Is compassion only for humans?

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JUDITH POLSTON is a member of Mercy for Animals. She gives us a broader and encompassing vision of compassion, and asks some challenging questions.

Compassion is when we have sympathy and concern about another’s suffering and misfortunes. When we feel heartbroken by another person’s misery we may instantly want to act to relieve their pain. And compassion is about ‘action’; it is not just being empathetic. How do we really know if we have real compassion? What comes first – love or compassion? How are they intertwined?

One of my spiritual Guides gives a hint when he says: “Love has to be compassionate. It cannot have joy at somebody else’s suffering. Love, compassion and mercy are not three different things. Love in action is mercy and compassion.”

Spiritual growth brings us to our original state, which is pure love, and in this state compassion and mercy are automatically felt for the sufferings of others. And this extends to animals as well as humans. Animals have souls and need our protection. Any dog or cat owner will tell you with conviction that their animals have feelings and connect with them on a soul level. Scientific studies show that elephants, birds, chimpanzees, giraffes, cows and sheep mourn their dead and feel suffering. The paradox is: we love our pets, yet we eat other animals.

Due to the worldwide practices of factory farming, animals are sometimes raised in torturous conditions only to meet violent deaths to feed humans. In 2001, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that 45 billion animals were slaughtered worldwide for human consumption. This figure has risen to 55 billion in 2017, and it does not include the tons of fish that are killed for the same purpose each year. Some of these animals don’t even make it to the slaughterhouse, as they die prematurely from stress, disease, handling, transportation and deprivation.

All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death.
All love life.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?
He who seeks happiness By hurting those who seek happiness
Will never find happiness.
For your brother is like you.
He wants to be happy.
Never harm him
And when you leave this life
You too will find happiness.
Dhammapada 129-130, translated by Thomas Byrom

While many of us are vegetarian, dairy foods and eggs are still often part of our diet. Cows are artificially impregnated many times in their shortened lifespan, just to give milk. We human beings are the only species that consume the milk of another species. The calves are not only deprived of milk, but they are taken away from their mothers within one to three days after birth to be slaughtered for veal. Chickens and pigs live in terrible environments and die painful deaths for us to have bacon and eggs in the morning.

Animals, like us, are living souls.
They are not things.
They are not objects.
Neither are they human.
Yet they mourn. They love.
They dance. They suffer.
They know the peaks and chasms of being.
 Gary Kowalski

This information, while hard to hear, is important to know in order to change our eating habits and lifestyle. An ancient Vedic teaching, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning ‘One World, One Family’, tells us to love and respect all human beings, animals, trees, rivers and mountains as one. Ahimsa (non-violence) is an important virtue: to avoid harming all living creatures.

So are we really compassionate, merciful human beings? As we evolve, are we sensitive enough to the killing of other beings? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service; Animal Aid;jsessionid=B43 CBA0870DEE9DEB97C2983484B17D1?pageId=10079&ca tId=5


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  1. Thanks, I mean it

  2. A profound article which creates ponderance as to the ultimate compassion. Reverence for all lives is the underlying component of this state. Thanks Judith.

  3. Resonate with the essence of this article.
    Changing human nature towards Nature is the way of peace.
    Compassion for all!

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