Thursday, November 19, 2009

Karma: Life in the Animal Realm

"The Bear" a short film by Jean Jacques Annaud

(Wisdom Quarterly) The Animal Realm is among the unfortunate destinations where unskillful karma ripens. It is the next to lowest category of worlds among the 31 Planes of Existence.


Animal womb (tiracchana yoni): This realm includes all non-human forms of life visible under normal circumstances: mammals, vertebrates, invertebrates, fish, birds, amphibians, insects, worms, and so on in amazing diversity.


  • Ten unwholesome actions (MN 10)
  • Lack of virtue, clinging to wrong views. Karma distinguishes and personalizes the exact the resultants and fruits. For example, if one is generous to monks and nuns, one may be reborn as an "ornamented" animal (i.e., a bird with bright plumage, a horse with attractive markings, etc. as in AN 10.177).
  • Behaving in a bestial manner, conducting oneself like an animal (MN 57)


When the karma that led to rebirth is exhausted, or the fruition of previous wholesome karma fortuitously intervenes, it is possible to be reborn out of this realm. However, if the habits acquired in this birth are strong, one may again be plunged into an animal rebirth following a temporary release.

The Buddha pointed out that the Downfall (rebirth in unfor-tunate destinations, noting that the human realm is the lowest fortunate destination) is very difficult to endure. It is hard to find something to compare it with. For so immense is the woe and misery experienced here, particularly because of the unlikelihood of finding any escape for a very long time. It is rare and unlikely to find any opportunity to perform wholesome karma while there. And one must therefore depend on the good karma performed elsewhere, particularly in this present human life, which many people waste.

TEN COURSES OF WHOLESOME CONDUCT (AN X.206) -- categorized as physical, verbal, and mental -- will lead to rebirth in human and superior states of existence:

  1. PHYSICAL: Refraining from killing, injuring, and mercilessness or from encouraging others to kill, injure, or be merciless
  2. Refraining from stealing or from encouraging theft
  3. Refraining from misconduct in sexual desires (sex with those protected by mother, father, parents, brother, sister, relatives, spouse, under of law, and also with those garlanded in token of betrothal) or from encouraging misconduct prompted by passion
  4. VERBAL: Refraining from speaking falsehood (when summon-ed to a court, meeting, or by relatives, a guild, royalty [administrators], and questioned as a witness in this way: "Tell what you know," then not knowing one says, "I know," or knowing one says, "I do not know," not having seen one says, "I saw," or having seen one says, "I did not see"; in full awareness one utters falsehoods for one's own gain, for another's gain, or for some trivial material end) or from encouraging others to lie
  5. Refraining from divisive speech (repeating elsewhere what one has heard here to cause division, or repeating here what one has heard elsewhere, dividing those who are united, reveling in discord, rejoicing in discord, delighting in discord, speaking words that create discord) or from encouraging others to speak divisively
  6. Refraining from speaking harshly (uttering words that are rough, hard, hurtful to others, condemning others, bordering on anger and not conducing to concentration) or from encouraging others to speak harshly
  7. Refraining from speaking frivolously or distractingly (speaking what is untimely, not factual, not good, not connected to Dharma [doctrine and/or social obligations], not connected to Discipline, or speaking out of season, uttering speech not worth treasuring, unpleasant, unrestrained, disagreeable, and unconnected what is truly profitable) or from encouraging others to speak frivolously. This kind of "low speech" is commonly referred to as "animal talk" [tiracchana-katha], because it is base and drags close to the ground. It is defined as "talk about leaders and thieves, heads of state and armies, danger and war, eating and drinking, clothes [fashion] and dwellings, cosmetics and scents, relations, vehicles, neighborhoods and marketplaces, towns and districts, women and heroes, street talk, water cooler [the well] gossip, talk about the long since departed, tittle-tattle, talk about the [origin of the] world and sea, gain and loss" (AN X.69, WQ translation).
  8. MENTAL: Refraining from coveting (to inordinately desire what belongs to another: "Oh, that what is another's were mine!") or from encouraging others to covet
  9. Refraining from ill-will (with hateful intentions: "May these beings be slain and slaughtered, cut down, may they perish or be annihilated!") or from encouraging ill-will
  10. Refraining from holding wrong-views (such as "There is no result of giving, offering, or sacrificing for others; there is no fruit or ripening of skillful and unskillful karma; there is no here and now [this world], no hereafter [a world to come]; there is no [special significance to things done to or for one's] mother or father; there are no spontaneously-born beings; there are no noble and virtuous recluses and brahmins who have themselves realized by direct knowledge and declared [the nature of] this world and of other worlds [to come]."

It is good to show restraint. It is even better to engage in merit, which (like Yama and Niyama in Raja Yoga) is an extension of these:

  • Rather than merely refraining from killing, helping and caregiving and encouraging others to give help and care
  • Rather than merely not stealing, sharing and encouraging others to share
  • and so on

In summary, be kind to animals. They're having a hard time, and they have a great deal of suffering to come, particularly at the hands of humans, but even in the wild.