Blavatsky on Animal Rights

Buddha and Animals

“Genuine unselfish LOVE combined with WILL, is a “power” in itself. They who love animals ought to show that affection in a more efficient way than by covering their pets with ribbons and sending them to howl and scratch at the prize exhibitions.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “Why Do Animals Suffer?”

In the recent article titled The Theosophical View of Meat and Alcohol, it was explained that Theosophy teaches that the eating of meat is detrimental to human beings in various ways, not to mention it also being unnecessary and an act of abuse against our younger brothers and sisters of the animal kingdom.

In her lengthy article “Have Animals Souls?” however, Madame Blavatsky went further into some aspects of the matter than she did in her book “The Key to Theosophy.” In explaining the purpose of this article, published in “The Theosophist” magazine in 1886, she says:

“Though but a feeble attempt – one more elaborate would require volumes – the present Essay … aims at convincing people of the great criminality of taking – especially in sport and vivisection – animal life.”

So, according to HPB, it is actually a great crime to deprive animals of their life and most especially when this is done for the mere sake of so-called “sport” or “entertainment.” The article begins by saying –

“Many are the “antiquated religious superstitions” of the East which Western nations often and unwisely deride: but none is so laughed at and practically set at defiance as the great respect of Oriental people for animal life. Flesh-eaters cannot sympathize with total abstainers from meat. We Europeans are nations of civilized barbarians with but a few millenniums between ourselves and our cave-dwelling forefathers who sucked the blood and marrow from uncooked bones. Thus, it is only natural that those who hold human life so cheaply in their frequent and often iniquitous wars, should entirely disregard the death-agonies of the brute creation, and daily sacrifice millions of innocent, harmless lives; for we are too epicurean to devour tiger steaks or crocodile cutlets, but must have tender lambs and golden feathered pheasants. … Nor is it a matter of great wonder that the hardy European should laugh at the mild Hindu, who shudders at the bare thought of killing a cow, or that he should refuse to sympathize with the Buddhist and Jain, in their respect for the life of every sentient creature – from the elephant to the gnat.”

Acknowledging – although not agreeing with or sanctioning – the plea made by many Westerners that “meat-eating has become a vital necessity” for their physical constitution and health, regardless of the fact that it means “hosts of victims in every city, borough and village of the civilized world must needs be daily slaughtered in temples dedicated to the deity, denounced by St. Paul and worshipped by men “whose God is their belly”,” she continues “Who can urge the same excuse for sport?”

“Fishing, shooting, and hunting, the most fascinating of all the “amusements” of civilized life – are certainly the most objectionable from the standpoint of occult philosophy, the most sinful in the eyes of the followers of those religious systems which are the direct outcome of the Esoteric Doctrine – Hinduism and Buddhism. Is it altogether without any good reason that the adherents of these two religions, now the oldest in the world, regard the animal world – from the huge quadruped down to the infinitesimally small insect – as their “younger brothers,” however ludicrous the idea to a European?”

In a later article, titled “Why Do Animals Suffer?” HPB writes that “It may be useful, if once more disagreeable, to some religionists to be told that the blame for this universal suffering [of animals at the hands of men] falls entirely upon our Western religion and early education. Every philosophical Eastern system, every religion and sect in antiquity – the Brahmanical, Egyptian, Chinese and finally, the purest as the noblest of all the existing systems of ethics, Buddhism – inculcates kindness and protection to every living creature, from animal and bird down to the creeping thing and even the reptile. Alone, our Western religion stands in its isolation, as a monument of the most gigantic human selfishness ever evolved by human brain, without one word in favour of, or for the protection of the poor animal. Quite the reverse. For theology, underlining a sentence in the Jehovistic chapter of “Creation,” interprets it as a proof that animals, as all the rest, were created for man! Ergo – sport has become one of the noblest amusements of the upper ten. Hence – poor innocent birds wounded, tortured and killed every autumn by the million, all over the Christian countries, for man’s recreation. Hence also, unkindness, often cold-blooded cruelty, during the youth of horse and bullock, brutal indifference to its fate when age has rendered it unfit for work, and ingratitude after years of hard labour for, and in the service of man. In whatever country the European steps in, there begins the slaughter of the animals and their useless decimation.”

In “Have Animals Souls?” HPB continues by informing the reader that “In ancient Sparta – than whose stern citizens none were ever less sensitive to the delicate feelings of the human heart – a boy, when convicted of torturing an animal for amusement, was put to death as one whose nature was so thoroughly villainous that he could not be permitted to live. But in civilized Europe – rapidly progressing in all things save Christian virtues – might remains unto this day the synonym of right.”

“The entirely useless, cruel practice of shooting for mere sport countless hosts of birds and animals is nowhere carried on with more fervour than in Protestant England, where the merciful teachings of Christ have hardly made human hearts softer than they were in the days of Nimrod, “the might hunter before the Lord.” Christian ethics are as conveniently turned into paradoxical syllogisms as those of the “heathen.” The writer was told one day by a sportsman that since “not a sparrow falls on the ground without the will of the Father,” he who kills for sport – say, one hundred sparrows – does thereby one hundred times over – his Father’s will!”

We regret to say that it is just about every form of Christianity or Christian-based form of spirituality which resorts to great lengths of sophistry in order to defend and support the practice of killing animals and eating their corpses.

To give just two examples, the New Thought movement (of which the two main branches are the Unity School of Practical Christianity and Religious Science or Science of Mind) and “A Course in Miracles” (ACIM for short) both have the Oneness and Divineness of all life as their central teaching, which they constantly emphasise, along with stressing the importance of compassion, peace, love, and so forth. The New Thought people teach that the Bible is to be understood esoterically rather than literally and that God is not an anthropomorphic entity or a personal Being but rather an impersonal and universal divine Principle and they are fond of such admirable catchphrases as “God is all there is,” “There is nothing but God,” and “Only God exists.”

Yet despite these apparent beliefs and convictions, the vast majority of the adherents of these philosophies are keen meat eaters and view vegetarianism as pointless and unnecessary. We have even known of Unity members who take peculiar delight in talking about their “great cravings” for meat and others who – in spite of ostensibly holding to the views and beliefs outlined above – give as their excuse for meat eating that “God hasn’t yet told me to become a vegetarian so it obviously isn’t His will for me to do so,” “The Bible tells us that Jesus multiplied the fishes in order to feed the thousands,” and “It says in Genesis that God gave us dominion over all the animals.”

It is interesting to note the rapidity and ease with which such people can revert back to traditional, literalist, and anthropomorphic approaches to religion whenever it suits them!

Another view commonly espoused by the New Thought and ACIM people – amongst many others – is that “human teeth wouldn’t be the way they are if human beings weren’t meant to eat meat.” Interested to know the view of an Indian holy man on this matter, H.P. Blavatsky raised the point with him and, as she tells us in her fascinating and entertaining Indian travelogue “From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan” – “He replied by quoting almost entire chapters from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. “It is not true,” argued he, “that the first men were born with canine teeth. It was only in the course of time, with the degradation of humanity, and when it developed an appetite for flesh food, that the jaws began gradually to change under the influence of necessity, until finally their original shape was entirely altered.”

Amongst the millions of followers of evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity, however, we find many who are quite literally opposed to vegetarianism and who both privately and openly criticise and ridicule those who choose to abstain from eating meat or who object to hunting and killing animals for sport.

HPB goes on: “The meat-eater, the sportsman and even the vivisector – if there are among the last named those who believe in special creation and the Bible – generally quote for their justification that verse in Genesis, in which God gives dual Adam – “dominion over the fish, fowl, cattle, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” – (Ch. I., v. 28); hence – as the Christian understands it – power of life and death over every animal on the globe.”

“If it is quite true that God gave dual Adam – the “male and female” of Chapter I of Genesis – who has little to do with our henpecked ancestor of Chapter II – “dominion over every living thing,” yet we nowhere find that the “Lord God” commanded that Adam or the other to devour animal creation or destroy it for sport. Quite the reverse. For pointing to the vegetable kingdom and the “fruit of a tree yielding seed” – God says very plainly: “to you (men) it shall be for meat.” (I, 29.)”

To quote that verse – Genesis 1:29 – in its entirety: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” Nowhere in the Creation story is God recorded as informing man that he has the right to kill the animals for his food. Surely for a Biblical literalist that one of the Ten Commandments which states, unequivocally and without any qualification, “Thou shalt not kill,” should suffice in this matter. But if we think so, we are underestimating the power and strange nature of the fundamentalist mentality.

HPB also quotes in her article from the words recorded in Ecclesiastes, a scripture attributed by Christians to “Solomon, the king and preacher, [who] is most decidedly an authority and admitted on all hands to have been the wisest of the Biblical sages.” In Ecclesiastes 3:19 we find Solomon saying, “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast.”

Thus, according to the book considered by the Christians as “the holy and infallible Word of God,” both man and animal are of one and the same breath and man has no pre-eminence over the animals.

Yet such is the questionable nature and frequently ambiguous tone of the Bible that anyone can make it say whatever they want it to say and doubtless there are many who have read this verse in Ecclesiastes and managed to interpret it in a different light or explain it away on some other grounds. Nevertheless, “so keen was the perception of this truth among the early Christians that during the first centuries they never touched meat. In Octavio Tertullian writes to Minutius Felix: “we are not permitted either to witness, or even hear narrated (novere) a homicide, we Christians, who refuse to taste dishes in which animal blood may have been mixed”.”

HPB explains that according to the Theosophical teaching, “evolution starts to mould future humanities within the lowest scales of being. Therefore, by killing an animal, or even an insect, we arrest the progress of an entity towards its final goal in nature – MAN.” She says we may “add that it not only retards the evolution of that entity, but arrests that of the next succeeding human and more perfect race to come.”

So, killing animals not only hinders the evolutionary progress of the animal kingdom but also the evolutionary progress of the human kingdom.

How can human souls reasonably expect to continue evolving, unfolding, and advancing ever onward, ever upward, and ever Godward (or spiritward), as long as they feel justified in taking the precious life of other sentient beings and especially those who are powerless to defend themselves? In one of her messages to the convention of American Theosophists (see the booklet “Five Messages from H.P. Blavatsky to the American Theosophists”) HPB quoted the words of one of the Masters, who chided the Theosophists by calling them “men of the West, who would play at being the Saviours of mankind before they even spare the life of a mosquito whose sting threatens them!”

We members of the human kingdom, who have no qualms about depriving members of the animal kingdom below us of their life, ought to count ourselves very fortunate that the members of the spiritual kingdom above us do not treat us in the same way! But herein lies an important lesson: those celestial and divine beings – which Theosophy calls the Dhyan Chohans – could never have risen to their present state had they never risen completely above that violent and aggressive behaviour which sadly typifies humanity.

HPB makes another definite and important statement in “Have Animals Souls?” when she says, “it is a sin against nature’s work and progress to kill any living being.”

It is important that we reiterate what was said in The Theosophical View of Meat and Alcohol, that Theosophy does not judge or condemn individuals for their choices and actions. It firmly believes and teaches that those who judge other people will themselves be judged, as a necessity under the Law of Karma. Taking the only safe and compassionate approach – an impersonal one – it is wrong and harmful ideas, concepts, beliefs, and modes of thought and action, which Theosophy challenges and fights against.

Closing her article, which in more recent times has been highly praised by animal rights campaigners, HPB writes, “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 shameful practices.”

Yet in the meantime, “The writer is not simple enough to imagine, that a whole British Museum filled with works against meat diet, would have the effect of stopping civilized nations from having slaughter-houses, or of making them renounce their beefsteak and Christmas goose.” But why is this? “It is the pernicious system of theology, long centuries of theocracy, and the ferocious, ever-increasing selfishness in the Western civilized countries. What can we do?”

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