Many people believe that animals cannot become enlightened. Though we say that Truth dwells in the heart of all, many think that only human beings have the intellect and the faculty of discrimination in thought and action that leads to awakening.
Enlightenment is not of mind or form. It is an experience. Ah. I am suddenly aware of the presence. Nothing will ever be the same, though all is exactly the same. Ah. I am one with all. There is no separation. This is perhaps a taste of what it can be like, without having these thoughts in the mind. Awakening does not depend on mind. It is not necessarily the outcome of certain thought processes or studies, though of course, it can be. In fact, in the state of samadhi or nirvana, or no state, there is no body, mind, or separate individual.
Animals can and do become aware, absorbed by the presence, through proximity. Grace is contagious. It is important to acknowledge the capacity for all beings to awaken, and so to treat all with equal respect and kindness. This is true not only with regard to animals but with anyone we meet. It is important to bow down and to be of service to the best of our capacity. Not to think ourselves superior or inferior, but simply to be one.
We can let ourselves be nourished by the basic goodness of whomever we encounter on this journey into light. Each being we meet is a gift, divine prasad, and we too are this gift. When we treat each other like this, we begin to awaken, to become that Truth.
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Before the Lakota people enter the inipi, or sweat lodge, they bow down to kiss the earth. They say, Aho, Mitakuye Oyasin.
Mitakuye Oyasin is the recognition of all living beings, from our human brothers and sisters, to the trees, to the animals, as our relations. To all my relations, I bow.
More and more over the months, stories have arisen about how animals are being treated behind closed doors. It is as if the animals were asking for help. They are sending their message to us. They are sending this message from the laboratory, from the factory farm, and from wherever else they are being born into unrelenting suffering.
I will say first that the animals are completely defenseless against this kind of treatment. It is thereby, up to each one of us to liberate them. If not us, then who?
Moreover, there are no higher or lower beings in this world. In fact, if some appear to have less of a capacity to help themselves, then it is our responsiblity to protect them. To make sure that their rights are respected.
This holds true not only for your dog, cat, or pet iguana, but for any sentient being who would otherwise be living freely.
I will speak specifically about what goes on in laboratories, as these are the stories that have arisen. Somehow, in the laboratory, good people, loving parents and spouses, people with a devoted spiritual practice, are disconnecting from their innate values of kindness and compassion. Perhaps an experiment becomes so clinical that there is no sense of the animal as being anything more than “the subject,” or simply an object. There is the forgetting that this animal has the same capacity for physical and emotional pain that you or I do. That this animal has the same right to joy and freedom.
I understand that many believe in the benefits of animal testing for medical research. I am not going to address that topic at this time. All will agree, however, that our animal brothers and sisters need to be protected from experiments that cause needless suffering and prove nothing.
I will now share two stories as examples of this.
“Did you know,” a researcher said, “that if you give mice free access to cocaine, they will cease all normal activity, like eating or sleeping? They will just sniff again and again at the cocaine. They don’t know any better than to keep sniffing until they drop dead.”
Someone else shared the story of studying the connection between the brain and the eyes. In an experiment he performed, he removed a frog’s eyes so that he could practice reconnecting them. To make the experiment more interesting, he replaced the frog’s eyes upside down.
Please, do not do this to our animal brothers and sisters. They feel pain and emotion in the same way that we do. As does any sentient being, they have the right to be free.
Raising awareness is the first step in making change. We can all work together to be the Great Liberator.
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha
An Open Letter from Swamini Sri Lalitambika Devi
December 1, 2009