A Global Family
Atul Shah questions our behaviours, beliefs and attitudes towards animals and urges us to be universally kind to all beings. The Compassionate Animal by Barbara Gardner. Animal Books and Media Limited, 2012. ISBN: 9781480155695
Jiv daya is what my own Jain tradition calls it – compassion for all living beings is the right way to live – and we must live our lives with a minimum of violence: ahimsa. In fact, we have entire festivals dedicated to compassion, and in Jain tradition animals are sentient beings with souls who can feel pain and experience joy and happiness.
Sadly the modern world has a very different view about animals and compassion, and the resulting actions are often very cruel and inhumane. Our animal-based food systems, hunting, pet cruelty and pollution of the environment are all direct expressions of how far we have gone astray from genuine compassion, and how much we have separated other living beings from our humane values. We have become desensitised to our violence towards animals.
Barbara Gardner’s book is a very important reflection on our behaviours, beliefs and attitudes concerning animals. The central thesis of this book calls for humanity to widen its circle of compassion and not see animals as different, but as part of the global family of living beings of which humankind is but one species. The book has 20 chapters and is divided into five main parts: Part 1 examines compassion in the spiritual traditions; Part 2 looks at the evolution of compassion; Part 3 looks at scientific views on compassion and Part 4 examines great people of compassion. Part 5 makes an appeal for compassion as the key to the future.
I found the most interesting to be Part 1, where Barbara draws upon different wisdom traditions, ranging from Hinduism to Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, the Greek philosophers and the Abrahamic faiths. Some of these had profound messages about animal welfare, but she also admits that there is little evidence in the New Testament that, despite Jesus’ huge spirit of compassion, the animal kingdom was included in this kindness.
So the religions have given different messages about animal compassion, but in a diverse world we can draw from the best wisdoms and try to understand their universality. Of all the spiritual traditions, Barbara gives the highest respect to the Jain philosophy of ahimsa and the deep-rooted practice of animal compassion that has been in this tradition for thousands of years. I am keen to widen the awareness of this ancient and timeless philosophy, especially among animal lovers, as they would find it very empowering and liberating.
The book is a synthesis of many different subjects, which are usually kept apart from one another in modern education and learning. Religion and Spirituality is kept separate from Quantum Physics, which is also kept separate from the Cosmos and Psychology. In The Compassionate Animal Barbara tries to integrate these different ideas, by keeping the lens of focus on non-human animals and their science, spirituality and consciousness. Compassion is the power of the conscious brain to override the selfishness of our genes, and is an expression of our true inner spirit.
This book is an important manual and resource for all who are interested in animal welfare, and for those who are keen to explore the science and spirituality of kindness.
I recommend it highly.