Originally printed in the JULY-AUGUST 2001 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Hensel, Judith. â€œAnimals and Humans: Evolving Together in Conscious Universe.â€ Quest 89. 4 (July-August 2001): 132-134.
By Judith Hensel
EVEN WHEN people subscribe to a religion or philosophy that teaches honoring all life as sacredâ€”including the animals and plantsâ€”the teachings have not taken hold. It appears that the word has not gotten out.
In discussions on this subject, the conversation usually goes something like this:
OK, I know where you're coming from. I consider myself a good person. But, I have a hard time believing that my smelly, hyperactive dogâ€”and my cat who messes up my garden and claws my furnitureâ€”are conscious beings. With souls,yet!
I love them. Not as much as my family and friends, maybe, but at least they're on the list of responsibilities that I've taken on (as busy as I am).
I enjoy a good steak. I'm sorry about our inhumane slaughtering practices. What can be done about it? Besides, animals don't feel pain like we do.
When I suggest that all animal life forms are conscious beings, it's as if I am taking a stand on abortion or telling a stranger which political party I support.
This time, you've crossed the line. I volunteer in hospicesâ€”and wherever I'm needed. Now you're asking me to do what? Include animals in my spiritual life? Am I going to hell for my lack of interest? I am made in God's image.They're not. I have a soul. They don't.
End of conversation.
In earlier times, we included all animals in our spirituality. The Aitareya Upanishad (3.1.3), written perhaps three to four thousand years ago, speaks to the question:
This One is Brahman (the Infinite) . . . This is these five elements, viz. Earth, Air, Space, Water, Fire. This is all these big creatures, together with the small ones, that are the procreators of others and referablein pairsâ€”to wit those that are born of eggs, of wombs, of moisture of the earth. . . viz. horses, cattle, men, elephants, and all the creatures that there are which move or fly and those which do not move. All these have Consciousness as the giver of their reality. All these are impelled by Consciousness. The universe has Consciousness as its eye, and Consciousness is its end. Consciousness is the Infinite.
Over time, human needs for survival and comfort modified our connection with the animals. After all, we are the only species on the earth who can communicate with each other through spoken and written languages--not like the "lower animals," who can only bark, grunt or caw. After all, we are the only beings on the earth who build temples and worship in glorious song and dance. Has anyone heard an animal ask, "Who am I? Why am I here?" The Earth must belong to us.
With this shift in philosophical thinking, it became easier to use animals to do our heaviest labor, give us a ride, go to war with us, amuse us aspets, be sacrifices to our godsâ€”our God. Even today, it appears that the guiding principle "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" applies exclusively to human others. Animals need not apply.
Today, the rest of the world is racing to catch up with the West in refrigerators, cars, and fast food. A taste for Big Macs is becoming the rage in China, Japan, and even India. The planet's rainforests are burning right now to make room for more cattle, that is, beef. How many animals and square miles of forests will it take to satisfy the appetites of billions of people for hamburgers? Indigenous peoples are caught up in the fray. In many cases, whole tribes have traded the soul of their cultures as well as their forests, waters,and animals for tee shirts and plastic bowls.
The global network has made it possible for even the most isolated cultures to see what's happening. World leaders know. Deep ecologists know. Our children know that there is a direct correlation between the perceived need for material stuff and the unprecedented demand on the Earth's natural resources.
Is the Western media contributing to the diminishment of our spiritual connection with the animals? TNN cable network regularly airs programs showing men dressed in camouflage-printed sportswear blowing away deer with power rifles and rodeos with cowboys and cowgirls whipping animals into submission.
In the late nineteenth century, new ideas emerged that shook the very foundations of traditional religions and philosophies. H. P. Blavatsky envisioned a cosmology based on multidimensional planes of existence stretching far beyond national bordersâ€”into time and space. The Theosophists who followed her looked at every aspect of existence in terms of their vast new world view,including the animal kingdom.
In the 1880s, lengthy articles appeared in Theosophical journals debating whether animals are conscious beings. In July 1896, N. A. Knox asked in anarticle published in Lucifer (18:211), "Why should the animal suffer torture and misery, often for the greater part of its life?" And C. W. Leadbeater imagined the astral life of animals in his book The Inner Life (242):
When an individualized animal dies, he has a happy astral life of considerable length during which he usually remains in . . . his earthly home and in the closest touch with his especial friend and protector. . . . During all this time he is in a state analogous to that of a human being in the heaven-world, though at a somewhat lower level.
Although Theosophy remains anthropocentric to this day, its philosophy is one of the first modern harbingers of an emerging evolution of human consciousness. That evolution signals the realization that humans are not the sole inhabitants of a conscious universe.
Science and technology have become allies of this expanded view. Through quantum physics, complexity theory, molecular biology, and photos of the galaxies, some Western scientists speculate that all matter and energy in ourknown Universe is evolving consciously. And some are now theorizing that all matter and energy could be aspects of one infinite consciousness.
Many New-Age thinkers believe that the collective human soul is evolving toward a great shift whereby humanity as a whole will leave this third dimensionand ascend into higher planes, becoming one with the Oneness. However, the future envisioned in this emerging "philosophy" appears to be the exclusive domain of humankind. No room for the animals on this ark.
When all is said and done, we each reside in our own self-secretuniverse. Whether we are a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged in a wind-swept cave listening to the voice of the Infinite or a Web-swinger nestled in our ergonomically designed chair at the computer searching cyberspace for the true meaning of life, our personal worldview affects our behavior toward all others.
Perhaps it is time for a global shift that reconnects humankind in full spiritual partnership with animals and all lifeâ€”for the sake of the whole Earthand for the evolution of our own souls.
Judith Hensel, who has been Associate Professor of Arts and Humanities, St.Xavier University, Chicago, and has headed a fourteen-state literacy program for adults and children, is writing a book on the subject of this article.