Animal Death Beliefs and Rituals in Buddhism

Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha or Awakened One. Followers strive to attain enlightenment through the Four Noble Truths and Dependent Origination. Buddhists also have specific beliefs related to animals, which are considered sentient beings with the potential for enlightenment.

Animals are thought to inhabit a separate world from people. Someone who is reborn as an animal is usually considered to be suffering an unhappy rebirth. The world of animals is seen as negative because animals live in fear of being attacked and eaten, must endure environmental changes and have no secure habitation. Even those who live among humans may be slaughtered, forced to work or suffer from human ignorance.

The Passing of an Animal

Buddhism bans the taking of any life, right down to the smallest creatures and insects. The Buddha taught followers that every sentient being possesses Buddha nature and can reach enlightenment through rebirths. That means every animal was a past relative and should never be harmed for any reason. Instead they should be loved just as we would love another human being. When an animal passes away, many of the same rituals and practices may be performed that would be performed when a human being dies.

Coping with Animal Death in the Buddhist Culture

When a beloved animal dies, Buddhist families may include personal rituals along with those outlined by their religious beliefs. Most feel it is appropriate to perform a traditional Buddhist funeral, or Sukhavati, as they would with a human being. There is some disagreement on the length of the Bardo, or state of mind that is halfway between life and death. Some think that animals pass through this state faster, so the traditional 49 days may not be necessary. Smaller animals may be carefully wrapped in cloth or put in a box and placed near a shrine for burial rites.