The Buddha spoke in Pali. Sabbe Satta are two Pali words for All Beings/All Creatures.
He referred to all beings/all creatures, as well as naming specific animals, birds and fish in the body of his teachings. His words inspired Dharma practitioners to treat all creatures with care and respect for the past 2600 years. This deep love and care for life, big and small, comes from the heart of a man rooted in ethics, values and unwavering dedication to supporting all forms of life, sentient and insentient.
The Buddha communicated his recognition of the importance of creatures in the natural world. He gave teachings on limitless loving kindness and compassion for the realm of non-human creatures. He advocated an end to harm and violence on creatures.
The Buddha drew upon animals as symbols of human qualities. The practice of non-harm/non-cruelty includes the entire realm of creatures on the ground, under the ground, in the air and in water. In the monastery, we chanted words of kindness and empathy with all beings.
The Buddha mentioned specific animals in terms of their symbolic significance.
- Lion. The lion’s roar in speaking the Dharma
- Fish. Freedom of movement
- Peacock. Beauty
- Elephant. Intelligence, dignity
- Horse. Dedication, trustworthy
- Deer. Peaceful and gentle
- Dragons. Protectors
- Snakes. Letting go (of their old, worn-out skin)
- Rhinoceros. Love of solitude.
- Monkeys. Jumping from one thing to another.
A much-loved fifth century Buddhist book, the Jataka Tales, refers to 550 mythological stories of the Buddha’s past lives, including lives as an animal. The Jataka tales carry important insights showing our psychology carries characteristics within us of animal behaviour.
The Buddha’s mentioned regularly creatures in general and specific ways in his emphasis of liberation through limitless metta (love, loving kindness and friendship), as well as wisdom. He made clear metta has no limits expanding beyond the human realm to the entire natural world.
His thoughtful references to animals encouraged the Buddhist tradition to treat all creatures with care and respect. Monks, nuns and householders in Buddhist monasteries co-exist in caring ways with all creatures in the grounds as a collective sangha of sentient life. No harm comes to snakes, scorpions and spiders living in the monastery. Even the pesky mosquitoes benefit as practitioners learn to develop equanimity and non-harm when moving the creature off the skin. Except for the sitting meditation and Dharma talk in the Dharma Hall in the evening, we meditated outdoors in Wat Chai Na monastery outside Nakornsridhammaraj in southern Thailand.
During my subsequent nine months in a cave in Ko Pha Ngan Island in 1973, I had various visitors – footless (snakes etc), two-footed (birds), four-footed (small animals), eight-legged (scorpions) and many-footed (centipedes). I reminded myself regularly I was a guest in their garden going back numerous millennia with neither the wish to cause suffering, nor endure harm from creatures.
The Buddha said we place mindfulness all around us. Mindfulness and kindness protect creatures and mindfulness and kindness protect us, day and night.
A selection of quotes from the Buddha regarding all beings/all creatures.
I have good will for footless beings,
Good will for two-footed beings,
Good will for four-footed beings,
Good will for many-footed beings.
May footless beings do me no harm.
May two-footed beings do me no harm.
May four-footed beings do me no harm.
May many-footed beings do me no harm.
May all creatures,
All breathing things, all beings
—each and every one—
Meet with good fortune.
May none of them come to any evil.
Limitless is the Buddha,
Limitless the Dhamma,
Limitless the Sangha.
There is a limit to creeping things:
Snakes, scorpions, centipedes,
Spiders, lizards and rats.
I have made this a safeguard (for all beings, all creatures),
I have made this a protection.
A mind of loving-kindness has compassion for all living beings, having loving-kindness towards all beings, he has no one/nothing he hates.
Whatever living beings there may be—feeble or strong, long, stout, or of medium size, short, small, large, those seen or those unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who are born as well as those yet to be born—may all beings have happy minds.
Discourse on Loving Kindness. Sn 1.8
Just as a mother would protect her only child with her life even so let one cultivate a boundless love towards all beings.
Discourse on Loving Kindness. Sn 1.8
One who has loving kindness towards all beings harbours no enmity towards anyone.
“I do not lie awake in dread,
Nor am I afraid to sleep.
The nights and days do not afflict me,
Therefore, I can sleep in peace,
Full of compassion for all beings.”
Someone destroys life. He is murderous, bloody handed, given to blows and violence and merciless to living beings. There is a threefold corruption and failure due to karma, unwholesome volition and a painful outcome.
AN. 10, 217.
The sky might split, the earth might quake,
And all creatures be stricken with terror,
I praise a non-violent sacrifice at which cattle, goats, rams, chickens, and pigs are not slain, where various creatures are not slaughtered,
“Someone with three qualities is cast down to hell. What three? They themselves kill living creatures. They encourage others to kill living creatures. And they approve of killing living creatures.
“I will teach you the beneficial and the harmful. … And what is the harmful? Killing living creatures. And what is the beneficial? Not killing living creatures.
‘Laying aside violence in respect of all beings, both those which are still and those which move, in the world, he should not kill, nor cause to kill, nor allow others to kill.’
How can I inflict upon another what is displeasing and disagreeable to me? Having reflected thus, he himself abstains from the destruction of life, exhorts others to abstain from the destruction of life, and speaks in praise of the abstinence from the destruction of life.
Having abandoned the destruction of life and abstained from and put aside rod and weapon, one dwells compassionate towards all living beings.
MAY ALL CREATURES LIVE IN PEACE
MAY ALL CREATURES LIVE IN HARMONY
MAY ALL CREATURES LIVE IN PEACE AND HARMONY