I have a practical-living question. Forgive me if it sounds silly, but did the Master ever speak about if having pets could help or hurt one’s spiritual growth? I ask because I know in some religions, dogs are considered not ideal- while other pets like cats or fish are fine. Dogs are also usually excitable and are more 'slaves to their drives,' which could make their owners' consciousness more base/less centered (in theory), but yet they are loving as well. Thoughts?
Practical living questions are valuable because, if we are serious about our spiritual work, we must bring the teachings into our daily lives. So this is not a silly question.
Essential to our growth toward Self-realization is learning to love and to open our hearts to another — and also to God. Paramhansa Yogananda and all the great scriptures tell us that we must learn to love God without condition to achieve soul union with Him. For most people divine love must be experienced at the personal level before it can be experienced as God’s infinite, unbounded love. When we open our hearts in love toward others including animals we tune into the flow of Divine Love which embraces all. Love perfected at this personal level is never possessive or attached for we can never possess another, even an animal. All souls are individualized expressions of the Infinite.
Yogananda tells a story in his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, about a pet deer he and the students had at his school for boys which he established as a young man. The students and Yogananda all deeply loved this deer. The deer even slept by Yogananda’s bed at night.
One day Yogananda fed the deer early as he had to go to town and warned the boys not to feed the deer until he returned. But one of the boys did feed the deer a large quantity of milk. When Yogananda returned the deer was dying. He prayed over the deer for a long time and the deer feebly opened his eyes and began to move.
Later that night the deer came to him in a dream telling Yogananda that he was holding him back from reincarnating in a more advanced form. In the dream Yogananda agreed that he should leave this life and then awoke, calling the boys to be at the deer’s side as he was dying. Yogananda relates that he learned a deep lesson from this experience:
According to the mass karma which guides and regulates the destinies of animals, the deer’s life was over, and it was ready to progress to a higher form. But by my deep attachment, which I later realized was selfish, and by my fervent prayers, I had been able to hold it in the limitations of the animal form from which the soul was struggling for release. The soul of the deer made its plea in a dream because, without my loving permission, it either would not or could not go. As soon as I agreed, it departed. All sorrow left me; I realized anew that God wants His children to love everything as a part of Him, and not to feel delusively that death ends all. The ignorant man sees only the unsurmountable wall of death, hiding, seemingly forever, his cherished friends. But the man of unattachment, he who loves others as expressions of the Lord, understands that at death the dear ones have only returned for a breathing-space of joy in Him.
Yogananda did not specify that it is necessary for every person to have a pet for spiritual growth. Each individual soul draws what is needed for their next spiritual step and indeed a pet may be important to open the heart and embrace a greater reality than oneself. Yogananda did not specify which animals are ideal pets. Lower animals are helped in their spiritual evolution by association with people who show love to them. Traditionally in India devotees will lovingly feed animals to assist their souls and to acknowledge God’s presence in all life forms.
If you are wondering if having a pet might be right for you, offer your question up to God at the end of a meditation when your heart is open. Listen sensitively with your intuition and feel if having a pet in your life would be heart-opening.