Why Do Animals Suffer?


Dear Gyandev: Why do the animals suffer? Someone answered me that they don’t have an ego and therefore do not suffer, and I know that neither do they have karma. I’m not sure, because clearly they feel physical pain! Why is there suffering and torture of animals, such as in slaughterhouses and hatcheries? I can understand a personal pain or suffering as an action-reaction? But how is the law of animal life, that without karma, any animal can be a victim of any painful torture by anyone?

—Jeni, Israel


Dear Jeni,

When animals experience pain, usually it’s simply nature taking its course: the animal has an accident or gets attacked by another animal. Neither ego nor karma nor torture is involved; instinct rules the animal world, and they are locked into a fixed progression of expanding consciousness.

The relationship between human beings and animals is different, because humans have some degree of free will. That can be lead to abuse of animals or to kindness to animals; either one results in karma for the human being, but neither stems from any karma on the part of the animal.

Because our planet is currently at a relatively low level of spiritual advancement, there will be misuse of free will. Killing animals for food may or may not be misuse of free will—one can easily imagine examples of both—but certainly torture is a misuse. In a higher age, these things won’t happen as often. And in a very high age, they won’t happen at all.

In any case, what we perceive as suffering in animals is the result of our projecting onto the animals how we would feel if we were in the same circumstances. It can be different for animals, for they are not as attached to their bodies as humans are, so they do not suffer as much as humans do when bad things happen to them.

I hope this explanation helps satisfy the mind, although no explanation can comfort the heart that sees other creatures in pain.