In earlier times, people understood their connection with animals to be a spiritual principle. The original stories about the sacredness of all life can be found on walls of caves and temples and the first ancient writings. This original knowledge still exists in the basic writings of world religions and philosophies. Yet, virtually no Western religion today teaches its adherents how to practice compassion toward all species and how to protect the natural world.

What happened?

Could misinterpretation of the religions’ texts, and an incomplete understanding of the meaning of spirituality be why the human species continues to cause pain and anxiety upon the other animal world -- as shown by unnecessary animal experimentation, inhumane slaughtering methods, using animals in “sport” and entertainment, and the wanton destruction of animals who live in the wild.

What happened?

When and why did the other animals become invisible in our spiritual adventure? Why did we place ourselves over and above all other animals in some sort of hierarchal system? Did the separation come about simply because of our material wants and needs? Or, are there reasons that we have yet to imagine -- beyond religion, science, and history?

What happened?

Friday, January 3, 2014


January , 2014.  The other day, I received an E mail from someone who was troubled by 
THE QUESTION enough to contact me.  He asked, “What drove you to write the book?  It frequently disturbed me,  although your humor helps relieve the sadness over the absence of the other animals in people’s spiritual lives; and the consequences of their absence upon our environment.
                  I told him I began work on the book project twelve years ago by first interviewing several widely respected clergy who were leaders within their particular world religion.  The clerics were not friendly to the idea of bringing  into their doctrines the other animals as members of our spiritual lives.  The bottom line answer was always the same:  Something about God giving man dominion over the other animals and all the resources of the Earth.  The animals and Earth were created for humans.  I asked a popular Jesuit priest if he would introduce from his pulpit the idea about the other animals residing in our spiritual lives.  He put it this way:  “I agree with your proposal that the other animals participate in our religious thought, but I can’t speak about it in my sermons.  I can just see that man who always sits in the last pew crossing his arms at my revolt against what he has been taught to believe.  It's been hard enough to get him to Church as it is…”   I was disappointed by his response.  But I guess he was doing his job.
               Next step was to seek the answer to the question in the major “alternative” spiritual philosophies (i.e. philosophies  not attached to a particular religion's dogma.)  I began with the Theosophical library in Wheaton Illinois. (Great to visit to find a collection of original documents that might interest a spiritual seeker.)  I was lucky to find interest in my quest by the librarian who referred me to the editor of the Theosophical Journal.*  Bit by bit, I began to find that there were others across the ages who questioned why the animals were not included in western spiritual thought: Aristotle, Rudolph Steiner, Annie Besant, Edgar Cayce to name a few.  I was excited to find world-repected thinkers who accept the idea that the other animals are participants in the Divine plan.  Their wisdom is integrated into the book story.  

*P.S.  The Journal published the ensuing article which became a sounding board for readers responding to the proposed idea:  ANIMALS AND HUMANS:  EVOLVING TOGETHER IN A CONSCIOUS UNIVERSE.   Their responses inspired THE QUESTION's thesis:


EVEN WHEN people subscribe to a religion or philosophy that teaches honoring all life as sacred—including the animals and plants—the teachings have not taken hold. It appears that the word has not gotten out.  In discussions on this subject, the conversation usually goes something like this:
     OK, I know where you're coming from. I consider myself a good person. But, I have a hard time believing that my smelly, hyperactive dog—and my cat who messes up my garden and claws my furniture—are conscious beings. With souls, yet!
      Look … I love them. Not as much as my family and friends, maybe, but at least they're on the list of responsibilities that I've taken on (as busy as I am).
       I enjoy a good steak. I'm sorry about our inhumane slaughtering practices. What can be done about it? Besides, animals don't feel pain like we do.
      When I suggest that all animal life forms are conscious beings, it's as if I am taking a stand on abortion or telling a stranger which political party I support.  This time, you've crossed the line! I volunteer in hospices—and wherever I'm needed. Now you're asking me to do what? 
     Include animals in my spiritual life? Am I going to hell for my lack of interest? I am made in God's image.   They're not. I have a soul. They don't.  End of conversation.
In earlier times, we included all animals in our spirituality. The Aitareya Upanishad (3.1.3), written three thousand years ago, speaks to the question:
This One is Brahman (the Infinite) . . . This is these five elements, viz. Earth, Air, Space, Water, Fire. This is all these big creatures, together with the small ones, that are the procreators of others and referablein pairs—to wit those that are born of eggs, of wombs, of moisture of the earth. . . viz. horses, cattle, men, elephants, and all the creatures that there are which move or fly and those which do not move. All these have Consciousness as the giver of their reality. All these are impelled by Consciousness. The universe has Consciousness as its eye, and Consciousness is its end. Consciousness is the Infinite.
Over time, human needs for survival and comfort modified our connection with the animals. After all, we are the only species on the earth who can communicate with each other through spoken and written languages--not like the "lower animals," who can only bark, grunt or caw. After all, we are the only beings on the earth who build temples and worship in glorious song and dance. Has anyone heard an animal ask, "Who am I? Why am I here?" The Earth must belong to us.
With this shift in philosophical thinking, it became easier to use animals to do our heaviest labor, give us a ride, go to war with us, amuse us as pets, be sacrifices to our gods—our God. Even today, it appears that the guiding principle "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" applies exclusively to human others. Animals need not apply.
Today, the rest of the world is racing to catch up with the West in refrigerators, cars, and fast food. A taste for Big Macs is becoming the rage in China, Japan, and India. The planet's rainforests are burning right now to make room for more cattle -- that is, beef. How many animals and square miles of forests will it take to satisfy the appetites of billions of people for hamburgers?  Indigenous peoples are caught up in the fray. In many cases, whole tribes have traded the soul of their cultures as well as their forests, waters,and animals for tee shirts and plastic bowls.
The global network has made it possible for even the most isolated cultures to see what's happening. World leaders know. Deep ecologists know. Our children know that there is a direct correlation between the perceived need for material stuff and the unprecedented demand on the Earth's natural resources.
Is the Western media contributing to the diminishment of our spiritual connection with the animals?   Cable networks regularly air programs showing men, women and children dressed in camouflage blowing away deer with power rifles for the "sport of it;" and rodeos with cowboys and cowgirls whipping animals into submission.
In the late nineteenth century, new ideas emerged that shook the very foundations of traditional religions and philosophies. Theosophists envisioned a cosmology based on multidimensional planes of existence stretching far beyond national borders—into time and space. They looked at every aspect of existence in terms of their vast new world view, including the animal kingdom.
In the 1880s, lengthy articles appeared in Theosophical journals debating whether animals are conscious beings. In July 1896, N. A. Knox asked in an article published in Lucifer (18:211), "Why should the animal suffer torture and misery, often for the greater part of its life?" 

Theosophical leader, Annie Besant didn’t believe in God because, "if there were a God, the innocent animals would not suffer at the hand of men."  (Why I don’t Believe in God.  A. Besant)   

Theosophist, scientist and futurist, C. W. Leadbeater imagined the astral life of animals in his book The Inner Life (242):

                  When an individualized animal dies he has a happy astral life of considerable length, during which he usually remains in the immediate neighborhood of his earthly home and in the closest touch with his especial friend and protector – able to see and enjoy the society of his friend as fully as ever, though himself invisible to the latter, his memory of the past being, of course, just as perfect as it was on earth.
                  This will be followed by a still happier period of what has sometimes been called “dozing consciousness,” which will last until in some future world the human form is assumed.  During all this time he is in a state analogous to that of a human being in the heaven-world, though at a somewhat lower level.  He creates his own surroundings, even though he may be but drowsily conscious of them, and they will undoubtedly include the presence of his earth-friend in his very best and most sympathetic mood…

Although Theosophy remains anthropocentric to this day, its philosophy is one of the first modern harbingers of an emerging evolution of human consciousness. That evolution signals the contemporary realization that humans are not the sole inhabitants of a conscious universe.
Science and technology have become allies of this expanded view. Through quantum physics, complexity theory, molecular biology, and photos of the galaxies, some Western scientists speculate that all matter and energy in our known Universe is evolving consciously. And some are now theorizing that all matter and energy could be aspects of one infinite consciousness.
Many New-Age thinkers believe that the collective human soul is evolving toward a great shift whereby humanity as a whole will leave this third dimension and ascend into higher planes, becoming one with the Oneness. However, the future envisioned in this emerging "philosophy" appears to be the exclusive domain of humankind.  No room for the animals on this ark.
When all is said and done, we each reside in our own self-secret universe.  Whether we are a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged in a wind-swept cave listening to the voice of the Infinite -- or are Web-swingers nestled in our ergonomically designed chair  searching cyberspace for the true meaning of life -- our personal worldview affects our behavior toward all others.
Perhaps it is time for a global shift that reconnects humankind in full spiritual partnership with animals and all life—for the sake of the whole Earth and for the evolution of our own souls.     
Originally printed in the JULY-AUGUST 2001 issue of Quest magazine. 
“Animals and Humans: Evolving Together in Conscious Universe.” Quest  89. 4 (July-August 2001): 132-134.    This Web site is made possible by generous grants from The Kern Foundation.   Copyright © 2013 Theosophical Society in America.

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About the Author

After spending several years in Public Relations initiating and organizing award-winning multi-state community relations projects on behalf of a global telecommunications company, Judith Hensel has written her first fictional book, THE QUESTION. “What Happened to the Animal-Human Spiritual Connection?” The book is a fantasy about characters created out of real life people who join the animals in an imaginary setting to find the answer to their question. Among articles published about the book’s premises, one article “Evolving in a Conscious Universe,” was published in QUEST, international Theosophical Journal in 2003; and inspired the magazine’s content theme. As former Associate Professor of Art and Humanities, St. Xavier University, Chicago, she received numerous awards as an artist and teacher including special recognition by the Associated Press and the Governor of Illinois. She wrote and directed two critically acclaimed rock operas, “Hosanna!” and “Taproot” performed by student talent as well as talent from across the Chicago region to sell-out audiences. Her artwork is in several private collections in Australia, the Netherlands, New York, Illinois, California, Colorado and Wisconsin; and for several years was available at the Art Institute of Chicago rental gallery. She holds the MSA in Painting and Graphics, University of Wisconsin; and the MA in Communications/Television Production, University of Illinois-Chicago Campus.

Paintings by the author.