Do animals have souls?

Yes. The soul is not the monopoly of humans.

How can we know the presence of the soul? By the remarkable difference in the behavior of living organisms and nonliving systems. Nonliving systems have three phases to their existence: creation, deterioration, and destruction. Living organisms exhibit three more phases: growth, reproduction, and maintenance. These additional phases, the Vedic scriptures explain, are due to the presence of the soul. And as these six changes are exhibited not just by humans but also by animals, we can safely infer that they too have souls. This logical inference concurs with the verdict of many Vedic texts, such as the Yajur Veda, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and the Padma Purana, that describe the soul’s journey through subhuman bodies.

In fact, this Vedic conclusion is echoed by the scriptures of the Abrahamic religions. For example, Genesis 1:30 declares that all creatures, whether on land, in the sea, or in the sky, have a “living soul” within their body. God uses the words nephesh for “soul” and chayah for “living,” which are the same two words used at other places in the Bible to describe the soul in human bodies.

Then why do some people think that animals don’t have souls? Because they misdiagnose the cause of human specialness. The great spiritual traditions – whether Eastern or Western – agree that among all living beings, humans are special: they alone have the developed intellect for spiritual enquiry. From this universal fact of human specialness, some people make the sectarian extrapolation that humans alone have souls. However, this extrapolation is invalid because animals exhibit the six phases that characterize ensouled matter. The actual cause of the unique human capacity for spiritual enquiry is that the human body covers the souls less than an animal body does. The Bhagavad-gita (3.38) states: “As fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, or as the embryo is covered by the womb, the living entity is similarly covered by different degrees . . . .” In this enigmatic verse, the smoke-covered fire refers to the soul covered by a human body, the dust-covered mirror refers to the soul covered by an animal body, and the womb-covered embryo refers to the soul covered by a plant body. Just as smoke, dust, and womb are progressively thicker coverings, the human body, the animal body, and the plant body are progressively thicker coverings of the soul. That’s why, though the soul in animals and humans is of the same kind, we humans alone can express the soul’s innate search for spirituality. Therefore, let’s begin expressing it by acknowledging the latent spirituality of our younger brothers and sisters in the animal world.

Doesn’t the growth of population disprove reincarnation? As all souls are eternal and so no new souls are ever created, doesn’t the increase in population imply that new human bodies will eventually run out of souls with which to be incarnated?

No. This argument is based on two unstated assumptions:

  1. Only human beings have souls.
  2. All souls exist only in our earthly realm.

But these assumptions are unfounded – either by science or by scripture. As modern mechanistic science has no access to the spiritual realm, it can neither prove nor disprove these assumptions. And scriptures – even the scriptures of the Abrahamic religions – indicate that animals have souls and declare that souls do exist in nonearthly realms. The Vedic scriptures not only assert this unambiguously, but also delineate an entire worldview that enables us to make sense of sociological phenomena like population explosion.

The Vedic universe is abuzz with continuous soul traffic: some souls degrade to subhuman species and subterranean regions, some stagnate in human species and in the earthly realm, some rise to suprahuman species and celestial regions, some – a rare few – break entirely free to go to the spiritual world, never to return. The fuel for this soul traffic is our actions in life: bad acts degrade the soul, mediocre acts stagnate, good acts elevate, and outstanding acts liberate.

People today engaged in mediocre acts (karma) are likely to be returning – reincarnating – on the human level. Souls from the subhuman bodies and existences naturally rise, with due passage of time, to human bodies, possibly causing the claimed population explosion. Even if we take into account that some souls may also be going down to lower species and realms, still that doesn’t stop other souls – in greater numbers – coming to our realm from other realms.

This population increase could be a part of a cosmic plan to give us our karmic dues. Today, people delight in bad karma, raping nature and abusing her resources for their own selfish greed. The consequent karmic reactions lead to nature withdrawing her gifts, causing the resource crunch plaguing the world today. Another aspect of these karmic reactions could be the current population explosion: increased population and decreased natural resources, when coupled together, deliver karmic dues in an acute way, which is perhaps a jolting yet necessary reminder for humanity to mend its errant ways.

Suffice it to say that once its hidden assumptions are pointed out, the population growth argument loses weight. And the Vedic reincarnation paradigm can account persuasively for population growth.