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The Great Compassion

Buddhism and Animal Rights

Norm Phelps

Buddhism ought to be an animal rights religion par excellence. It has long held that all life forms are sacred and considers kindness and compassion the highest virtues. Moreover, Buddhism explicitly includes animals in its moral universe. Buddhist rules of conduct—including the first precept, “Do not kill”—apply to our treatment of animals as well as to our treatment of other human beings.

Consequently, we would expect Buddhism to oppose all forms of animal exploitation, and there is, in fact, wide agreement that most forms of animal exploitation are contrary to Buddhist teaching. Yet many Buddhists eat meat—although many do not—and monks, priests, and scholars sometimes defend meat-eating as consistent with Buddhist teaching.

The Great Compassion studies the various strains of Buddhism and the sutras that command respect for all life. Norm Phelps, a longtime student of Buddhism and an acquaintance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, answers the central questions of whether Buddhism demands vegetarianism and whether the Buddha ate meat. He is not afraid to examine anti-animal statements in Buddhist lore—particularly the issues of whether Buddhists in non-historically Buddhist countries need to keep or to jettison the practices of their historical homelands.

240 pp.  
5 1/2" x 8 1/2"

Lantern Books


Published:  June 2004


Norm Phelps was the spiritual outreach director of The Fund for Animals, as well as a founding member of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV) and a contributing writer for Satya. His goal was for faith communities of all traditions to include animals within the scope of their compassionate ministries. Norm Phelps's books include The Dominion of Love, The Great Compassion and The Longest Struggle. Norm passed away in the end of 2014. See all books by Norm Phelps

Related Titles

  • The Dominion of Love : Animal Rights According to the Bible
  • Creatures of the Same God : Explorations in Animal Theology
  • Call to Compassion : Religious Perspectives on Animal Advocacy

    Related Titles by Subject:

    Animals ; Religion ; Animal Advocacy: Animals & Religion ; Animals: Religion ; Religion: Animals & Environment and Religion: Animals & Religion
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