Animal rights in Buddhism
Bhikkhu Prof. Dhammavihari
There are two basic premises in Buddhism based on which I discuss on the
subject of animal rights.
At the very outset, it is good to remind ourselves that more than two
and half millennia ago, the Buddha had a vision of the universe, not as
one created by any one at any specific point of time, but as one which
has evolved itself through both time and space.
In this vision, one sees on the one hand a very close parallel to what
is referred today as the Big Bang theory.
On the other, in its graphic details about life therein, Buddhism
reflects a keen awareness and a serious reckoning of concepts like
ecosystems and the biodiversity in which the more serious-minded
philosopher-scientists of the world are deeply concerned.
For this very reason, Buddhism looks upon life in the universe as a
totality which has by itself a right to exist unhindered, with no
threats of destruction from outside to serve the needs of any single
person or group, whether they be under the direction of any human or
It is reckoned that the harmonious continuance of the universe does not
permit or allow of such crude and clumsy handling of mother nature.
In Buddhism, in a book called the Manual of Good Living or Dhammpada,
this idea is expressed as follows.
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.
Dhammapada verse no. 129
Buddhism also offers definite and positive instructions with regard to
the manner in which humans should develop universal loving kindness
towards all living things that exist in the universe, whether in close
proximity or at a distance, seen or unseen, large or small, fierce or
Even those seeking to come into existence (sambhavesa) like foetal
bodies of unborn babies or those in the stage of eggs are encompassed
within this range of universal loving kindness or mett… in Buddhism. It
specifies this attitude thus declaring 'May all beings be well and
happy' (Sabbe satt… bhavantu sukhitatt…).
These are the two major premises which we should bear in mind. Our
precise awareness of the real relationship in which the rest of the
universe stands towards the humans as well as the healthy and sound
attitude of mind with which humans should handle whatever is besides
themselves. Buddhism highlights this relationship very much.
The word mett… which is used to designate this attitude of mind simply
means 'respectful friendliness' or absence of hostility in humans
(avy…p…da) towards all those besides themselves.
It is categorically stated that with such thoughts of hostility one
should not wish to bring about unhappiness upon another.
In some prefatory remarks to Rupert Sheldrake's The Rebirth of Nature -
Rider (1994 Reprint) we discover the following observations which appear
extraordinarily interesting in the light of early Buddhist teachings.
Rupert Sheldrake goes on to present a compelling case for the revival of
animism, and for a new code of ethics that acknowledges our involvement
as individuals and communities in the living world of nature.
He shows how we are on the threshold of a new synthesis in which
traditional wisdom, personal experience and scientific insight can be
It is in this same spirit that Biophelia Hypothesis emphasises the need
to retrieve human respect for and recognition of the biodiversity in the
universe and its ecosystems.