Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

What the Animals Taught

Oxford University Press, 2017 264 pages; $35

In his great poem, “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman reflects:

I think I could turn and live with animals,
they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

Like many of the Transcendentalists,, it is evident that the Buddhist view of animals is quite different from Whitman’s: “to be an animal in a Buddhist cosmos is to live a miserable and pathetic existence, to suffer intensely, to lack the intelligence that makes spiritual progress possible, and to die in a state of abject terror, with little hope of ever attaining a higher rebirth (let alone nirvana).”

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