Most humans who are pet owners would claim to love their pets, and most of us are fascinated by wildlife documentaries about exotic animals. Yet it is not hard to find examples of the way we humans exploit and abuse these same sentient creatures, both wild and domesticated.
We know about, and possibly deplore, the destruction of the mountain gorillas’ habitat, the slaughter of whales and dolphins, the killing of elephants for ivory and so on, yet we are part of a society that can find every justification for these practices. “We need to extend our farmland to grow more crops, it’s a cultural thing, we’ve always eaten whale meat, we have to make money somehow.” We know that global warming and human interference are pushing many wild species to the brink of extinction. But when it comes down to it – if it’s a choice between cutting down the forests, with the result that the orang‐utangs have nowhere to live, and getting our nice new set of hardwood patio furniture – who wins?
People are becoming aware that longstanding farming practices such as keeping sows in crates or hens in battery cages, are cruel and unnatural; but again it’s a choice – do we want to pay a higher price for our eggs and bacon or even give up eating meat altogether, so the chooks and pigs can have a better life? Probably not. We like our meat, we need our protein, and the cheaper the better. Perhaps if we were less inclined to view ourselves as economic units, whose destiny is to work at least a 40‐hour week for most of our lives, we would also stop considering animals as mere economic units, and think of them instead as fellow creatures who have as much right
to live on this planet as we do.
We can even justify what amounts to the deliberate torture of rabbits, monkeys, rats and so on that are used for testing cosmetics and drugs, by claiming that humans are a higher life‐form, and our needs must come first.
But only humans who have completely lost touch with the ways and rhythms of nature could act like this. In our economy‐driven society, we barely even consider that there could be other ways to live, in greater harmony and balance with nature and other sentient creatures, although those ways have been practised for millennia by
The very idea of living in a society based on wisdom and love seems strange and impractical to us, because we are so dominated by rationality and materialism. But in a society founded on wisdom, with the benefit of guidance from wise elders and an awakened Spiritual Master, the awareness of the interconnectedness of all living things would be at the forefront of the decisions we make about farming or fishing, or cutting down native forests, whereas at present such considerations are virtually ignored. In such a society we would be aware that whatever we do to the environment and to animals we do to ourselves, and we would act accordingly.
Through the work of the RSPCA, we know about gratuitous acts of human cruelty to domestic animals, but there are also more subtle ways in which humans mistreat animals, even the one that has come to be known as man’s best friend. As pets, dogs are increasingly being subjected to all kinds of bizarre human whims. It is considered quite normal, especially if you are a celebrity, to dress your miniature dogs in diamond collars and cute outfits, and carry them around in handbags. When Paris Hilton started owning (and dressing up) chihuahuas, suddenly hundreds of people began to acquire them as fashion accessories – then, a few months later when the novelty wore off and it became tiresome to look after them, animal shelters in California were inundated with unwanted dogs.
And then there is the weird world of competitive dog
shows, where pedigree dogs are now deliberately bred to
exhibit all kinds of completely unnatural characteristics; for
example there are pekingese whose faces are so squashed
up they can barely breathe, and bulldogs that cannot give
birth unaided because the pups’ heads are too big.
Humans, who like to compete in shows and win prizes,
have decided that these characteristics are desirable and,
because we have the scientific knowledge and technical
expertise available to us (for example, the techniques of
artificial insemination) we have manipulated some breeds,
sometimes through severe inbreeding, to produce
whatever genetic mutations we want.
A scandal erupted over this issue in Britain in late 2008,
when the BBC decided it would no longer televise Crufts,
the top British dog show, and the RSPCA also withdrew its
support. The chief RSPCA vet described the show as a
“parade of mutants” and expressed serious concerns
regarding the health of many breeds of pedigree dogs,
which he said were becoming increasingly deformed,
disabled and disease‐ridden.
Our obsession with our own appearance, as reflected in
the cosmetics and fashion industries, and in the popularity
of cosmetic surgery, has also come to be inflicted on dogs.
Surely only neurotic humans, who are convinced that there
is some arbitrary standard of perfection they should aspire
to, and desperate to be seen as being fashionable, would
be concerned with trying to perfect the appearance of a
dog, or to put clothes on it. We are more concerned with
how things look than with their essence, and have mostly
lost the intuitive ability to communicate through energy
And the litany of miseries man inflicts on other species
goes on and on. There is the cruelty of hunting and
shooting, of deep sea fishing expeditions to catch species
from dwindling populations that are rapidly approaching
extinction. The testing of cosmetics on animals, the
relentless dripping of chemicals into the eyes of cats and
dogs to test shampoos, and close to home, the hundreds
of beagles who live in cages in the “research” laboratory at
Last year, over 300,000 living animals were abused in
“animal research” in New Zealand alone. Not to mention
the culling and eradication of “pests” such as the hapless
possum, protected in Australia but poisoned here, using
America’s stockpiles of super toxic 1080, which is
considered such an extreme hazard to human health in the
US that aerial drops are banned.
What on earth gives human beings the right to play God
and decide which species have a right to life on this
planet? How is it possible that we can commit such
violence against other species, seemingly unaware of the
pain and suffering we inflict on beings who are utterly
powerless to protect themselves?
The assumption underlying such cruelty must be that
human life is of higher value than the life of a merely
sentient being, a misguided belief that the ability to think
and reason renders humans more valuable to creation
than other life forms. To consider ourselves to be of
greater value than other beings in creation is an expression
of an egoic perspective, based on our misguided idea of
who we are.
Christian teachings reinforce the Western attitude of
domination and control in relation to animals,
perpetuating the idea that they are of a “lower” order,
unlike Buddhism, which promotes ahimsa ‐ an attitude of
harmlessness ‐ that is extended to all life. In Hinduism, the
soul in a human body is not seen as greatly different from
the soul of an animal.
In ancient traditions, shamans honour the animal kingdom,
with an understanding of man’s place in the sacred web of
life, the Oneness at the heart of matter. Shamans “see”
that we, like all living creatures, are ultimately dependent
on Great Spirit. In modern life, however, feeling‐intuition
and transcendental awareness do not tend to have
priority. Science does not admit emotion and technology
does not factor the feeling dimension of human
experience into its equations. If the intuitive‐feeling faculty
were alive and well in humans, our higher levels of
awareness simply would not allow us to inflict such
suffering on sentient beings.
However, our current intellectual sophistication has led us
to regard ourselves as autonomous, as epicenters of
worlds of our own construction, standing apart from the
Great Mystery. From the bastions of intellect, we view
other sentient beings as objects, separate from ourselves.
In our unenlightened state, we have caged ourselves in a
limited egoic identity. This is based on what our senses tell
us, on the gross physical level of the body/ mind organism,
which science and technology can measure and
acknowledge. In focussing on physical form, the material
level, and knowledge and intellect, we block ourselves
from subtle levels of awareness. Without realising, we cut
ourselves off from the fullness of our being, the freely
creative, inherent happiness that is our true nature.
Hypnotised by the world around us to believe that the
body/mind is who we are, on the basis of inherited beliefs
and assumptions, we are not connected the transcendent
being at the heart of all life. Disconnected from our own
source, and locked into the restriction of an egoic identity,
we suffer. Having fallen out of relationship with our own
true nature, and true wisdom, we lose the ease and
naturalness of a loving disposition, and instead find
ourselves trapped in an egoic disposition, which is
unhappiness. In the words of Sri Bhagavan YanchiGuruji,
we are absent from the being of love. From that place, we
perpetuate unhappiness in all our relationships ‐ our
relationship with the environment, with each another, and
with other species ‐ all become coloured by control and
domination. “We have adapted… to satisfy our fearful
needs for individual self‐fulfillment …rather than for the
higher evolved potential and destiny of all human kind ‐
the True Compassionate Culture of Humanity.”
The treatment of animals is a barometer of our conscious
state. Our current disregard for the suffering of animals
and their exploitation is simply an expression of our loss of
connection to our own wholeness, the transcendent Self at
the heart of all life.
Animals have a most extraordinary capacity to restore
humans to their inherently unproblematic state. Simply
watching hens scratching in the soil, or a cat sunning itself
has the power to re‐turn us to our own true nature. For
animals, as Sri Bhagavan YanchiGuruji once remarked, are
already in Satsang, unlike humans they live who they truly
are, and their mere presence has the power to re‐mind
us that we, too, are being lived and breathed by Life itself,
consciousness, our inherent, divine being.
with dogs and other animals, to the extent that we now
need “dog whisperers” to solve dog behaviour problems,
which are usually at their origin human behaviour
As in so many other areas of life, our self‐proclaimed
human rights have far outstripped our sense of
responsibility towards sentient creatures. We do not treat
them with dignity and respect, we take them for granted,
and sadly many of us have forgotten what a great privilege
and joy it is to have animals in our lives at all.