Special Issue "Buddhist Beasts: Reflections on Animals in Asian Religions and Cultures"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 May 2019).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Reiko Ohnuma
Website
Guest Editor
Professor and Department Chair, Department of Religion, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA
Interests: Buddhism in South Asia; Hinduism in South Asia; Women and Religion
Prof. Dr. Barbara Ambros
Website
Guest Editor
Professor and Department Chair, Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA
Interests: Gender Studies; Human-Animal Relationships; Place and Space; Pilgrimage

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Buddhists across Asia have thought about, depicted, and treated nonhuman animals in a rich diversity of ways for the last 2,500 years, and have used these conceptual repertoires to negotiate their lives as human beings in many different arenas—ranging from the everyday practice of eating to the writing of sacred literature, the production of art, the ethical project of living a moral life, and the ultimate Buddhist goal of attaining Awakening. The papers collected together in this Special Issue consider some of the many ways in which Buddhists across Asia have viewed nonhuman animals and the human-animal relationship: How have they reconciled the doctrinal view of animals as a lowly realm of rebirth with the Buddhist ethical imperative to view all sentient beings as fellow travelers in the sufferings of samsara? How have they negotiated the thorny issues surrounding the eating of meat? How have depictions of animals been useful in constructing the relationship between Buddhists and their various “others”? How have they depicted animals in art, and what might these depictions tell us about their human creators? As Buddhists have never lived in isolation from others, some of the papers also provide a wider context by looking at surrounding Asian traditions such as Jainism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Likewise, two of the papers extend the focus yet further by considering how the animal-related issues considered by premodern Buddhists still leave their lingering traces in modern Indian law and public policy surrounding human-animal interactions.

The papers contained in this Special Issue were originally presented at a conference entitled “Buddhist Beasts: Reflections on Animals in Asian Religions and Cultures” that took place at the University of British Columbia in April 2018. The conference was organized by Jinhua Chen (UBC) and Phyllis Granoff (Yale University) and sponsored by the Glorisun Charitable Foundation, Tzu-Chi Canada, SSHRC Partnership FROGBEAR Project, and the UBC Buddhist Studies Forum. The papers at the conference (most of which are included here) ranged widely in time from the distant past to the contemporary present, and geographically over South Asia, East Asia, and Tibet, making use of a variety of methodological and disciplinary perspectives (including Buddhist textual studies, anthropology, history, art history, literary criticism, law, and public policy). But in all cases, our concern remains the same: What are some of the many ways in which Buddhists and others across Asia have thought about, depicted, and treated nonhuman animals? And what does this tell us about the Buddhist project of being human?

Prof. Dr. Reiko Ohnuma
Prof. Dr. Barbara Ambros
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • Buddhism
  • animals
  • animal ethics
  • vegetarianism
  • human-animal relations

Published Papers (15 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle
Animals in the Public Debate: Welfare, Rights, and Conservationism in India
Religions 2019, 10(8), 475; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10080475 - 13 Aug 2019
Abstract
This paper proposes a survey of the many ways in which people look at and deal with animals in contemporary India. On the basis of ethnographic research and of multiple written sources (judgments, newspapers, websites, legal files, activist pamphlets, etc.), I present some [...] Read more.
This paper proposes a survey of the many ways in which people look at and deal with animals in contemporary India. On the basis of ethnographic research and of multiple written sources (judgments, newspapers, websites, legal files, activist pamphlets, etc.), I present some of the actors involved in the animal debate—animal activists, environmental lawyers, judges, and hunter-conservationists—who adopt different, though sometimes interconnected, approaches to animals. Some of them look at animals as victims that need to be rescued and treated in the field, others fight for animals in Parliament or in Court so that they can be entitled to certain rights, others are concerned with the issue of species survival, where the interest of the group prevails on the protection of individual animals. In the context of a predominantly secularist background of the people engaged in such debates, I also examine the role that religion may, in certain cases, play for some of them: whether as a way of constructing a Hindu or Buddhist cultural or political identity, or as a strategic argument in a legal battle in order to obtain public attention. Lastly, I raise the question of the role played by animals themselves in these different situations—as intellectual principles to be fought for (or to be voiced) in their absence, or as real individuals to interact with and whose encounter may produce different kinds of sometimes conflicting emotions. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Birds and Beasts in the Zhuangzi, Fables Interpreted by Guo Xiang and Cheng Xuanying
Religions 2019, 10(7), 445; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070445 - 22 Jul 2019
Abstract
Birds and beasts often appear in the Zhuangzi, in fables and parables meant to be read analogically as instructions for human thought and behavior. Whereas the analogical significance of some fables is obvious, in others it is obscure and in need of explication, [...] Read more.
Birds and beasts often appear in the Zhuangzi, in fables and parables meant to be read analogically as instructions for human thought and behavior. Whereas the analogical significance of some fables is obvious, in others it is obscure and in need of explication, and even the readily accessible can be made to yield more clarity thanks to commentaries. This paper explores contributions made by the commentaries of Guo Xiang (252–312) and Cheng Xuanying (ca. 620–670) to the understanding of such fables. Guo Xiang and Wang Bi 王弼 (226–249) are the two most important figures in the xuanxue 玄學 “arcane learning” or “Neo-Daoism” movement of early medieval China (third to sixth century C.E.), which combined elements of Confucianism with the thought of Daoist foundational texts, especially the Daode jing (Classic of the Dao and Virtue) and the Zhuangzi (Sayings of Master Zhuang). Focus of the movement was the promotion of the concept and practice of the sage-ruler as a catalyst for the regeneration of self and society, leading to the foundation of a worldly utopia. Guo’s is the earliest intact philosophical commentary to the Zhuangzi and one of the most widely read during premodern times. Cheng Xuanying composed the only subcommentary to Guo’s commentary. Its more explicit style is most helpful in deciphering Guo’s too often cryptic and elliptical statements. However, it also tends to shunt Guo’s statecraft reading of the Zhuangzi more in the direction of explicating philosophical and religious dimensions of the text. Whereas Guo’s observations about sagehood, self-fulfillment, and the good life largely focus on the sage-ruler and his relation to his people, Cheng’s approach tends more to explore issues of personal self-realization and individual enlightenment, and, as such, is far more “religious” than Guo’s. However, when it comes to accounts of birds and beasts, parodies and satires, which address the limitations, failures, delusions and faulty assumptions, narrow-mindedness, and other human foibles, both Guo and Cheng see them all rooted in self-conscious thought and knowledge, and thus deadly impediments to enlightenment. Other passages about beasts and birds use animal fables as exemplars of truth concerning endowed personal nature and the natural propensity to stay within the bounds of individual natural capacity. Since the commentaries of Guo and Cheng add important dimensions to these accounts, this study explores these as well. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Compassion for Living Creatures in Indian Law Courts
Religions 2019, 10(6), 383; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060383 - 14 Jun 2019
Abstract
The Constitution of India through an amendment of 1976 prescribes a Fundamental Duty ‘to have compassion for living creatures’. The use of this notion in actual legal practice, gathered from various judgments, provides a glimpse of the current debates in India that address [...] Read more.
The Constitution of India through an amendment of 1976 prescribes a Fundamental Duty ‘to have compassion for living creatures’. The use of this notion in actual legal practice, gathered from various judgments, provides a glimpse of the current debates in India that address the relationships between humans and animals. Judgments explicitly mentioning ‘compassion’ cover diverse issues, concerning stray dogs, trespassing cattle, birds in cages, bull races, cart-horses, animal sacrifice, etc. They often juxtapose a discourse on compassion as an emotional and moral attitude, and a discourse about legal rights, essentially the right not to suffer unnecessary pain at the hands of humans (according to formulae that bear the imprint of British utilitarianism). In these judgments, various religious founding figures such as the Buddha, Mahavira, etc., are paid due tribute, perhaps not so much in reference to their religion, but rather as historical icons—on the same footing as Mahatma Gandhi—of an idealized intrinsic Indian compassion. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Humanizing Horses: Transitions in Perception and Perspective
Religions 2019, 10(6), 375; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060375 - 07 Jun 2019
Abstract
In Tibetan history and culture, horses were among the most important animals, if not the most important of all. Horses were the mounts that provided transport, particularly for the nobility and kings, allowing them to travel more quickly and comfortably. Horses were also [...] Read more.
In Tibetan history and culture, horses were among the most important animals, if not the most important of all. Horses were the mounts that provided transport, particularly for the nobility and kings, allowing them to travel more quickly and comfortably. Horses were also used for hunting, postal services, and to build a cavalry for warfare. In addition, they played a role in various entertainments, including horse racing, games, and parades. The unusually large number of manuscripts on horses attests to the value of horses in the Tibetan imaginaire compared to other animals that lived in the company of the people on the High Plateau, in Tibet itself, and in Tibetan cultural areas. This article begins with an outline of the uses and benefits of horses in Tibetan culture. It touches upon the animal’s role as the mount of Tibetan kings and debates regarding horses’ mental faculties. Then it presents a survey of the content of various manuscripts on equine studies based on sources from three stages: (1) the earliest Tibetan sources from Dunhuang; (2) translations from Indian texts; and (3) extensive compendia that merges all of the knowledge on horses available at the time of their composition. It analyzes the style and content of books that indicate the approach of the authors to the topic of “horse” and points to their view of horses in relation to Tibetan culture and Buddhism. Moreover, the books’ content mirrors the various functions and applications of horses in Tibet and India. It reveals the purpose of these books in general and illustrates the relation between textuality and orality. The study demonstrates the link between hippology and hippiatry, and the development of equine studies in Tibet. It shows the influence of humans on horse medicine and, moreover, contributes to an improved understanding of the development of Tibetan medical sciences in general. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Both Like and Unlike: Rebirth, Olfaction, and the Transspecies Imagination in Modern Chinese Buddhism
Religions 2019, 10(6), 364; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060364 - 03 Jun 2019
Abstract
This essay considers the importance of the transspecies imagination for moral cultivation in contemporary Chinese Buddhism. Drawing on scriptural, theoretical, and fieldwork-based ethnographic data, it argues that olfaction—often considered the most “animalistic” of the human senses—is uniquely efficacious for inspiring imaginative processes whereby [...] Read more.
This essay considers the importance of the transspecies imagination for moral cultivation in contemporary Chinese Buddhism. Drawing on scriptural, theoretical, and fieldwork-based ethnographic data, it argues that olfaction—often considered the most “animalistic” of the human senses—is uniquely efficacious for inspiring imaginative processes whereby Buddhists train themselves to inhabit the perspectives of non-human beings. In light of Buddhist theories of rebirth, this means extending human-like status to animals and recognizing the “animal” within the human as well. Responding to recent trends in the Humanities calling for an expanded notion of ontological continuity between the human and non-human—notably inspired by critical animal studies, post-humanism, the new materialism, and the “ontological turn”—this essay contends that Buddhist cosmological ideas, like those that demand the cultivation of the transspecies imagination, present resources for moral reflection that can challenge and enrich current mainstream thinking about humanity’s relation to the nonhuman world. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Becoming Animal: Karma and the Animal Realm Envisioned through an Early Yogācāra Lens
Religions 2019, 10(6), 363; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060363 - 01 Jun 2019
Abstract
In an early discourse from the Saṃyuttanikāya, the Buddha states: “I do not see any other order of living beings so diversified as those in the animal realm. Even those beings in the animal realm have been diversified by the mind, yet [...] Read more.
In an early discourse from the Saṃyuttanikāya, the Buddha states: “I do not see any other order of living beings so diversified as those in the animal realm. Even those beings in the animal realm have been diversified by the mind, yet the mind is even more diverse than those beings in the animal realm.” This paper explores how this key early Buddhist idea gets elaborated in various layers of Buddhist discourse during a millennium of historical development. I focus in particular on a middle period Buddhist sūtra, the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra, which serves as a bridge between early Buddhist theories of mind and karma, and later more developed theories. This third-century South Asian Buddhist Sanskrit text on meditation practice, karma theory, and cosmology psychologizes animal behavior and places it on a spectrum with the behavior of humans and divine beings. It allows for an exploration of the conceptual interstices of Buddhist philosophy of mind and contemporary theories of embodied cognition. Exploring animal embodiments—and their karmic limitations—becomes a means to exploring all beings, an exploration that can’t be separated from the human mind among beings. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Humans as Animals and Things in Pre-Buddhist China
Religions 2019, 10(6), 360; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060360 - 31 May 2019
Abstract
This paper examines the way thinkers in the pre-Buddhist world in China viewed the animal-human divide. It argues that the boundaries between humans and animals were porous. The only unique capacities that human beings are credited with were first (widely) the ability to [...] Read more.
This paper examines the way thinkers in the pre-Buddhist world in China viewed the animal-human divide. It argues that the boundaries between humans and animals were porous. The only unique capacities that human beings are credited with were first (widely) the ability to develop their unique potentials (chengren 成人), and, second (in a very few texts), the capacity to respond with greater sensitivity to the resonant world around them. In both contexts, the extant terms make use of two terms, ling 靈 and jingshen 精神. Part II of the essay then turns to examine the most influential Euro-American theories cited in today’s secondary literature regarding the animal-human divide. None of these seem remotely like the theories articulated in early China. In Part III, the essay examines vitalism, which is an unusual instance in early modern Europe where an important theory seems to approach the views of early China, with the express aim of reminding readers that we need not automatically posit an impassable gulf between East and West, but can, instead, profit from wider reading that yields more comparative insights. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Animals in Medieval Chinese Biographies of Buddhist Monks
Religions 2019, 10(6), 348; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060348 - 28 May 2019
Abstract
In this paper, I examine the presentation of animals in medieval Chinese Buddhist biographies. These biographies tell stories about strange animals, whose behavior signals that they are far from ordinary—some local deities, underlings of such deities, or even former friends from a past [...] Read more.
In this paper, I examine the presentation of animals in medieval Chinese Buddhist biographies. These biographies tell stories about strange animals, whose behavior signals that they are far from ordinary—some local deities, underlings of such deities, or even former friends from a past life. By focusing on two biography collections separated in time by over 100 years, in this paper, I argue that the differing presentation of animals reflects the changing fortunes of Buddhism in China, from its early establishment to its successful reception by the imperial court. Full article
Open AccessArticle
What Does It Mean To Be a Badly Behaved Animal? An Answer from the Devadatta Stories of the Pāli Jātakas
Religions 2019, 10(4), 288; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040288 - 24 Apr 2019
Abstract
The many animals that appear in the Pāli Jātakatthavaṇṇanā often mirror human predicaments, society and language, and this has prompted largely allegorical readings of the stories. In addition, in many cases the animals are identified as past lives of important human characters, potentially [...] Read more.
The many animals that appear in the Pāli Jātakatthavaṇṇanā often mirror human predicaments, society and language, and this has prompted largely allegorical readings of the stories. In addition, in many cases the animals are identified as past lives of important human characters, potentially diminishing their animality further. In particular, the Buddha’s repeated rebirth as a range of virtuous and wise animals tells us plenty about the Buddha, but arguably little about animals. Nonetheless, in this article I argue that the jātakas are able to tell us interesting things about the capabilities of animals. By using stories of another key animal character—namely Devadatta, the Buddha’s nemesis—I explore what might be distinctive about the ability of animals to misbehave. Since Devadatta appears 28 times as an animal and 46 as a human, he allows us to probe whether or not the text’s compilers saw a difference between human and animal capacities for evil. In the process, I raise questions about how we should view animal tales in the Jātakas more broadly, and highlight the productive tension between animals as unfortunate fellow travellers in the cycle of rebirth, and animals as literary devices that shed light on human behaviour. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Partaking of Life: Buddhism, Meat-Eating, and Sacrificial Discourses of Gratitude in Contemporary Japan
Religions 2019, 10(4), 279; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040279 - 18 Apr 2019
Abstract
In contemporary Japan, a Buddhist discourse has emerged that links life and food and centers on gratitude. While the connection between animals and gratitude has a long history in Buddhism, here the meaning of repaying a debt of gratitude has shifted from an [...] Read more.
In contemporary Japan, a Buddhist discourse has emerged that links life and food and centers on gratitude. While the connection between animals and gratitude has a long history in Buddhism, here the meaning of repaying a debt of gratitude has shifted from an emphasis on liberating animals to consuming them with gratitude, thereby replacing anti-meat-eating arguments with a sacrificial rationale. This rationale is also apparent in Partaking of Life, a children’s book written by a Jōdo Shin Buddhist adherent, which has found a receptive audience in Jōdo Shin circles, including the voice-acting troupe Team Ichibanboshi. This article provides a close reading of Partaking of Life: The Day That Little Mii Becomes Meat, followed by historical contexts for Buddhist vegetarianism and discrimination against professions that rely on killing animals, particularly as these themes pertain to Jōdo Shin Buddhism. The essay ends on an analysis of Team Ichibanboshi’s sermon on Partaking of Life. Full article
Open AccessArticle
The Road to Redemption: Killing Snakes in Medieval Chinese Buddhism
Religions 2019, 10(4), 247; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040247 - 04 Apr 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
In the medieval Chinese context, snakes and tigers were viewed as two dominant, threatening animals in swamps and mountains. The animal-human confrontation increased with the expansion of human communities to the wilderness. Medieval Chinese Buddhists developed new discourses, strategies, rituals, and narratives to [...] Read more.
In the medieval Chinese context, snakes and tigers were viewed as two dominant, threatening animals in swamps and mountains. The animal-human confrontation increased with the expansion of human communities to the wilderness. Medieval Chinese Buddhists developed new discourses, strategies, rituals, and narratives to handle the snake issue that threatened both Buddhist and local communities. These new discourses, strategies, rituals, and narratives were shaped by four conflicts between humans and animals, between canonical rules and local justifications, between male monks and feminized snakes, and between organized religions and local cultic practice. Although early Buddhist monastic doctrines and disciplines prevented Buddhists from killing snakes, medieval Chinese Buddhists developed narratives and rituals for killing snakes for responding to the challenges from the discourses of feminizing and demonizing snakes as well as the competition from Daoism. In medieval China, both Buddhism and Daoism mobilized snakes as their weapons to protect their monastic property against the invasion from each other. This study aims to shed new light on the religious and socio-cultural implications of the evolving attitudes toward snakes and the methods of handling snakes in medieval Chinese Buddhism. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Monastic Meat: The Question of Meat Eating and Vegetarianism in Tibetan Buddhist Monastic Guidelines (bca’ yig)
Religions 2019, 10(4), 240; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040240 - 31 Mar 2019
Abstract
The practice of vegetarianism has long been connected with monasticism in Tibet, despite explicit statements in the vinaya that monks and nuns are allowed to eat meat. This paper examines one particular aspect of this connection: the rules governing meat eating found in [...] Read more.
The practice of vegetarianism has long been connected with monasticism in Tibet, despite explicit statements in the vinaya that monks and nuns are allowed to eat meat. This paper examines one particular aspect of this connection: the rules governing meat eating found in monastic guidelines. Texts of this genre reveal a variety of approaches to the question of meat eating, from avoiding the issue entirely (the most common) to banning meat outright (the least). In this paper I argue that, when viewed collectively, those monastic guidelines that discuss meat do so in a measured way that makes clear that while meat is not fully condoned, individual monks or nuns can choose how strictly they will adhere to this ideal. Meat was, thus, generally permitted, but within a context in which it was still viewed in a negative light. Full article
Open AccessArticle
The Heretical, Heterodox Howl: Jackals in Pāli Buddhist Literature
Religions 2019, 10(3), 221; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030221 - 22 Mar 2019
Abstract
Buddhist literature in Pāli presents a world that is rich in animal imagery, with some animals carrying largely positive associations and other animals seen in a consistently negative light. Among the many species that populate the Pāli imaginaire, the jackal bears a [...] Read more.
Buddhist literature in Pāli presents a world that is rich in animal imagery, with some animals carrying largely positive associations and other animals seen in a consistently negative light. Among the many species that populate the Pāli imaginaire, the jackal bears a particular status as a much-maligned beast. Jackals are depicted in Pāli literature as lowly, inferior, greedy, and cunning creatures. The jackal, as a natural scavenger, exists on the periphery of both human and animal society and is commonly associated with carrion, human corpses, impurity, and death. In this paper, I am interested in the use of the jackal as an image for both heresy and heterodoxy—that is, the jackal’s consistent association with heretical Buddhist figures, such as Devadatta, and with heterodox teachers, such as the leaders of competing samaṇa movements. Why was the jackal such an appropriate animal to stand for those who hold the wrong views? And how does association with such an animal sometimes result in a particularly nefarious sort of dehumanization that goes against the teachings of Buddhism? Full article
Open AccessArticle
For the Love of Dogs: Finding Compassion in a Time of Famine in Pali Buddhist Stories
Religions 2019, 10(3), 183; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030183 - 12 Mar 2019
Abstract
This paper focuses on stories from the 13th century Rasavāhinī in which feeding a starving dog is described as an act of great merit, equal even to the care of a monk or the Buddha. It begins with a reevaluation of passages from [...] Read more.
This paper focuses on stories from the 13th century Rasavāhinī in which feeding a starving dog is described as an act of great merit, equal even to the care of a monk or the Buddha. It begins with a reevaluation of passages from Buddhist texts that have been taken by scholars as evidence of pan- Buddhist concern for taking care of animals. It argues that they have been over-read and that the Rasavāhinī stories are distinctive. The setting in which these acts occur, a catastrophic famine, helps us to understand the transformation of the despised dog into an object of compassion. In such dire circumstances, when humans themselves behave like animals, compassion for a starving dog is both a new recognition of a fundamental shared kinship between human and animal and a gesture of recovering lost humanity. Full article
Open AccessArticle
How to Deal with Dangerous and Annoying Animals: A Vinaya Perspective
Religions 2019, 10(2), 113; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020113 - 15 Feb 2019
Abstract
Against the background of guidelines on non-killing and developing ideas on the release of captured or domesticated animals, this study focuses on how vinaya (disciplinary) texts deal with dangerous and/or annoying animals, such as snakes, mosquitoes, and flies. Are there any circumstances in [...] Read more.
Against the background of guidelines on non-killing and developing ideas on the release of captured or domesticated animals, this study focuses on how vinaya (disciplinary) texts deal with dangerous and/or annoying animals, such as snakes, mosquitoes, and flies. Are there any circumstances in which they may be killed, captured, or repelled? Or should they be endured and ignored, or even protected and cherished, at all times? This paper discusses the many guidelines relating to avoiding—and, if necessary, chasing away—dangerous and annoying animals. All of these proposals call for meticulous care to reduce the risk of harming the creature. In this sense, animals, such as snakes and mosquitoes, seem to be assured a better life in comparison with domesticated or hunted animals. This distinction reflects the somewhat uncomfortable balance that Buddhist monastics must achieve between respecting the life of individual sentient beings, including all animals, and adhering to social conventions in order to safeguard their position in society. Full article
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