The chapter in the book Keywords for Environmental Studies pertaining to my keyword, “animal”, addresses the doctrine surrounding the boundaries of the term, specifically whether or not it includes humans. From one perspective, humans dominate the earth, have developed sophisticated oral and written languages, and are by far the most powerful living species. However, there is no question that humans evolved from other animal species, so where is the boundary set?
While this question is heavily explored in the book, the reading reminded me of a previous study I did on Sikhism. Followers of this religion believe in the process of reincarnation after death, or rebirth into another physical body. Sikhs encourage morality through the promise of attaining a union with God in heaven. At a grassroots level, a soul is cycled throughout a hierarchy of beings until it behaves well enough to escape the pains of life on earth. However, if the being that the soul occupies has immoral behavior, it is reborn after death in another physical body, albeit one of a so-called lower species.
The Sikh concept of reincarnations brings about an ethical debate over the value of species. The religion does not define specific animals that are higher or lower than others, but souls can occupy one of three tiers (from highest to lowest): humans, animals, and plants. Thus, not only do Sikhs place the highest value on humans whereby they are the closest beings to holiness, but they give a clear separation between humans and other animals.
Nagaraj, Anil Kumar Mysore, Raveesh Bevinahalli Nanjegowda, and S. M. Purushothama. “The Mystery of Reincarnation.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry 55.Suppl 2 (2013): S171–S176. PMC. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.
“Reincarnation.” Reincarnation – SikhiWiki, Free Sikh Encyclopedia. N.p., 1 June 2007. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.
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