“Animals are not a means to our ends”
Based in Shechen, Nepal, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard spends much of his time travelling to spread a message of compassion and wisdom that people everywhere are increasingly eager to hear… though not necessarily to apply.
Ricard is deeply concerned about how people relate to and interact with other animal species. It is a central theme in his literary and philosophical writings, including in A Plea for the Animals (Shambhala, 2016), where Ricard eloquently urges people to behave compassionately toward other animals.
You defend all species, everywhere. Does this mean that to you, humans are animals like any others?
An incalculable number of species share humans’ awareness of suffering and well-being, just as they share our instinct for survival. Still, millions of years of evolution have enabled humans to assert their intelligence and creativity as well as develop their capacity for love, compassion…and hate and cruelty. None of this gives anyone the right to make others suffer – neither other humans nor any of the 8 million species with whom they share the planet.
Do you see animals that provide people with nourishment in the same light as those that help people in other ways?
Animals are not a means to our ends. Their lives should not depend on their capacity to help us or meet our needs. Humans do not have to eat meat to live, and other than a few groups of people for whom hunting or fishing is, in fact, vital to survival, there is no excuse for killing 60 million land animals and a trillion sea animals every year.
The situation is slightly different when it comes to medical experimentation. Human and animal lives are not entirely equal in value, and many medical discoveries that have been vital to humans have indisputably depended on animal experimentation. Still, there are now alternate methods of experimentation, including stem cells and computer modeling. These types of medical research methods should become the norm, so that they gradually – and as quickly as possible – replace animal experimentation.
Would you say that animal-assisted activities and programs exploit animals to meet people’s needs?
I would only criticize this use of animals if their well-being were compromised. If the animals involved in programs are treated with kindness and respect, they would most likely help foster closeness, empathy, and mutual respect. Improvements in people’s health or quality of life would not be detrimental to the animals involved but would result from the animals’ assistance and collaboration. It would therefore be inappropriate to refer to this as exploitation.