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I love most aspects of Buddhism but I can't agree that animals have a "lower" rebirth than us. Dogs for example sometimes have enormous love and compassion for their owners, even if they are being terribly mistreated. I am a vegan because I love animals; animals do not harm us, yet humans routinely kill animals for their own sensual pleasure. The dairy and egg industries are also very cruel -- all those male chickens being killed! And how female dairy cows are always kept pregnant or lactating through artificially insemination. It's human cruelty that keeps them in their difficult position. Saying "It's just their bad karma" is in my opinion a way of weakening your own karma.

Many animals are somewhat psychic -- they sense things that humans can't. Personally I would rather come back as an animal than a human. They seem more peaceful, humans are constantly thinking and doing and stressing about things. So can I still be a Buddhist, with these beliefs?

  • Hyphens join things; dashes separate things. Your post is quite hard to read because you use hyphens where you should use dashes. – TRiG Aug 1 '18 at 1:01
  • Not sure abut Buddhist reasoning but in Hinduism human birth is considered to be of higher form because only in human form one can work towards his/her liberation and find God. – Rolen Koh Aug 1 '18 at 6:58
  • @TRiG You can edit someone else's post yourself, e.g. to improve formatting or spelling, especially if you don't change the meaning of what they posted. – ChrisW Aug 1 '18 at 8:40
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    Animals are not "psychic" in any sense of the word. Feeling things humans can't has nothing to do with being psychic, we all have different perception due to different senses, even between humans. – Davor Aug 1 '18 at 12:58

10 Answers 10

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So can I still be a Buddhist, with these beliefs?

Yes of course.

Maybe don't over-idealise animals though, e.g. a real dog might chase and kill grass-hoppers or mice or anything else unless you stop it, fight with other dogs and so on unless it's properly trained.

So I think a human, who is kind and self-restrained and so on, is more admirable.

Instead of coming back as an animal, why not come back as a Buddhist then?

Apart from that, maybe you're doing three things:

  • Comparing humans to animals, and saying that humans shouldn't compare themselves favourably. That (i.e. "comparing") reminds me of this topic about pride -- and the famous "Does a dog have Buddha-nature?" koan.
  • Expressing an admiration or at least a sympathy towards animals
  • Expressing some antipathy, aversion, towards "human cruelty"

Humans seem to be predators/carnivores. What I know of ecology suggests that animal life is unfortunate even without humans in the equation: with animal predators, starvation, no medicine, unable to hear or understand the dharma, and so on -- and there's maybe only quite a limited extent to which we as a single human can fix that. But maybe, being vegan, you are doing what you can -- a proper emotion isn't hatred (towards human or animal predators) but gratitude or joy and so on (that you and other people are able to learn and conduct yourself better).


Incidentally, if you didn't know, being vegan is a point of controversy. Some Buddhists say it's important, other Buddhists say "I'm not killing animals I'm only buying dead meat at the market".

So much so that you get suggestions like, "All the vegetarian questions should get herded into a single thread", i.e. it's a fairly endless debate, difficult to say what hasn't been said before, and difficult to change another person's opinions on the subject.

  • Biologically, humans are omnivores, not carnivores. This is fairly readily apparent when comparing our gastrointestinal tract and teeth to those of both pure herbivores (such as equines) and pure carnivores (such as felines). – a CVn Aug 1 '18 at 6:29
  • @MichaelKjörling I think that physically humans are able to do all sorts of things, and may choose not to. I meant "carnivore" loosely -- meaning "eats meat", rather than "only eats meat". Perhaps that usage, to describe a human diet, is colloquial among vegetarians (e.g. "I'm vegetarian, he's carnivore") even though inaccurate. And I remember people memorably describing themselves are "carnivore", so. Maybe "predator" isn't quite the right word either, to describe someone who goes shopping. – ChrisW Aug 1 '18 at 9:15
  • "I meant "carnivore" loosely -- meaning "eats meat", rather than "only eats meat"." With that clarification, I agree; and if we're going down that route, there's a reason why in some cases one specifies obligate carnivore. That said, (biologically and) physiologically, humans are able to derive significant nutrition from either meat or plant matter; which is one of the things that define an omnivore. "Predator" is a problematic term in its own right when one tries to use it non-colloquially, but let's just not go there for now. – a CVn Aug 1 '18 at 11:45
  • Recognizing, with clear comprehension, that human cruelty is a degraded and demeritorious quality is a sign of tremendous insight and compassion. Criticizing and otherwise showing antipathy and aversion to such wisdom and compassion is the opposite. – Tharpa Aug 1 '18 at 14:24
  • @Tharpa I'm not sure I understand your comment. I thought that the OP was (in the question) "showing aversion", and is therefore suffering. I hope it's possible to celebrate the wisdom of non-cruelty, and for there to be "joy resulting from skilful virtue", without the suffering which results from craving that rest of the world (i.e. other people) should be other than as they are. – ChrisW Aug 1 '18 at 14:44
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Lower is not meant as a moral judgement nor a pejorative in this case. It is meant simply as a statement of the more dire predicament most animals are in compared to most humans. There certainly exist individual dogs, cats, horses, pigs, donkeys, monkeys, deer, sheep, cows, chickens, fish, birds, reptiles that are more compassionate and exhibit virtues superior to individual humans in this very life. However, generally speaking humans have a greater capacity for understanding dharma and opportunity to practice. Most animals are subject to base instinct and spend the vast majority of their time just trying to survive. In this sense it is called the lower or less fortunate realms.

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    Thankyou. I agree that humans probably have more of a capacity to try to better ourselves. I actually didn't expect so many people would bother to answer my question. Yes animals do seem to be in a more dire predicament-but I think they are still going through their own emotional processes, and progressing on the path. And my own life has seen terribly dire circumstances-drugs, prostitution, and still I've managed to grow spiritually. So I believe, even those animals in the slaughter houses are growing spiritually through their pain. – Lilly Jul 31 '18 at 13:51
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    Certainly even some of those animals in slaughter houses or other awful predicaments are right this moment performing virtuous actions that will no doubt ripen in the future into more beneficial circumstances for practicing dharma. Not all mind you, but some. All beings have many times over produced the seeds for suffering in the future and produced the seeds for happiness and dharma practice in the future. When and how those seeds ripen can only be resolved over the fullness of time. Reminds me of this: buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/bt1_20.htm – Yeshe Tenley Jul 31 '18 at 14:12
  • Would like to add a footnote about Deva ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deva_(Buddhism) ), who are supposed to be "superior" and with better karma than humans, yet said to be incapable or less capable to understand dharma due to their painless existence. Creatures in higher realms than humans do not have a "survival" to introspect, while creatures in lower realms usually do not have enough time to learn from their "survival" due to this occupying most of the time of their waking life. – HorriblePerson Jul 31 '18 at 18:21
  • Do most animals have an id and ego like humans? Important neurological question, since if they don't have ego, they are not repressed by it. – Anthony Aug 1 '18 at 5:46
  • It is said that only humans have the capability of attaining enlightenment. In this sense, it is more fortunate to be born as a human than to be born in the heavens. – Tharpa Aug 1 '18 at 14:36
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Personally I would rather come back as an animal than a human. They seem more peaceful, humans are constantly thinking and doing and stressing about things.

Be very careful what you wish for. You forgot the fact that the nice peaceful life of those animals you're familiar with are only for the few domesticated pets while the overwhelming majority of animals in the wild or the jungle live a life of constant fear and ignorance. If you were an animal in the wild, chances are pretty good that you'd be eaten alive by another bigger animal up higher in the food chain. True, some humans are very cruel, but at least there're still written rules to protect basic human right. There's no right in the animal world. There's only one rule, the jungle rule.

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According to SN 56.36 (quoted below), the planes of misery (including the animal realm) are so great and vast. Only a human being who has right view and understands the Four Noble Truth would escape it.

“Bhikkhus, suppose a man were to cut up whatever grass, sticks, branches, and foliage there is in this Jambudipa and collect them into a single heap. Having done so, he would impale the large creatures in the ocean on the large stakes, the middle-sized creatures on the middle-sized stakes, and the small creatures on the small stakes. Still, bhikkhus, the gross creatures in the ocean would not be exhausted even after all the grass, sticks, branches, and foliage in Jambudipa had been used up and exhausted. The small creatures in the ocean that could not easily be impaled on stakes would be even more numerous than this. For what reason? Because of the minuteness of their bodies.

“So vast, bhikkhus, is the plane of misery. The person who is accomplished in view, freed from that vast plane of misery, understands as it really is: ‘This is suffering.’… ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’

“Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

According to SN 56.48, a human birth is very rare and precious, and being able to listen to the Dhamma is also rare. Hence, it is our duty to contemplate on the Four Noble Truths.

The story from the commentary to Dhammapada 338-343 is also useful to illustrate that even good situations don't last forever:

On one occasion, while the Buddha was on an alms-round at Rajagaha, he saw a young dirty sow and smiled. When asked by the Venerable Ananda, the Buddha replied, "Ananda, this young sow was a hen during the time of Kakusandha Buddha. As she was then staying near a refectory in a monastery she used to hear the recitation of the sacred text and the discourses on the Dhamma. When she died she was reborn as a princess. On one occasion, while going to the latrine, the princess noticed the maggots and she became mindful of the loathsomeness of the body, etc. When she died she was reborn in the Brahma realm as a puthujjana brahma but later due to some evil kamma, she was reborn as a sow. Ananda! Look, on account of good and evil kamma there is no end of the round of existences."

  • I marked this answer down because it is contrary to sutta. SN 56.47 and other suttas say what is "rare" is the realisation of the 4 noble truths. SN 56.48 should not be used without reference to SN 56.47, which explains what is meant by "rare human birth". "Human" does not mean "people". It means living without violence and realising the noble truths; as explained in SN 56.47. – Dhammadhatu Aug 1 '18 at 0:31
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In addition to all the other answers I would like to add the point missed. It is that, you cannot attain Nibbana in the animal realm. It is only in human form where the conditions are right in terms of suffering and ability to learn dhamma, that you can attain Nibbana. So in that sense animals are 'lower' than us.

So, even if you wish for birth in animal realm, you will some day end up being a human, again and again you must practise dhamma to liberate yourself.

Also, don't confuse animal welfare with being a mis-anthrop.

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In Buddhism, the term "animal" does not mean a literal animal with four, six or eight or no legs. "Animal" means behaving without reflecting upon or without knowledge of the harmful consequences of an action. While animals certainly have very limited and programmed behaviour patterns, which make animals appear far less harmful than people; when animals need to eat or have the urge to have sex, animals proceed to hunt, kill or have sex without any regard for the other animal. Animals do not have a "conscience". Therefore, when people act with ignorance, without reflective reasoning or without a human conscience, this is taking 'birth' as 'animal'; such as in the following quotes from the Buddhist scriptures:

Bhikkhus, these two bright principles protect the world. What are the two? Shame and fear of wrongdoing. If, bhikkhus, these two bright principles did not protect the world, there would not be discerned respect for mother or maternal aunt or maternal uncle's wife or a teacher's wife or the wives of other honored persons, and the world would have fallen into promiscuity, as with goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, dogs and jackals. But as these two bright principles protect the world, there is discerned respect for mother... and the wives of other honored persons.

Lokapala Sutta


Sooner, I say, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole than the fool who has gone once to the nether world would regain the human state. For what reason? Because here, bhikkhus, there is no conduct guided by the Dhamma, no righteous conduct, no wholesome activity, no meritorious activity. Here there prevails mutual devouring, the devouring of the weak.

SN 56.47

A teacher of Buddhism explains:

Now rebirth in the realm of beasts is stupidity. Whenever one is inexcusably stupid about something: stupid in not knowing that Dhamma and nibbāna are desirable, stupid in not daring to come into contact with or get close to Buddhism, stupid in believing that if one became interested in Dhamma or Buddhism it would make one old-fashioned and odd. That is how children see it, and their parents too. They try to pull back and move far away from Dhamma and religion. This is stupidity. Regardless of what sort of stupidity it is, it amounts to rebirth as an animal. As soon as stupidity arises and overwhelms one, one becomes an animal. One is a beast by spontaneous rebirth, by mental rebirth. This is the second Woeful State.

Buddha-Dhamma for Students


Now to the realm of beasts (tiracchana). Birth as a beast means in everyday language actual physical birth as a pig, a dog, or some other actual animal, Rebirth after death as some kind of lower animal is the everyday meaning of rebirth into the realm of the beasts. In Dhamma language, it has a different meaning. When one is stupid, just like a dumb animal, then at that moment one is born into the realm of beasts. It happens right here and now. One may be born as a beast many times over in a single day. So in Dhamma language, birth as a beast means stupidity.

Two Kinds of Language

  • I like the bit about 'Two kinds of language." – Lilly Jul 31 '18 at 14:07
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    @undercat I think it's that Dhammadhatu's answers are to the effect that "past lives" and "rebirths" are not meant literally and/or are misunderstandings of the real dhamma -- i.e. I think he writes that every "past life" and every "rebirth" should be understood as some instance of egocentricity within this life -- and I think that some other users interpret "past life" and "rebirth" (and therefore also the "six realms") a bit more literally and therefore disagree with his answer[s] (see also for example here). – ChrisW Jul 31 '18 at 16:08
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    I do not know why because i didnt give it a down vote but if i have to guess because the answer is from Idea's of Buddhadasa. A monk who didnt accept the idea of literal hell or heaven in the buddist thevarada doctrine. So, to justify his personal beliefs, he apologetically explained suttas according to his beliefs such as Buddha went along with the ideas of heaven and hell at the time so people would start to pay attention to his new idea of Buddhism. Or born in heaven, animal realm, hungry ghost etc is just a state of mind thru out the day. – brody Jul 31 '18 at 16:23
  • No matter how you slice it, Theravada Buddhism teaches about rebirth not just about states of mind but also after break up of body. Major issue with those who follow school of Buddhadasa is that the question of what happens when we die? If nothing, then ultimately every one reaches Nirvana or state of non-rebirth if you wait long enough. I’m not here to argue about what is right or wrong because those who listen to Buddhadasa may take offense. – brody Jul 31 '18 at 16:24
  • I just to give explanation of possible cause of down vote. Personally, Buddhadasa shouldn’t have changed Buddhist teachings to be in line with his own beliefs but he should have started his own religion. He should have preserved the original teachings (no matter how broken he thought it was) for next generation. – brody Jul 31 '18 at 16:24
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Regarding the original question... the behavior of animals is in most cases conditioned. An animal might behave peaceful because its body, its genetics, its upbringing essentially shape it that way, which is just another way of forcing, you could even call it total, absolute forcing since if someone beats you until you behave, at least you can perceive that, you can perceive that it did not come from you; for animals, they're forced in ways they cannot even perceive, but the result is there.

The goal is to attain conscious, intentional, and with understanding good behavior, not a forced one. And that you can only do in a human form.

The forced good behavior is a forced lesson, for those who were too stubborn to learn in any other way. But it is just a part of their path; by itself, forced good behavior can only show to that individual some possibilities, but ultimately it must again be brought to the stage where it can understand and make a conscious, informed decision about how it is going to behave.

  • I marked this answer up although has not used Buddhist teachings to support it. – Dhammadhatu Aug 1 '18 at 0:33
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The dairy and egg industries are also very cruel-all those male chickens being killed! And how female dairy cows are always kept pregnant or lactating through artificially insemination. It's human cruelty that keeps them in their difficult position.

This is part of the suffering in Animal realm. In this video you can see Hyenas eating a pregnant Zebra alive. If you are born as an animal, you could be easily subjected this kind of suffering. So be careful for what you wish for. Humans can do much worse things, but that's not what it means to have a lower or higher birth. Humans have a much higher potential for morality, concentration, wisdom, intelligence, technology, art etc.The scope of the human mind is incomparable to what an animal mind can achieve.

Personally I would rather come back as an animal than a human. They seem more peaceful, humans are constantly thinking and doing and stressing about things. So can I still be a Buddhist, with these beliefs?

Don't mistake being dumb and ignorant for being peaceful. Animals can never attain Jhanas or get enlightened as they lack the mental capacity to do so. Hence your beliefs are not compatible with Buddhism.

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I can't agree that animals have a "lower" rebirth than us. Dogs for example sometimes have enormous love and compassion for their owners

In your statement first part is wrong and the second part is correct.. According to the karma (good deeds or sins) a certain person does in this life his next life'll be created.. There are two parts of the places he'll be born according to this

  • sugathi (heavens and human birth)
  • dugathi

The second birth place dugathi is for ones who did bad deeds or sins in previous lives..And that devides to 4 parts,as

  • Naraka(This is located in the under part of world, which is same called as hell)
  • pretha(ghosts like creatures are included to this)
  • asura(A Type of creatures live in the sea)
  • thirisan(animals ..cats,dogs,etc..)

So you can see that animals have been born like that because of the sins they did in past lives..That is how your statements first part become wrong..

But in the next part you are correct ..Lord buddha says

Najachcha Wasalo Hothi,

Najachcha Hothi Brahmano

Kammana Wasalo Hothi,

Kammana Hothi Brahmano

That means from birth anyone doesn't become great or lower..The act he does after the birth decides whether he is great or lower..

So as you are saying there are animals who act much better that human..That means they are greater than human..Only the race they have born is lower than human, but don't need to think about that, that is not important, Important thing is the act they do after the birth,If they behave better than human and have good qualities than human, they are greater than that lower human, That is the only thing to concern

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You just get it wrong, just think about the wild animals and Chickens, cows and pigs in farm fields. Do they have such a love and... then what about the insects and sea creatures do they have love.... other than these facts animals are lower rebirth because of they cannot handle their mind to do things and that is the main fact.

And about your personal wish to comeback here as animal

Please dont even think about it. Just count down the number of animals in every kind and compare with number of humans in the world. Then think about it how hard it is to be a human.

protected by Lanka Aug 1 '18 at 14:20

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