefully is that humankind that derives immense benefits from different creatures, not only does not give them in return the least protection but is in fact indifferent to them. The human view of the animal world has been ambivalent, a knife edge balancing of fear with fascination, affection with exploitation, kindness with cruelty, the whole complicated by theological explanations of universe and clouded by self-deciet.

The Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. He, the enlightened one, was an embodiment of mercifulness, compassion, self-love, forgiveness, truth and purity. Buddhist texts are replete with examples where animals are cared for. In Buddhism, love of animals is not sentimentality but true spirituality. Buddhism is scrupluous even in the smallest matters where either life or Well being of beings is concerned. The Buddha found a profound rapport with all living beings. Buddhism believes in spiritual unity of all living creatures. It exhorts humans to befriend them. The Buddha showed a new path to humans to take a new step towards a new vision of human planetary stewardship which will become a reality only if we begin to make the right choices now, based upon ahitnsa and the ethic of respect and reverence for all life.

Buddhism does not see humans as a special creation of God, or as having been given either 'dominion' or 'stewardship' over animals. Like all other sentiment beings, animals also wander in the limited, conditioned realm of samsara, the chain of births. Nevertheless, a human rebirth is seen as a very rare and fortunate one because it is the only one where the key work for enlightenment can be accomplished. In the accounts of Buddhism, the types of rebirth are—gods, humans, animals, ghosts and hell beings where humans are listed in one group, while all other animals (land animals, birds, fish, worms, insects.) are listed in another. The Buddhist Jataka stories often attribute noble actions to such animals as monkeys and elephants and there is also a reference to some animals keeping the five precepts.

The relatively special place of humans in the Buddhist cosmos means that they are at a high level of existence than animals. This, however, is not seen as a justification for dominating exploiting animals. Humans are 'superior' primarily in terms of their capacities for moral action and spiritual development. The natural expression of such superiority is not an exploitative attitude but one of kindness to lesser beings. One cannot isolate onseself from the plight of animals, as one has oneself experienced, as animals have had past lives like humans. Moreover, in the ancient chain of rebirths, every being 6ne comes across, down to an insect, at some time might have been a closekind relative or a good friend. Bearing this in mind one should return kindness in the present state to animals.

As all sentient beings like happiness and dislike pain, however much their specific desires and sensitivities may vary, Karniya-Metta Sutta speaks of radiating loving kindness to all types of beings. This is shown in one of the Jataka stories which concerns a bull who would pull one hundred carts to win his owner a bet only when the latter stopped using a harsh tone to get him going. Both humans and animals respond better to those who they feel are friendly, so that loving—kindness is seen to protect a person. Accordingly, the Buddha is said to have halted the charge of the rampaging elephant Nalagiri by suffusing it with loving kindness, so that it ground to a halt and bowed its head to him. On another occasion, he taught that the reason a monk was bitten by a snake and had died was that he failed to radiate loving kindness to the snakes and other wild animals. Animals are seen responding in a positive way to those who have a kindly presence. Once, the Buddha retired to forest to be away from some quarrelsome bhikkhus. There, an elephant and a monkey were his companions bringing him offerings. In the Theravadin monastic code, monks are allowed to release trapped animals or fish if this is from compassion rather than a desire to steal. In a more positive vein, a Jataka story tells of the Bodhisattva as a hermit who, during drought, ensured that wild animals got water. These sympathetic gestures and postures of early Buddhists show how much Buddhism is concerned about animals.

The present book is divided into five chapters apart from "Introduction" and "Conclusion". Chapter-I of this book is entitled "Position of Animals in Early Buddhism". In this chapter I have tried to show that animals have occupied a very important position in Buddhism. Unlike the Rigveda which regards animals as tools for human sustenace or sacrifice, the early Buddhist literatuare accords them an important place in-the hierarchy of life. The importance of animals can be seen in the Jataka stories of the Buddha's former lives. Of the 550 stories, a full half of them (225) have animals usually as central characters. Seventy different types of animals are mentioned and 319 animals or groups of animals appear in these 225 stories. In most of them, animals represent prior life forms of persons living at the time of the Buddha. These Jataka stories illustrate the wisdom, the compassion and the moral behaviour manifested and exhibited by animals. It conveys the moral that cruelty to animals for meat and animal sacrifice are not only unethical and irreligious but also threatens the very existence of human beings. The Jataka stories on animals include simple moral tales advising the Buddha's followers to avoid hurting animals intentionally. The Buddha talks about the noble acts performed by the animals. Buddhism considers animals as not animals but as potential humans or as animals that can teach humans some moral lessons.

In this chapter we have also discussed the great acts performed by King Asoka with regard to animal protection. The concern for animal welfare was not confined to the Buddhist monastic community but King Asoka (274-232 BC.) converted to Buddhism and he made several laws that required kind treatment of animals, which restricted meat eating and curtailed hunting. He also established hospitals and roadside watering stations for animals.

Chapter-II of the present book is entitled "Buddhist Concept of Ahimsa and Animal Protection". In this chapter, I have first discussed the meaning of ahimsa and then tried my best to show how Buddhist doctrine of Ahimsa can protect animals. The positive aspect of ahimsa is the cultivation of goodwill and love towards all living creatures. The popular meaning of 'ahimsa' is 'non-killing'. In this chapter, I have traced the origin of ahimsa to the Rigveda where the maturing of Hindu spirit was led to a tacit recognition of ethical primacy and religious value of ahimsa. The Buddhist doctrine of ahimsa is a moderate one and does not go to extremes. It is often expressed in phrases likes Panatipata Vermarii (abstaining from injuring living creatures) and Panatipata Pativirati (restraining oneself from injuring living beings). These phrases focus attention on the ethical premise concerning the value of animal lives. The Buddha condemned infliction of pain and suffering on living creature which includes humans as well as animals. He was strongly critical of the practice of animal sacrifice as well as hunting enjoyed by human beings. As mentioned in Cakkavattisihandda Sutta, the ideal Buddhist ruler should provide protection not only to human beings but also to the beasts of the forests and the birds of the air (miga-pakkhisu). This, one can say that the Buddhist concept of ahimsa is one of the most important factors which is helpful with regard to the protection of animals. The Buddha paid special attention to the important task of building up an ethical system in which justice for animals was regarded as the norm rather than the exception.

"Early Buddhist Attitude Towards Meat Eating and Animal Sacrifice" is chapter-Ill of the present book. In the early texts of Buddhism, it is found that the Buddha and his followers used to eat meat but on the condition that they had not seen, heard or suspected that the meat was prepared for them. This is called Rule of the Tikotiparisuddha. But the Buddha also allowed meat eating in some exceptional cases. For example : fat of the bear, the fish, the alligator, the swine and the ass received at right time and mixed with oil at the right time edible for the sick raw flesh and blood was permitted for the sick in diseases. Likewise, meat broth was permitted for the sick. There are some meats which are not edible according to Buddhism. These are the flesh of the man, the elephant, the horse, the dog, the serpent, the lion, the tiger, the bear, the swine and the hyena.

In the early texts of Buddhism, it is found that the Buddha and his disciples used to eat meat. In this chapter, I have also tried to resolve the controversy among scholars regarding the last meal taken by the Buddha himself. In this chapter, I have also discussed the steps taken by King Asoka, the great Magadha king who was a greate follower of the Buddha and his principle of non-injury (ahimsa) to animals or any other living creatures. King Asoka ordered not to kill any living being in his domain. He allowed the slaughter of two birds and one animal only i.e. two peacocks and one deer, whereas previously thousands of animals were being killed. Even one deer was not killed regularly and in future he hoped no animal would be killed at all.

The second section of this chapter deals with early Buddhist attitude towards animal sacrifice. I have tried my best to do justice in this section by going to all the relevant texts which deal with animal sacrifice in Buddhism. The Buddha was totally against animal sacrifice performed by the brahmanas because he was of the view that animal sacrifice did not bring rich results. On animal sacrifice he said, "Sacrifice of the horse, the man and the beast do not bring rich result. The sages do not attend a rite where diverse goats, sheep and kine are slain but sages attend to such sacrifices where no goats, sheep and kine are slain. Such rites entail great results".

Chapter IV of this book is entitled "Animal Rights and Buddhism" where I have first discussed the origin and development of Animal Right Movement and the philosophy behind animal protection and then I have tried to relate it to Buddhism. Although history and literature record affections of human beings towards animals but no organised movement for animal welfare developed until the 19th century. The denial of a special divinity to man cleared the way for recognition not only of brotherhood to one's fellowmen but also of kinship with the animal world. The sentiment for animal protection has always existed in particular individuals. The first society for the protection of animals was formed by Richard Martin in 1824 with the name, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The progress of animal rights movement has been most marked in England, in the British domain and in the United States. The purpose of the earlier welfare societies was to enforce the statutes against cruelty to animals. Anti-vivisection— opposition to the use of animal sacrifice in scientific experimentation—represents a radical aspect of animal protection movement. The Buddhist ideal of non-injury to animal life clearly has implications for the use of animals in product testing and in medical research and training. From the Buddhist perspective, this might be analogous to the animal sacrifices of ancient Brahmanism. In one case, the animals were sacrificed in the name of religion and in the other, in the name of science and knowledge. In both the cases, the motive is, in part at least, to bring benefit to human beings. There is some degree of disquiet concerning the use of animals. The use of animals in medical research at least has strong utilitarian arguments in its favour. From the traditional Buddhist perspective, it is more certain that killing an animal is wrong than that generating better drugs etc. from experiments on it is good. A Buddhist point of view is that anyone prepared to do dissection and experimentation on animals has to know and accept the kamma of his actions. This would entail trying to do as little harm as possible, using alternative methods if available, killing only if absolutely necessary, treating the being with tender respect and making sure the knowledge is put to good use.

Chapter V of this book is entitled "Attitude Towards Animals in Different Religions". We know that there is no religion without love. People may talk as much as they like about their religion but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to other animals as well as humans, it is a shame. Religion, one of whose tenets traditionally has been reverence for life (including respect for animals and the earth) is one of the strongest and most influential institutions in our society and is a guiding force for hundreds of mllions of people. As far as Christianity is concerned, it is not very supportive towards animal protection. Many zoophiles (animal lovers or those who care for animals) maintain that Christian indifference has been one of the main causes for the low status of animals. There were both negative and positive ideas and attitudes towards animals in Christianity. In Christian texts, it is found that the Old Testament ethics admonish that the land and the cattle which are in the service of man are to be treated as those that have their own intrinsic value and unique destiny which should not be disturbed at any cost. All creatures are to be treated as our fellow creatures and members of the community to which all human beings belong. It is of the opinion that all living beings have a right to be fruitful and multiply their kind and all of them have a rightful claim on natural resources and human beings have no right to prevent them from this claim.

To trace the Hindu attitude towards animals, one has to go back to the Vedic period and its literatuare. The Vedic deities were mostly personifications of animals forms and various animals or birds are associated with particular deities as their vehicles. In Hindu mythology, frequent occurrence of transformations of humans into animals and vice versa show the recognition that animal life is as valid as, and thus Interchangeable, with, human life. On the other hand, animal sacrifice was quite prevalent in Hindu tradition at that time and is even today. The Hindus enjoyed the meat of sacrifical animals. These references in the Hindu texts shows that a great honour was shown to a guest by offering young calf's meal, though they seem to have admired the cow as a very useful animal. The idea of vegetarianism and non-violence {ahimsa) developed under the influence of Buddhism and Jainism and flourished in the 6th century B.C. though the first seeds of nonviolence were sown in the Upanisads. The Upanisadic concept of all living creatures being part and parcel of Brahma emphasises the sacredness of all forms of life and thus the killing of animals is unjustifiable.




  Acknowledgement v
  Abbreviations vii
  Introduction xi
Chapter-1 Position of Animals in Early Buddhism 1-30
Chapter-2 Buddhist Concept of Non-violence (Ahimsa) and Animal Protection 31-64
Chapter-3 Early Buddhist Attitude Towards Meat-Eating and Animal Sacrifice 65-98
Chapter-4 Animal Rights and Buddhism 99-127
Chapter-5 Attitude Towards Animals in Different Religion 128-153
  Conclusion 154-161
  Bibliography 162-170
  Index 171-173
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