From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2003



(Part 1 of two parts: from Moses to Walt Disney)

by Merritt Clifton

1300 B.C. - 34 B.C.

1300 B.C. -- Hebrew law as proclaimed by Moses includes provisions for humane slaughter and care of work animals.

740 B.C. -- Rise of Isaiah, the most prominent of the Hebrew vegetarian prophets, and the prophet who most emphasized opposition to animal sacrifice.

600-500 B.C. -- Buddhism and Jainism rose in India in opposition to sacrificial cults within mainstream Hinduism, which otherwise encourages vegetarianism and requires members of the highest caste, the Brahmins, to be vegetarian. Both Mahavir, the last of the 24 great teachers of Jainism, and the Buddha taught vegetarianism and compassion for all beings. Said Mahavir, "It is not enough to live and let live. You must help others live." This is the idea embodied in the Jain word ahimsa. Both Mahavir and the Buddha also taught that humans have an obligation to shelter and care for their aged and infirm work animals just as they would shelter and care for aged human beings. Whether this inspired the Hindu tradition of sheltering cattle in gaushalas and pinjarapoles, or simply revived it, is unclear and is disputed. Either way, however, it was in this era that sheltering cattle became the first established and enduring form of sheltering animals as an act of charity. Both Jainism and Buddhism may have evolved from the beliefs and practices of the Bishnoi, Sindhi, and Thari people. The renowned Indian conservationist Valmik Thapar, described the Bishnoi in his 1997 book Land of the Tiger as "the primary reason that desert wildlife still exists on the subcontinent. The women of the community have been known to breastfeed black buck fawns and save insect life," he wrote, "while many of the men have died in their efforts to counter armed poaching gangs. Bishnoi is an offshoot of Jainism," Thapar asserted, reversing the tradition claimed by Bishnoi elders, "which teaches that all nature's creations have a right to life. This belief reached its apotheosis in 1778 when 294 men and 69 women laid down their lives to protect the khejri tree. A senior officer of Jodhpur state arrived to cut down the trees, which were needed for burning lime. The first to challenge him was a woman, who hugged one of the trees and was promptly decapitated. Her three daughters followed suit and were also axed. Many others followed. This mass slaughter led to a royal order that prohibited the cutting of any tree in a Bishnoi village." To this day, Bishnoi villages are wooded oases in the otherwise harsh Rajasthan desert, where wildlife congregates in proximity to the people. The Thar region of Pakistan is adjacent to the Rajasthan desert of India. Although the Thari people are now mostly Islamic, their traditional teachings about the sanctity of life somewhat resemble those of the Bishnoi. The Sindh desert is farther west in Pakistan. The Sindhi people, related to the Thari, have similar beliefs, but are now culturally divided: Sindhis who practice Hinduism long ago migrated into the Mumbai region of India, while those who practice Islam remain in Pakistan.

580 B.C. -- Birth of Pythagoras, Greek scientist and philosopher, who taught vegetarianism and the equality of women as part of a theory of reincarnation.

250 B.C. -- (India) Introducing the first animal protection laws in the Indian civil code, the Buddhist emperor Asoka practiced a form of Buddhism which like Hinduism and Jainism holds that animals should not be eaten, and that an aged or disabled cow or work animal should be retired and well-treated. Asoka sent missionaries to Thailand and Sri Lanka to teach Buddhism, including his son Arahat Mahinda. Interupting a hunt upon arrival in Sri Lanka in 247 B.C., "Arahat Mahinda stopped King evanampiyatissa from killing the deer and told the king that every living creature has an equal right to live," according to Sri Lankan elephant conservationist Jawantha Jayewardene. Persuaded, the king became a Buddhist and "decreed that no one should kill or harm any living being," Jayewardene continues. "He set apart a large area around his palace as a sanctuary that gave protection to all fauna and flora. This was called Mahamevuna Uyana, and is believed to be the first sanctuary in the world." Arahat Mahinda and the other Asokan emissaries also introduced animal sheltering as a central function of monasteries wherever they went. Buddhist monasteries in Thailand and Sri Lanka to this day often double as animal shelters, though at some the custom was long ago distorted into keeping just a lone chained temple elephant.

34 B.C. -- Approximate date of the birth of Jesus of Nazereth. In accurate historical context, Jesus appears to have been the most militant leader of his time of Jewish opposition to animal sacrifice, which was then still practiced--in very high volume--at the Jerusalem temple. Jesus built directly upon the teachings of the vegetarian prophet Isaiah, and his direct predecessor in advocacy, the vegetarian John the Baptist. The Jerusalem Christian church, founded by Jesus' brother James, taught and practiced vegetarianism, and historian Keith Akers argues in The Lost Religion of Jesus (2001) that after about 200 years of recorded existence, the congregation became the forebears of the Sufi sect within Islam. "The Sufis express an extraordinary interest in Jesus and have sayings of Jesus and stories about Jesus found nowhere in Christianity," according to Akers. "Especially interesting and significant is the treatment of Jesus by al-Ghazali, an 11th century Islamic mystic who is widely credited with making Sufism respectable within Islam." The Jesus described by al-Ghazali "lives in extreme poverty, disdains violence, loves animals, and is vegetarian," Akers summarizes. "It is clear that al-Ghazali is drawing on a tradition rather than creating a tradition because some of the same stories that al-Ghazali relates are related by others both before and after him, and also because al-Ghazali himself is not a vegetarian and clearly has no axe to grind. Thus, these stories came from a pre-existing tradition that describes Jesus as a vegetarian."