According to the Buddhist explanation of reincarnation, when a person dies, there is a karmic consciousness that is going to be reborn. Therefore, there are some people who have the custom of performing rituals for the deceased because they believe in the concept of reincarnation, where individuals go through multiple lives and experience them in various forms. Composed of the four primary elements, a human being is a continuous combination of the five aggregates, namely physiological and psychological elements (form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness). Thus, when a human life is lost, there is still an unseen existence that undergoes transformation into the next life. Although this is still a mystery, no one can confirm that it does not exist.
Does an animal have karmic consciousness after death? Buddhism always reminds us that “all sentient beings do value life,” because all sentient beings, including animals, must be reborn and take on many different lives. That is, when an animal dies, it still has a karmic consciousness. The deceased animals can help or punish us, depending on how we treat them, according to some people.
I would like to share the following stories, true accounts of what I have witnessed, as evidence that “taking the lives of sentient beings leads to grave sins that may have consequences in this lifetime.” These stories also evoke the idea that “animals also possess Buddha nature.”
About 20 years ago, near my house, there was a man who specialized in selling dogs. He raised dogs and sold them, regardless of whether they were mother dogs or puppies. Sometimes he sold the whole litter, and other times he sold adult dogs. There was a male dog that was not being fed by his owner, so every day it came to my house to beg for food. When I finished feeding it, the animal ran back to its owner’s house. One day, I noticed that it no longer ran to my house, begging for food. When I inquired, I found out that the owner had sold it to individuals who purchased dogs for slaughter. At that time, I was very sad. I felt that the owner was cruel. He did not provide the dog with food or water and even sold it to the butcher for slaughter. But not long after, when he had just turned 40, he had a stroke. I heard his wife say that he was very sick and thought he wouldn’t survive. Later, he was able to walk again, but he remained bewildered, unable to speak, and weak, and continued to wander the streets. When others saw him and asked him questions, he did not understand anything and could no longer answer.
The second story is about the brother of the dog dealer, who also lived near my house. Every evening, he would often take his electric fishing net to the river to fish. It is said that it is a sin to catch and kill fish and shrimp at night when they are sleeping. He had been practicing this profession for a long time, but shortly after turning 50 years old, he suffered a stroke, which left him unable to walk normally. Unfortunately, he passed away not long after.
The man in the third story was also from my village. He earned a living by slaughtering and butchering pigs for meat. Sometime later, around the age of 50, he found himself sitting in a wheelchair, selling lottery tickets. When I asked, I discovered that he was also ill, unable to walk anymore, and confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.
The fourth story is about a person who raised roosters for fighting competitions. He often invited people to bring roosters to participate in rooster-fighting contests. People who engaged in cockfighting had a specific technique: they would affix a sharp piece of iron or a knife to the rooster’s spurs. This allowed the rooster to swiftly injure and potentially kill its opponent during the fight. However, one day, I heard my family tell me that he had suffered a heart attack that night and was struggling to breathe. This came as a shock because he was in good health, being only over 40 years old, and having no previous history of cardiovascular disease. He was taken to the hospital, and the doctor diagnosed him with a serious heart condition that necessitated immediate surgery. When he finished surgery and was in the intensive care unit, I went to visit him because, when he was healthy, he was also friendly and respected my family. When he was discharged from the hospital, he came to my house to visit and told me that the surgery had been so painful that he had felt like he was going to die. At that time, he said, “I knew the surgery would be very painful.” “It would be better if I died,” he thought. If the surgery lasted just one more minute, he believed he wouldn’t be able to bear the unbearable pain. From then on, he had to take heart medication every day and could no longer raise fighting roosters.
Those are true stories that I have witnessed with my own eyes, depicting the fate of individuals who harm and commit atrocities against animals. Why do I believe that animals possess consciousness and premonitions? That’s the story that happened to me.
My family has many dogs and cats. Newborn kittens are typically docile and shy, often hesitant to venture outside of their nest. However, one day, when I opened the cat litter cover, a kitten quickly ran away. I tried my best to chase after it, but I still couldn’t catch up in time. At that moment, it crawled out of the fence and darted across the road, disappearing into the dense bamboo bush in front of the house. I remember it was around 7 p.m. Furthermore, I quickly ran to the bamboo bush. But this place has a very challenging location; there is a branch of the river behind the bamboo bush. Later, people blocked the water and turned it into a landfill. The leaves from the tall trees, as well as bamboo leaves, have accumulated heavily over the years beneath this branch of the river. Weeds, dead trees, and litter are intermingled with the damp rainwater. It was very dark at that time, and the surrounding trees were densely covered like a forest. I waded through that pile of trash, but I honestly didn’t know if there was anything underneath it—a snake or something that people had thrown there—or not. For over 20 minutes, I diligently dug through the dense bamboo bush, which was covered in leaves. Occasionally, I hear the cat say, “Meow.” I followed the trail and dug, but I still couldn’t find it. I stood under the river, which was filled with leaves and damp garbage. I dug so hard that my arms and legs were scratched by the sharp bamboo sticks, but I still couldn’t find the cat. Furthermore, I had to return to the house, but I refused to give up. I made up my mind to resume the search the following morning.
The next morning, I returned to the bamboo bush, entered, and waded into the canal once again. Only then did I see nests of ants of all kinds, crawling under layers of trash and damp leaves. I thought that if I put my foot down, the ants would bite my leg. However, I still took the risk and prayed that I would find the cat. Last night, it rained very heavily. I didn’t know if the cat was still alive because the rainwater had flooded underneath the leaves and the garbage was dirty. I continued to dig near the tree. After some time, I removed all the decaying trees and dug deep into the bamboo roots. I was delighted to see the kitten; it was still alive and completely dry, as it had been hiding deep within the roots. At this point, I took the cat out. I stood under that layer of trash and mud for nearly 30 minutes, digging while surrounded by a thick layer of black ants. I assumed they were there from the previous night, but strangely, not a single ant appeared on my feet.
I feel surprised, and I believe in the spirituality and sensitivity of animals. I believe that if I do good deeds, even small animals will not harm me. That is why, since then, I have refrained from killing ants, except in unexpected cases.
I have a small table in my room where I place a Buddha statue. Every night, I sit and read the Sutras. There was a strange phenomenon in my house where some very small animals when they are about to die, crawl up on the Buddha table, turn their heads towards the Buddha statue, and die. Normally, they would crawl and hide in some hidden hole where no one could see them. I have witnessed this phenomenon on two occasions. Because of these phenomena and stories, I believe that “animals possess consciousness, spirituality, and Buddha nature,” regardless of their size. Therefore, we should always treat animals with compassion and respect their lives so that we do not encounter unfortunate events ourselves.
Even though we know that no one can escape the cycle of birth, old age, illness, and death and that everyone will eventually face the end of their lives, we can improve our lives by doing good, avoiding evil, and refraining from harming sentient beings. Or when we are about to depart from this world, we no longer have any blood debts to repay to living beings.
“I believe that the act of killing and destroying life, taking the lives of living beings, is the most evil act and carries the heaviest karma.” No matter how much merit we possess, if we lack compassion for living beings, remain indifferent to the suffering of animals, and engage in animal cruelty, all the blessings and good deeds we accumulate will vanish. “I believe that being a sentient being with an animal’s body entails enduring the greatest amount of suffering.” If we continue to contribute to the torture and killing of helpless and weak beings, if we are inflicting more pain and suffering upon their lives, the karma we accumulate will be so burdensome that it can negate all the merit we have accumulated.
I may not believe that everything has a cause and effect, but I do believe that actions that harm the lives of living beings are subject to the laws of cause and effect. And I have only one wish, a prayer, for each of us to cultivate our Buddha nature. Even insects possess Buddha nature, so how can we humans be so cruel and callous towards the lives of sentient beings?
Author: Võ Đào Phương Trâm
Translated by Nguyên Giác