Buddhist Rebirth, Reincarnation, and Animal Welfare

Authored by: Alex Bruce

The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138592728
eBook ISBN: 9780429489846
Adobe ISBN:


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Central to the Buddhist religious tradition is the notion of rebirth; the continuation of a sentient being’s very subtle consciousness, propelled by karma after physical death into a new form of existence within the six realms of samsara. This process continues endlessly until the sentient being attains liberation (nirvana). Because both humans and animals are trapped within samsara, Buddhist philosophy maintains that the difference between humans and animals is one of degree and not substance. But what does this lack of substantial difference between humans and animals mean? From a human perspective, what are the consequences for animal welfare of truly accepting the concept of rebirth? Does rebirth make a difference to animal welfare in the here and now? Should it make a difference? If so, why? This article explores answers to these questions. It explains the concept of rebirth as a tenet of Buddhist philosophy, taking care to distinguish it from more ancient and popular concepts of reincarnation. Rebirth is not the same as reincarnation. It then explores potential consequences for animal welfare that arise from accepting the Buddhist notion of rebirth.

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