“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
Many spiritual and religious traditions still believe that animals don’t have souls, insisting that animals are a “lower” species than human beings and do not have the intelligence to understand their soul as different from their body. Yet there is so much evidence to dispel this ignorant belief. You don’t have to look too deep, most of us have seen that animals play, dance, love and suffer. They have the capacity to communicate, to think analytically, to contemplate, to feel emotion, to mourn and show compassion in the face of illness and death.
It is even defined in our language: the meaning of the word anima, the root for the word animal, means “the inner self that is in touch with the unconscious, or the soul”. Thus to be alive is to have a soul, be you a human or non-human animal. When a creature dies and the soul leaves the body, that is the only time that we can justifiably say the creature doesn’t have a soul. So to insist that we human beings are the only species of animal with a soul that yearns for happiness and freedom is to be deluded by prejudice.
Patanjali taught us that prejudice as the greatest obstacle to yoga. Sharon Gannon explains that prejudice is always based on misperception, or from being told a lie then believing it and continuing to tell yourself and others that lie. Your belief in that lie then affects how you see yourself and the others whom you are prejudiced against. Only knowledge can burn prejudice at its root and reveal the truth. When we remember that all living beings have a soul, we understand that all species are capable of evolving towards cosmic consciousness. So when we open to empathy, compassion, kindness and friendliness to all beings, the universe opens up to us!
“Jivamukti means liberation for the soul—all souls, not just human souls. To reach liberation, we must rid ourselves of prejudice. Asana and meditation practice can help. Bhakti can help. Being vegan can help. But no practice will be effective unless we are willing to open our minds and hearts to see beyond the “reality” presented to us by culture. When we reach liberation, we will find that there is actually no difference between individuals of any species. We are all one—we are all one Divine soul.” – Sharon Gannon