A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom and the Rights of all Sentient Beings


For millennia religions have included all sentient beings in their circle of compassion, yet today, in our human focused world, our faiths have largely forgotten our non-human, sentient relatives.  As billions of these sentient beings now suffer at the hands of humankind – in farming, transport, slaughterhouses, laboratories and entertainment – we need to correct this terrible wrong.  We can start by putting animals on the agenda of the Interfaith Movement.

Furthermore, animals are part of the interconnected web of life and the whole Earth. If we harm them, we harm the environment, the planet and ourselves.  For example, farming is one of the largest causes of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions that are destroying our planet.  We need to aim for a plant-based diet – both for the sake of the compassionate treatment of our fellow sentient beings and for the good of our Common Home.

Why Recognising Animals at the Parliament of World Religions Matters

The interfaith movement is a global community of people of faith united by conscience to heal the divisions wrought by religious conflict, war, and a multitude of social injustices. In recent decades, the Parliament of World Religions (PoWR) interfaith work has been pivotal in amplifying the voice of women and other groups who have been historically side-lined through years of cultural oppression. However, nonhuman animals remain overlooked in most interfaith discussions, despite the fact that all religions include proscriptions on the abuse of animals. It is time to put animals on the agenda of the interfaith movement. A truly interfaith movement must go beyond human-centeredness to defend the rights of all sentient beings. This could start at the PoWR.

Swami Vivekananda, who spoke at the first PoWR in 1893, recognised that the omnipresent soul resided both in humans and in animals.  He said: “In every man and in every animal, however weak or wicked, great or small, resides the same Omnipresent, Omniscient soul.  The difference is not in the soul but in the manifestation.  Between me and the smallest animal, the difference is only in the manifestation, but as a principle he is the same as I am, he is my brother, he has the same soul as I have.  This is the greatest principle that India has preached.”1

He also said: “The highest truth is this: God is present in all living beings.  They are his multiple form… The first of all worships is the worship of those around us.  He alone serves God who serves all other beings”.2

A History of the Inclusion of Animals in World Religions

The founders of all the world’s greatest religions have included animals in their circle of compassion. They have applied ‘the Golden Rule’ – to do to others what you would wish others to do to you – to all sentient beings. This is implicit in the Hindu and Jain principle of ‘Ahimsa’, non-harming, and the Jewish principle of ‘tsa’ar ba’alei chayim’, the mandate ‘not to cause pain to any living creature’.

Mahavira, the 24th Jain Tirthankar, said:“Unless we live with non-violence and reverence for all living beings in our heart, all our humaneness and acts of goodness, all our vows, virtues and knowledge, all our practices to give up greed and acquisitiveness are meaningless and useless”.3 He also said: “All breathing, living creatures should not be slain or treated with violence, abused or tormented.  This is the supreme unchangeable law”.4

Buddha said: “All your fellow creatures are like you.  They want to be happy.  Never harm them and when you leave this life you too will find happiness”.5

There is a Buddhist prayer: ‘Enthused by wisdom and compassion, today in the Buddha’s presence, I generate the mind for full awakening, for the benefit of all sentient beings’.6

The Abrahamic Traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – are all based on the Old Testament which starts in Genesis with the Creation, where God gives man and the animals a vegan diet: “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all of the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat”.7 Even after the Fall, when Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge, God ordered them to eat a vegan diet:  “…Thou shalt eat the herb of the field: in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground…”.8

The Qur’an says: “All the beasts that roam the earth and all the birds that soar on high are communities like your own.  We have left nothing out in the Book.  Before their Lord they shall be gathered all”.9

Judaism includes the ethical precept in the Talmud of tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, the mandate ‘not to cause pain to any living creature’.  In the third century, Rabbi Levi taught the importance of tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, insisting that the inflicting of suffering on animals must be avoided.

The Holy Sikh Book, the Guru Granth Sahib says: “The merit of pilgrimages to the sixty-eight holy places, and that of other virtues besides, do not equal having compassion for other living beings”.10

Some of our greatest religious leaders today recognise the importance of including animals in our circle of compassion.  Pope Francis said in his 2015 Encyclical, Laudato Si’ LS-67: “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures”,11 and LS-68: “Clearly the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures”. 12

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama said, ‘In Buddhism the highest spiritual ideal is to cultivate compassion for all sentient beings and to work for their welfare to the greatest possible extent’.13 Gandhi said: “It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures”.14

The present day Jain, Satish Kumar, said: “Love is not love if it does not include love of animals”. 15

Putting Animals on the Agenda of the Parliament of World Religions

Unfortunately, despite all these great teachings, historic and current, much of the world, including many in the faith communities, are still excluding animals from their circle of compassion, with billions of animals suffering terribly in farms, slaughterhouses and other fields of human activity.  Therefore, we would like to see the PoWR include animals on their agenda, in recognition of the discrepancy between these teachings and the current reality.

In the declaration and in the new principle III, the Global Ethic recognises animals and our interdependence with them.

The Global Ethic states – WE DECLARE: We are interdependent. Each of us depends on the well-being of the whole, and so we have respect for the community of living beings, for people, animals, and plants, and for the preservation of Earth, the air, water, and soil.

Principle III 1. d. states – A human person is infinitely precious and must be unconditionally protected. But likewise the lives of animals and plants which inhabit this planet with us deserve protection, preservation, and care.

However, in a human focused world, where billions of animals suffer each year at the hands of human activity, we need a specific principle on how we treat animals. Recognising the significant teachings of all faiths and traditions, we need to state that animals should be included in our circle of compassion and that the Golden Rule applies to them. We need to state what is ethical and unethical in our treatment of them. We may need to review some of the wording, where words such as ‘human’ might be changed to ‘human and non-human’ or ‘sentient beings’.

Specifically, we would like to see:

  1. Animals included as one of the PoWR’s Critical Issues and Constituencies; and
  2. A Principle about Animals included in the Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration


  1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (volume 3) Vedanta Press 1947
  2. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (volume 3) Vedanta Press 1947
  3. Mahavira – Agamas
  4. Mahavira – Sutrakritanga
  5. Dhammapada
  6. Buddhist prayer quoted in The Many Ways to Nirvana by the Dalai Lama
  7. Genesis 1: 29-30
  8. Genesis 1: 29-30
  9. Qur’an 6.38
  10. Guru Granth Sahib 136
  11. Laudato Si’ 67
  12. Laudato Si’ 68
  13. The Dalai Lama – The Universe in a Single Atom, (Morgan Road Books 2005)
  14. Gandhi – The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism
  15. Satish Kumar – You Are Therefore, I Am (Green Books 2010)

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