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Bouddhisme : Enseignements sur les animaux

Buddhism: Teachings on animals

Animals in Buddhism

"The creatures that inhabit this earth, whether human or animal, are here to contribute, each in their own way, to the beauty and prosperity of the world." ~ The 14th Dalai Lama

Animals hold a special place in our hearts and minds, which often transcends logic. Many love them as their own child (and would run into a burning house to save them), while at the same time they have no problem eating the flesh of another type of animal for lunch.

When it comes to Buddhism, animals take on many important meanings. Animals help to illuminate a Buddhist relationship with nature, kindness, humanistic ideas, and to show the relationship between Buddhist theory and practice.

les animaux dans le bouddhisme

Buddhism is rich in animal symbols

The life of the Buddha is rich in stories about, with, (and sometimes "like") animals. Whether it is dramatization, parables or real events, this are of course things that we are unable to validate.

Many of these stories, but not all, are stories to help explain a Buddhist teaching or concept so that people can understand them more easily.

Buddhism isn't always the easiest thing to learn, and the use of animals has surely helped. In the time of the Buddha, the bond of people with animals was stronger than today due to the proximity to the wilderness and the agricultural society that existed.

Les histoires d'animaux dans le bouddhisme

Some of the different stories that include animals:

The Golden Monkey : The Buddha went to the desert of Parileyya Forest to bring peace to the arguing disciples. During this time, a monkey and an elephant fed the Buddha (the elephant brought fruit and the monkey a little honey). The story goes that the monkey was delighted that the Buddha accepted his gift and started jumping from tree to tree until his death, only to be reborn immediately (sounds like a plot twist that the we find in a summer movie).

Buddha subdues a raging elephant : Devadatta , a disciple of the Buddha who turned against him, left an elephant attempting to kill the Buddha. However, the story goes that due to the Buddha's benevolent love, the elephant knelt in front of him instead of killing him.

Les comtes de Jataka

Tales of Jataka : Tales of Jataka often featured animals to explain Buddhist concepts. Some Buddhists take this as the literal truth that the Buddha had previous lives as real animals he remembered. These are educational tools (known as upaya , or "practical means", which help laymen to understand more easily and more quickly complex concepts). These stories are not part of canonical Buddhist writing, yet they are very popular.

These legends, whether historically true or false, are not really important in this context. They are meant to relay the teachings of Buddhism in a way that ordinary people like you and I might understand about love, kindness, virtues, morals, and more.

However, these stories were probably more relevant to people's lifestyles long before the Industrial Age, which makes them less easy to understand today. In this context, they are considered by many to be a "religious fact".

Cheval de Bouddha

A horse is a horse, of course But is it really?

Compared to other religions where man is "made" and "separated" from animals, Buddhists and Buddhism do not regard animals in the same way. Buddhists see all animals as sentient beings, who exist like us thanks to the five aggregates . The five aggregates are:

  • Sensation
  • Perception
  • Mental training
  • Consciousness

Everything must exist for a sentient being to be what we know to be "alive". Because animals share the same five aggregates as us, they are not separate from us. However, there is one thing that separates them from us: their spirit.

Siddhattha et Kanthaka

Unlike humans (being born human is considered a rare privilege), animals are not, and cannot be, aware of what is happening to them in the context of "life" .

They are unable to learn and understand the teachings of Buddhism, for example, in order to change their condition as we can. Because of this lack of understanding of their world (and the condition they find themselves in), animals act instinctively and primitively during their lifetimes.

Tigre sur une statue bouddha

Although I think we all agree that there have been a lot of animals that we have known in our lives that are really good and shame humans (who can also act instinctively and primitively), they unfortunately cannot become "enlightened" nor change their karma. A human can understand his condition, while an animal cannot.

This doesn't mean, however, that animals suffer less than humans, just that humans have the rare opportunity to shine. A Buddhist, however, knows that the way he treats animals also has a direct impact on himself. This is why many Buddhists, especially in the Mahayana tradition , are, or strive to be, vegetarians or vegans (with some exceptions, see the article on Buddhists and Christmas ).

Chien et bouddhisme

Giving a treat to a dog brings you closer to Buddha

In Mahayana Buddhism, animals are widely considered to possess "Buddha Nature" , as are humans (and experience Dukkha and the cycle of rebirth just like humans). Buddha Nature means that every sentient being has a "Buddha" within him ... the only thing that prevents us from becoming an (enlightened) Buddha is ... "us". As explained in the first section of this article, animals can have the Buddha nature (they express it better than humans most of the time, by the way) but are unable to fully progress and realize the path to enlightenment. .

Immediately after awakening the Buddha, he made the following proclamation:

"Wonderful, wonderful! All sentient beings have the wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata *, but they do not realize it because they cling to deceptive thoughts and personal attachments . "

(* Tathagata is another name for the Buddha, and the one he used most often when speaking of himself)

Moine Bouddhiste et chien

Animal Karma

Some Buddhists believe that if you have enough "bad" karma, you will be reborn in animal skin. And that is why they think that any suffering they cause to animals is justified, because that person "reborn" in an animal deserves it.The Buddha never said that it was acceptable to use violence against a sentient being and therefore this thought is much criticized

Other Buddhists also believe that animals are not able to reduce their unhealthy (bad) karma, like a human might. They must therefore "burn" their unhealthy karma until it is purged. Whereas a human can actively "dilute" their unhealthy karma by actively creating healthy karma. An Animal Cannot Tell The Difference But It Generates A Lot Of Healthy Karma!

For humans, hurting animals is linked to unhealthy karma. To injure, mistreat or kill animals is unhealthy , however you think of it.

mac donald et bouddha


"He who, seeking his own happiness, punishes or kills beings who also aspire to happiness, will not find happiness after death." - Dhammapada

Should Buddhists Eat Animals? Buddhists should not eat animals just because they are sentient beings who share the five human aggregates, eating meat encourages suffering and death, and it creates unhealthy karma for us and others.

However, some Buddhists do eat meat. Specifically, the Theravadas, Tibetans and some branches of Mahayana Buddhism allow the consumption of meat, possibly due to interpretation of scriptural and cultural influences.

For example Tibetan Buddhists eat meat due to the region they live in which is difficult to cultivate. The 14th Dalai Lama was a vegetarian for a while, but he ate meat for what has been declared as "health reasons".

Repas bouddhiste

For southern Buddhists (Theravada) there is a mix between scriptural culture (where the Buddha said that monastics should eat what they are given, to include meat, during alms tours , as long as it was not prepared specifically for them), and the culture where meat was already common.

In Japan, Mahayana Buddhists can often be found eating fish (due to historical reliance on the sea for food before Buddhism was introduced).

In contrast, some strive not to eat meat, such as Mahayana Buddhists in China and Taiwan.

However, Buddhists keep as a principle in these regions that they do not want to "kill" the animal, as part of the precepts against killing, but still want to eat meat because it is 'they like it.

Enseignement du Bouddha

The teachings of the Buddha

One of the examples commonly used to illustrate the teachings on Buddha concerning animals and that after leaving his life as a prince, He had just finished begging for his first meal and was venturing from Kapilavasthu to Rajagaha (the capital of Magadha). During his journey, he encountered sheep that were taken to the city of Rajagaha to be sacrificed. One of the sheep was injured and, feeling great compassion, he took the sheep and took it with him.

As they entered the city, a large fire was burning and the priests sang as the king, Bimbisara, drew his sword to kill the first sheep. The Buddha quickly stopped him and said:

"All living things fear being beaten with batons.
All living things fear being put to death.
Put themselves in the other's shoes,
Que no one kills or causes another to be killed. "

Moved by these words, the King became a disciple of the Buddha.
Bouddha portant un mouton blessé

But what does this mean for us in our modern life?

We are surrounded by "easy" food choices which consist of meat and the resulting mistreatment in our factory-raised animal world. Not only is this a complex issue, but it also means that suffering has become industrialized and constant and that it is increasing rapidly as the population of the world grows. Buddhists should take an active role in preventing this suffering through their own actions and healthy livelihoods.

Animals and mythical creatures of Buddhism

The use of animal symbols is an important part of Buddhism and embodies the idea that all that is alive has inherent virtue, power and wisdom. These symbols contain related secret meanings to the specific characteristics of the animals they represent and highlight the Buddhist relationship with nature, kindness, humanist ideas, highlighting the relationship between Buddhist theory and practice.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of these creatures and their Buddhist symbolism.

Le cerf dans le bouddhisme

The Deer

In Buddhism, the deer symbolizes peace, harmony and longevity. They are by nature gentle and serene and their presence represents the purity of a sacred place, devoid of fear. First of all, the deer symbolize the most essential teachings of the Buddha. It was in the deer park that the Buddha gave his first teaching.

The Buddha is often represented seated on a platform with two deer kneeling one in front of the other. Additionally, many monasteries are equipped with the Dharma Wheel with two deer sitting on either side staring at it with great joy.

Deer are also depicted in Jataka Tales, which are attributed fables to the past lives of the Buddha as human and animal, with messages of wisdom and compassion.

le dragon dans le bouddhisme

The Dragon

In India, the naga are water spirits who live in wells, rivers and lakes, and float in the clouds. They are portrayed as huge cobras or as half-human and half-snake. They play an important role in Mahayana and Theravada mythology as protectors of the Buddha and the sutras.

In one legend, a Naga king named Muchlinda sheltered the Buddha during a heavy rain just after the Buddha's enlightenment. He wrapped himself around the body of the Buddha and turned his hood into an umbrella above the head of the Buddha. The Buddha statues that symbolize this legend are famous in Burma, Laos and Thailand. As Buddhism spread to China, the nagas became dragons.

To view items featuring this creature, visit N ° 1 on dragons: Dragonys .

Dragonys N°1 sur les dragons

Buddhists offer jewelry vases to naga for bountiful harvests, health and children, as well as to stop epidemics, earthquakes and flooding. The Nagas are vulnerable to contamination from water pollution and deforestation. They will protect the people who protect nature, but they will breathe toxic air on those who destroy the environment.

Elephant dans le bouddhisme

The Elephant

In Asia and Africa, elephants are considered sacred. They are symbols of beauty, power, dignity, intelligence and peace. The white elephant played an important role in the birth of the Buddha. Her mother, Queen Maya, dreamed of a white elephant who offered her a white lotus with its trunk and entered her womb.Royal sages predicted the birth of a great monarch or a Buddha

In Buddhism, elephants symbolize mental strength on the path to enlightenment. They are quiet, obedient, and steadfast when put on a path; and they have big ears to listen to Dharma. At the start of the practice, the uncontrolled mind is symbolized by a gray elephant. After practicing and taming the mind, the controlled mind is symbolized by a white elephant, strong and powerful, which can be directed towards liberation.

The plush elephants are also very popular in the West for this reason without anyone really knowing why.

The Horse

In Buddhism, the horse is a symbol of energy and effort in the practice of Dharma. The main qualities of a horse are loyalty and speed as shown by Kanthaka, the horse of Siddhartha who helped him escape the palace and begin his spiritual quest. When Siddhartha bade him farewell, Kanthaka died of sorrow, but was reborn as god and served him as Buddha.

The horse neighing symbolizes the voice of the Buddha to awaken the sleeping mind and practice Dharma. It also represents the prana or breath which is essential to our existence.

The mythical "Horse of the Wind" is a symbol of Tibetan Buddhism. It combines the speed of the wind and the strength of the horse to control the mind and guide it to liberation. It is often used on prayer flags to carry prayers from heaven to earth. He also wears the "Pearl of Wishes Fulfillment" and represents the chance to keep things going.

Le lion dans le bouddhisme

The Lion

For thousands of years, the lion has been a symbol of royalty, strength and bravery. For these reasons, the lion symbolizes the royal origins of Buddha Shakyamuni, as well as his courage to fight injustice and alleviate human suffering.

He is called the "Lion of the Shakyas", a recognition of the power of his teachings. The voice of the Buddhas is often called the "lion's roar", which makes the dharma roar for all to hear. The symbolic meaning of the lion's roar reminds us to strive with the courageous heart of the lion king and overcome the obstacles that stand in our way, creating happiness and harmony in our lives and in society.

Lions serve as guardians, represented in pairs at the entrance to shrines, temples and monasteries. They symbolize the bodhisattvas, the "lions of Buddha", and can be found in their role as protectors of the Dharma supporting the throne of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and serving as their mounts. Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of great wisdom rides a lion, symbolized in the Flower Sutra (Avatamsaka).

le phénix dans le bouddhisme

The Phoenix

The mythical phoenix is ​​deeply rooted in Chinese and Japanese culture and is used as the emblem of the Emperor and Empress, depicted with the dragon to symbolize a perfect marriage. The phoenix is ​​a benevolent bird, as it does not harm insects and represents the Confucian values ​​of loyalty, honesty, decorum, and justice.

In Buddhism, the phoenix is ​​considered sacred, because he only appears in times of peace and prosperity and hides when there are problems. Like the deer, it symbolizes peace and quiet. The mythical creature may also represent "an enlightened creature", rising from the ashes of the ego's death.

The phoenix is ​​often depicted attacking snakes with its talons and spread wings.It has a bird's beak, a swallow's jaw, and a snake's neck; the front half of the body resembles a giraffe, the rear half resembles a deer. Its back resembles a turtle and its tail resembles a fish. The phoenix is ​​also one of the four spiritual creatures in Chinese mythology who guard the four directions and seasons: dragons, tigers, unicorns, and phoenixes.

Le paon dans le bouddhisme

The Peacock

In Buddhism, the peacock represents wisdom and is associated with bodhisattvas. The tail of a peacock stretches around it with its azure eyes symbolizes the rise of the thousand arms of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and its thousand eyes. Peacocks are the deadly enemy of snakes, killing them with their talons and eating them without ill effects. It is said that the peacock turns poison into amrita or nectar. Likewise, a Bodhisattva is able to transform ignorance into light, desire into generosity, and hatred into compassion. When a person has positive thoughts, his mind opens like a peacock that opens its tail and shows its beautiful colors.

The peacock is one of the most important birds created by transformation in the Sutra Amitabha, because he supports the throne of Buddha Amitabha of the Western Pure Land.

Previous article The myth of the historical Buddha
Next article The story of the laughing Buddha

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