19 July 2009

Animal Companions in Life and Death, Part II

This essay was prompted from questions from a friend interested in the Bahá’í Faith and I did a quick search on Bahá’í-Library online, but I did not find any answers to the question of my satisfaction. There was a thread that began a couple of years ago on this topic with a nice compilation for a reply, but I felt it is due more treatment. This essay is meant as my own personal hermeneutic on the subject, based on what the Bahá’í Writings say on the reality of members of the animal kingdom and its relationship to the purely spiritual realm the Scriptures say that a person enters upon death. With this analysis of the Writings, I encourage Bahá’í friends to take on a much more nuanced approached to this question, rather than the simple, “When your animal dies they are gone forever.”

Many Bahá’ís who have taken a look at this question or heard from other Bahá’ís answer this question with a fairly accurate articulation of the Bahá’í view: "NO – animals do not have eternal souls that go to heaven.” However, there are many people who have very strong relationships with their pets and animals in general and just giving this somewhat over generalized answer can lack sensitivity as well as be missing a broad overview look of the Baha'i Writings on such a subject. Furthermore, with an expansive reading of the Writings and their description of spiritual and physical reality, another view might be developed. I am going to suggest that although it is true that the individual personality of an individual animal lasts only the span of its mortal life on earth, this personality or “spirit” that we attracted to is based on the eternal Signs and Attributes of God, which are our companions all the more substantially in the purely spiritual realm of existence that we enter upon death.

The common assumption that "no they don't" may be based on this record from `Abdu'l-Baha in London:
"When asked about the individual persistence of the animal's personality after death, 'Abdu'l-Bahá said: "Even the most developed dog has not the immortal soul of the man; yet the dog is perfect in its own place. You do not quarrel with a rose-tree because it cannot sing!"" (p. 97)

Other statements by `Abdu’l-Bahá seems to confirm this, such as the following in Some Answered Questions, p. 208:
“The animal spirit is the power of all the senses, which is realized from the composition and mingling of elements; when this composition decomposes, the power also perishes and becomes annihilated. It may be likened to this lamp: when the oil, wick and fire are combined, it is lighted; and when this combination is dissolved -- that is to say, when the combined parts are separated from one another -- the lamp also is extinguished.”

My own current understanding of the subject is that animals do not have an eternal rational soul in the sense that human beings do. Such an eternal ration soul is defined by being “engraved” with the “image” of God and “embraces the realities of things, and discovers the verities, properties and secrets of things.” It is created "to know Him and to love Him" and "reflect the greatness of His glory.” These eternal rational souls can "by virtue of their own innate powers" turn towards God, develop virtues, and play an integral part in helping "to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization." This soul will continue to progress after its separation from the body in spiritual realms, growing closer and closer to the Presence of God, and will associate and commune with fellow heavenly souls. These souls, also, to the extent of their purity and sanctity, radiate a light that "is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like unto leaven which leaveneth the world of being and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest." (This isn't meant to be a treatise on the rational soul but I do want to outline some broad features for the sake of the topic.)

The animal – as the Writings state – do not have an eternal rational soul in the sense that human beings do. However, the Writings delineate again and again that everything has a certain spirit in and of itself. `Abdu’l-Bahá – in His talks and writings – classifies things into the mineral kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, the animal kingdom, or the human kingdom and describe the different powers of each kingdom.

He characterizes the mineral as having the basic property of composition1 or cohesion2 as a result of its power of attraction3 or affinity.4 `Abdu’l-Bahá explains this property of composition is the mineral’s expression of love: “This power of attraction in the mineral world is love, the only expression of love the stone can manifest.”5

In these two passages quoted next, `Abdu’l-Bahá calls this power of attraction as the defining “spirit” of the mineral.

“As to the existence of spirit in the mineral: it is indubitable that minerals are endowed with a spirit and life according to the requirements of that stage. This unknown secret, too, hath become known unto the materialists who now maintain that all beings are endowed with life, even as He saith in the Qur'án, "All things are living."”6

“In the mineral world the spirit shows itself, but limited to that mineral condition. It is proved through science that the mineral has the power of attraction, the vegetable has the power of growth”7

`Abdu’l-Bahá explains that the spirit of the vegetable kingdom, meanwhile, in addition to the power of composition, is the power of growth: “The vegetable spirit is the power of growth which is brought about in the seed through the influence of other existences.”8 He also calls the power of growth as the power of augmentation9 and says that it exists in plant-life by its power of absorption10 of mineral elements. The power of cohesion, of cellular attraction, of absorption, and growth is the expression of love of a thing of the vegetable kingdom.10

Next comes the animal spirit. “The animal spirit is the power of all the senses,”11 says `Abdu’l-Bahá. “The distinctive virtue or plus of the animal is sense perception; it sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels.” 12 In it, the power of love, of attraction, “reveals itself in “certain emotions and sensibilities which produce instinctive fellowship and association. The animals are imbued with kindness and affinity which manifests itself among those of the same species.”13

He tells us that both animals and human beings have “physical sensations,” and so enjoins upon us to show the utmost kindness towards animals:

“Briefly, it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel.

And yet in truth, what difference is there when it cometh to physical sensations? The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities. If a man inflict a thousand ills upon a beast, it can neither ward him off with speech nor hale him into court. Therefore is it essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man.*

Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let the children try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests.” 14

In this passage, He then goes on to caution us to have due care with ferocious or harmful animals, such as a bloodthirsty wolf, a poisonous snake, a rabid dog, and others. “Kindness to these is an injustice to human beings and to other animals as well. If, for example, ye be tender-hearted toward a wolf, this is but tyranny to a sheep, for a wolf will destroy a whole flock of sheep. A rabid dog, if given the chance, can kill a thousand animals and men.”

'Abdu'l-Bahá meanwhile “has indicated that in the future human beings will be vegetarians, but abstention from eating meat is not a law of this Dispensation.”
(26 April 1989, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)

On using animals for food and clothing, the Universal House of Justice explains:
“Your concern for the prevention of cruelty to animals and for restraint in exploiting them unduly for food and other purposes is indeed praiseworthy; however, the House of Justice is not aware of any absolute prohibition in any Holy Book against the use of animals for food and clothing. As the laws brought by Bahá'u'lláh become known and operative throughout the world, we believe that humanity will find the proper balance in adjusting itself to nature and to the world of animals. As in so many other areas, the Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh in this regard follow the golden mean: kindness toward animals is definitely upheld, vegetarianism is encouraged, hunting is regulated, but certain latitude is left to individual conscience and in practical regard to the diversity of circumstances under which human beings live. For example, the indigenous peoples of the Arctic would be hard-pressed to subsist without recourse to animal products.”
(20 November 1992, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)

In His talks and writings defining each kingdom, `Abdu’l-Bahá goes to lengths to distinguish the spirit of the animal from that of the human rational soul. It has the power of sense perception, He says “but is incapable in turn, of conscious ideation or reflection which characterize and differentiate the human kingdom.”12 It cannot think of things in the abstract and metaphorical in them selves and, from them, draw new conclusions.

`Abdu’l-Bahá says,

“From the visible it cannot draw conclusions regarding the invisible whereas the human mind from visible and known premises attains knowledge of the unknown and invisible. For instance, Christopher Columbus from information based upon known and provable facts drew conclusions which led him unerringly across the vast ocean to the unknown continent of America. Such power of accomplishment is beyond the range of animal intelligence. Therefore this power is a distinctive attribute of the human spirit and kingdom. The animal spirit cannot penetrate and discover the mysteries of things. It is a captive of the senses. No amount of teaching, for instance, would enable it to grasp the fact that the sun is stationary and the earth moves around it.”
(Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 260)

In another place, He describes the intellectual power of the human being to be that of comprehending universal principles: “intellectual characteristic…discovereth the realities of things and comprehendeth universal principles.”15

From this power, He says, human beings discover the secrets of nature and transcends its laws, inventing airplanes and rockets, trains, swift ships, the submarine, photography, sound recordings, telephone; it discovers, produces, and utilizes that once hidden energy of electricity.16 He further describes the unique powers of the rational soul to discover both the subtleties of the physical universe as well as the heavenly realms of God’s Kingdom:

“The human spirit which distinguishes man from the animal is the rational soul, and these two names -- the human spirit and the rational soul -- designate one thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of the philosophers is the rational soul, embraces all beings, and as far as human ability permits discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings. But the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished and brilliant, is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets.” (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 208)

We should note that in Some Answered Questions, p. 208, `Abdu’l-Bahá places the “spirit of faith” at a higher level than the human spirit itself, and the Holy Spirit above the spirit of faith.

He summarizes many of the abilities and capacities that distinguish the human kingdom from the animal kingdoms in this passage:

Nature is inert, man is progressive. Nature has no consciousness, man is endowed with it. Nature is without volition and acts perforce whereas man possesses a mighty will. Nature is incapable of discovering mysteries or realities whereas man is especially fitted to do so. Nature is not in touch with the realm of God, man is attuned to its evidences. Nature is uninformed of God, man is conscious of Him. Man acquires divine virtues, nature is denied them. Man can voluntarily discontinue vices, nature has no power to modify the influence of its instincts. Altogether it is evident that man is more noble and superior; that in him there is an ideal power surpassing nature. He has consciousness, volition, memory, intelligent power, divine attributes and virtues of which nature is completely deprived… therefore man is higher and nobler by reason of the ideal and heavenly force latent and manifest in him. (Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 236-237)

Besides the general spirit of each kingdom of existence, the Bahá’í Writings enunciate that each individual created thing is an expression of one of the names or attributes of God, and therefore its essential reality is a name or attribute of God. Here are some quotes that state this concept:

“Every created thing in the whole universe is…a revelation of His names…”17

“Know thou that every created thing is a sign of the revelation of God.”18

“The spiritual world is like unto the phenomenal world. They are the exact counterpart of each other. Whatever objects appear in this world of existence are the outer pictures of the world of heaven.” (`Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 9)

“…all things, in their inmost reality, testify to the revelation of the names and attributes of God within them. Each according to its capacity, indicateth, and is expressive of, the knowledge of God. So potent and universal is this revelation, that it hath encompassed all things, visible and invisible…” (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 100)

“Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 65)

Know thou that the Kingdom is the real world, and this nether place is only its shadow stretching out.” (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 177)

“When, however, thou dost contemplate the innermost essence of all things, and the individuality of each, thou wilt…see the spreading rays of His Names and Attributes... And not an atom of all the atoms in existence, not a creature from amongst the creatures but speaketh His praise and telleth of His attributes and names… and none will gainsay this who hath ears to hear, eyes to see, and a mind that is sound.” (`Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 41)
Thus, each and every created thing is a sign or expression of at-least one of the names or attributes of God. Bahá’u’lláh, in the section of His Book of Certitude known as the “Tablet of the True Seeker” says that such a true seeker “will contemplate the manifest signs of the universe, and will penetrate the hidden mysteries of the soul… He will discover in all things the mysteries of divine Revelation and the evidences of an everlasting manifestation.”19 Thus, it is fun to think of the bed I sleep on as, perhaps, an expression of its essential reality of the name of God the Comforter; my desk I work on as the sign of the attribute of God the Supporter, or my sleeping cat sleeping with a smile of heavenly delight as a revelation of the quality of God, the Peaceful.

This gets us directly back to our central question: according to the Bahá’í Writings, do animals have eternal life? My answer to this is two-fold, dealing with the physical level and the spiritual essence of each created thing. On the purely physical level, as physicists say, no created thing can be created nor destroyed but can just change form. This is, in one sense – materially, their eternal life. This principle is delineated here:

Non-existence therefore is an expression applied to change of form, but this transformation can never be rightly considered annihilation, for the elements of composition are ever present and existent as we have seen in the journey of the atom through successive kingdoms, unimpaired; hence there is no death; life is everlasting. So to speak, when the atom entered into the composition of the tree, it died to the mineral kingdom, and when consumed by the animal, it died to the vegetable kingdom, and so on until its transference or transmutation into the kingdom of man; but throughout its traversing it was subject to transformation and not annihilation. Death therefore is applicable to a change or transference from one degree or condition to another. In the mineral realm there was a spirit of existence; in the world of plant life and organisms it reappeared as the vegetative spirit; thence it attained the animal spirit and finally aspired to the human spirit. These are degrees and changes but not obliteration; and this is a rational proof that man is everlasting, everliving. Therefore death is only a relative term implying change. For example, we will say that this light before me, having reappeared in another incandescent lamp, has died in the one and lives in the other. This is not death in reality. The perfections of the mineral are translated into the vegetable and from thence into the animal, the virtue always attaining a plus or superlative degree in the upward change. In each kingdom we find the same virtues manifesting themselves more fully, proving that the reality has been transferred from a lower to a higher form and kingdom of being. Therefore non-existence is only relative and absolute non-existence inconceivable. This rose in my hand will become disintegrated and its symmetry destroyed, but the elements of its composition remain changeless; nothing affects their elemental integrity. They cannot become non-existent; they are simply transferred from one state to another. (Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 263)

My second answer to this question is in regards to the spiritual essence (or divine names and attributes) that each created thing expresses. The Writings say that the names and attributes of God endure eternally, just as heat and light are qualities of the sun and thus its perpetual companions. So, in a sense, that created thing endures forever, even though the “outer picture” of the divine attribute of which makes up that created thing will eventually decompose, be destroyed, and its elements become part of something else. The eternity of the names and attributes of God is expressed in the following two passages:

“It is clear and evident that when the veils that conceal the realities of the manifestations of the Names and Attributes of God, nay of all created things visible or invisible, have been rent asunder, nothing except the Sign of God will remain -- a sign which He, Himself, hath placed within these realities. This sign will endure as long as is the wish of the Lord thy God, the Lord of the heavens and of the earth.”20

“Physical bodies are transferred past one barrier after another, from one life to another, and all things are subject to transformation and change, save only the essence of existence itself -- since it is constant and immutable, and upon it is founded the life of every species and kind, of every contingent reality throughout the whole of creation.”21

The individual spirit of a pet lasts the span of their mortal life, but the attributes and names of God that they manifest are expressions of the eternal Attributes of God. Thus, what we are essentially attracted to in our animals - gentleness, gracefulness, devotion, joy, enthusiasm, tenderness, strength, sincerity, meekness, trust, etc. - are life-forces/attributes that are our companions even all the more in the Heaven of light and glory.

So, will your pets be with you in heaven? After reading a lot and considering closely these passages, my own conclusion is this: the outer picture or physical aspect of Figaro, Romeo, or Squeaker will not be in this realm of lights and pure spirit. However, the essential spiritual essence of Fido– the divine Names and Attributes his spirit, personality, and physical body expressed – will be even more substantially your companion and among the splendors and graces in this Kingdom of Love. Meanwhile, we should not consider “spiritual” as meaning a kind of wishful, imaginary, intellectualization or mist, but rather a kind of being that is on a higher level and more fundamental – more substantial and real – than the physical realm.

Bahá’u’lláh tells us that understanding this concept helps us to comprehend the awesome destiny that is potentially one’s own:

“If such be the blessings conferred on all created things, how superior must be the destiny of the true believer, whose existence and life are to be regarded as the originating purpose of all creation. Just as the conception of faith hath existed from the beginning that hath no beginning, and will endure till the end that hath no end, in like manner will the true believer eternally live and endure. His spirit will everlastingly circle round the Will of God. He will last as long as God, Himself, will last. He is revealed through the Revelation of God, and is hidden at His bidding. It is evident that the loftiest mansions in the Realm of Immortality have been ordained as the habitation of them that have truly believed in God and in His signs. Death can never invade that holy seat. Thus have We entrusted thee with the signs of thy Lord, that thou mayest persevere in thy love for Him, and be of them that comprehend this truth.”
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 140)

1 Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 29 & 267
2 Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 257
3 Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 117
4 Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 4 & 79
5 Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 267
6 Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 337
7 Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 117
8 Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 316
9 Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 29
10 Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 268

11 Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 208
12 Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 260
13 Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 268
14 Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 158-160

15 Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 61-62
16 Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 359; Some Answered Questions, p. 186
17 Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 159
18 Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 184
19 Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 196
20 Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 140
21 Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 157

9 comments:

  1. This is very beautiful, sensitive, nuanced, and well thought out. It respects the fact that many people have animal companions that mean a lot to them. It's very interesting to contemplate that some of the attributes of animals (devotion, loyalty, love, trust) essentially come from the physical realm. Lots to think about. Thank you for a beautiful essay.

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    1. Anne makes a really splendid point which I think deserves further discussion: that many human virtues are a product of our animal (especially mammalian) experience. We know from other Baha'i Writings that the Master noted the birds superiority over men in that they innocently flock together and don't fight over color. Of course, no animal displays all the virtues and when they do these are often very situation specific (e.g. with family and friends only). Moreover, in the case of pets, they often appear to reflect the virtuous treatment given them by their owners. In any case, what these forms of life innocently live, it seems that man due to his greater complexity, including 'free will', can only attain by striving ardently. Perhaps the Master's comparison of children and adults ("men") is apt. He noted "The hearts of all children are of the utmost purity...on account of weakness and innocence, not on account of any strength and testing" whereas men can attain this only through the exercise of their strength, through his intelligence, reason and understanding such that "his heart becomes purified, his spirit enlightened, his soul is sensitized and tender—all through his great strength...Both have the underlying qualities of simplicity and sincerity—the child through the power of weakness and the man through the power of strength."

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  2. That was beautiful Daniel. I have never thought very much about this subject, but this has had the desired effect: giving me a much more nuanced and appreciative view of the animal spirit.

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  3. I wonderful essay. Thank you Daniel. Chris in Saigon, Vietnam.

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  4. I think I have read when a lady asked if her pet would be with her in next life he said to her , "IF it is the desire of your heart."
    Consider that the true "desire of out heart" is to "Love, know, and serve God". A we are told if possible to be a cause of stress to no one.
    I found this answer very caring and sensitive to the needs of the lady asking the question. She at that time was not ready to turn loose of her relationship with her pet, but as she grew spiritually it would become easier and even desirable to be detached from all else except God.
    Bill S.

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    1. The Master wrote "It is not possible to put these great matters into human words; the language of man is the language of children, and man’s explanation often leads astray.” We know from the Baha'i Writings that one retains one's individuality, memory, consciousness and perception in the next world, although it is far different than what we experience of these in this world. Perhaps the Master in saying that the lady's pet will be with her "if it is the desire of your heart" was comforting her by saying that her love for and memory of this animal would not be erased. Also, when asked about the individual persistence of the animal’s personality after death, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: “Even the most developed dog has not the immortal soul of the man; yet the dog is perfect in its own place. You do not quarrel with a rose-tree because it cannot sing!” See also: http://susangammage.com/bahaiquotes/quotepage.php?Quotes%2FAnimals+-+Going+to+Heaven

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    2. Perhaps the Master was explaining to this lady that since one retains one's individuality, memory, consciousness and perception in the next world (although of a very different kind), you will always retain your memory and love for this dog if you so choose. As He said "It is not possible to put these great matters into human words; the language of man is the language of children, and man’s explanation often leads astray.” He has also written that "Even the most developed dog has not the immortal soul of the man; yet the dog is perfect in its own place. You do not quarrel with a rose-tree because it cannot sing!” See also http://susangammage.com/bahaiquotes/quotepage.php?Quotes%2FAnimals+-+Going+to+Heaven

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  5. I happened to read this blog late last night... This morning my horse died very unexpectedly. I loved him and miss him very much. He wasn't sick, healthy I thought...I fed him before going to work. He seemed fine. He was 21 yrs old. I was at work when my husband told me that "Roscoe" died. I of course broke down and cryed. I loved my horse so much. When I got home, I remembered this blog that I had saved in favorites. I read it over again and my husband (who is not a Baha'i) read it also. Funny that I should be reading this last night...almost like God was preparing me for this. Anyway, thank you for your blog and Baha'u'llah's words and also Abdu'l-Baha's words.

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  6. It is this contention by Baha'is - that animals don't have an afterlife - which leads me, after many decades of consideration, to doubt the entire enterprise. I do not intend to remain in any afterlife that does not admit my dog, who is, spiritually, vastly superior to me in most ways.

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