Buddhism Animal Ethics Essay (Article)

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Buddhism is a religion that has its origins in the beliefs of Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Prince Gautama’s sole purpose was to seek spiritual enlightenment by denouncing his enviable social standing. Eventually, Buddhism spread to Asia.

However, Buddhist teachings later separated into various factions although most fundamental principles remained the same. Buddhism has since spread from its original confines in Asia to the rest of the world. Buddhist teachings touch on several aspects of daily life including nature, morality, ethics, and spirituality.

One of the most prominent teachings on Buddhism covers human beings’ treatment of animals. Followers of Buddhism adhere to a strict code of ethics when it comes to the treatment of animals. Most vegetarians around the world lean on these teachings when supporting their beliefs and practices.

Buddhist beliefs about animal ethics elicit several concerns including their impacts on the environment and health. This paper discusses the Buddhist teachings on animal ethics and their relation to the health system.

The Buddhist religion holds animals in high regard and considers them to be ‘sentient beings’. However, the most prominent animal-based belief in Buddhism comes from the fact that the religion teaches that “human beings can be reborn as animals and animals can be reborn as human beings” (Buswell 1990).

Consequently, many Buddhists consider most animals to be their distant relatives who were reborn as animals. Consequently, because animals are people who have been reborn thus, it is difficult to distinguish between the ethics that apply to animals and those that apply to human beings.

On the other hand, Buddhism articulates that human beings and animals were part of a single family and issues of superiority should not feature between them. In early Buddhism, women and animals could not achieve Buddhahood.

However, “the achievement of Buddhahood by Lotus Sutra the daughter of Dragon King lifted restrictions against women and animals” (Buswell 1990).

In the five precepts of Buddhism, the killing of human beings is prohibited. However, a more comprehensive interpretation of this precept reveals that the prohibition of murder applies to all sentient beings. Under Buddhism, animals are sentient beings and thus should not be killed by human beings (Williams 2007).

The belief against killing animals ushers in the concept of vegetarianism in Buddhism. Buddhists abide to a non-harm attitude against animals and this includes indirect harm. Not all Buddhist adherents are vegetarians but a sizeable portion of this group adheres to this practice.

Another prominent belief in Buddhism is the practice of releasing animals into the world. Most Buddhists in East Asia engage in the practice of demonstrating “Buddhist pity by releasing animals to their natural environment” (Debien 2005). The practice of animal release is fairly common in both China and Tibet.

The release of domesticated birds, fish, and other animals is one of the most controversial Buddhist teachings because the practice has been found to have negative effects on bio-diversity and the environment at large.

Buddhist teachings on animal ethics have direct or indirect impacts on the health system. The first health concern comes from the Buddhist tradition of vegetarianism. Previously, vegetarianism was thought to have adverse effects on the health of individuals.

However, health professionals have since found that vegetarianism tends to have more benefits than shortcomings. A few decades ago, most people were of the view that abstaining from meat and its related products led to nutritional deficiency.

Nevertheless, modern science indicates that “individuals who practice vegetarianism are likely to have lower cholesterol levels, lower body mass index, less incidences of hypertension, and lower blood pressure” (Williams 2007).

The Buddhist practice of releasing animals into their natural environment has several impacts on the eco system. For instance, releasing animals into the world can introduce new elements into an unfamiliar environment. When invasive animals are introduced into the environment, they have detrimental effects on the eco-system.

Some animals are carriers of disease causing pathogens and releasing them into an unfamiliar environment might facilitate the spread of diseases. A portion of Buddhist adherents captures animals with the sole intention of releasing them later. Handling wild animals can lead to the spread of diseases.

Buddhist teachings on animal ethics have an impact on tissue and organ transplantation. Buddhist factions have contradicting teachings on the issue of organ donations. Some Buddhists believe that it is in their best interest to donate organs in order to alleviate suffering.

The belief that organ donation alleviates suffering is in line with Buddhist teachings on compassion. Another Buddhist faction believes that when a person dies, he/she retains his/her ‘sentient being’ for some time.

Consequently, some Buddhists will be against organ harvesting/donation immediately after death. Consequently, by the time the body has lost its ‘sentient ‘being’ it will be too late to donate organs.

Buddhism is one of the most dominant religions in the world. Buddhism teaches about several aspects of animal ethics. Some of these ethics affect both followers and non-followers of Buddhism. Buddhists believe in several practices that are meant to honor the integrity of the animals.


Buswell R 1990, Chinese Buddhist Aprcrypha, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

Debien, N 2005, Animal liberation Buddhist style, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney.

Williams, D 2007, Animal liberation, death, and the state: Rites to release animals in Medieval Japan, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Read more