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Spirituality

Do Animals Have Souls?

David Langness | Feb 22, 2015

PART 2 IN SERIES Cute Baby Animals

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Feb 22, 2015

PART 2 IN SERIES Cute Baby Animals

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. The cow means the entire subhuman world. – Mahatma Gandhi

For Hindus, the cow symbolizes the life-giving virtue of gentleness, which is why cattle represent the sacred in many Hindu societies. The main teaching of Hinduism, called ahimsa, means refusing to do injury to other living beings. The cow stands for that principle, because it only eats grass and provides humans with milk and cheese and butter and dung for fertilizer. Hindus believe all life has spirit, and revere the cow’s spirit of non-injury and, as Gandhi suggested, the cow’s personification of all plant and animal life.

But do cows have souls?

The rabbinical scholars of Judaism, and the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah, say that Genesis 2:7 in the Torah tells us that every human being has both a nephesh and a neshama. They define the word nephesh, which literally means “living being,” as the animal spirit, or the instinctual life force. The neshama, in contrast, means the human soul—that part of us exemplified by the intellect and the awareness of God, the divine spark that yearns for spirituality—and distinguishes man from animal.

boy-and-his-dogOn the same subject, news outlets around the world recently reported that Pope Francis told a 12-year-old Italian boy that his dog would be with him in heaven. But that never actually happened. Instead, the reports came from Corriere della Serra, an Italian newspaper that quoted Pope Paul VI (who reigned as Pope from 1963-1978), when he consoled a tearful child whose dog had died by telling him: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ.”

Of course, Pope Paul wasn’t expressing an official doctrine of the Catholic Church. Most other major religions don’t have that view, either. Despite our love for our furry friends, most people understand that animals cannot create civilizations or make art or possess the higher, eternal spiritual aspirations of human beings. Animals are captives of the world of nature, while the scientific and technological achievements of humans allow us to plumb nature’s mysteries, go beyond its laws and use them for our benefit–and sometimes, sadly, our detriment.

No animal has the divine spark that makes humans seek the transcendent in life. Animals certainly have emotions, can feel pain and happiness, can even understand human communication sometimes–but that doesn’t mean they have souls, or what we normally think of as the human spirit. Almost all of the world’s major religions say that the soul belongs exclusively to human beings—that only human beings have the capacity for the intelligence, the insight and the spirituality necessary to forge a relationship with the Creator, transcend the physical world and achieve an eternal existence after death. The Baha’i teachings point out that our souls set us apart from the natural world:

Man — the true man — is soul, not body; though physically man belongs to the animal kingdom, yet his soul lifts him above the rest of creation. Behold how the light of the sun illuminates the world of matter: even so doth the Divine Light shed its rays in the kingdom of the soul. The soul it is which makes the human creature a celestial entity!

By the power of the Holy Spirit, working through his soul, man is able to perceive the Divine reality of things. All great works of art and science are witnesses to this power of the Spirit. The same Spirit gives Eternal Life. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 86.

This definition of what it means to be human, the Baha’i writings emphasize, does not make animals somehow less than us, or allow us to be cruel to them. From a Baha’i perspective, animals should inspire our loving-kindness, because their animal spirits can evince the same kinds of feelings we feel. Also, because we each have a human soul, we have a responsibility to evince tenderness and loving-kindness toward all creatures. In many ways, the Baha’i teachings say, animals are perfect in their own right:

Even the most developed dog has not the immortal soul of the man; yet the dog is perfect in its own place. You do not quarrel with a rose-tree because it cannot sing! – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 97.

Despite that perfection of the animal’s station, the human station—with its ability to perceive and explore the unknown and discover the truth of things unseen—allows us to transcend the world of nature with reflection, with intellect and with soulful understanding:

The distinctive virtue or plus of the animal is sense perception; it sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels but is incapable, in turn, of conscious ideation or reflection which characterizes and differentiates the human kingdom. The animal neither exercises nor apprehends this distinctive human power and gift. From the visible it cannot draw conclusions regarding the invisible, whereas the human mind from visible and known premises attains knowledge of the unknown and invisible… Such power of accomplishment is beyond the range of animal intelligence. Therefore, this power is a distinctive attribute of the human spirit and kingdom. The animal spirit cannot penetrate and discover the mysteries of things. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 58.

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Comments

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  • Don Boykin
    Jan 14, 2020
    -
    An interesting adaptation, into a western mode of theater, presented the bonding of a dog to its master and the master to his dog. For years, the mature dog attended its master's departure on a train, not aware of the train's purpose or destination but the dog waited at the train station and greeted its master upon his return; after the master died the dog, for several years continued greeting the train. Town's people knew of this relationship and were surprised of the dog's sense of love towards its master. After the dog died, an artist created a sculpture of ...the dog and positioned it in the spot where the dog always waited for its' master. The town's people honored that relationship; the dog never understood the death of its master.
    Read more...
    • Heidi Last
      Jan 23, 2020
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      Hajiko is the name of the movie based on the true story that star is Richard Gere.
  • Cory Churko
    Sep 27, 2019
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    Bahais will always say that eventually the majority of the planet will be vegetarian. Well what are you waiting for. There's never been a more needed time than now... For the animals... The planet and our health. Bahaulah isn't going to come down and say now is the time. While you're at it go vegan.
  • Barbra Badger
    Mar 11, 2019
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    For those who are greatly saddened that their beloved pet will not be in the afterlife with them, perhaps the love and mercy of God will provide it for them to be happy while they advance through the worlds of God.
  • Gabrielle LaMarche
    Jan 9, 2019
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    Abdu’l Baha does refer to “the souls of the lesser creature”. Us, they are inferior to the souls of men, but He DID acknowledge that they exist. This has been a great comfort to me.
  • jessica maboudi
    Apr 8, 2017
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    Why then Baha'is are cruel to animals, especially Iranian Baha'is. They look with disgust to dogs and sacrifice sheep right front their children. Not to mention they serve meet in their holy houses.
    Jessica Maboudi
    • Kimia Lalezari
      Jan 21, 2018
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      Jessica, thanks for your insight. Many Persians in general (not confined to Persian Bahá’ís) do not prefer dogs in the house because they may dirty the home. But this is not a distinction of the Baha’i Faith. I know of countless Bahá’ís, including myself, who love animals and have multiple pets in their home. I also know many Bahá’ís who are vegetarian and vegan. It is a personal choice as to how one chooses to eat although in the Baha’i Faith it states the importance of vegetarianism and that one day most of the world will be vegetarian.
  • Sammy the Cat
    Mar 9, 2017
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    The ego and the Id, part of the psyche of animals, yet this writing admonishes humans from that realm. If you are going to prognosticate the Morals of how we should treat animals perhaps more should be communicated to the Baha'i community on readings of vegetarianism at feasts. I've seen humans that lack the "intellect" you ascribe to transcendence, does that mean they don't have souls? The problem with this belief is the anthropomorphization of god and separating humans from animals. Just turn on the news for a few minutes to get yourself back to this planet. The statements have ...a lot of logical flaws, so what you are asking people to do is haven blind faith that the Baha'i writings are correct about animals souls.
    Read more...
    • Cory Churko
      Sep 27, 2019
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      I thought the same thing reading this. There are many people born with the inability to contemplate a god or their own existence. By bahai logic they wouldn't have a soul? And what about science? Go way back in evolution before homo sapien to when the earliest hominid appeared. Was there a moment where the first hominid considered their existence and POOF they suddenly had a soul? Did that hominid look at his buddies who had yet to have that revelation and shake his head in pity that they wouldn't have an afterlife? There is no proof that any of ...us have souls.
      Read more...
  • Ernestas Radvila
    Mar 8, 2017
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    It is really, really annoying. I want simple answer, yes or no. Yet page after page bothers me with exhaustive explanations who in the end does not say anything. I hate this type of writing. Be specific. Make your point at the start and then explain.
  • Ruby Jorma Love
    Oct 1, 2016
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    I can't believe that this is all there is to the subject. How can heaven be wonderful if it doesn't contain my old dog chewy? I doubt it can be wonderful without chewy. So, heaven is not wonderful. Well there goes that.
    • Don Boykin
      Jan 15, 2020
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      For me one interesting aspect of the Writings is "...everyone must independently investigate truth for himself". A person should not rely on the expressions of other individuals because brain washing has brought humanity to its knees with misguided thinking/acting. The Writings share a whole new understanding of ethnicity, gender, equality between women and men, a preference for girls education first as opposed to boys, thinking of earth as one country and a host of other much needed social milestones for foster peace, unity, justice and love towards everyone on the planet. Reading only articles will not render justice to a ...reality of "The Hidden Words" - Baha'u'llah, giving insight to mysteries/realities.
      Read more...
    • Don Boykin
      Jan 15, 2020
      -
      Hi Ruby, for me one interesting aspects of the Baha'i Writings is "...everyone must independently investigate truth for himself". A person should not rely on the expressions of other individuals because brain washing has brought humanity to its knees with misguided thinking/acting. The Baha'i Writings share a whole new understanding of ethnicity, gender, equality between women and men, a preference for girls education first as opposed to boys, thinking of earth as one country and a host of other much needed social milestones for foster peace, unity, justice and love towards everyone on the planet. Reading only articles will not ...render justice to a reality of "The Hidden Words" - Baha'u'llah, giving insight to mysteries/realities.
      Read more...
  • Brian Crenna
    Aug 10, 2016
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    I will not remain in any afterlife that doesn't admit my dog, who is, spiritually, far superior to me in most ways. Either the Baha'i Faith is wrong, or I'll take the first exit available from the wretched realm it envisions.
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