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May 22, 2011

Question: Are our family pets “spiritual beings"?

 The Bahá’í teachings emphasize that we must show kindness to animals: “Then, O ye friends of God! Ye must not only have kind and merciful feelings for mankind, but ye should also exercise the utmost kindness towards every living creature. The physical sensibilities and instincts are common to animal and man …. Cruelty to the animal is more painful because man has a tongue and he sighs, complains and groans when he receives an injury and complains to the government and the government protects him from cruelty … Educate the children in their infancy in such a way that they may become exceedingly kind and merciful to the animals” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 373).

We all know from personal experience that animals have feelings. They are capable of showing a variety of “emotions.” Dogs and cats, for example, show affection, excitement, fear, shame, alarm, desire, anger, loyalty, contentment and so forth.

But spiritual beings? Animals are spiritual in the broadest sense, if by “spiritual” one simply means alive, i.e. that all things live and move through the power of the Spirit. Reincarnationists — Bahá’ís are not among them — believe that some animals embody the human spirit as it works out its karma through the various cycles of reincarnation (Samsara). Some people believe that they communicate telepathically with their pets, thinking them to be so highly intelligent that the animal communicates thoughts, although animals do not speak and thoughts cannot be imagined without words.

But if by “spiritual beings” the question implies that pets have immortal souls, I find no statement in the Bahá’í sacred writings that would substantiate this belief. The station of immortality is reserved for the soul of the faithful believer. Bahá’u’lláh affirms that the soul is “ … the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to His truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him” (Gleanings, p. 158).

A non-authoritative oral report exists that an individual asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son and successor of the Prophet-Founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), if animals would attain heaven. “No,” he reportedly said. “Their heaven is to be well treated while they are on earth.” - Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen May 22, 2011
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