How Karma Applies to Animals?

Animals and Karma

A Tiger Hunt

by Jayaram V

Hinduism and Buddhism do believe that animals have souls and they evolve spiritually until they attain human birth or even birth in the higher worlds. Sometimes people ask me how the law of karma applies to animals. One can logically understand how karma applies to humans. Since they possess free will and possess intelligence, it makes sense why they are subject to the consequences of their own actions.

How can you apply the same principles to the animals, insects and microorganisms which lack both free will and intelligence? Since they are driven by natural instincts and live mechanically, it is difficult to imagine how they can ever earn good karma and evolve into higher beings. Technically, animals indulge in desire-ridden actions and therefore it is very difficult for them to escape from the cycle of births and deaths or evolve into higher beings.

I have searched for answers in both Hinduism and Buddhism and did not find any direct answers. However, when I was studying the importance of virtue and sacrifice, the answer hit me directly. I understood in an instant why human life was important not only for one's own progress but also for the welfare of the entire world and why five daily sacrifices were prescribed for us in Hinduism.

I have no doubt that as human beings we have a greater responsibility towards ourselves and others, which extends beyond our own selfish interests. We have a responsibility to participate in the liberation of life upon earth by living virtuously and performing good actions. We have to play our dutiful roles in the collective evolution of life upon earth.

True, animals cannot earn good merit on their own. However, they give us immense opportunities to practice compassion and alleviate their suffering. By giving us those opportunities they help us to cultivate virtues of purity (sattva) and work for our self-transformation. In return, they automatically earn good karma. The world gives us numerous opportunities to be good and practice goodness towards others. When we use those opportunities, we not only help ourselves karmically but also open the doors for those whom we help to purify themselves.

Virtues of compassion, friendliness, non-injury, love and selfless service enable us to purify our own karmas and those of others to whom we extend such virtues. The message we learn from this is as humans we should cultivate positive feelings towards others within ourselves and apply them to our everyday lives. We have to use them to purify ourselves and others. Life is not all about you and your suffering. There is a better way to live your life with a higher purpose and vision. To the extent you bring others into your thoughts and concerns, you will make progress on the spiritual path.

As the Buddha suggested, the world is full of suffering. We have a choice in responding to this suffering of the world. We can wallow in our own suffering or pay attention to the suffering of others and respond to it with compassion and understanding. We can pray for them or take upon their suffering into ourselves. When you practice it you not only purify yourselves, but also heal those to whom you extended your compassion.

If you understand this logic, you will realize why human life is so important in the spiritual evolution of individuals as well as the whole world. This becomes self-evident from the following thought process.

1. Most animals lack intelligence and free will. Hence, it is difficult for them to progress on the spiritual path on their own and evolve into higher beings.

2. However, the animals provide the humans with an opportunity to practice compassion and nonviolence and earn good merit. This in turn helps them to cleanse their own karma.

3. Those who understand the suffering of living beings and take upon the suffering of others upon themselves contribute greatly to the spiritual evolution of life upon earth.

4. When you practice compassion, friendliness, and nonviolence towards others, you not only earn good karma but also help others who give you such opportunities to participate in the welfare of the world.

When you are attacked by an animal

In Nature every living being has a right to defend itself. Therefore, it is perfectly normal and morally obligatory if you take defensive measures to protect yourself and those who seek your protection against harm. It includes using vaccinations and killing dangerous pests and animals that threaten your environment. In Both Hinduism and Buddhism, killing an animal is permitted when one's life is threatened or when one is famished and hungry in times of scarcity due to famine, pestilence or such natural calamities.

We are the gods for the animals

Our scriptures say that every day we have to feed animals and other living organism as part of our daily sacrifices. It is called bhuta yajna. This is an obligatory duty for human beings which they have to perform to keep the world in good order. There is a reason for this.

In creation, beings of higher planes have to support and protect beings of lower planes. At the highest point in this cosmic order is God Himself, who is the protector and preserver of all.

Therefore, we are supposed to be the gods, not demons, for the animals, which belong to a lower plane of intelligence. Just as our gods depend upon us for their nourishment, we depend upon plants and animals for our survival and nourishment.

Just as the gods protect us and help us in our practice of Dharma and continuation of our families and human race, we have an obligatory duty to protect them and help them to survive in the mortal world.

Implications of animal abuse and cruelty to animals

We cannot neglect this obligatory duty, unless we want to unleash disorder and chaos in the world, like the demons, and delay our own spiritual evolution.

Unfortunately, there are many people in the world who pay no attention to the indiscriminate destruction of marine and terrestrial life to the point of their extinction. They do not realize how much bad karma we are accumulating in this regard.

If this continues, the collective karma of the human race may reach a threshold point resulting in greater suffering for the entire world. You can expect frequent natural calamities, incurable diseases, loss of life, and shortages of food and other resources.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Introduction to Hinduism
Know the richness, diversity, history and traditions of Hinduism, the oldest living religion of the world

Brahman
Know about Brahman, the Highest and Supreme God of Hinduism. Buy Now!

Selected Upanishads
Translation of 14 Upanishads. Length: 32 pages

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
Translation of one of the largest Upanishads Length: 206 pages.

The Chandogya Upanishad
Translation of the Chandogya Upanishad. Length:218 Pages

The Bhagavadgita Complete Translation
With Word to word translation and commentary. Comprehensive and unique.
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