Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Animals and Souls

"How can we say that animals don't have souls?"

The cry of that question came from deep within the heart of a caring, and troubled, young man.  He was very much in love with the Faith, but had not yet figured out how to get past this troublesome question.

In "'Abdu'l-Baha in London", we read, "When asked about the individual persistence of the animal's personality after death, 'Abdu'l-Bahá said: 'Even the most developed dog has not the immortal soul of the man; yet the dog is perfect in its own place.'"  You can read more about what He says here (this is yet another clickable word to take you to another wonderful web-site).

I recall reading somewhere that the Master told a lady who was grieving the loss of her pet that the animal would be with her in the next world as long as she needed it.  Despite a search in Ocean, and Googling some key words, I could not find the story anywhere, or else I would quote it, too.

But at that moment, we were sitting in the kitchen, he and I, along with his father, who was an Auxiliary Board member at the time.  Why his father chose to come to my place to seek an answer to this question, I will never know.  It must have been that wily Concourse on High inspiring him, for it was surely not a question I could answer, never having given the answers of the Master on this subject much thought.  But there they were, in my kitchen.

As we sipped our tea, I did the only thing possible in a situation like that: I prayed.  I prayed for him to find the answer he needed to hear, when he asked the question again.

"I mean, we know they have emotions.  They have so many qualities, like caring and love.  How can we say they don't have souls?"

"Because they don't," came the voice from the other room.

We all stared at each other.  I had thought my other friend in the house was asleep on the couch.  He had been staying with me for a few days, and often slept at that time of the day.  I'm not even sure my other guests knew he was there.  And yet his voice rang out from the wilderness.

"They have an animus," he said.

"A what?"  I'm not sure which of us asked the question, but I am certain we were all thinking it.

"An animus."  Bob sat up as we came into the living room and he proceeded to give the most lucid explanation I had ever heard on this subject.  He described the soul as a rainbow, with its full colour spectrum.  An animus, he said, was more like line spectra.

A spectroscope, he explained, splits coherent light into its colour components, like a prism.  Different elements show up different lines, like the image below, of a neon line spectra.

You can see that there are only certain lines visible in what would, if filled in, obviously be part of a full rainbow spectrum.  This shows what the element is, to one who understands how to read it.  Myself?  I'm illiterate in this area.

My friend explained that each wavelength is like what Baha'is would call an "attribute of  God".  As he is not a Baha'i, he took the extra step of "translating" what he was saying into the language we would understand.  Every animal shows some of the attributes of God, just like everything in creation "is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God..."  Only in the human soul, however, do we see the full spectrum revealed.

We spoke about how some animals show their lines so brightly, such as a puppy showing enthusiasm, or a spider in her web showing patience, that they stand out clearer than they do in most humans.  We spoke about how we can sometimes see those virtues more clearly in their isolation, just as we can see the lines in the above image more clearly than if they were "lost" within the full context of the rainbow.

For over an hour the Auxiliary Board member and I listened as the two of them spoke to each other.  Questions were explored between them, neither presuming to have all the answers, but both eager to learn from the other, as all of us were lifted to a greater understanding of how we perceive the world around us.

Needless to say, my young friend has become not only confirmed in his faith, but has gone on to become an ardent supporter of the Cause, serving in many admirable capacities in the past few years.  His father, of course, still remains a pillar of the community.

And Bob, well, he went back to sleep on the couch and still comes to my aid when people come over and need questions answered.  He now lives in a room in the house, instead of just on a couch.  I guess the Councourse on High knew what they were doing, after all.


  1. Very interesting!

  2. Thank you for this post. My dog Max is failing. I know that animals do not have souls as they do not have free will nor are they capable of making moral decisions.
    However, all the knowing in the world does not dispel the pain of watching him slowly slip away.
    WIth permission I would like to repost a portion of this with a linkback to your site.

    1. Judith, I am so sorry to hear about your dog. It is always so difficult when a loved one in your life is passing away. I am honoured that you would think of posting any portion of what I would write. If it can be of any consolation at this time, please feel free to do so.

      With love and prayers,


  3. Does a monkey have a soul then? A chimpanzee? Gorilla? At what point during human evolution did the human animal magically gain its soul? or according to your light spectrum analogy did the proto human animal have like a simpler soul that gradually over the years developed a more complex soul? So does that mean every human generation has a slightly more complex soul than the previous generation? Would that mean that their would be some hierarchy of animal animus's? With grass having a pretty basic animus and a dolphin a more colorful one? This logic seems ridiculous to me. There is no evidence that a soul even exist let alone that other species would not posses it. If a soul was simply a "life force" than really everything would have some version of it. If a soul was some other special thing that only humans have and its development is not progressive or quantifiable then then when exactly did the Sistine Chapel ceiling moment happen in history? You imply that through some epic conversation you witnessed you and your friends somehow stumbled upon facts without any testing. Mysterious voices from another room and long chats dont just create the truth. the truth can be hypothesized and then tested with the scientific method. This article is an authority for nothing

    1. Well, I never claimed to be an authority, nor do I claim that everything can be explained through the scientific method. There are many things that are spiritual in nature that don't contradict that method, but can't be explained by it either. I think the soul falls into that category. Of course, if you insist on only using the scientific method, then you will never see the beauty of poetry.

  4. Great post! I was looking for Baha'i scripture and stories to support being vegetarian for humane reasons, and I came across your website. I think its a great explanation given how little we understand. So thank you for sharing! :)

    As for the anonymous poster above-
    Abdul Baha has made it clear that we have evolved, but NEVER from a monkey/ape etc. We have evolved similarly to how a baby forms in the womb, looking like different shapes at different stages of growth- but we have ALWAYS been distinctly human in respect to our individual species. (no matter how it has looked over the hundreds of thousands of years.)
    A fetus looks like a ball, then a sea-horse, then an alien, but it is always going to develop into a human being infant.

    Hopefully that brings some light to your misunderstanding. The Bahai Faith teaches us that science and religion are tools that we have been given by God to advance and understand our spiritual nature. However our understanding is limited by our maturity and capacity at certain times.
    Your comment is as ignorant as a superstitious zealot who doesn't accept science as you have not yet accepted your own spiritual nature.

    Scientists once believed the world was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, and that the atom was as small as you could go- As we mature, as our technology advances, we are able to make new discoveries.

    God has blessed you with a passion for inquiry, use it positively and professionally...

  5. Which one do you trust more, a dog or a human?

    1. That totally depends on the dog and the human being.

  6. This apocryphal comment by 'Abdu'l-Baha to a woman that if she needed her dog it would be there for her-I surely would like to know if that is genuine or a myth. Recently several lines of "evidence" have led me to think perhaps there is a limited continuation of individual animal identity in the next life. Certainly they do not have the same capacity for progress as humans and therefore, an eternal existence would be superfluous. The line determining whether an animal continues in some sense for a period of time may precisely be: how closely connected by bonds of love to a human being it is. I have NO quotation to back up such an idea and it may simply not be true. Again-if there was some "pilgrim note" regarding a comment by 'Abdu'l-Baha on this I'd like to know where to find it. In any case, in some sense "nothing that really exists can become non-existent". This holds true for non-physical realities, as well as for physical matter/energy. There are transformations, but total annihilation...no. The strains of spirit expressed by our animal buddies may not remain bundled together in that same unique package, but they do not disappear either.

  7. If there really was some "pilgrim note" about 'Abdu'l-Baha consoling a woman that her dog would be there "if she really needed it", I sure would like to know where to find it! I've heard this several times but never seen it documented. Recently several lines of "evidence" lead me to think it is possible that for some animals, continuation of their individuality after physical death just may occur, though not eternally. The determinant just may be...how closely they have been linked by bonds of love with a human being who would miss them! This is only an idea, with no quotation whatsoever [not in Baha'i scripture anyhow] to back it up, but I pose it for consideration. Also: I propose that generally speaking, nothing which is real and existant becomes non-existant. That this holds true not just for physical matter/energy but for non-physical things as well. Transformations take place, but not total annihilation. The strains of spirit we detect in our animal buddies do not "disappear" with their deaths. They may scatter and re-unite elsewhere, but they do not vanish! I think there are mysteries to this that we cannot yet understand.