Numerous persons, Victor Hugo among them, have suggested that Jesus’ teaching that you “do not do to others what you would not wish them to do to you” or that you “do to others as you want done to you,” refers to animals and other beings who share our universe with us and not merely to other humans.
Like Saint Francis, Meister Eckhart championed the spiritual dimension to our interacting with animals. He comments on the “equality” we share with animals.
If l were alone in the desert where l was afraid, and if l had a child with me, my fear would disappear and l would be strengthened–so noble, so full of pleasure and so powerful is life in itself.
Notice that he is emphasizing what we share with animals—the equality of “life in itself” that is full of nobility; pleasure; and power. He goes on:
If I could not keep a child with me, and if l had at least a live animal with me, l would be comforted. Therefore, let those who bring about great wonders in black books take an animal–perhaps a dog–to help them. The life within the animal will give them strength. Equality gives strength in all things.
When it comes to the great gift and pleasure and power of life, Eckhart is saying, animals and ourselves are equal. There is an entire basis for animal ethics in this Eckhartian revelation. Victor Hugo predicted that in compassion to animals and plants a “whole great ethic” would be born in the West. He says:
In the relations of man with the animals, with the flowers, with all the objects of creation, there is a whole great ethic (‘tout une grande moral’) scarcely seen as yet, but which will eventually break through into the light and be the corollary and the complement to human ethics.
Chief Seattle confesses that
We do not understand when the buffaloes are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.
The end of living and the beginning of survival–the ‘quality’ of life is what is at stake in the mutuality between human and animal.
Albert Schweitzer summarizes the ethics of compassion and animals in a look to the future.
To the universal ethics of reverence for life, pity for animals, so often smilingly dismissed as sentimentality, becomes a mandate no thinking person can escape….The time will come when public opinion will no longer tolerate amusements based on the mistreatment and killing of animals. The time will come, but when? When will we reach the point that… the pleasure of killing animals for sport will be regarded as a mental aberration?
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion, pp. 163-165.
Banner image: “Youth Hunt.” Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife on Flickr.
Do you experience the “equality” of animals and humans? How many ways does it give you “strength” in your journey?
A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice
In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register