A Scientific and Spiritual View — I
Over three articles I intend to provide an overview of how we treat animals and how things could be done differently. In our society animals are used as an efficient production tool, in a way that is no longer in line with the latest scientific view that animals are conscious to varying degrees, have feelings, and can suffer pain.
Should we use animals?
Who gives us the right to use animals as a production tool and often not treat them as living beings with feelings? Is that a biblical right? God said: “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). But does it give us a licence to treat animals badly? No, definitely not. God even gave the Israelites laws for the welfare of animals. They had to get plenty of rest and food, to be assisted when in need, and to be protected from injury (Exodus 23:4–5; Deuteronomy 22:10; 25:4).
The Qur’an is also clear about this. “It is He who has made you successors upon the Earth.” (Qur’an 35:39). But still, He is clear that this responsibility is not unconditional. For those who fail to meet the conditions that limit this responsibility, the following applies: “Then we return him to the lowest of the low.” ( Qur’an 95:5). In short, although the sacred books make man ruler of the animals on Earth, those books are equally clear that such responsibility comes with duties. It certainly looks like today’s society disregards those duties.
This idyllic image of cows in a meadow is becoming increasingly rare (photo: Depositphotos)
Do animals have feelings?
Today, most scientists agree that all vertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, are aware to varying degrees, have feelings, and can suffer pain. Until recently, they thought differently. “Those who cannot speak, feel no pain”
— for a long time, this was the consensus in the scientific world. Until the 1980s, doctors operated on babies who could not speak without using anesthesia!
Fortunately, we now know better. Animals do not talk, but they do suffer just as much. Animal suffering is affecting us more and more. Yet the awareness of the way in which animals suffer, because of us, is sadly very limited.
The vast majority of animal species have neural warning mechanisms that are known by the general term “nociception” (pain sensing). This ensures that they are sensitive to what can damage or kill them. When they are scared, the heartbeat of vertebrates increases. They have brain structures that resemble our limbic system, the areas that control emotions. Their behaviour and their brain structure are proof that animals have consciousness. This means they feel pain. According to current scientific know- ledge, two groups of animals meet these criteria: vertebrates and squids.
Images of grieving elephants are well-known, but many more animals are capable of such feelings (source: https://www.nieuwsblad.be/cnt/dmf20170218_02737948)
The fact that animals can grieve and therefore also have emotions is known about elephants. Monkeys, whales, killer whales, giraffes, ducks and a whole host of other species, from farm animals to pets, also show mourning behaviour. In the summer of 2018, the grief of a killer whale, that kept her baby on the surface for seventeen days and made a 1,500- mile journey with her dead offspring, became widely known. Then she let go and began to hunt for food again with the group in which she lived.
Do animals have personalities?
For people with pets it is a well-known fact: cats, dogs, and horses have their own personality, while they do have the same breed characteristics. For science this was still a difficult point to acknowledge. Biologists have long ignored such individual variation in behaviour. In their eyes, behaviour was flexible and the differences between individuals were accidental deviations. The now retired behavioural physiologist from Groningen, the Netherlands, Jaap Koolhaas, was one of the first to oppose this. He studied social behaviour in mice and rats and noticed that there were major differences between individuals. “Some animals al- ways behave more aggressively, are more curious and braver than their counter- parts,” he recalls.
Jaap’s colleague, Ton Groothuis, chairman of the Behavioural Biology department at the University of Groningen, mostly studied great tits, which are passerine birds, and he thinks that knowledge of the hormonal and brain activity that drives behaviour is not sufficient to explain it. But what would they call those individual differences in their publications? Social styles? Behavioural syndromes? Or just “personality”? They settled for the latter. “Everyone immediately understands what that means”, Groothuis explains. “Moreover, the choice was also strategic: ‘individual differences’ does not appeal to the imagination, but ‘personality’ does.”
Through the study of great tits, much insight has been gained about their differences in personality (Photo: Depositphotos)
In his inaugural address in February 2019, as extraordinary professor of Animal Personality at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, Prof. Kees van Oers outlined how we can treat animals better if we know their personality. The personality of people largely determines their happiness, health, and success. And because personality is so essential in humans, the legitimate question arises: why should that not apply to animals?
Piek Stor, a Dutch medium who communicates with animals via telepathy, from ants and ticks to elephants and cows, knows well the many different personalities among animals, and says we can learn a lot from animals. There are very wise animals amongst them, wisdom that is also valuable to us humans. An example of the wisdom of a parrot:
Animals have a range of feelings. People often deal with it so bluntly. The world needs to know about this form of communication. Tell people about us. We
want to be heard. Listen to animals! People do not have the exclusive right to speak. (Piek Stor, In the Silence You Hear Everything)
Do animals have a soul?
In Judaism, people believe that animals have souls. However, many Christians do not believe this. Yet there are clear indications in the Bible that animals have a soul.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind. And it was so.” (Genesis 1:24).
Unfortunately, the idea that animals do not have a soul has often led to many forms of animal abuse. The soul is seen in Judaism as a secret of God and reveals the deeper layer of life. A soul knows joy of life and happiness, but also fear and pain. The American Stephen H. Webb, former professor of religious sciences, said that heaven is a “restored paradise” where, like Adam and Eve, humans and animals live in harmony with each other. Webb, author of On God and Dogs: a Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals, invoked statements from Old Testament prophets such as Amos, Ezekiel, and Micah. According to the theologian, every good relationship between humans and pets is a reflection of the situation in the afterlife. “All animals go to God.”
Hinduism and Buddhism regard the animal world, from the big four-legged friend to the tiny insect, as their “younger brothers”. H. P. Blavatsky writes in her article “Have Animals Souls?” (The Theosophist, January 1886):
Verily when the world feels convinced — and it cannot avoid coming one day to such a conviction — that animals are creatures as eternal as we ourselves, vivisection and other permanent tortures, daily inflicted on the poor brutes, will, after calling forth an outburst of maledictions and threats from society generally, force all Governments to put an end to those barbarous and shame- ful practices.
Lioness adopts an antelope young (source: michielhaas.nl)
According to Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Anthroposophical Society, there is an important difference between humans and animals. Man has an individual ego, while this does not apply to animals. Members of a (non-human) animal species all share the same collective ego. In that sense there is therefore no soul for each animal individually, because an animal has no self of its own. However, both an animal and a human have an astral body. Animal communicator Piek Stor, mentioned earlier, fully supports the theosophical vision in a very nuanced way. In her conversations with the animals, the latter usually indicate that they are part of a group and that there is a spokesperson that represents the group soul. But that does not apply to all animals, there are absolutely real individuals present, for example when she talks to a lion or a bison or an elephant, but also the cat and the dog are often true individuals, who are only connected to the group soul by a long line. She also sees a big distinction between species. Ants are busy and very aware. A tick is hardly aware and only wants to suck and then drop down, and then wait and start over again — so, a very low level of consciousness.
Can animals reincarnate?
Radha Burnier, international President of the Theosophical Society for 33 years, was very concerned about animal welfare, but she had no trouble killing a mosquito. “They reincarnate quickly”, was her explanation.
The Tibetans were in the habit of sifting the ground before a temple was built so that no living creature, not even a worm, would be harmed. The Tibetans believed that souls can reincarnate in any living form and that a worm in a previous life could have been one’s mother. A modern Tibetan Buddhist would probably say that one’s mother is unlikely to reincarnate as a worm. These Tibetan actions are symbolic to illustrate how we should feel compassion for all living things and treat them like our beloved family. It also questions whether our souls climb an evolutionary ladder across many species.
Did our dog Jasper choose to come back to us? (Photo: mh)
Craig Hamilton-Parker is a well-known British psychic medium. He shows clairvoyance on television in England and the United States, and is the author of many books about paranormal and dream interpretation. In his article “What Happens to Animals When They Die?” he writes the following:
My spirit guide has told us about what happens to animals when they die. They say that animals do not all survive as individual identities after death. Some merge to what he calls a “group consciousness”. Their spirits return to a collective aware- ness for that particular species and from this pool of awareness different animal souls are born. It is only when an animal becomes self-aware that its soul continues after death and starts the long process of climbing the evolutionary ladder towards human and angelic consciousness.
This image is confirmed by many other mediums.
Because there is hardly any scientific research into reincarnation in animals, we have to get our information mainly from mediums. A wonderful story about a dog’s reincarnation comes from the book Pets Have Souls Too by Jenny Smedley, an English reincarnation therapist. In the book she tells the story of Teacup, a small and ugly mutt with a naughty character. The dog was part of the family; she sat at the table in her own chair and had a very bad habit. She loved custard-cream cookies and would do anything to get one. So, she would sneak up from behind the chair and whip the cookie out of your hand at the speed of a thieving seagull and eat it.
But one day Teacup died, leaving a big gap in her owners’ hearts. They did not want to get another dog because it felt like they would be betraying her. A few years later the couple went on holiday to a deserted area in the Lake District, where they had been going on holiday for years. One day they heard a scratching at the door and found a beautiful fur ball outside the door, wanting to go inside. The woman opened the door and the dog ran inside and jumped on a chair at the table and sat down opposite the man who was still sitting at the table for breakfast as if she had always done that.
The owners asked around the neighbourhood if anyone knew this dog, but no one had lost a dog, so they took him home after the holiday. And here comes the moment where we could almost speak of evidence of reincarnation. The man made a cup of tea for his wife in the after- noon and came out of the kitchen with the cup and two custard-cream cookies. Like a bolt of lightning, the dog shot off the seat next to her, clutching the cookies in his mouth, and disappeared behind the couch to enjoy it.
A large number of scientists have come to the conclusion that all vertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, are conscious to varying degrees, have feelings, and can suffer pain. From a spiritual perspective there appears to be a strong suggestion that animals have a soul, often a group soul, but there are certainly animals that have already been individualised. And there are clear indications of reincarnation of animals, as appears from conversations with these animals by animal communicators. All this knowledge should have consequences in our dealings with animals.
Life is as precious to us as it is for an animal. An animal is as loving, caring, and kind to her children as we are. She might not be able to tell us but she can express it through her eyes and expressions. She feels joy and happiness. She is helpless in our cruel hands and vulnerable to our vicious greed. Let us be kind to animals. Let us learn to feel their pain.
Dr Debasish Mridha, Physician Michigan Advanced Neurology Center, USA
This article originally appeared in The Theosophist in October 2019.