Disease and Animal Rights

The gulf between animal exploitation and animal kinship, and between animal abuse and animal liberation, is fundamentally a spiritual one. This gulf was created by human ignorance and egotism. It was sanctified by anthropocentric, patriarchal and fatalistic (karmic) religious traditions, both East and West, lacking in active compassion and responsive reverence toward all creatures and Creation. And it became the norm through the “Enlightenment” worldviews of dualistic (Manichean and Cartesian) and mechanistic (Newtonian) thinking, the empirical sciences of materialism, and through the perverted Darwinism of industrialism and colonialism and by contemporary scientific and economic determinism.

This same gulf lies between both our concepts of health and disease and of healthy or diseased conditions.

A first step toward health is to examine our diseased relationships and to restore these sacred connections. Then our dis-ease will gradually become transformed into a condition of ease – of equanimity, openness, vitality, and spontaneity to fully experience the joys and tribulations of existence. In the wisdom of the open heart, where suffering and love are inter-twined, wellness means wholeness; oneness leads to wholeness; wholeness leads to holiness – the conscious apprehension of the Sacred.

Richard Brooks has translated a relevant passage from the TaoTe Ching written by the Chinese philosopher LaoTzu over 2,500 years ago:

I have three treasures that I hold and cherish:

The first is compassion (or deep love) (tz’u),

The second is frugality,

The third is not presuming to be first in the world.

Being compassionate, one can be courageous;

Being frugal, one can be generous;

Not presuming to be first in the world, one can become a leader (or minister).

Now, trying to be courageous without compassion,

Trying to be generous without frugality,

And trying to be a leader without humility

Is sure to end in death.

For compassion brings triumph in attack and strength in defense.

What Heaven wishes to preserve it surrounds with compassion. [Ch.67]

The absence of the Sacred, evident in a lack of reverence for life, is a societal norm today, and so long as this gulf persists between those who see life as a commodity, a means to an end for human gain, and those who would treat all life with respect, including the natural environment, and speak for animal rights, we and the world will never be well. And no amount of experimentation on animals in biomedical research laboratories will get rid of our dis-ease.

As we “evolved” from being gatherer-hunters, domesticating plants and animals and becoming sedentary, agrarian, and increasingly urban and industrial, we also became increasingly disconnected (and disoriented) from the natural world. As a consequence we began to devolve, as Charles Darwin implied in his book The Descent of Man, losing some of our sympathetic abilities and empathic wisdom that enabled us to engage in a degree of resonance or inter-subjective communication with other living beings that to our diminished sensibilities and rational empiricism of today seems mystical or psychic.

Anthropologist Prof. M. Guenther describes such resonance in the African Bushman that I believe is an innate or inborn ability of our species. Considering the fact that for some 95-98 percent of our time on Earth as humans we were gatherer-hunters, this ability may not be lost and could be restored. Sometimes while treating sick animals and in making a diagnosis I have felt pain or discomfort in parts of my own body that correspond to the animal’s illness or injury.

Prof. Guenther writes:

“Throughout the hunt the hunter would monitor his every thought, emotion and action, in order to sustain the bond of connectedness with the animal by which he felt he could steer the hunt towards an auspicious conclusion…The bond of sympathy was something set up in the hours or days preceding the hunt, when the hunters would attune themselves spiritually to one animal species or another and, in the process, attempt to gather whatever presentiments they could about the impending hunt: the animals they might encounter, the direction they could come from, the likely dangers, the duration of the hunt. These presentiments…activated the hunter’s entire body; they were felt at his ribs, his back, his calves, his face and eyes. His body would be astir with the ‘antelope sensation’, at places on his body corresponding with those of the antelope’s.”

If we are to “evolve” we must regain a heightened sensitivity for fellow creatures and the living Earth, for when we harm others and the Earth, we harm ourselves. Part of our healing and wholeness therefore involves our nascent ability to empathize, and we must have the courage to suffer in the process, before we can put compassion into action and truly love.