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Lights in the Night

The history of animal life has been (and is still, so far as we know) but one long record of merciless exploitation by man, or at most — in the case of the more fortunate wild beasts — the history of one long and increasingly hopeless struggle against the pretension of man to have the whole earth to himself.

The destruction of the proud and free animal species began with weapons of silex in the days most men — scientists tell us — looked more like apes than like that which we call today human beings. And it is continuing up to the present day, with old fashioned arrows in the dark forests of central Africa, with firearms in the swamps of south Bengal. There were lions in Greece as late as one thousand B.C. or so, and wolves in England up to the seventeenth century A.D. There are none now. And the lions of North Africa, so numerous when the Romans conquered that part of the world-in the second century B.C. — have been so ruthlessly hunted out that they are now a species on the verge of extinction. There were bisons throughout North America — millions of them — but a few decades ago; there are hardly any today. They have been killed of in such numbers that they have become a rare curiosity to be carefully kept in reserved areas. Man has taken their place and built his cities, and drawn the boundaries of his cultivated fields — spread the network of his ever-grabbling organized life — over the boundless green plains in which they once used to roam in the sunshine. The same can be said of the llamas of the Andes. Four years after they had set foot in Peru the Spaniards had already massacred more of them for their meat (and especially for their brain, regarded as a delicacy) then had the Peruvians in occasional sacrifices during the four centuries that the Inca Empire


had lasted. The same can be said of many other animal species at present extinct or nearing extinction

The species that are not hunted out for sheer “clearing of space” or merely for “sport,” are pursued for their flesh, or for their fur, for their brightly colored feathers or for their beautiful ivory tusks — for the gratification of man’s gluttony or of his vanity. The rest are domesticated and made to have young ones regularly, so that man may enjoy to his heart’s content a continuous supply of fresh milk and tender flesh; or made to work for man under the threat of the whip; or injected with all sorts of diseases, so that man may try his medicines on them before applying them to himself; or tortured to satisfy man’s scientific curiosity; or fondled for a while as pets and then — when man gets tired of them, or when he is going on a journey and cannot, or does not wish to, take them with him, or when conditions become such that there is not enough food for both them and his own children — remorselessly “put out of the way” — chloroformed, if there happens to a branch of the S.P.C.A. near by and if their owner be kind; just thrown into the street, if he be one who “does not care”; stolen and sold for meat when man is short of food — as so many cats and dogs were in different parts of Europe during the last winter of the Second World War; sometimes even, in such abnormal times, eaten by those very rascals who had brought them up, who had once fed them with their own hands, and who pretended to love them — by those rascals who had not the courage to lie down and let themselves die of hunger rather than become such cowards.

* * *

People have probably always been, as a general rule, and at any given epoch, less indifferent to the sufferings of animals in some countries than in others, though, as we have said before, their attitude towards living creatures was never or nearly never the ideal one. Among the nations of Antiquity the ancient Egyptians, for instance, and more so the Indians of the Buddhist period seem to have been the kindest. The number of beasts and birds that the former held sacred down to the beginning of the Christian era was perhaps as much an expression of spontaneous love for all living things (including such awe-inspiring ones as crocodiles) as a survival of obsolete totemic beliefs dating back to prehistoric times. And we like to imagine that the wild indignation of that Egyptian crowd, said to have torn a Roman soldier to pieces for


having killed a cat — indignation we understand so well — was roused by a nobler feeling than mere superstitious fear.

But, we repeat, there seems never to have existed a civilization which actually denounced the exploitation of animals, and fully recognized their rights (and even those of plants) for more than a few brief years. King Asoka’s efforts to secure the welfare of every living being within his realm, and Harshavardhana’s drastic regulations against cruelty to animals give us just rare glimpses of the application by law, on a national scale, of generous principles yet never conceived but by a very few. The same spirit of universal love which inspires them found expression also, centuries before, in King Akhnaton’s beautiful hymns to the Sun. But we have no evidence of how far even Akhnaton’s closest disciples lived up to it in their everyday lives. Moreover, whatever might have been the atmosphere that prevailed in his immediate surroundings, even in his capital as a whole, during his short reign, we know that very soon after his death nothing was left of his teaching or of its implications.

The fact is that even the most illustrious cultures of the world -including those supposed to be relatively “humane” — are in general sadly devoid of any sense of real consideration for nonhuman suffering, as well as of any serious preoccupation concerning the welfare of nonhuman beings regarded for their own sake, and not for what man can get out of them.

We have recalled the story of Enkidu’s conversion to social life, which meant the break of all his ties with the beasts of the wilderness, who loved him, and which he had formerly loved. The story belongs to the dawn of history — to legendary times. But feelings towards animals do not seem to become more friendly as years pass. We gather some idea of what they were in the Near East in the twenty-second century B.C. from that famous compilation of laws, with doubtless corrections and additions, known as the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon — a code of laws praised by most historians for its equity. There, as in all the later legislations of neighboring countries that have most probably borrowed from it their essentials, animals are considered as nothing more than the property of their human owners. If, for instance, a man borrowed an ox, and returned it lame or wounded, possibly as a consequence of ill-treatment, he was, according to this code, to make good for the loss he had thus caused to its owner; to give him a sum of money proportionate to the damage, or to give him another ox if that damage was irreparable. In other words, injury to an animal was punished, not because it meant in


infliction of suffering upon a sentient creature, but because it implied some material loss to the man who owned and exploited that creature.

The Egyptians themselves, kind as they may have been to our dumb brothers in comparison with other nations, seem never to have reached, as a whole, that widespread consideration for all living beings which such a king as Asoka tried to create among the Indians of a later Antiquity. The famous bas-relief that pictures “a stubborn donkey,” in a tomb of the twenty-seventh century B.C., testifies that beasts of burden — which were not sacred to them — were not necessarily treated by the common people, in y those remote days, as mercifully as they would have been in a society governed by the spirit of the far later life-centered teaching of King Akhnaton, or by that of the perhaps much similar original solar philosophy of a few initiates (of immemorial antiquity, and probably already half-forgotten in twenty-seventh century Egypt). The pitiful expression of the beast, with its ears flattened against its head under the thick, threatening stick, makes one regret that no equivalent of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had yet been invented in the world, as far as we know.

Apart from that, everyone knows that the Egyptians in general were meat eaters and fish eaters, and often mighty hunters. Records of successful chases, in which the court scribe has carefully exalted the skill and courage of the King, are common in what has come down to us of their annals. And the short reign of Akhnaton seems to be one of the very few that have not, up till now, yielded any such documents; and that remarkable Pharaoh is one of the rare ones, if not the only one of whom one can say, with Sir Wallis Budge, that “not only was he no warrior” but “he was not even a lover of the chase”1 — a statement which is fully in keeping with the love of all living things that one admires in his hymns to the glory of the solar Disk.

If a people whose consideration for animals amazed the Greek travelers of classical days was not more thoroughly consistent with the ideal of true, universal love, then what about the others? One would hardly expect much mercy towards all creatures from men who treated their prisoners of war with as much appalling cruelty as the Assyrians often did. And in fact, from the numerous and splendid bas-reliefs that they left, it appears that hunting of big

1 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamon, Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism, edit. 1923, p. 92.


game was, apart from war, the pastime that these ruthless fighters enjoyed the most. The Hebrews, as they are portrayed in the Old Testament of the Bible, seem always to have looked upon beasts as exploitable commodities — potential milk, wool, flesh and labor — if they happened to be of the sort their god had allowed them to eat or given them to use, and hardly more than dirt if they happened to be of the so-called “impure” ones, which they were forbidden to eat or even to touch. They seem to have had, at times, like many primitive people, a strange conception of animals’ responsibility. It is written in the Leviticus that “if a man lie with a beast” and “if a woman approach unto any beast and lie down thereto,” he or she and the beast “shall surely be put to death,” as if the unfortunate animal, forced into an unnatural union by a perverse human being, had any voice in the matter or any share in the guilt. This regulation seems all the more unjust that, according to the same lawgiver, a damsel forcibly raped was not to be killed along with the man who had outraged her, for there was in her “no sin worthy of death.”1

Was the helpless beast considered more responsible than the helpless girl? Or was it to be destroyed as a mere instrument of sin, which would be hardly less irrational? The sad thing is that the spirit of such a legislation has persisted, as Norman Douglas has pointed out,2 until very recently, among so-called progressive Western races who should have known better.

And at the other end of the Ancient World, no idea of ethical wrong was ever attached, so far as we know, to the slaughter of animals for food or sport, or to other forms of exploitation of them by man, in the books of Confucius and of other wise thinkers, held in reverence by the Chinese; nor were any duties towards them apparently stressed or implied in the teachings of those philosophers. Buddhism alone seems to have actually spread, to some extent, to the countries of the Far East, the idea of the ethical corollary of the belief in the oneness of life, as regards our relation to animals. And its influence in that line appears to have been very slight.

As for the classical Pagan nations that stand as the immediate cultural background of modern Europe — Greece and Rome — there is in their literature, or in the tangible data that reveal their civilization, nothing to indicate that they had any greater respect

1 Deuteronomy, 22, Verses 25, 26.
2 Norman Douglas, How About Europe?


for animal life than the nations which they looked upon as “barbaric,” or that they took any more care than those did to avoid the ill-treatment of beasts of burden, or to make life less miserable for the stray hungry dogs and cats in their streets.

One may, of course, recall the touching episode of the Odyssey in which Ulysses’ old dog recognizes him after twenty years of absence and dies happy to have seen him once more. But we have to admit that there are but a very few such accounts of friendship between man and animal in the whole of Greek literature, and that mercy in general — including mercy towards human beings — seems to have found little place both in the Greek and Greco-Roman world, so fascinating in other features. We have to admit that Christianity did owe its triumph as much at least to the kindlier outlook it originally brought with it as to the imperial patronage of Constantine.

* * *

But, as we have said already, that kindlier outlook remained a narrowly man-centered one. Partiality towards the human race as a whole replaced the partiality towards tribe or nation that had prevailed in most of the ancient religions of the world — and in all state religions we know of in Antiquity west of India, save in the short-lived Religion of the Disk. And although, thanks to the new doctrine of Christ’s own blood being the only atonement for man’s sins, the blood sacrifices of old became obsolete, still living creatures were not spared.

Some substantial progress in that respect might have been realized, if only the Christians had consistently observed that old injunction of Mosaic law according to which cattle should not be slaughtered unless it be brought “unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” to be “offered as an offering unto the Lord, before the tabernacle of the Lord.”1 And there was no reason why they should not have observed it, since Christ himself had declared that he had come to fulfill the Jewish law and the prophets, not to destroy them. Had they done so, they logically should have given

1 “What man soever there be of the house of Israel that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it out of the camp, and bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation to offer an offering unto the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people.” Leviticus, 17, verses 3 and 4.


up eating meat altogether from the day the one supreme human sacrifice — the one divine sacrifice, as it was in their eyes — had been offered as the ransom for the sins of the world once and for all, rendering all further burnt offerings useless. But — whether prompted by the desire to facilitate the conversion of Pagans, or for any other motive — they did not. And by not doing so, they made cattle-slaughter all the more ghastly by depriving it of the one excuse it has (if that can be called an excuse) in a world given over to “superstition,” namely of the religious symbolism formerly attached to it; of its meaning as a sacrifice to the Maker of both man and beast. The places of worship ceased being also places of slaughter. But the idea that slaughter for the sake of food alone —without the slightest idea of sacrifice — was perfectly commendable; that the murder of an animal was no murder at all, and the infliction of pain upon an animal no sin, soon grew into the consciousness of those who looked upon the oblation of the Cross as henceforth the only efficacious one.

That idea, in fact, seems to have spread to the whole world, wherever the old religions of sacrifice were not replaced by any creed which openly and definitely characterizes the murder of animals as a sin. And even there — even in those countries, for instance, where Buddhism is officially prevalent — one cannot unfortunately say that it has not been broadly accepted. The more orthodox may still reject it. But the freethinking, the youthful, the “progressive” seem to include that obnoxious inconsistency within their “reformed” outlook: and the last widespread religion of truly universal mercy seems to have become in their eyes little more than a political badge, an outward sign of newly born nationalism. Even among people expected to be strict Buddhists — the monks of Burma, for instance — a great deal of casuistry plays its part (or played its part until very recently) in matters of diet.

So that we could say that, all over the world, men in general ceased offering sacrifices as their fathers had, but accustomed themselves to the existence of slaughterhouses as to that of a so-called “necessity,” and smothered in their hearts, to a still even greater extent than their forefathers, the awareness of a man’s link with the rest of living and sentient creatures.

Of course there have always been individuals whose natural, spontaneous love for creatures transcended the general outlook of their contemporaries and coreligionists; people like St. Francis of Assisi, who used to speak of his “brother” the wolf and his “brother” the ass, in the midst of a society and of a Church that


denied an immortal soul to dumb beasts; people like that early follower of the Prophet Mohammed who, rather than disturb a cat a that had gone to sleep upon it, cut off a piece of his mantle so that he might raise himself to his feet and answer the call to prayer, and thus won himself the surname by which he is now broadly known: Abu-Hurairah — “Father of Cats.”

Those men half-consciously aspired to some ideal of integral kindness which most of them never succeeded in expressing in all its uncompromising clarity, and which they very seldom lived up to, in all walks of life. Brought up in the medieval tradition of Christendom, which regarded a vegetarian diet as “fasting” and could not conceive of merriment apart from flesh eating, kind St. Francis himself — so they say — once vehemently rejected the idea, put forward by one of his monks, of keeping up Christmas Day without meat. And doubtless many other less holy and less well-known persons, among those who have acknowledged the brotherhood of all living creatures, were not more consistent in all they did or said or tolerated without protest.

But along with them there have always appeared, from time to time, an extremely small number of men who actually embodied, both in words and deeds, the ideal of real love towards all life which is the very essence of eternal ethical truth- of love as selfless and as impartial as the warmth and light that our Parent Star sheds indiscriminately over the earthworm and the superman, through the glory of His rays.

In the East, Prince Siddhartha, of the Sakya clan, universally known as the “Awakened One” or the “Enlightened One” — the Buddha — stands out as the most glorious of such men. Touching legends preserved in the “Jataka” — the history of the Buddha’s previous lives, often as fantastic as any fairy tale as to its actual contents, but true to his spirit from one end to the other, -go to show in him, from life to life, the predestined Helper of all creatures; the Loving One, whose irresistible compassion pervades the whole scheme of nature, and manifests itself, age after age, without ceasing. As an animal, he sacrificed himself to save other animals. As an evolved human being — an ascetic in the forest — he gladly gave his own body to feed a hungry tigress. And his heart was filled with tenderness for her and for all suffering creation, and his face beamed with divine joy — says the author of this beautiful story — as he who was one day to become the Blessed One felt the famishing beast tear his flesh and lap his blood, inviting her young ones to take their share of the easy prey.


And in spite of the deplorable decay of his religion in the hands of a self-seeking clergy and of an apathetic laity — decay which every valuable doctrine has experienced as the ransom of worldwide success, and which he himself had foretold-one can say that none of the great teachers of the world has contributed more than he did to the diffusion of the belief in the oneness of Life and in the brotherhood of all living creatures, as well as of the consciousness of the duties that this belief implies.

Asia has certainly gone a very long way down the road of moral abasement and religious death from the time the Community of monks, intended to be the nucleus of a better world — the “gangha,” in which the Master had put his hope — started to deserve the bitter criticism of its bitterest Hindu detractors. But, still today, the spark remains alive — the flame of true love, kindled more than twenty-five centuries ago by the Blessed One, lingers both in the tradition of the Hindus and in that of the nations that boast of having accepted Buddhism as one of their state religions. However enfeebled, however smoldering, it is there. It just lingers — more in the consciousness of the humble, illiterate masses of India in particular and of East Asia in general; of those millions of simple-hearted folk, apathetic it is true, but not yet irredeemably hardened or defiled — not yet rendered unteachable — rather than in that of the so-called “progressive” elements, most often the stubborn products of a false education, not enlightened enough to find the truth for themselves and too conceited to accept it from anywhere but from the textbooks which their foreign training has taught them to regard as infallible. It lingers. To undertake to revive it would mean a tremendous task, yet not an altogether impossible one. The tradition is there. The idea of the brotherhood of all living creatures is intimately linked, in it, with the unforgettable figure of Asia’s greatest son. And one is amazed at the power of love that must have radiated from the superman who managed to leave, for so long, even a faint mark of his passage upon the life, thought and feelings of a whole continent.

Mahavira, the founder of the Jain sect, and the twenty-fourth of the “tirthankaras,” or perfect human beings who, according to the belief of that sect, succeeded one another on earth before him, was apparently another of those rare men whose love for creatures has left its impression upon the tradition of a living community; so were, undoubtedly, long before his time, the authors of some of the Upanishads, in which the doctrine of the oneness of all life is


already to be found, and the essence of Buddhist morality, to some extent, already implied, although the ontological conception behind these be quite different. While, in later days, India’s immortal Asoka, and other Buddhist rulers, patrons of their faith in and outside India (Prince Shotoku, for instance, in sixth and seventh century Japan) and men like Harshavardhana, deeply influenced by Buddhism without however having been exclusive followers of the Eightfold Path, and probably also thoroughly loving people of lesser rank, of whom history does not speak, honored Asia, upholding there, to an extent perhaps nowhere ever equaled on so broad a scale, the creed of mercy towards animals — and even plants as far as possible — as well as towards human beings.

And the little real sympathy for animals that might still be found today, in the countries of Buddhist civilization and in India herself — in spite of the downright wickedness of a number of people and of the cruel indifference of nearly all the rest — has been and is being encouraged by the lingering influence of those exceptional men whom we have just mentioned.

* * *

In what can broadly be called “the West,” that is to say, in Europe as well as in the countries of which the ancient history and culture lie at the background of hers — the nations of classical and biblical Antiquity — and in those that can be looked upon, on the contrary, as her offspring — modern America and Australia — no man has yet risen whose blessed influence upon his time and upon posterity can be compared, as regards kindness to animals, to that exercised by the Buddha or his powerful disciples in the East.

That does not mean that the Westerners as a whole feel less sympathetically towards our subhuman brothers than the average people of India or of the Buddhist countries do; or that they are more callous about animal life, more indifferent to the suffering of beasts. Nor does it mean that none of those saintly beings, embodiment of true universal love, was ever born west of the Persian Gulf. We have already tried to show that cruelty and kindness are of all lands and of all times, just taking different expression in different surroundings. And exceptional men who feel intensely the beauty and sacredness of all life as such; who, no doubt, love their pets if they have any, and may possibly prefer certain animal species to others, but who, at the same time, realize that all living creatures are their brothers, and who love them spontaneously and consistently; such men, we say, surely do and


always did appear beyond the sphere of influence both of Buddhism and of broader Hinduism. And some of them cannot but be looked upon as lights of truth of the very first magnitude, shining, just as those of the faraway Eastern horizon, in the long night of selfish ignorance, cowardice and callousness that still envelops the earth.

In this present-day, nightmarish world,1 — the outcome of the victory of the Dark Powers — we cannot, unfortunately, say a single word to the glory of the greatest of all Western men of love and of vision; of the inspired Prophet (for that is what he was) who fought for the reinstallation of a world order in tune with the divine order of nature: a world order in which beautiful healthy beasts had rights, while decadent men had none. Whatever we could say would be bitterly held against us and our brothers in faith, and against the very cause of Life which we intend to serve. Those who know will understand us without our mentioning the godlike leader’s name. Those who do not know yet, will know one day (if they have at all any wits) and admit that we were right, and place the one great vegetarian ruler the West has ever had ahead of those most uncompromising expounders of the life-centered outlook who are, at the same time, men of action.

One of the most remarkable of such torchbearers in relatively recent times, — of whom we can speak — seems to have been that all-round genius of the Renaissance, upholder of all that was eternal in the Christian and Pagan cultures alike, whom neither traditional Christianity nor resurrected Hellenism could satisfy, and whose work, thought and life reveal him to have been a man in tune with cosmic Reality: Leonardo da Vinci. His biographers tell us that he consistently loved all that lived, not only abstaining from eating flesh, but doing also his best to help any distressed creature he came across individually. When yet a child he is said to have fought to defend a mole, tortured by other children, and suffered an unjust punishment for having done so. And the comments with which he recalls that incident, many years later in his diary, show that he abode all his life by the natural, true ethics of his childhood. And his greatness in that respect appears all the more when one thinks of the appalling atrocities committed upon animals in the name of scientific research in da Vinci’s days, and later on, by representatives of the “New Thought” who entirely lacked his universal love — when one thinks, for instance, of the process by

1 This book was written in 1945–46.


which Azelli discovered the phenomenon of digestion in the bare intestines of a live, opened dog — or when one recalls the revolting attitude of other well-known men towards creatures, such as that of Descartes and Malebranche, philosophical forerunners and accomplices of all the crimes perpetrated on beasts for the sake of “knowledge” (or rather scientific information) in our times.

We can think of no prominent figure of the first fifteen centuries of Christian history who could stand in parallel with the great Italian s artist for a life of consistent and active kindness towards all sentient beings and an intelligent understanding of the value of any living thing.

We do not know — and no one can boast of knowing on a basis of serious evidence — whether the religious teacher whose personality dominates all those centuries and the whole civilization of Europe as we see it, the historic Jesus, was such a person or not. All one can say of him is to be found in the four gospels — a selection, among many others, of accounts of his life put down in writing, in their present form, more than a hundred and fifty years after he had died, to say the least. As we have remarked in a previous chapter, the prophet who occupies the center of those fascinating stories does not appear at all to be a consistent lover of all the living, impartially. Most of his average modern English followers could match him — and beat him — in that respect. We would like to believe that the actual prophet of Nazareth was more in tune with the spirit of integral love than one can gather at first sight from the accounts which his admirers have handed down to us; we would like to think that the worker of wonders who appears in the story of the draught of fishes, and in that of the Gadarene swine or of the barren fig tree, is but an unhappy distortion of him, or a personage altogether alien to him, whose name has been confused with his; or that he himself acts in those stories but “symbolically.” But we have unfortunately no solid grounds to do so.

One has, anyhow, to go back to the time of Jesus — first century A.D. — to End a towering figure of undeniable historicity whose philosophy implied the respect of all life and kindness to animals as well as to people, and whose life impressed his biographers sufficiently for them to tell us that it was in keeping with his high ideals. This man, little known to the modern public in general, is the neo-Pythagorean sage Apollonius of Tyana, whom some authors have, in a polemical spirit, characterized as “the Pagan Christ.” The fact that, great as he was, he was not an isolated


ideologist without a tradition and without a following, but the perfect embodiment of the philosophy of a sect; the master, in his days, of a school of thought and ethics that prided itself in tracing its existence to Pythagoras himself, seven hundred years before him — of a sect, also, that did not die with him — makes him, historically, all the more important.

We know that he was not merely acquainted with the main tenets of Eastern thought, as all neo-Pythagoreans were, but that he had travelled in India and learnt there, thoroughly, from experienced ascetics, further secrets of the difficult art known as yoga — the control of the mind through that of the body, especially of the breath. He was, like many of those who practice that art, vowed to celibacy. And though the love of all creatures, revealed in many an episode of his life, was probably an inborn trait of his character, as with other truly great souls, one might imagine that his direct contact with Buddhism and Hinduism at a time when those thought-systems were in their full vigor, would have strongly encouraged him in his natural trend, given a philosophical justification to his spontaneous ethical tendencies, and buttressing his own intuition of truth in the light of that of a whole civilization. And when one reads of that Greek sage’s refusal to witness a blood sacrifice1 or to depart from his strict vegetarian diet; and when one realized that his spirit was not only that of a particular individual but also, as we have said, that of a school, one might well wonder whether Western civilization itself would not have taken a nobler turn — recognizing, long ago, in practice as well as theory, the right of all living beings — if only Indian thought, and especially Buddhist thought, had been able to play in its formation the direct part played by Christianity. It would have, then, it is true, experienced all the drawbacks of early Christian asceticism, and that, perhaps, on a magnified scale. But who knows how far the militant Western races would finally have carried the duty of mercy towards all living creatures, had they accepted it in the days of Apollonius of Tyana, as a consequence of the belief in the oneness of life, along with the Hellenic elements of their growing culture? — in other words, had the foundation of their culture been Indo-hellenic instead of Judeo-hellenic; had the “Pagan Christ” and the thinkers of his school been able to exercise upon them an influence comparable to that of the Galilean Messiah and his disciples? Perhaps they would have been,

1 Mario Meunier, Apollonius de Tyane.


in the long run, more consistent than the average Eastern followers of life-centered creeds. Who knows?

It is useless to speak of what could have been under different circumstances. But the fact remains that the one important tradition of truly universal kindness, if any, in western Antiquity; the one in which animal slaughter and meat eating were definitely held in abomination — the Pythagorean, continued for some time, even during the Christian era, by the neo-Pythagorean — was beyond doubt influenced by thought currents from India. It would seem that it was more and more so; or at least we know with more and more certainty that it was so, as we pass from Pythagoras himself, whose connections with the East are vague, though obvious, to the later thinkers who took pride in a tradition that bears his name, in particular, to that most indebted of them all to the East: Apollonius of Tyana.

* * *

We have just mentioned Pythagoras. Little can be said with certainty about his life. One can only infer, from some of the tenets of his philosophy — from the strict vegetarian diet which his disciples observed, and for their belief in the dogma of birth and rebirth, probably borrowed from the East — that he was one of the rare great teachers born west of India whose ethical outlook was centered neither around any arbitrarily “chosen” human community (as was that of the Hebrews) nor around “man,” but decidedly around life as such. We do not know whether he was or was not the first in Greece to have had that outlook, but he surely seems to be the first in the Western world, as we have defined it, to have been able to create a lasting tradition of respect for animal life, if not on a broad scale, at least among a small circle of close followers.

So far as we know, the only great thinker before him whose creed logically implied love and active kindness towards all creatures is that extraordinary young king of Egypt in the early fourteenth century B.C., of whom a little has already been said in a previous chapter: Akhnaton, the Founder of the Religion of the Disk.1

His beautiful solar cult, the most rational that was ever conceived — a religion that could have been invented to satisfy the scientific conceptions of our own age, as Sir Flinders Petrie has remarked — appears to be at the same time the one state religion preached west of India that was centered around life (and not man)

1 See Chapter III, p. 24 and following.


and that revealed a love as truly universal as did the great Asiatic religions of mercy. The fact is all the more striking as, to the extent it is possible to ascertain such a thing in the present state of historical investigation, the Religion of the Disk was evolved independently of foreign influences. The Asiatic religions of mercy are indeed, here, out of question, since the oldest of them — Buddhism — came into existence some nearly nine hundred years after Akhnaton. And Vedic Hinduism-the only Indian cult akin in some of its aspects to that of the “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk,” and the only one as old as or older than it — cannot be actually proved to have had any connection with it. Moreover, the warlike moral outlook of the Vedic Indians could not but be definitely different from Akhnaton’s, although their conception of the universe might have been more or less the same as his.

The youthful seer stands therefore as the first recorded teacher west of India— -and perhaps the first in the world — to have had a fully clear consciousness of the supreme beauty of life in all sentient creatures, from the godlike man that he himself was down to plants, and to have loved it in each one of them, impartially, as the wording and the general tone of his hymns show beyond doubt.

His state religion lasted hardly any longer than his own short reign. And no school of thought comparable to the Pythagorean and neo-Pythagorean — let alone to the mighty followings of the later successful creeds — survived his historic attempt to spread the truth. Nor is it possible, by any stretch of imagination, to point out be it even a vague filiation between that particular aspect of his joyous, life-centered Teaching which we have just recalled, and one or more than one of the less ancient religions that have left their mark upon human consciousness. Though soon distorted, the idea of the oneness of God and brotherhood of man, doubtless implied in his teaching, reached posterity and lived in other Western creeds. His idea of the oneness of Life and brotherhood of all creatures did not. And he stands by himself, in that respect as in so many others — one of the very first, if not the first of those “lights in the darkness,” as we have characterized the few forerunners of a better world: of a world in which one would help all creatures to live in health and to enjoy the sunshine.

* * *

It is not until our own times that the idea that we have duties towards living beings other than human has begun to dawn upon the minds not only of one or two exceptional men, but of small groups of average people, in certain countries at least, and that,


irrespectively of the man-centered or life-centered or nation-centered creeds which those people might profess. It is not until our own times that torchbearers of the old truth known to the mythical Enkidu before the perversion of this feelings (and to all good people, before the ravages of a hateful education upon their deeper conscience) can speak in public of the rights of all the living. It is not until our own times, we repeat, that a champion of the cause of exploited animals such as Bernard Shaw, can write his immortal impeachments of human wickedness, cowardice and stupidity — the preface to his “Doctor’s Dilemma” and the chapter on Pavlov’s atrocities in a more recent work — and win, along with the fanatical opposition of many, the wholehearted, intelligent support of a number of Englishmen, Germans, Scandinavians and Americans, and of a handful of individuals in the rest of the world. It is not until our own times that, in a few countries at least, some people, in spite of all the horrors which they still tolerate in the name of food, sport, dress, scientific research and therapy, have not remained, like others, as callous as downright savages. It is not until our own times that laws are beginning to be made — not merely by absolute rulers, ages in advance of their people, but by average folk elected by other average folk as members of legislative bodies — in order to protect animals against man on moral grounds. It is not until today that actual agitation in support of the rights of animals is becoming possible, in certain countries at least.

Man’s evolution seems indeed to have been very slow, in that respect. We cannot but experience a sad amazement when we contrast man’s progress in technical matters as well as in purely abstract pursuits with his stagnation on an appallingly low level of love; when we think, for instance, of men acquainted with the nature of the stars or with the intimate texture of atoms feeding on sentient creatures’ flesh like the coarsest and most ignorant of their hunting ancestors of paleolithic: times. And we cannot but marvel all the more at the superiority of the few who, from age to age, have transcended the old law of the jungle “right is might,” common to all carnivorous beasts, and looked upon all living nature as a thing of beauty to be loved — not just an “inferior form of life” to be exploited in the interest of the more cunning human species.

We can only hope that the belief in the existence of dumb creatures’ rights, which seems to be making its way into the hearts of a slowly growing number of our contemporaries, will continue to spread, and that we might be witnessing, in that sincere love of


animals and even plants shared to-day, in a few countries, by more average men than ever before (though still far too few), the dawn of a new era; the first sign of the beginning of a better world, which is to take shape no one can foretell when, nor after what further upheavals.

It remains to examine what should be done to hasten that really desirable change.