Do animals have souls?
Of course, this begs this question: do souls exist?
For the purposes of this post, let’s assume that they do — most of us having gleaned that information from our religious beliefs and texts.
So let’s take a look at those.
Of the six top organized religions by number of followers, three of them — Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism — believe in reincarnation, that is, a cycle of death and rebirth. This rebirth takes place in both humans and animals.
Hindus and Sikhs believe that both humans and animals have eternal souls that through this process of rebirth can be purified. Buddhists do not believe in eternal souls per se, but do believe that both human and animals have a Buddha-nature and therefore the possibility of becoming enlightened.
All three believe that reincarnation holds for both humans and animals and that all creatures are on the path to purification or enlightenment.
The other three religions, the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, are more nuanced in their approaches. But in their sacred writings all of them assert that animals praise and glorify God and that He watches over them. (See quotes below.) I’ll leave the question open as to whether the knowledge and ability to praise God is scriptural evidence of a soul, but the implication is unmistakably there.
Lastly, St Francis, easily the most popular Christian with those outside the religion, thought all creatures had souls – they were all in his ‘brotherhood’ – and he often preached to the birds. It stands to reason that he wouldn’t be preaching to them unless he had a reason to be.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matthew 10:28)
Each one (i.e. all beings) knows its own prayer and praise, and Allah knows well all that they do. (Quran 24:41)
Deer, camel, donkey, monkey, rats, creeping animals, birds and flies — one should consider them like one’s own children, and not differentiate between one’s children and these creatures. (Bhagavata Purana 7.14.9)
All beings tremble before violence. All fear death, all love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do? (Buddha)
Nature in species, kinds, colors. Nature in life forms. All nature is yours, Oh powerful Creator. You command it, observe it and pervade within it. (Guru Granth Sahib)
The beast of the field shall honor me. The wild beast of the field shall glorify me. (Isaiah 43:20)