In Matthieu Ricard’s new book, A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion (Shambhala Publications, Oct. 2016, $26.95, 352 pp., cloth), the prolific Tibetan Buddhist monk turns his attention toward the lives of the sentient beings we share this planet with.
In thorough, reasoned chapters, Ricard explicates the situation of animals in the modern world, examining the violence that industrial meat production and overfishing have wrought on the 60 billion land animals and the thousand billion marine animals that are killed annually, a rate unequaled in the history of mankind. In the book, he also discusses the ethics of animal experimentation, the illegal wildlife trade, and the use of animals as entertainment objects, changing course to include a brief chapter on moral judgment.
His approach is refreshing: Ricard doesn’t aim to rebuke those who eat animals or those who farm them, and stays clear of the idea that we should care about industrial slaughter because of limited ecological resources. Instead, he places the inherent value of life at the center of his reasoning, appealing to the idea that human beings are moral agents capable of extending benevolence and kindness to all. He shares his hope that the human tendency for moral conformity can nudge our current attitudes and practices in regard to animal life away from violence, dominance, and destruction, and toward compassionate respect and consideration.
During the 6th century CE, Buddhism flourished under Emperor Wu, founder of the Liang Dynasty and a practicing Buddhist sometimes called the Bodhisattva Emperor. Legend has it that after the emperor’s wife died prematurely and was reborn as a python due to her “intense jealousy and hatred for the consorts and concubines,” he had Chan Master Baozhi compose a repentance ceremony on her behalf in order to help her be free from her misery. (It’s unclear if the good Chan Master did anything about the concubines.)
The ritual text that resulted, the Jeweled Repentance of the Emperor of Liang, is still used in monasteries today. This year, the Buddhist Text Translation Society released the first English translation of the text, a project that took a group of monks, nuns, and laypeople 15 years to complete.
This article is available to subscribers only. Subscribe now for immediate access to the magazine plus video teachings, films, e-books, and more.Subscribe Now
Already a subscriber? Log in.