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Describe the Hindu Belief in Respect for All Living Creatures

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Hindu’s belief in respecting all living creatures is due to many reasons, including the presence of Brahman, the close connection between humans and animals and the most basic principles of satya and ahimsa. Firstly, Hindus believe that God created the whole universe and that all creation whether it be oceans, mountains, human beings, animals or plants it is all part of the Universal Spirit (Brahman) and therefore deserves respect and reverence. They also believe that all living things and inanimate matter is an expression of God. The Bhagavad Gita says that ‘Brahman sees himself in the heart of all beings’. Hindus believe that living beings are different forms of God, so they should respect all beings, whether they are rich or poor, animal or human. The hymn to Purusha says that ‘Purusha is the whole universe … he spreads into living beings and inanimate matter’ Hindus regard the whole universe as a manifestation of God. Another reason that Hindus believe in respect for all living things, is because they believe all living things are connected to and dependant on each other.

This is mainly due to their belief in rebirth and samsara, The Bhagavad Gita states that a wise sage who has realised truth can really see this interconnectedness & also that Brahman sees himself in the heart of all beings. A Sanskrit text says that the householder should share his food with all living beings ‘for what difference is there between his sons and them?’ Hindus recognise God as being present in all things. So God is present in animals as well as human and there is no clear difference between them. In some Hindu stories Ganesha, Hanuman, Nandi all have a major part to play and there are many others. Also Vishnu came to earth in the form of different animals. So there is a strong link between the human and the animal world. The theory of evolution supports this idea as humans ‘did not appear fully formed to dominate the lesser life forms, but rather evolved out of these forms itself, and is therefore integrally linked to the whole of creation’. Hindus believe that particular animals and birds are very special.

The peacock is also considered sacred because some Hindus believe it represents the glory of creation. The most sacred animal is the cow, and a Hindu person could never harm a cow or eat cow meat. Mahatma Ghandi said, ’in it’s finer or spiritual, the term ‘cow-protection’ means the protection of every living creature’ .The cow is an important symbol of the care which must exist between animals and all humans. Particular plants and animals are regarded as sacred because of their medicinal properties or association with the deities. For example the tulsi is sacred to Vishnu, and the bilva to Shiva. Devotees cultivate and use their leaves in worship. Animals and birds such as the bull, tiger, mouse, peacock, eagle and swan are used as vahana for the various deities. Tigers, peacocks and elephants are protected animals in India. Monkeys and elephants are often treated as sacred animals. As monkeys are seen as relatives of Hanuman and loyal servant of Rama, while elephants are seen as a relative of the God Ganesha.

Monkeys are allowed to run free wherever they want and are rarely killed. Whilst there are several elephant reserves and in South India, temple elephants are given much reverence since they carry the image of the deity in procession during the annual festivals. Snakes are often looked upon as guardians of the land they live in, due to their likeness to Nagas or giant serpents, who are more like mythical beasts. They are seen as protective forces as they are often shown as many headed cobras, sheltering the Gods from any kind of harm. Shiva also has snakes and serpents twined around him both as protectors and as symbols of fertility. Hindus believe that the God Vishnu has come to earth in several avatars, including a fish, boar and tortoise. These avatars are seen to have something to teach mankind, and therefore it is believed that they can learn from these animals. Vishnu is often shown standing with a coiled snake, Ananta, another reason for the snake being sacred.

There are many shrines to snakes in India however, snakes are still hunted for their skins and some people still eat them. Elephants are also worked extremely hard in logging work and some say in India, many animals have been pushed out of the way whenever their existence conflicts with human needs. Dam projects, for example, result in the deaths of many wild animals as their land is flooded. There is the Hindu saying, ‘The Earth is our mother and we are all her children’, so respect and reverence for the natural world is part of Hindu thinking. The notion of Ahimsa combined with the belief of rebirth and that Brahman exists in all life, means that harming any living being, and is the same as harming a friend or family member. Since the early Vedic Age Hindus have followed the ethic of Ahimsa which means they avoid harming other living things in word, deed and thought. Hindus still try to avoid harming fellow creatures since ahimsa is still an important part of Hinduism today. The concepts of Ahimsa and satya are the most basic and important moral principles for all Hindus regardless of their caste or stage of life.

Karma is also taken into account as harm to animals may produce bad karma and therefore their next existence will not be better. The cycle of samsara is another reason for their respect in animals, as their next existence may be in the form of one of these, and therefore they avoid any harm coming to them. The concept of ahimsa is therefore a central idea in the Hindu attitude towards war and peace. Hindus have been famous for this principle of non-violence. For centuries the ideal of peaceful life in harmony with nature has been the goal of the householder’s life, rather than social values based on military strength and conquest. In the Mahabharata the Hindu attitude to war and peace is expressed in many of the stories. The most famous of these is the Arjuna’s dilemma in the Bhagavad Gita. He doesn’t want to slaughter his cousins, kinsmen and teachers by going into battle against them. However, Krishna gives him the advice that is necessary sometimes to fight a just war to overcome evil forces which rise up in society.

The Bhagavad Gita says, ‘Think of thy duty and do not hesitate’, highlighting the conflict between ahimsa and the dharma of the warrior, and offers the solution that fulfilment of duty for the right motive and reason. It also suggests that these Hindu teachings about war and peace can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the nature of life and death. The ancient Hindu lawgiver, Manu, is clear in his teachings about kindness to animals by saying that ‘by avoiding any harm to animals or to nature, a man will come to be fit and ready for everlasting life’. The Hindu tradition of reverence for nature and all life forms of life, vegetable or animal, represents a powerful tradition. Ghandi also said that ‘everything in the universe, living creatures or rocks or waters, belongs to the Lord. You shall therefore only take what is really necessary for yourself, your quota. You should not take anything else, because you know to whom it really belongs.’ Due to all these reasons and teachings Hindus believe in respect for all living beings.

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