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Animals have feelings too!

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Writer Jogye Date12 Aug 2019 Read36 Comment0

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Animals have feelings too!



Sakyamuni Buddha prayed, “Whatever living beings there may be — feeble or strong long, stout, or of medium size, short, small, large, gross or subtle, those seen or those unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who are born as well as those yet to be born — may all beings have a happy mind.” (Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Discourse on Loving-kindness, Sutta Nipata, Sn I.8)


Humans started hunting wild animals as a high-energy food source to survive the sub-zero climate during the Ice Age, and this eventually developed into animal husbandry. Fodder and food scraps were fed to domesticated livestock, which were allowed to roam widely, until they were sufficiently fattened to be slaughtered for meat.


As meat consumption rose, industrial livestock production was introduced. Also known as factory farming, it is an approach designed to maximize production output, while minimizing costs. About 99% of livestock are reared in industrial settings now, in which animals are viewed by agribusinesses more as merchandise than living beings. Animals are confined at much higher stocking densities to save money and slaughtered when minimum feed input produces maximum meat output.


In Europe, where people’s staple foods are largely animal-derived, there has been rising concern about animal welfare, which has led to a tightening of related government regulations and legislation. Korea now has an animal welfare certification system by which farms are certified by the government if they improve the living conditions of their animals by providing an environment that does not limit opportunities for natural behavior or cause unnecessary suffering and distress. Because the animals reared on such farms are healthier and happier, they produce meat, milk or eggs with higher nutritional value and have a naturally stronger immune system, thus requiring much lower doses of medication including antibiotics.


In 1993, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) codified the “Five Freedoms” to identify five aspects of animal welfare: freedom from hunger or thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behavior, and; freedom from fear and distress. Developed nations, including the European Union, are stepping up pressure to improve animal welfare through the Free Trade Agreement (FTA).


In Buddhism, all beings that go through the cycle of life and death over and over again are called sentient beings. Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive or experience subjectively, which means all sentient beings can feel joy and pain. Animals too rejoice and suffer. Cattle are frequently observed crying when they are dragged to a slaughter house.


Buddha wished to benefit all living beings, including humans, and he wanted all beings to be happy; he was fully attuned to the world and all its creatures. In the Digha Nikaya he explained how a happy life is the fruit of one’s merits:


Knowing well their dread of death,

Beings he forbore to kill.

This goodness earnt him heavenly birth,

Where he rejoiced in merit’s fruit.

― Lakkhaṇa Sutta: The Marks of a Great Man, Digha Nikaya, DN30


ʹHarming none by hand, stick, stone,

Causing death to none by sword,

Harmless, threatening none with bonds,

With happy birth he gained the fruit.

― Lakkhaṇa Sutta: The Marks of a Great Man, Digha Nikaya, DN30


Buddhism teaches us that all beings are continually reborn in the six realms of samsara, which are the realms of heavenly gods, asuras, human beings, hungry ghosts, animals and hell. As beings go through countless rebirths in different realms, they may take different forms, but they are sentient beings all the same. One sentient being, born a human in this life, may reincarnate into the animal realm in the next, and vice versa. That is why the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Garland Sutra) says, “One must know that all sentient beings share the same root.”


Humans dread violence and death. In fact, all living beings dread violence and death. Compassion is seeing the suffering in other beings because one sees suffering in oneself, and wishes every sentient being, including oneself, to be free from suffering and be happy. If there is a single definition of what makes you a Buddhist, it is whether you endeavor to practice compassion or not.


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