Position of the Animal in Buddhism By Gerhard Weissgrab

A Dharma look at the animals

“Compassion and Wisdom” is not only the subject of this publication, but also the shortest explanation of Dharma. Precisely because compassion and wisdom is the Buddhist perspective, the treatment of animals in our world should also be shaped by it.

But if we take a close look, we have to realize that there is far too little contact with animals, which is supported by compassion and wisdom. Unfortunately, this also applies to most Buddhist countries.

Nevertheless, or precisely for this reason, in my understanding Buddhists have a special obligation to stand up for the recognition of animals as sentient beings. The supreme maxim of the Buddha’s teaching is to reduce and dissolve existing suffering and not to allow new suffering to arise.


With regard to suffering, there is no difference at all between humans and animals from a Buddhist point of view. Both have a primary need to avoid suffering and to achieve wellbeing.


This position of animals is a point of difference in the comparison of Buddhism with the monotheistic religions. However I would like to mention here that for example in Christianity the attitude towards animals has also slowly changed, not only by the current Pope, but also by outstanding individual theologians. Nonetheless, the majority of people still claim the right to subjugate the Earth, understanding themselves to be the crown of creation. This is probably one reason for the exploitation of the Earth, our increasing environmental problems and not least the position of animals. Here I would like to refer to the very revealing concept of “productive livestock”.


The undesirable developments mentioned above can also very easily be derived from the Second Noble Truth. Above all, greed is the main driving force behind our economic activity, and a blind view of the unavoidable consequences of such actions.

While this action usually leads immediately to the suffering of animals, this suffering usually only comes later and often more indirectly to humans. I may just mention the harmful ingredients in our daily food.

The chain of such unbeneficial developments could probably be continued for a long time. I refer to diets foreign to the species for farm animals, which lead to epidemics as well as torturous ways of selection in breeding, for instance with dairy cows and chickens for better production, and not least the terrible ways animals are transported over thousands of kilometres.

The reason that it is precisely in the Buddha’s teaching that a particularly great task and high responsibility is established for us here lies not only in the equality of man and animal in their ability to suffer. This responsibility is also based on the Buddhist worldview of mutual conditionality.


If we see a need for action here, it is not enough to confine ourselves to dissolving and preventing the suffering of animals. We have to think everything else in the same way. It is not about a confrontational attitude, perpetrators here and victims there, but about both the one and the other.

If we want to reduce the suffering of livestock in agriculture in the future and end it completely in the long run, we must look at the whole system. It is about the farmer, his animals and the entire agricultural economy.

Buddhism as a middle way does not establish any extreme points of view. An action from the middle position must always have the consequences on the whole in view. This is certainly a difficult path, but we can assume that it is also sustainable.

In my opinion, it is part of a committed Buddhism to care not only for the suffering and needs of people, but also in the same way for animals. Quite apart from the fact that concern for the environment as a whole is a basic prerequisite for a good life for humans and animals.


The Austrian Buddhist Union has been trying to fulfil this task for many years with the help of various networks and associations.

Since the visit of a monk from Taiwan who travels around the world to help animals in particular, we have also founded our own association for a direct commitment to animals: “Animal Compassion” – Buddhist Association for the perception of animals as sentient beings – www.animalcompassion.de

We see it as one of our most important tasks, especially from a Buddhist point of view, to strengthen consciousness in our society of the different ways our lifestyles cause great suffering to animals. There are excellent animal protection organisations which rescue and free animals from painful situations with direct activities. We also try to do this on a very small scale, but see our main task in the work of raising awareness and promoting attention in our society.

Animal Compassion has also defined the following goals, which could certainly still grow:

The promotion of awareness in society that animals as well as humans are perceived equally as sentient beings. This support takes place in various ways, including in the form of contributions in the media and through public events.

To enable as many needy animals as possible, within the scope of the means and possibilities of “Animal Compassion”, to live a good life, free of suffering in accordance with their species.

Should people with pets find themselves in financial distress and therefore not able to give their pets the necessary veterinary treatment, we try to help as best we can.

“Animal Compassion” wants to pick people up where they stand and rejects all radical or extreme actions as not effective. This means aligning the work with given realities. Wherever animals are not given their proper dignity, because they have been exploited by humans for many centuries and in accordance with the particular culture, the particular situation of these people must also be considered and taken into account. This does not mean accepting the animals’ abuse by humans, but calls for a greater effort to strengthen their awareness of the suffering of animals.

Assistance and shared commitment to achieve these goals by people from all directions is highly desirable and worth striving for.

Animal Compassion’s work and commitment to the animal is particularly founded and motivated by the Dharma. But that does not mean it is the only source. Fortunately, there are many sources for commitment and empathy with animals, and even where the Dharma is unknown, there are many people who care for animals. A look into the eyes of an animal can often trigger more than long sermons or articles.

The association “Animal Compassion” has therefore also set itself the goal of working with all people who are committed to engage against the suffering and for the welfare of the animals. I would like to point out the two books at the end of this article written by two members of our advisory board. Both are not fundamentally based on the teachings of the Buddha and are nevertheless in full harmony with the Buddhist attitude towards animals. Unfortunately, both books have been published in German only.

May it be possible to change the intercourse and the attitude of our society toward animals so that suffering is reduced and wellbeing is promoted. Ultimately for the benefit of all sentient beings!

Books to read:
Theresia Raberger – „Alles ist ein Leben“ – edition steinrich
Kurt Remele – „Die Würde des Tieres ist unantastbar“ Eine neue christliche Tierethik – Butzon & Berker