Buddhism, Environment and Animal Rights
Tuesday 8 December 2015
K.T.S. SARAO - Head & Chairman,
Department of Buddhist Studies - University of Delhi, DELHI-110007.
In the wake of the alarming degradation of the environment and destruction of large number of species of animals it has become imperative for humankind to reevaluate its attitude towards environment and animals. A civilization in which we must kill and exploit other forms of life in order to live is not a civilization of mentally healthy people. Social sciences are blatantly anthropocentric and it is taken as a matter of fact to pay little or no attention to the nonhuman domain of animalkind. Accordingly, animals are depicted as mechanical who far from being considered agents or subjects in their own right, are themselves virtually overlooked by social scientists. They and their relationship with humans tends to be treated as unworthy of interest in social sciences. Accordingly, issues concerning animal welfare hardly ever appear in social sciences in which the animals are seen as an integrated part of human-centred ecosystem. We need to address ourselves to the main question as to whether or not various human practices with animals are morally or ecologically rational (seen from the human point of view).
Apart from animals that function as subsistence factors, there are animals that are made to serve non_subsistence human purposes, for instance as objects of prestige or sacrifice or as totems. Animals in this capacity have been vested with religious significance and with symbolic and metaphorical power. In addition, anthropologists have focused on the roles that animals play in human ceremonial and religious life. Anthropological interest in animal totems or animal symbols is no guarantee against an anthropocentric approach. More often than not such interest serves as an excuse to stop at human constructs instead of paying attention to the animals themselves. At present, the anthropocentrism in social sciences goes virtually unchallenged. The reason for this is the commonly held view that animals in themselves have nothing to offer as according to them sociality and culture do not exist outside the human realm. On the whole, animals figure in social sciences not only as objects for human subjects to act upon but also as antitheses of all that according to social sciences makes humans human. Another obstacle to the recognition of human_animal continuity is the fear among biologists of being accused of anthropomorphism, the attribution of exclusively human characteristics to animals. For their part, social scientists have been jealously guarding what they see as the human domain and so tend to applaud the biologists’ fear of anthropomorphism. What is currently denounced as anthropomorphism are those characterizations which social scientists are keen to reserve for humans. In their critique of biological determinism social scientists point an accusing finger at anyone who credits animals with personhood. However, there are some courageous animal scientists who do say that animals are more human_like and less object_like than their own science will have us believe.
Animism and anthropomorphism was widely prevalent amongst the ancient Indian people. Animals were seen as an incarnation of human spirits, or the spirits of one’s own ancestors. Of course, it is true that any agricultural people has a feeling for the force that works in nature, and comes to personalize each separate force. The human came to address the extra_human in terms of human intercourse. In fact, some of the early Buddhist texts show that animals shared man_s religious nature, that such observed phenomena were visible proofs of the communion of men, animals, and the gods. The Buddhist view of the migration of samskaras across species lines reduces the psychic space between man and beast. In addition to the power of intentional perception, the Buddha_s animals are capable of both passion and voluntary motion, and so are not simply driven about by impulses beyond their control. Modern research has shown that animals experience conscious thoughts and feelings and the picture of animal life as unconscious, sleepwalker existence is no more sustainable. It is becoming increasingly non_credible and antediluvian to regard subjective mental experiences as the exclusive province of one species or even as the exclusive province of a few species with large brains. The ability of the animal to respond appropriately to changes or challenges exemplifies the reasonableness or practical rationality of its actions. This versatility is not manifest only in extraordinary or insightful behaviours, but also in mundane activities and even in behaviour that are known to be strongly inherited.
Buddhism propounded important oral precepts that affirmed that killing other sentient beings was a violation of the most basic moral norms of the universe. The first precept in the tradition is _I undertake to abstain from the destruction of life._ This is an ethical commitment that the tradition has from its very beginnings identified as part of the core of religious living. Society for a Buddhist, then, is not to be taken in the narrow sense of human society, but in a broader sense of a community comprising all living beings or sentient beings.
Early Buddhists accepted the view that all animals other than humans belong to one realm that is lower than that of human beings. Human beings, though recognized to be in a continuum with other animals, are considered the model of what biological life should be. A corollary of this belief is that the status of humans is far above the status of any other animal. The other important thing to be taken into consideration is the belief that any living being_s current position in the cycle of life (created by repeated births) is determined by the law of kamma. On the whole, animals have been understood to be inferior to any human, a corollary of which is the belief that the existence of other animals must be particularly unhappy, at least compared to human existence.
The Buddhist Jataka stories present an anthropomorphic view of animals, showing their truly human qualities, both good and bad, heroic and evil. The Jatakas contain many kinds and levels of tales from monkish moralizing and simple animal fables, to moving compassionate animal birth stories and fragments of larger heroic epics. In both the Pali Jataka and the Jatakamala of Ariyasura, the Buddha is shown not as withdrawing from the world but as acting with compassion and wisdom for the benefit of all living beings. In the Jatakas, we discover the essence of the Buddhist attitude brought to life- the attitude of universal compassion which is the spontaneous urge to help others flowing from the knowledge of inner oneness. In the Jatakas, we learn that long ago, as a Deer King, the Bodhisatta risked his own life to free all creatures from danger; as a monkey he saved an ungrateful hunter; as a lion he saved all the frightened beasts from their own fears; as a parrot he flew selflessly through flames to save all those trapped in a burning forest, as an elephant he offered his life so that starving men might live; as a king he offered his own flesh to save a dove; as a prince he gave his life so that a starving tigress and her cubs might live. The Jatakas, in short, dramatically express the actions, in the world, of one liberated from all self-concern. They demonstrate the natural workings of the Bodhisatta mind and heart, and by so doing, turn all of existence into a vast field of spiritual effort in which no life form, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is outside the Path. All beings are revealed as potential Buddhas and Bodhisattas. Microbe, sparrow, dog, monkey, horse, dolphin, man: each at its own level can feel compassion for the sufferings of others and act selflessly to ease the pain of all beings. At some moment in life, it seems, each is offered an opportunity and a choice. Besides revealing the character of the Buddha in his own Path to Buddhahood, the Jatakas simultaneously validate and give credence to our own natural feelings of compassion and our own spontaneous acts of selflessness. These tales ideally show us how to live in a suffering world, as well as offer us a viable and deeply spiritual vision of the nature of the universe.
The message of the Jatakas is especially poignant in our own time. As we grow increasingly aware of the depredations, our own 21th century life styles make on the planet, as the plight of whales, and mountain gorillas, wolves, and other endangered species, as well as the cruel treatment which cats, dogs, rabbits, monkeys, rats and mice receive- often to little purpose- in our laboratories, becomes increasingly clear to us, the Jatakas can only stand out in even greater relief. Who knows, as the Jatakas suggest, among the very animals which we as a culture now maim, torment, slaughter, and devour are sensitive and aspiring beings, the Bodhisattas and future Buddhas. The Jatakas, once taken to heart, transform our own sensibilities and imaginations. After entering the world of the Jatakas, it becomes impossible not to feel more deeply for animals. It also becomes harder to believe that they are below us- that they are here for our own enjoyment and use. The Jatakas help us sense that animals have their own lives, their own kamma, tests, purposes, and aspirations. And, as often brief and painful, as their lives may be, they are also graced with purity and a clarity which we can only humbly respect, and perhaps even occasionally envy. The Jatakas validate our deepest feelings and keep alive for us today knowledge of the wisdom inherent in all life forms. To lose respect for all other species, and the fundamental wisdom they too embody is, after all, to weaken the first and most fundamental of the precepts- not to kill but to cherish all life. The most famous is the Sasa Jataka about the hair who lived in the woods with a monkey, a jackal, and an otter. The story concerns their decision to observe the holy days and the moral law by giving alms. Recognizing the full moon they decided to consider the next day as a fast day and feed any beggar. While the monkey, the jackal and the otter collected food to be given to anyone in need of it, the hare was unable to collect any food and offered his own flesh. The hare was rewarded for having supernaturally imposed its form on the face of the moon. The animal hero here is considered as having been a Bodhisatta in a previous life. The story offers a very humane picture of its animal characters. The Nandimagga Jataka is the story of a deer who fearlessly faced a king who was hunting; by his steadfast gaze, he changed the mind of the king and saved the other animals. In the Dhammapada we find the story of Dhanapalaka, an elephant who suffered from homesickness after being separated from his mother. The captive elephant refused food. In the Mahakapi Jataka, a monkey saves his tribe by using his body as part of a bridge for them to cross the Ga_gA. While some Jatakas depict superhuman qualities expressing the life of the Bodhisatta, they also reflect a capacity for affection, which is as important as the heroic qualities of courage and sacrifice. Although we may not find a structured moral code among animals, they seem to express certain deeply valued virtues. It has been observed that animals _are devoted to their offspring, sympathetic to their kindred, affectionate to their mates, self-subordinating in their community, courageous beyond praise._
There are several reasons for the appearance of animals in Buddhist literature, sculptures and paintings. Firstly, this was so because of kamma where individuals are born again and again in different forms. Second reason is the tendency towards animism, the idea that animals and even plants which concern man have life in some similar way as men. This thought seems to have been very strong already at the time of the Buddha. The third reasons is the personification of animals which was greatly developed at the time. It was very easy to adapt these personifications for moral purposes and thus animals and men talk to each other on the same footing. This happens chiefly in stories and parables. The use of animals which were familiar to everyone was a very good method of popularizing the teaching. Many examples of this method are found in the Jatakas. Some examples from the Jatakas are like, say the Ruru Jataka: A son of a rich merchants, who leads a profligate life tries to kill himself by throwing himself in the Ganga. A deer named Ruru saves the youth at by endangering his own life. Later, the youth betrays the deer by giving information about his whereabouts. But from the thus, the caught deer, the king comes to now about the relationship between the two. The kind lets the der go but wants to ill the youth. The deer, however, pleads with the king to let the youth go.
Parables were used for easy comprehension of the meaning of the teachings. Those in which animals were used were enjoyed immensely and were easily understood by the people. E.g., to be heroic like the lion. This is an epithet for a very superior person among men, like a lion who is the ord of all the animals. It is another description of the Buddha. In the Indian thought, man_s life does not end with one lifetime but is regarded as continuing through the strength of kamma. According to the nature of one_s kamma, rebirth came as change and transformation into various other forms of existence. This is called samsara (succession of birth). As the kinds of kamma are infinite, so are the kinds of living beings. Living beings on this earth are countless and each is different from the other. This is due to the differences of kamma. Birth as animal is seen as a result of bad kamma as the life of an animal is seen as the one which is filled with violence, low intelligence and little happiness. Those who commit the five transgressions and the ten evil actions are born as animals and life as an animal is of great hardship due to one preying upon the other. However, there is always the possibility of even an animal becoming a Bodhisatta and thus, in whatever sphere one is born, there is always the possibility of attaining Buddhahood. The most representative Buddhist art works are found in Bharhut, Sanci, and Ajanta depicting the tales of Sakyamuni Buddha as given in the Jatakas. Among them are many animals. Lions, bulls, horses, elephants are especially worthy of mention here. The Sarnath capitol is used as the national symbol which depicts four lions with a bull, lion, tiger.
Abhaya-dana (the path of fearlessness) is a kind of giving meaning to take away one_s fear and to give a sense of security. According to one tradition, the Abhaya-mudra is said to have originated from the gesture made by the Buddha when he was confronted by the drunken elephant Nalagiri who was set loose on the highway at the instigation of Devadatta. Abhaya-dAna was given concrete expression by some kings of the Theravada countries, in their own ways. We have instances from the inscriptions of Asoka such as the 7th, 5th and 2nd Pillar Edicts, which are devoted to the same idea which, today, we know as Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Though the 5th Pillar Edict does not altogether prohibit the slaughter of animals and only takes a realistic view of the subject, yet, in effect, there is no question that it is a positive case of Abhaya-dAna. So also is it evident from the contents of the same emperor_s bilingual inscription (Greek-Aramaic) recently found in Afghanistan. The Mahavamsa mentions that some kings of Sri Lanka had forbidden the slaughter of animals, sometimes wholly and at other times in certain circumstances. Amandgamani Abhaya (1st century AD) and Kassapa V (10th century AD) may be cited as examples. In later times we have inscriptional records, like those of Nissanka Malla of the 12th century, who gave safety of life to animals such as fishes in tanks, birds and forest animals. It is to be noted that here, unlike in the inscriptions of Asoka, the actual word used is abhaya-dana.
In historic India, animal deities preceded anthropomorphic ones. Empty throne of the Buddha. During the Mauryan period, the statues purely belong to the animal world. In the following period, the images centre far more on animals than on human beings. Animals predominate as characters in the Jataka stories of and the heroes are generally not people but animals. These are, in addition, the bearers of culture. Humanity receives water from a snake, fire from a frog and sleep from a lizard. Perhaps early people were overawed by the superior natural abilities of other creatures. The animals featured, whether by frequency or by placement, in Buddhist literature and art are usually animals with impressive speed and strength _ horses, bulls, deer, tigers, lions, bears, rhinoceroses. But animals may also have been preferred as Bodhisattvas simply because they are so unlike us, and therefore filled with mystery.
The emergence of animal deities is the product of cultural experience reaching over hundreds of millennia, in which human beings lived as animals among other creatures of the wild. Since these creatures no longer seemed to communicate with them directly, men and women tried to reach the animals through images and signs. The images and signs of animals depicted in Buddhist art and literature on the basis of their size, power, habits and appearance became divine beings, to be claimed by either deities or human beings. Through divine images human beings were able to bridge the vast gulf between experience and memory.
The Buddha fervently argued the importance of making ethical treatment of all sentient beings a theological priority. He opposed animal sacrifices and paid special attention to the important task of building up an ethical system in which justice for animals is regarded as the norm rather than the exception. The Buddha_s frequent reference to the migration of samskaras and rebirth across species lines reduces the psychic space between humans and other beings. In this paper, an attempt is made to show on the basis of early Buddhist literature that animals in Buddhism are not simply driven about by impulses beyond their control and that they are capable of both passion and voluntary motion. As the Animal Rights/ Welfare Movement is growing stronger by the day, through this paper it is shown that Buddhism has many importance lessons to offer in this field.
Buddhism does not distinguish as sharply as the Judaic-Christian faiths between animals and human beings, and Buddhist deities are often depicted in animal form. The overwhelming number of animal Bodhisattas is a proof of this. Lion, bull, elephant remain associated with the Buddha directly. There are many Jataka tales which may have served to assimilate local animal cults into Buddhism. The old animal cults were still part of the folk lore at the time of the Buddha, and he appears to have mixed theriomorphic traits with human ones while including them in the Buddhist pantheon. As divine aspects of women and men need to be acknowledged, so do those in animals. We need inspiring figures which are not anthropomorphic to remind us that the world was not simply created for human beings, and that other figures also need to be respected. Furthermore, the recognition of divinities that are not anthropomorphic could diffuse and mediate the tension that comes of viewing divinity solely in terms of men and women.
The Buddha stood for an ethically based relationship between humans and animals. The idea of continuation of life between human and animal life is implicit in basic Buddhist concepts such as that of kamma and rebirth. The Buddha pointed out that _beings are inferior, exalted beautiful, ugly, well-faring, ill-faring, according to their kamma._ Beings pass from existence to existence being reborn in accordance with the nature of their deeds. A being_s kamma leads it to pass from one existence to another depending whether it is wholesome or unwholesome. After death the body breaks up and an individual is reborn in a satisfactory state of existence (sugati) such as a human if its conduct has been comparatively good or a miserable state of existence (duggati) such as an animal or even worse if its conduct had been bad. Thus, individuals who creep or slink along in this life, be they bloody-handed hunters, or robbers, or whatever, are most likely to be reborn in the form of a sneaky or creeping creature as a _snake, a scorpion, a centipede, a mongoose, a cat, a mouse, an owl_ ans so on. It is also true the other way round i.e. an animal can be reborn as a human. Animals are also seen by Buddhism as subject to their kamma. A large number of the Jatakas revolve around the good and bad deeds done in the past by different kinds of animals. These are then linked up with the present, the good creatures being identified through the process of rebirth with the Buddha and his followers, and the wicked with Devadatta and the like. It is, therefore, possible for a human to be reborn as an animal or vice-versa depending upon the kamma. Animals have used liberally as examples of ideal behaviour on which monks are advised to pattern their lives. Thus, Buddhism considers animals and humans as part of the same chain of becoming, the same universal flux in the Buddhist view constitutes phenomenal existence. This is clearly clinched in a statement of the Buddha when he says that it is not easy _to find out any being who has not been mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter to us... (due to)... repetition of rebirths._ However, animals as such are not treated to be capable of growth in the dhamma. For this reason, the Parivara and the Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka both declare the ordination of animals into the monastic order to be an invalid practice. Similarly, it is forbidden to ordain a man who had an animal as a preceptor and to recite the Patimokkha in the presence of an animal is reckoned an offence of the class of wrong-doing. This indicates to low estimation by Buddhism of the spiritual qualifications of animals and it may be said that although animals on the whole are generally seen to be more violent, less wise, and their existence less satisfactory than that of humans. However, animals such as sheep, goats, oxen, buffaloes etc. are accepted as having the power of reasoning. But, it can still be said that within the samsaric scheme there is no permanent or ultimate distinction between beings within these two courses of existence. This being the case, it becomes incumbent upon humans to relate to animals on the basis of the same ethical principles that govern their relationship with other people. Thus, humans are advised not to direct harsh speech in human-animal relationship.
In the rules of the Vinaya Pitaka, the precept against taking life is broken down in a significant way. The taking of human life is listed here as a third of the parajikas, the most serious class of offences, leading to expulsion from the Samgha for its violation. This is distinguished from the destruction of non-human sentient life, which is classified among the less serious pacittiya forbidding monks the use (paribhoga) of water containing living beings which might thereby be destroyed makes clear the intent to apply the rule against the destruction of life even to insects and the smallest of one-celled creatures. A number of post-canonical texts go to great lengths to assign those who have destroyed various types of animal life under diverse circumstances to appropriate hells. The Saddharmasm_tyupasthana Sutra (Sutra of the Remembrance of the True Law), a Sanskrit text from the fourth-fifth century AD, which is generally ascribed to Gautama Prajnaruci, is an early example of this pattern. According to this text, those who kill birds or deer without remorse are destined for a sub-hell known as the Place of Excrement; those who boil alive camels, boars, sheep, rabbits, bears, and the like suffer retribution in the Place of Cooking Pot; those who smash turtles or smother sheep are doomed to the Place of Darkness. Even to injure an animal is unacceptable behaviour. It is prescribed that if a monk digs a pit and an animal falls in it, there is an offence of wrong doing. In case the animal dies as a result, the offence requires expiation.
Buddhist literature is full of interesting incidents and stories relating to animal protection. In one such story, Sakka, while being chased by his enemies (asuras), advised his charioteer:
See that the chariot pole, O Matali,
Keeps clear of nests among the silk-cotton trees,
Let us choose to give up our lives to Asuras,
Rather than make these birds nestless.
Thus, in order to avoid injuring the birds or damaging their nests, Matali turned the chariot around. Seeing the chariot suddenly reverse its direction, the asuras panicked in the face of what they thought was an impending attack and took to their heels. The story concludes by noting that in this instance Sakka was saved by his righteous concern for the birds, implying that the monks to whom the story is addressed should show a similar concern for the well-being of such creatures.
The Buddha was strongly critical of the practice of animal sacrifices as well as hunting enjoyed by the royalty. He discouraged war as a method of settling disputes and demonstrated its utter futility. This sensitivity was extended to the minutest of the creatures. The rule for the monks that prohibits the cutting of trees. Destroying plants, digging the soil, and so forth may be interpreted as a warning that the minute forms of life may be destroyed by such actions. A certain form of life called one-faculties (ekindriya jiva) inhabits plants, trees and the soil, and even water may have creatures or breathers (sappanaka udaka) in it. An ideal king, as mentioned in the Cakkavattisihanada Sutta, should provide protection not only to human beings, but also to the beasts of the forests and the birds of the air (miga-pakkhisu).
The Buddha_s concern about the value of life emerges from compassion, which is why he was critical of capital punishment, warfare, hunting, animal sacrifices, suicide and callousness of a physical or psychological nature toward living creatures. Agni, the Vedic god of fire, is perhaps the most contemptuously treated of the Vedic deities referred to in the Pali Buddhist literature of early times, and, unlike other gods like Indra (Sakka) and Brahma, who has not been admitted into the pantheon in any form. The early Buddhist writers make no mistake as to the identification or association of this deity by the brahmanas with the Vedic fire ritual, which, particularly with regard to animal sacrifice, the Buddhists have always totally condemned. Their scorn for this ritual is perhaps associated with the fact that the Vedic Agni shared characteristics in common with the brahmanical priest, for whom the monastic writers of early Buddhism seem to have nothing but ridicule and contempt. In the Vedic pantheon Agni, being the sacrificial priest of the gods, was the divine representative or symbol of the brahmanical priest. An attitude of condemnation runs throughout all references to Agni in Pali Buddhist literature. The reason for this was that the ritual was associated in the Buddhist mind with the sacrifice of animal life. The orgies of the sacrifice are described with much emphasis and exaggeration in the Aggi Sutta. The Buddha vehemently opposed animal sacrifices. The Buddha pointed out that sacrifices like the Asvamedha bring great calamities. Animal sacrifice was a prominent feature of the Brahmanical faith before and at the time of the Buddha. The Buddha outrightly rejected such an evil practice. Regarding his abhorrence of animal sacrifices, the Buddha once told a brahmana called Udayin:
In whatever sacrifice, brahmana, cows are slaughtered, goats and sheep are slaughtered, poultry and pigs are slaughtered and divers living creatures come to destruction,— such sacrifice, brahmana, which involves butchery I do not praise.
Why is that?
To such a sacrifice, brahmana, involving butchery neither the worthy ones nor those who have entered on the worthy way draw near.
The Buddha further goes on to point out that
The sacrifice of horse and human life,
Have little fruit. Where goats and sheep and kine
Of divers sorts are sacrificed, go not
Those sages great who_ve travelled the right way.
But sacrifices free from cruelty
Which men keep up for profit of the clan,
Where goats and sheep and kine of divers sorts
Are never sacrificed— to such as these
Go sages great who_ve travelled the right way.
Such should the thoughtful celebrate: and great
The fruit of such; profit they bring, not loss.
Lavish the offering, devas therewith are pleased.
Stealing an animal is seen by Buddhism as a serious offence. A group of cases where monks release certain animals from traps throws important light on the Buddhist attitude towards animals. Where a monk releases an entrapped pig, deer, or fish intending to steal it, there is an offence entailing defeat and warranting expulsion from the order. However, if a monk releases such an animal out of compassion, there is no offence at all. Thus, motive is central to Buddhist ethics. In the list of five trades that all Buddhists are explicitly prohibited from engaging in, two related to animals and they are: trade in flesh; and trade in living beings. The work of sheep-butchers, hog-butchers, fishermen, animal trappers is considered so heinous that they are lumped together with thieves and executioners.Buddhism advises its followers to treat animals with the same universal, positive virtues (the brahma viharas) that govern human inter-relationship i.e. these virtues including loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha) are intended to be applied to all living beings. Buddhism is replete with examples of the co-existence of humans with other animals and environmentally sensitive ways of living.
In some forms of Buddhism, eating of meat is totally prohibited. In Theravada meat-eating is allowed only under certain conditions. In any case, even Theravada Buddhism recognizes, as pointed out in the Puttamamsa Sutta, that material food (kabalinkara ahara) should be taken not for pleasure (davaya), or indulgence (madaya), or personal charm (mandanaya), or for comeliness (vibhusanaya), but for sheer necessity of living. While it is admitted that food is the main prerequisite for existence, it is also acknowledged as a principal source of temptation, as an object through which the sense of taste develops into craving. Hence, on numerous occasions temperance with regard to food is advocated, although never to the extent of self-mortification (attakilamatha). The ideal monk is described as controlled in deed and word, restrained in food for the stomach (kayagutto, vacigutto, ahare dare yato); with light stomach, moderate in food, easily satisfied, and undisturbed (unudaro, mitaharo, appicch_assa alolupo). On the other hand, a person who is immoderate as to food is described as one who thoughtlessly and unwisely takes food for the sake of amusement, pride, decoration, ornamentation, insatiability, immoderation and thoughtlessness as to food.
In Buddhism, killing or injuring living beings is regarded as both unwholesome and fundamentally immoral; for, on the one hand, killing or injuring them is bad kamma entailing evil consequences for the perpetrator after his death, and on the other all living, sentient beings are afraid of death and recoil from pain just like oneself. Time and again, Buddhism declares spiritual attitudes like benevolence as well as actual abstention from killing or injuring animate beings to be the right attitude or behaviour for monks as well as lay people.
Buddhism does not see humans as a special creation by _God_, or as having been given either _dominion_ or _stewardship_ over animals etc. Though humans have a greater freedom and capacity for understanding than animals, like all the other sentient beings, humans also wander in the limited, conditioned realm of samsara, the round of rebirths. The greater capacity and understanding of humans, however, does not imply exploitation, but an attitude of kindness to lesser beings, an ideal of oblesse oblige. This is backed up by the reflection that one_s present fortunate position as a human is only a temporary state of affairs, dependent on past good kamma. One cannot isolate oneself from the plight of animals, as one has oneself experienced it, just as animals have had past rebirths as humans. Moreover, in the ancient round of rebirths, every being one comes across, down to an insect, will at some time have been a close friend or relative, and had been very good to one. Bearing this in mind, one should return the kindness in the present.