Questions by various friends, and Answers by Swami Nirmalananda, abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram
Do animals have souls?
Indeed they do. What is more, so does every living thing upon the earth, including plants and stones. Actually, every single atom that exists bears within itself a spark of the Divine Consciousness that we call "a soul." Thus, every atom is a "person" in its own right–or, more correctly, every atom is the vehicle of a soul that is beginning its evolution which will pass through gas, mineral, plant, animal, and human forms in a series of countless rebirths until the soul is evolved beyond the earth plane and ascends to continue its evolution in higher and higher realms of existence until it attains the capacity for Infinite Consciousness. Thus everything around us is alive and evolving and must be respected and treated accordingly.
Where do animals go after death?
They usually fall asleep for a short–very short–period of astral rest and then reawaken in another incarnation. When they draw near to human form, however, they spend longer times in certain astral regions where they experiment with being human. That is, they take on temporary human forms and learn to function in them. This is of course done under the guidance of those angelic guardians who foster the evolution of lower forms to higher. On occasion animals remain "earthbound" for a while, usually because of attachment to their "owners." Thus they may be heard barking, meowing, or whatever for some time after their death. Incidents have been recorded of disembodied animals defending or warning their former owners in time of danger.
Do animals reincarnate?
Absolutely–according to the principles I have already outlined. There are many instances of such reincarnations, and I have myself met reincarnated animals whom I had known in their previous lives. And we both knew it was a reunion.
Does God love animals as much as humans?
Yes, for they are His immortal children, dreaming that they are animals until after passing through many forms they shall awaken and be with Him, "gods with God." In truth, there is not an atom that God does not love with an infinite love, a love that is itself the force of evolution, the call to come back to their Origin for a perfect union of Love which is God Himself.
Therefore we should indeed love animals and not eat them. They are our brothers and sisters, evolving just as are we. To destroy their innocent bodies for the sake of food1 is a crime against our and their nature.
If we are all evolving, including animals, how do they fit into this statement? Will they be humans at some time in their evolution?
When the individual consciousness comes forth from the Absolute it begins as a single atom of hydrogen, moves upward in evolution through mineral, plant, animal, human, angelic, archangelic forms, and beyond. We have all lived in each animal form upon the earth in turn as we worked up to human life. And now we are hopefully growing beyond even that.
Yes, those divine sparks that are now manifesting in animal form are destined to become human beings one day. Morally and spiritually they are even now our equals, our brothers and sisters. Therefore to exploit and injure them is a crime against Life itself.
How well I remember my first lessons in these truths when I was in India nearly forty years ago. I was staying at the school founded in Ranchi by Paramhansa Yogananda. One morning I went with a young man to gather flowers for the early morning worship. There was a particularly fine marigold on a tall plant. "Here, pick this one," I told him. "No!" he replied. "It is the only bloom on the plant, and if I pluck it the plant will cry." I am glad to say that I did not think he was silly, but realized that what he said was true. Some weeks later I was helping in the cleaning and decorating of the Guru Mandir for the celebration of Christmas. I lifted a picture off its nail, and out ran a lizard (gecko). I jumped back and expressed disgust. Wonderingly, one of the men said to me: "But he is a Son of God, too."
Swami Vivekananda in his American lectures would often tell the people: "The lowliest worm is the brother of the Galilean [Christ]," and his pseudo-Christian hearers would run for the exits! Naturally they could not endure the truth that they were enslaving, killing, wearing, and eating the brothers of Christ and themselves. And now they are killing their own unborn and those whose hearts they want for transplants. What goes around truly does come around.