Why Do Animals Suffer?


The torture animals daily throughout the world, millions on a daily basis, to satisfy human appetite for food depresses me. Where do the souls go? Do they come back as humans or were these souls humans in their previous incarnations, and because of mass bad and extreme karma, they are born as animals to learn a lesson? I always ask God daily for an answer, but no convincing reply so far.

—Ramesh , india


Dear Ramesh,

The suffering, fear, and anger produced in animals as a result of their killing by humans for food is one important reason for the practice of vegetarianism. There are many life forms on this planet, and some are more self-aware than others. Cows and pigs, for example, who are common sources of food for human consumption, are very aware of their pain and suffering. Chickens and fish are less so.

Animals aren’t the only innocents to be murdered. So too are children and innocent civilians in time of war. All creation is the soul of God. All life forms, especially as they evolve with increasing self-awareness, continue life in new bodies. As Krishna says, “Nothing is killed. The soul remains.”

Does your despair or despondency help the animals? Does being depressed help you? Be practical and strong in this world. Great souls like Krishna, Rama, Jesus, Buddha, and Yogananda…. can feel the suffering of all beings at least as much as you do. Yet are they depressed on account of that? No! Why? Because they have tapped into the underlying conscious Life that has manifested this creation in the form of duality (the oppositional states), and they have discovered that the undying essence of this divine Life is joy. This is the simple truth that, while not necessarily easy to rediscover, is what will free you from suffering caused by identification with body, ego, and senses.

In any case, suffering is necessary for the upward evolution of souls towards that joy. Without suffering we would never seek another level of consciousness. Truthfully, most humans are perfectly content chasing after pleasure and success while running from failure and suffering. This makes “the world go-’round!” Most humans think nothing of the suffering of the animals they kill (usually unnecessarily) for their sustenance. But for those who are more awake, suffering is a prod to self-inquiry.

Many ask, “Why does suffering exist at all?” This is one of those big questions. Paramhansa Yogananda stated that “I used to think Satan was only a myth, but I now add my testimony to that of others that Satan is a real and conscious force in this world.”

Lord Buddha went on a quest to solve the riddle of suffering, old age, and death. All men and all animals are subject to this three-fold suffering. Gandhi wrote, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. Tyrants and murderers, in the end, always fall.”

There is no explanation for the existence of evil that satisfies the heart of men. “Leave some questions for when you meet God face to face,” it has been said. No saint or avatar has ever declared Creation to be a mistake, to be evil, to be other than an expression of God’s love. For them, it isn’t merely a concept but a realized truth. We too then must venture forth bravely on our quest, if we wish to find the “pearl of great price.”

What can you do? If you are not willing or able to be an animal activist, I suggest you move forward to seek that joy within you and in all beings, including animals. Seek that joy and then share that joy with all whom you meet. For this, you were created. We were not created in order to be depressed. It is of no value to the animals nor to your Self.

It’s fine to be unhappy with the suffering in this world, and you are right to question and to challenge. But having done so, know that a solution has been offered to us by the masters of East and West. Go forth, then, with faith, courage, and joy.

Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA