"All the World's a Stage We Pass Through" – R. Ayana
Tuesday, 14 June 2016
Prominent Scientists Declare “All Non Human Animals… Are Conscious Beings.”
Prominent Scientists Declare “All Non Human Animals… Are
The Dalai Lama Protests Chicken
Slaughter. An Orangutan Won Non-Human Rights Over Zoo Keeper.
What Do the Teachers Say About
international group of cognitive neuroscientists and other experts made a
strong declaration, endorsed by Stephen Hawking, affirming that all “nonhuman animals…
including octopuses” are sentient and feel emotions such as fear and happiness.
In Argentina, an orangutan won non-human rights against his zoo-keeper.
Recently, in the news, a monkey won the rights to a selfie photo over the owner
of the camera.
a monkey won the rights to a selfie photo over the owner of the camera.
in non-human rights begs the question, from a Buddhist perspective, when we
promise to liberate all sentient beings — or not to kill — just who do we
include? If our definition includes all beings down to insects and octopuses,
how do we reconcile our dependence on “lower” beings for survival?
teachers are speaking out on non-human sentience and unnecessary suffering for
these beings. When the Dalai Lama famously protested “cruelty to chickens” in
2012, it was inspired by an abundance of compassion (see “Dalai Lama and
Chickens” below). How does the “Cambridge Declaration” from an international
group of prominent scientists, stating that even octopuses feel emotions,
change our view? More importantly, what do our teacher’s say? To help
provide insight, we collected teachings from the Buddha, the Dalai
Lama, Bikkhu Bodhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, Karma Lekshe Tsomo,
Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kyabje Chatral Sangye Rinpoche, Geshe Thubten Soepa, and,
of course, Stephen Hawking and the Cambridge Scientists.
such as the Dalai Lama (centre) and Lama Zopa Rinpoche (right) teach compassion
to non-humans and promote vegetarianism. Left, Ani Ngawang Samten.
Buddha: First Precept
“Abstain from Taking Life”
Buddhists, who promise to Liberate All Sentient Beings” are often vegetarian
out of compassion for the suffering of non-human beings—to fulfill Bodhisattva
vow and the first precept of Buddha not to kill. For others, it is often
convenient to avoid the topic, since we are often brought up culturally to
accept the necessary killing of animals for survival.
first precept in Pali reads: “Panatipata verami sikkhapadam samadiyami” which
translates more-or-less as: “I undertake the training rule to abstain from
taking life.” For many, this meant human life. For others, particularly Zen
Buddhists, it meant any breathing creature.
monk shares a tender moment with a non-human. Zen and Mahayana Buddhists
particularly avoid meat.
Declaration: “Human’s not unique in possessing … consciousness.”
evidence indicates that non-human animals have the
neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious
states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.
Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in
possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals,
including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses,
also possess these neurological substrates.” — The Cambridge Declaration on
Consciousness (See full text of official declaration at bottom of this
scientists demonstrated that emotions and decision-making develop in all life
forms down to cephalopod mollusks. Even Steven Hawking and other giants
endorsed the declaration, titled “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.”
Issued by a prominent group of neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, cognitive
neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists and computational neuroscientists — this
statement leaves little wiggle room for diminishing levels of compassion for
“lower” life forms. [To read the full declaration, the PDF is available for download
here>>] (View the
video from Stephen Hawking on the sentience of lower animals, embedded below)
Stephen Hawking and Non-Human Consciousness
On the heels of this declaration, an orangutan in an Argentinian zoo won
non-human personhood rights in a fight to determine if it had been unlawfully
deprived of it’s freedom. Also, the credit for the “selfie” at the top of our
feature is under legal review to determine whether the monkey or the owner
of the camera deserved the credit. 
related story, Professor Marc Bekoff wrote in Psychology Today: “We know, for
example, that mice, rats, and chickens display empathy…” Which brings us to
chickens and the Dalai Lama.
Dalai Lama protested chicken cruelty and slaughter by a major food franchise.
Dalai Lama’s “Cruelty
to Chickens” Letter
In 2012, Buddha Weekly
reported on the Dalai Lama’s protest letter, in which he wrote to KFC: “I have been particularly
concerned with the suffering of chickens for many years.” At the time KFC
slaughtered 850 million chickens each year (as of 2010). The Dalai Lama wrote
to KFC, asking them to abandon their plan to open restaurants in Tibet “because
your corporation’s support for cruelty and mass slaughter.” 
At the time,
PETA proclaimed that chickens “feel pain and have distinct personalities and
intelligence,” which was largely scoffed at publically. This later finding of
the scientists at Cambridge University would seem to support both PETA and the
rationale for the Dalai Lama’s protest.
Lama wrote a letter on behalf of PETA protesting cruelty to chickens.
prohibited in Buddhism — clearly one of the main precepts — but often this is
simply interpreted to mean “human” killing — on the basis that lower animals
are not sentient. Even if killing of “lower animals” is necessary for survival,
the doctrine of Metta prohibits Buddhists from causing suffering.
Lama explained how he had become a vegetarian after witnessing the slaughter of
a chicken. ” It was the death of a chicken that finally strengthened my resolve
to become vegetarian. In 1965, I was staying at the Government Guest House in
south India. My room looked directly on to the kitchens opposite. One day I
chanced to see the slaughter of a chicken, which made me decide to become a
explained why he particularly focused on chickens. “Tibetans are not, as a
rule, vegetarians, because in Tibet vegetables are scarce and meat forms a
large part of the staple diet. However, it is considered more ethical to eat
the meat of larger animals such as yaks, than small ones, because fewer animals
would have to be killed.”
Even the Buddha was not a strict vegetarian. He ate what his sponsors provided
in his bowl, including meat. It was, according to tradition, tainted meat that
led to his death and paranirvana.
Sentient Being — “Any Being with Breath”
Pali Canon tends to support the notion of all life as sentient. The well-known
teacher Bikkhu Bodhi explains “pana” (from the First Precept in Pali ‘”pana”
means “breathing, or any living being that has breath and consciousness.”) The
Venerable teacher explains that this includes all animal life, including
insects, but not plant life. The word “anipata” means to “strike down, and
includes both killing and injuring or torturing.  Clearly, it is critical to
avoid taking the life of “any being with breath.”
element in motivation. Accidentally stepping on an insect or running over an
animal on the road would not generally be in conflict with the First Precept.
Vegetarian Festival 2015 celebrates abstinence from meat.
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche:
“We must not hurt other people and animals.”
Zasep Rinpoche, spiritual director of Gaden for the
emphasizes “right livelihood” to his students. He is unequivocal in his advice
on the equal weight of importance between humans and non-humans. Rinpoche wrote
in his Guidelines:
“Right livelihood is one of the aspects of the eightfold noble path; it is an
important Buddhist principle that we as Dharma practitioners practise right
livelihood. We must not hurt other people and animals, and we must make the
best use of the earth’s resources, in ways that do not do social and
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche is spiritual head of several Mahayana Buddhist centres in
North America and Australia.
Karma Lekshe Tsomo:
a professor of theology and a Tibetan nun said: “When making moral choices,
individuals are advised to examine their motivation–whether aversion,
attachment, ignorance, wisdom, or compassion–and to weigh the consequences of
their actions in light of the Buddha’s teachings.” 
criterion would be important in issues of “self defense” including defense of
one’s country in a time of war. According to Barbara O’Brien, “some 3,000
Buddhists” serve “in the U.S. armed forces, including some Buddhist chaplains.
Buddhism does not demand pacificism.” Again, however motivation is key, in this
case the “motivation” of the country sponsoring the soldier. Is the action that
led to killing due to the negative motivation of the country, such as greed,
attachment, hatred or ignorance? 
Buddhist monk shares a tender moment with a dog and monkey.
Thich Nhat Hanh: “No
Killing Can be Justified”
Zen monk and pacifist, who was once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize is
in his view of the first precept against killing: “We cannot support any act of
killing; no killing can be justified. But not to kill is not enough. We must
also learn ways to prevent others from killing. We cannot say, “I am not responsible.
They did it. My hands are clean.” If you were in Germany during the time of the
Nazis, you could not say, “They did it. I did not.” If, during the Gulf War,
you did not say or do anything to try to stop the killing, you were not
practicing this precept. Even if what you said or did failed to stop the war,
what is important is that you tried, using your insight and compassion.” 
is the venerable teacher a well-known pacifist activist, he is also
vegetarian. “Even if we take pride in being vegetarian, for example, we have to
acknowledge that the water in which we boil our vegetables contains many tiny
microorganisms. We cannot be completely nonviolent, but by being vegetarian, we
are going in the direction of nonviolence. If we want to head north, we can use
the North Star to guide us, but it is impossible to arrive at the North Star.
Our effort is only to proceed in that direction.”
Lama Zopa Rinpoche:
“Animals Experience Unbelievable Suffering”
Venerable Vajrayana teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche replied to a student on the
subject of vegetarianism:
” As there are more and more people becoming vegetarian, that means less and
less animals will be killed. So it is very important. In the world people eat
meat mainly because of habit; so many people have not thought that the animals experience
unbelievable suffering.” 
described how he saw a cow struggling to not go down a ramp to slaughter: ” A
man was pulling him down from the platform, but the cow didn’t want to go down.
So I thought, I can’t stop the animal suffering, but what I can do as I go
around the world to teach, even if it is on sutra and tantra, I will announce
or request if people can become vegetarian. That is something I can do.”
Bodhisattva Vow: “Liberate All Sentient
Buddhism, often the definition of “sentient beings” is any being who is
capable of experiencing Dukkha (suffering.) According to the Cambridge
scientists, this is all beings down to and including octopuses.
sentient beings are described as all inhabitants of the three realms of samsara
within the six classes of beings. Included in the six classes are animals,
fish, insects — any creature with mind. Particularly as relates to the
Tathagatagarbha doctrine, all these creatures have inherent Buddha Nature, “the
intrinsic potential to transcend the conditions of Samsara and attain
Holiness Khabje Chatral Sangye Dorje was an outspoken advocate of vegetarianism.
Kyabje Chatral Sangye
Dorje Rinpoche: “Meat, the sinful food.”
Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche, a highly realized Dzogchen yogi, was a
vocal opponent of meat for all of his long life, from 1913-2015. “If you take
meat, it goes against the vows one takes in seeking refuge in the Buddha Dharma
and Sangha. Because when you take meat you have to take a being’s life.”
In Chapter 2
of “Compassionate Action” he wrote: Meat, the sinful food, is not permitted
according to the three vows: the vows of individual liberation, the Bodhisattva
vows and the tantric vows.” 
On the other
hand, many Buddhists are not vegetarians. Buddha Himself taught monks to eat
whatever was placed in their bowl, including meat, unless they knew the animal
was slaughtered for the monks. (See
“First Precept: Killing versus Eating below).
Buddha taught loving
kindness for all beings, including non-humans.
Buddha Taught Loving
Kindness — but Not Just for Humans?
question, practicing Buddhists practice compassion and loving kindness — metta — for
sentient beings. The doctrine of “karuna” or “active sympathy” and willingness
“to bear the pain of others” is not debatable — at least not in Mahayana
schools. Even if we interpret “compassion” to be a skillful method used by the
Buddha to demonstrate the mistaken idea of “independent me” and “independent
you” — there can be no doubt that kindness for sentient beings is not optional.
There is no
question that the Buddha taught loving-kindness for all sentient beings not
just humans. Why is this critical? Because Buddha also taught the doctrine of
rebirth — that we can be reborn as insects, lower animals, and other forms of
life. Compassion for all beings, down to crawling insects, is not implicit, it
appears to be explicitly recommended. This does not mean Buddhists must be
vegetarians, but at least that we must feel sympathy for the suffering of all
How Equally Do We Practice Compassion?
findings of neuroscientists, when positioned against the Buddhist Dharma, beg the question:
how equally do we practice compassion? We might feel more compassion, for
example, for our beloved canine or feline. We might feel “sorry” for the
beautiful deer lying by the side of the road, struck by a car. We might, like
the Dalai Lama, feel sorry for the chicken, especially if we see a picture of a
beautiful new-born chick. Do we then feel similar levels of sympathy for the
insects splattered on our windshield, or the “less attractive” creatures such
as spiders and venomous snakes?
accept the notion that we might be reborn as a future splattered insect, there
can be no doubt that we are taught that our mission is to “free all sentient
beings from Samsara.” How much worse is it when we, ourselves, create the
causes of suffering?
First Precept: Killing versus Eating? They’re
precept Buddha taught was not to kill. However, certainly in Pali cannon, this is
usually not interpreted to prohibit the eating of meat — only the killing of
the animal or the sponsoring of the killing. Mahayana sutras, tend to strongly
advocate vegetarianism, particularly the Lankavatara Sutra.  In the Jivaka
Sutta, Buddha probited the monks from consumption of the flesh of any animal
that was seen or suspected to have been killed for the benefit of the monks.
Generally, monks were expected to accept and respect all alms provided in their
bowls, including meat, without discrimination.
this later became an issue when monks formed communities and monasteries, where
it became more difficult to argue that the animal was not killed specifically
for their benefit. As devout Buddhists, the argument, therefore, comes down to
whether we believe the meat on the supermarket shelf was killed for our
benefit. If we believe we are not encouraging the killing, or supporting
cruelty, then it would not be considered a conflict with the first precept. If
we believed that by buying the meat we are supporting the slaughter of animals,
we would be in conflict. Ultimately, that’s a personal choice. While meat might
be debatable, what is clearly not permitted, according to this precept, is the
deliberate slaughter of a sentient being, including chickens.
Geshe Thubten Soepa:
“Meat Not Allowed”
question and answer series about vegetarianism with Geshe Thubten Soepa, a FPMT-registered
teacher, he answers: “In the Mahayana teachings the Buddha forbade eating meat
altogether. In many different sutras (the Lankarawatara Sutra, the Great Sutra
of Nirvana in the Angulimala Sutra, the Sutra on the Ability of the Elephant,
the Sutra of the Great Cloud), it is taught that if one is trying to live with
great compassion, then eating meat is not allowed. This is because one has to
see all sentient beings as our mother, brother, son, etc. Also in the
Angulimala Sutra, Manjushri asked the Buddha, ‘‘Why do you not eat meat?’’ He
replied that he saw all beings as having buddha-nature and that was his reason
for not eating meat. Therefore, if you practice Mahayana and eat meat, it is a
Cambridge Declaration, scientists state that even an Octopus is sentient and feels
Declaration on Consciousness*
Here is the
full text of the Declaration on Consciousness:
On this day
of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists,
neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational
neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the
neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in
human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally
hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly
and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observations
can be stated unequivocally:
The field of Consciousness
research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for
human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently,
more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic
reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. Studies of
non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated
with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated
and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those
experiences. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily
available to survey the correlates of consciousness.
The neural substrates of emotions
do not appear to be confined to cortical structures. In fact, subcortical
neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also
critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals.
Artificial arousal of the same brain regions generates corresponding
behavior and feeling states in both humans and non-human animals. Wherever
in the brain one evokes instinctual emotional behaviors in non-human
animals, many of the ensuing behaviors are consistent with experienced
feeling states, including those internal states that are rewarding and
punishing. Deep brain stimulation of these systems in humans can also
generate similar affective states. Systems associated with affect are
concentrated in subcortical regions where neural homologies abound. Young
human and nonhuman animals without neocortices retain these brain-mind
functions. Furthermore, neural circuits supporting
behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and
decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the
invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks
Birds appear to offer, in their
behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel
evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of
consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots.
Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries
appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover,
certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar
to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra
finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a
mammalian neocortex. Magpies in particular have been shown to exhibit
striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in
studies of mirror self-recognition.
In humans, the effect of certain
hallucinogens appears to be associated with a disruption in cortical
feedforward and feedback processing. Pharmacological interventions in
non-human animals with compounds known to affect conscious behavior in
humans can lead to similar perturbations in behavior in non-human animals.
In humans, there is evidence to suggest that awareness is correlated with
cortical activity, which does not exclude possible contributions by
subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness. Evidence
that human and nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous
subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily
shared primal affective qualia.
the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an
organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that
non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological
substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional
behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not
unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.
Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures,
including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” * The
Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was written by Philip Low and edited by
Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low and
Christof Koch. The Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on
July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in
Human and non-Human Animals, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by
Low, Edelman and Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference
participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the
Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK. The signing ceremony was
memorialized by CBS 60 Minutes. 
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