Do Animals Have Souls?

Originally published in VegNews Magazine, February 2003

By Dr. Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

There is a hot-selling book by Gary Zukav, entitled Seat of the Soul, which is highly esteemed and discussed by many people who consider themselves progressive, open-minded, and spiritually aware. Someone gave me a copy recently, and I browsed through it. When I came to the chapter entitled “Souls,” I was disturbed by Zukav’s proclamation that only humans have individual souls, and that every animal is part of what he refers to as the “group soul” of its species. “Each human being has a soul. The journey toward individual soulhood is what distinguishes the human kingdom from the animal kingdom. Animals do not have individual souls. They have group souls. Each cat is a part of the group soul of cat, and so on.” He also says that there is a hierarchy within the group souls of animals, and that dolphins and apes are higher than dogs which are higher than horses, and so forth. He offers no evidence, though, for his hypotheses.

This book appears to be another wave in the sea of literature our culture has produced that tries to justify humanity’s abuse of animals on spiritual grounds. Readers of Zukav’s book are no-doubt comforted knowing that the chicken, fish, cow, or pig they are eating or wearing was not really an individual with a soul, but just an expression of its species’ “group soul.” It seems unfortunate and ironic that this national bestseller which purports to elucidate spirituality and raise consciousness actually does the opposite, deadening its readers’ sensibilities and blinding them to the reality of the suffering that individual animals experience because we reduce them to objects, mere fractions of a hypothetical “group soul.”

It harkens back to an earlier era in this country, when similar wording was used by religious leaders, Bibles in hand, proclaiming that black people had no individual souls, that they merely had a group soul. It harkens back also to Thomas Aquinas who, a thousand years ago, proclaimed that animals have no souls, nor do women have souls. Though women were granted souls, it appears that those in power decide who have souls, for their own purposes.

Voltaire wisely said, “If we believe absurdities, we will commit atrocities.” Culture is the product of conversations. I urge all vegans to speak up and to reject the absurdities like Zukav’s that parade as spirituality. To stop the atrocities, we must awaken from these best-selling and comforting rationalizations and challenge the ingrained cultural notions. These less-known words by Swami Prabhupada reveal an alternative to Zukav.

“Some people say, ‘we believe that animals have no soul.’ That is not correct. They believe animals have no soul because they want to eat the animals, but actually animals do have a soul.”

Reporter: “How do you know that the animal has a soul?”

Prabhupada: “You can know, also. Here is the scientific proof. The animal is eating, you are eating; the animal is sleeping, you are sleeping; the animal is defending, you are defending; the animal is having sex, you are having sex; the animals have children, you have children; you have a living place, they have a living place. If the animal’s body is cut, there is blood; if your body is cut, there is blood. So all these similarities are there. Now why do you deny this one similarity, the presence of the soul? That is not logical. You have studied logic? In logic there is something called analogy. Analogy means drawing a conclusion by finding many points of similarity. If there are so many points of similarity between human beings and animals, why deny one similarity? That is not logic. That is not science.”

The great philosopher Schopenhauer, in criticizing how some Christians treat animals, wrote, “Shame on such a morality that fails to recognize the eternal essence that exists in every living thing, and shines forth with inscrutable significance from all eyes that see the sun.” All of us are celebrations of infinite mysterious Spirit, deserving of honor and respect.

Will Tuttle, Ph.D., composer, pianist, Zen priest, and author of The World Peace Diet, is cofounder of Karuna Music & Art and of the Prayer Circle for Animals and Circle of Compassion ministry.

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