Buddhism and animals
Buddhists believe souls are reborn as animals because of past
Although Buddhism is an animal-friendly religion, some aspects
of the tradition are surprisingly negative about animals.
Buddhism requires us to treat animals kindly:
Buddhists try to do no harm (or as little harm as possible) to animals
Buddhists try to show loving-kindness to all beings, including animals
The doctrine of right livelihood teaches Buddhists to avoid any work connected with the
killing of animals
The doctrine of karma teaches that any wrong behaviour will have to be paid for in a
future life - so cruel acts to animals should be avoided
Buddhists treat the lives of human and non-human animals with equal respect
Buddhists see human and non-human animals as closely related:
both have Buddha-nature
both have the possibility of becoming perfectly enlightened
a soul may be reborn either in a human body or in the body of a non-human animal
Buddhists believe that is wrong to hurt or kill animals, because all beings are afraid of injury and
All living things fear being beaten with clubs.
All living things fear being put to death.
Putting oneself in the place of the other,
Let no one kill nor cause another to kill.
Buddhist behaviour towards and thinking about animals is not always positive.
The doctrine of karma implies that souls are reborn as animals because of past misdeeds. Being
reborn as an animal is a serious spiritual setback.
Because non-human animals can't engage in conscious acts of self-improvement they can't
improve their karmic status, and their souls must continue to be reborn as animals until their bad
karma is exhausted. Only when they are reborn as human beings can they resume the quest for
This bad karma, and the animal's inability to do much to improve it, led Buddhists in the past to
think that non-human animals were inferior to human beings and so were entitled to fewer rights
than human beings.
Early Buddhists (but not the Buddha himself) used the idea that animals were spiritually inferior
as a justification for the exploitation and mistreatment of animals.
Experimenting on animals
Buddhists say that this is morally wrong if the animal concerned might come to any harm.
However, Buddhists also acknowledge the value that animal experiments may have for human
So perhaps a Buddhist approach to experiments on animals might require the experimenter to:
accept the karma of carrying out the experiment
o the experimenter will acquire bad karma through experimenting on an animal
experiment only for a good purpose
experiment only on animals where there is no alternative
design the experiment to do as little harm as possible
avoid killing the animal unless it is absolutely necessary
treat the animals concerned kindly and respectfully
The bad karmic consequences for the experimenter seem to demand a high level of altruistic
behaviour in research laboratories.
Buddhism and vegetarianism
Not all Buddhists are vegetarian and the Buddha does not seem to have issued an overall
prohibition on meat-eating. The Mahayana tradition was (and is) more strictly vegetarian than
other Buddhist traditions.
The early Buddhist monastic code banned monks from eating meat if the animal had been killed
specifically to feed them, but otherwise instructed them to eat anything they were given.