Planes of Existence
According to the teachings of the Buddha all living beings are caught in a cycle of births and deaths called Samsara whose beginning is inconceivable. Samsara is the repeated existence of living beings and altogether there are thirty one planes of existence. These planes of existence could be broadly classified into five, namely, the heavenly abodes, the human realm, the animal world, discarnate spirits and the lower spheres. In the course of one's long journey through Samsara one moves from one plane of existence to another. In all these planes, including the heavens, life is unsatisfactory with its impermanent, painful and illusory nature. There is happiness but it is temporary and therefore unsatisfactory.
The final goal in Buddhism is to escape from Samsara by the realisation of Nibbana, the liberation from birth and suffering. For this purpose, the Buddha enunciated the noble eight fold path consisting or virtue, concentration and wisdom.
Place of Animals in Buddhism
So animals occupy an important place in Buddhist teachings as it cover not only humans but also beings in the animal world and other planes of existence. An important aspect in Buddhist virtue is the observance of the five precepts. Many maintain that the effort to observe these precepts is the minimum required of one who profess to be a Buddhist. Paul Dalke, the German intellectual and Pall Scholar has remarked that they are binding on all who call themselves Buddhist. They are self-imposed rules of conduct voluntarily accepted by individuals and not commandments laid down by the Buddha.
The five precepts are as follows:
‘I take upon myself the rule of training to abstain from taking the life of living beings: To abstain from taking what is not given: To abstain from sexual misconduct;
To abstain from false speech; and To abstain from intoxicants.’
All religions exhort their devotees to refrain from killing. However, Buddhism is perhaps unique in that it is extended to all living beings, including animals, and those not visible. The abstention should include not only direct but also the indirect taking of life. For these reasons it is said in the Dhammapada as follows:
“All fear punishment.
To all life is dear, Comparing oneself with others.
One should neither kill nor cause to kill.”
Thus, any action to kill or cause to kill any living being, including animals, would be unwholesome and contrary to the Buddhist way or life. The Buddha is often quoted as having said that the eating of meat should be rejected under three conditions. Namely, that one has seen, heard or suspect that the animal concerned had been killed especially for oneself. On this basis. it is argued, that if an animal has not been killed especially for oneself the consumption of animal flesh is not prohibited in the light of the teachings of the Buddha. In this Connection, it should be mentioned that in the modern Commercial world animals are rarely killed for oneself. They are largely killed because of the demand for animal flesh and consequently any action to increase this demand would be an encouragement for the killing of animals. This is a rational. logical and reasonable conclusion.
Societies for prevention of cruelty to Animals
It is argued by some that animals have no feelings and therefore do not suffer on account of pain that may be inflicted on them. However, their reaction to pain and imminent death clearly indicate that they are totally averse to death and pain. Those who have visited slaughter houses for cattle declare that these animals face death in horror, with mournful cries and tears in their eyes.
On the other hand those who say that animals have no feelings would often not permit anyone to hurt their pet animals, be they dogs or cats. Under any circumstances often they have complained to the Police or pursued legal action against cruelty to their pets. Moreover, there are numerous societies in the Western world and to some extent even in developing and poor Countries for the prevention of cruelty to animals and the logic for their existence and operation is the suffering caused to animals by violence and painful death.
In Buddhism. it is maintained that living beings desire to live and abhor death. This is a fact of life that could be easily observed.
Virtue in the noble eight fold path in Buddhism consists of right speech, right action and right livelihood. One factor in Right action is to refrain from destroying life while under Right living one should not engage in any profession or livelihood that brings harm to others including the killing of living beings. Thus, life in all spheres in Buddhism is sacred and this includes the lives of animals.
Source : By Madduma Bandara (Spirit of Buddhism.com)