The physical interdependence among humans, animals, plants, and minerals is amply demonstrated by science. But an emotional and spiritual symbiosis, less obvious perhaps to those living in a largely man-made world, exists as well. In Chief Seattle's words: "What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man. All things are connected." These connections arise from the spiritual unity underlying the universe: from the same unknowable divine source all come forth together into apparent separateness as god-sparks, which gradually develop more and more of their potential. In so doing, each expresses many different aspects of itself, through bodies appropriate to its changing needs. These centers of consciousness are not indivisible; they are composed of other similar centers. Just as with the structure of physical matter, the ultimate particles of consciousness elude our perception.
The kingdoms of nature are expressions of the many degrees of evolution achieved by these god-sparks over eons of time. Because the cosmos extends infinitely, not only materially through physical space but inwardly into different realms of consciousness and substance, existence is an endless continuum. There are lives more advanced than the human and others less evolved than the mineral, though these are usually outside ordinary human awareness. All kingdoms are sentient, by-products of consciousness as well as matter. As the experiments of Dr. Chandra Bose showed in the early years of this century, there is a fundamental unity between the various inorganic and organic forms of being. None of the kingdoms of nature is intrinsically more, or less, worthy than another: each is formed of essentially identical spiritual individualities which are equally necessary parts of the Earth's being.
The unity of nature and the interdependence of its kingdoms is also reflected within each individual. While its ultimate root is oneness, each entity exists as a collective being, its structure deriving from that of the more spiritually evolved beings of whom it forms a part. In this sense all lives on Earth are worlds in miniature, built of the quality of consciousness characteristic of each of the planet's kingdoms. Taking ourselves as an example, we have a physical body formed of minerals, a vegetative consciousness acting through the autonomic and more primitive parts of the nervous system, an emotional or animal nature, a higher psychomental or strictly human nature, as well as spiritual and divine aspects. We can see in ourselves how each one of them is necessary to our functioning as a complete person, how certain centers are latent or more fully developed, and how they affect each other for good or ill -- in psychosomatic illness, for example.
These centers of consciousness characteristic of the kingdoms of nature are more than convenient or arbitrary divisions; they are actual beings, evolving spiritual individuals or monads which, considered in union, form a human being -- or an animal, or some other entity. They exist within all the lives around us, human and nonhuman, either active or relatively unexpressed depending on how much of its potential any entity has so far manifested. These links between the terrestrial kingdoms and each entity's own centers of consciousness create an extremely close and intricate relationship among all beings on our planet.
We can see various ways in which each of nature's kingdoms gives itself in some measure for the ones more evolved, while using the ones less evolved than itself. This interaction goes beyond the food chain: the idea of transmigration, common in the Orient, reflects the knowledge that at death the lower aspects of the human being -- physical and psychomental -- are drawn to members of other kingdoms by mutual attraction. These journey through the various kingdoms until their "parent" spiritual-human consciousness-center returns to earth life to collect them to itself again. From the point of view of these lower centers within us -- particularly the animal-human one which forms so much of our everyday awareness -- each human lifetime is indeed a "precious human birth," preceded and followed by many imbodiments in lower kingdoms. As adjoining kingdoms, there is a particularly close inner link between animals and humans.
People living close to nature, like the American Indians, were aware of the outer and inner links among the kingdoms. They viewed animals as spiritually important, and so thanked, praised, or asked forgiveness of the spirit of the animals they used to sustain themselves. Such fellow-feeling contrasts with traditional Western beliefs that deny animals not only souls but any spiritual reality and significance. Many current attitudes toward animals grow directly from such ideas: Descartes, for instance, argued for the practice of vivisection on the grounds that animals, being soulless, could feel no pain and therefore could not suffer, whatever the appearance to the contrary. Generally speaking, science has not recognized the reality of the soul even in man, and everything is judged from an anthropocentric view, echoing the Biblical statement that animals, like the rest of creation, were made for the use of man. Like all other beings, however, animals are spiritual individuals in their own right, sprung from the same divine source as we are, not material objects existing primarily for human convenience and exploitation. Though less evolved, the spiritual centers now expressing themselves as animals are destined to accompany us through countless evolutionary cycles. In future eons these monads will have perfected their beast aspects and will be ready to bring forth human qualities. They will then manifest as human beings.
Because animals are not mere inferior items to be used or abused at human discretion, their present suffering, pain, or exploitation at our hands cannot be excused by appeals to the human benefit that may result. Nor does the end justify the means. Like representatives of many dominant ideologies in the past, scientists at times claim the right to suspend moral laws in the interest of their own "higher" ends and activities. While the good motives, personal altruism, and dedication of many researchers and workers are beyond question, throughout history many of the most revolting, inhuman actions and policies have been carried out by well-meaning fanatics who could not see beyond their particular "good motive" to the larger realities of surrounding nature.
In recent years people have become more sensitive to the intrinsic importance of animals, and consequently are increasingly disturbed by their widespread abuse. Various groups and individuals focus much attention on the plight of endangered species and also on animals used in research and testing (an estimated 60 to 90 million animals annually in United States laboratories alone). Factory farming -- the raising of animals as mass-produced products which often entails hardships and inhumane living conditions -- and misuse of animals in entertainment industries, zoos, homes, and in the wild are also coming under closer scrutiny. The belief that animals have certain innate rights as sentient beings and are entitled to moral consideration is slowly gaining ground. Negative practices, too, are detrimental not only to the animals involved, but to the people who perform them and to society at large. In the 1920s Katherine Tingley wrote:
The Higher Law is direct: you cannot play with or misuse it. The vivisector is sowing seeds in his nature whose ghastly harvest he will have to reap. He is hardening his inner and finer sensibilities -- tearing down a part of the better structure of his being -- misusing his mind and insulting the higher qualities of his nature; and losing something that he will never find again.
. . . He does not realize that . . . he is shutting the door against the higher knowledge which would come if his efforts were on higher lines.
For here again there is reliance on nothing better than the brain-mind vision -- and actually on the very lowest phases of that -- to gain a knowledge that can only be won, really, through exercise of the spiritual side of the nature -- that very Higher Self which by the practice of vivisection a man insults, excludes, and sets back. Always the key to the Higher Self is compassion. -- The Gods Await, pp. 66-7
In brief, the person who hardens himself to cause the suffering of other beings distances himself from his own spiritual source and meets the consequences in the type of person he becomes, while shutting out access to the insight of the inner self. He also adds to the psychological smog hanging over humanity.
A society that encourages such practices, feeding and curing its members through these means and even making them mandatory in its educational and industrial systems, is clearly out of touch with the unity and sacredness of life, and a harvest of turbulence, alienation, selfishness, and violence should come as no surprise. William Blake in "Auguries of Innocence" expresses something of the connection between human actions and the larger universe in which we live:
A dog starv'd at his Master's Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus'd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A skylark wounded in the wing,
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clip'd & arm'd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright. . . .
Of course, many of those who deal with animals professionally are sensitive and conscientious. Some scientists, for example, are devising ways of limiting the number of animals used in experiments and testing, or eliminating their use completely. And although physiological and psychological theories and practices based on animal research continue to dominate the field, curative techniques not based on the use and abuse of animals, such as homeopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture, magnetism, and mind-body interaction, are increasingly commanding serious attention. Most importantly, if we could but see ourselves as essentially spiritual beings, partners in a spiritual universe, disease and death would appear in a new light: prolonging existence in the same body would not be a goal compatible with cruelty and abuse of others, human or nonhuman.
Compassion, love, sacrifice, and wisdom are the marks of the truly human person. As self-conscious beings, we must choose to work with nature deliberately rather than merely instinctively. If we as individuals have more reverence for all life, those in fields such as medical research and production, product testing, education, and farming will necessarily devise means to achieve their ends which enhance the quality of all lives. Surely the day will come when much of our current treatment of animals will be viewed with the same disgust and horror that most of us now feel for the similar exploitation of humans. Then, no longer estranged from other life-forms on the planet, we will have overcome in large measure the loneliness of spirit that characterizes the modern world. And in recognizing the intrinsic worth of every being, we will find our own natural role in the life of the planet, nurturing the lower kingdoms even as we are sustained by beings whose spirituality and love transcend the human.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Theosophical University Press.)