Buddhist compassion for sentient beings warrants enactment of Sri Lanka’s Animal Welfare Bill without any further delay


– by Shenali Waduge –

Sri Lanka with a Theravada Buddhist civilization that protected and fostered Buddhism has much to introspect. With over 70% of the population being Buddhists it is a national shame that we continue to forget the very basic teachings of the Buddha whose message to us was to treat non – human sentient beings with compassion and loving – kindness, as though they were no different to humans with feelings and pain. If animals share emotions no different to ours, is it not a huge embarrassment that in this reputed Buddhist country our elected leaders fall shy of enacting the Animal Welfare Bill tabled in Parliament in 2010 as a Private Member’s Bill and which has its genesis in the Animal Welfare Bill drafted and sanctioned by the Law Commission in 2006?

We cannot be Buddhists by name

There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth.


– Buddha –

What sort of legislative reform is the Ministry of Justice supposed to be undertaking when the primary statute in Sri Lanka governing the protection and welfare of animals to this day is an antiquated statute enacted during the British colonial era in 1907 i.e. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, where the maximum punishment for a heinous crime to an animal is a mere Rs. 100 (less than one US Dollar)?.

If the International probe on Sri Lanka’s human rights record is to be extended to cover the legislative protection given to animals in Sri Lanka and lack of interest shown by our lawmakers in improving the standard of care and treatment afforded to other living creatures, we will have nowhere to turn. It is shameful that we have stooped to this level of intolerance. We stand almost last in the queue of nations very close in this respect to several Islamic nations like Sudan, Iraq, Somalia and, Saudi Arabia, that by deliberate choice refuse to provide legislative protection to animals.

As a pre-dominant Buddhist nation is the Sri Lankan Parliament beholden to protect animals by enacting the Animal Welfare Bill already sanctioned and gathering dust since 2006? Can Sri Lanka’s Parliamentarians morally defend their silence?

The need to enact the Animal Welfare Bill is further strengthened by the international Petition gathering momentum the world over by the Dharma Voices for Animals launched in the USA.


Life is dear to all beings

To a Buddhist, good conduct requires “putting away the killing of living things” and holding “aloof from the destruction of life” (barring self-defense)

All beings tremble before danger, all fear death. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill.
All beings fear before danger, life is dear to all. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill.
He who for the sake of happiness hurts others who also want happiness, shall not hereafter find happiness.
He who for the sake of happiness does not hurt others who also want happiness, shall hereafter find happiness.
– Dhammapada 54

The first, and most fundamental Buddhist precept requires followers to refrain from killing—not just human beings, but all living beings. This prescription against killing “is central to the Buddhist tradition. Indeed, it is in fact one of the few common features across the vast Buddhist tradition and its many sects, strands, and branches”

The Sutta-Nipāta includes the following beautiful contribution to spiritual literature encouraging compassion in humankind:

“may all be blessed with peace always;
all creatures weak or strong,
all creatures great and small;

creatures unseen or seen
dwelling afar or near,
born or awaiting birth,
—may all be blessed with peace!

. . . as with her own life
a mother shields from hurting her own,
her only child, —
let all-embracing thoughts
for all that lives be thine,
—an all-embracing love
for all the universe’

Buddhist Social Order

We do not expect leaders to be simply ceremonial Buddhists paying only lip service to Buddhism as is happening. Look around and see how life has been devalued and killing has become a way of life. We need to return to a Dharmishta society where a Buddhist Social Order prevails like in the days of our ancient Sinhala Buddhist Kings who upheld righteousness and projected themselves as role models of piety to the subjects. A Buddhist Social Order is one not espousing everyone to be Buddhists but for all Buddhists to follow the fundamentals and for all others to respect these fundamentals without intentionally hurting by actions that run contrary.

The Mahavamsa records the noble conduct of our past rulers and extols righteousness, justice, piety and the need to strive for human perfection with love and compassion towards all, both human and non – human.

We must renew that journey and it must start with the enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill. There is no need for any further delay. We must not allow the religious bigotry of a few with different and extremist beliefs including members in the Cabinet to stand in the way of the State governing this nation in line with the teachings of the Buddha.

We need to relook at how life should be looked upon. We have destroyed nature enough –the flora and fauna are all suffering as a result of man’s greed and desires. We are affecting the animal habitat and that is likely to return to us in manifold ways. The 2004 Tsunami was just one example. Nature treats us the way we treat nature.

The leaders of the nation cannot be leading the country based on political opportunism – doing what is right by both man and animal is what the nation of Sri Lanka is now required to do. We need to return to the fundamentals of life in trying times where water and food may well become the basis of future wars.

The reasoning behind enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill goes far behind its enactment and will benefit future generation and the existence of Sri Lanka in terms of sustainability too. That message is what all Sri Lankans need to ponder over.