I was working in the office at home and I heard a commotion outside in the courtyard. It was a stoat and a large rabbit locked in what appeared to be mortal combat. The stoat had its teeth in the back of the neck of the rabbit, who was struggling to break free. The rabbit managed to escape and the stoat ran off. A little later I was outside in the garden and discovered the rabbit sitting motionless in the shade with her ears down. There was a gaping hole in the back of her neck and it was obvious she was dying. I picked her up and was immediately aware of the innocence and beauty of this exquisite creature. In that moment there was a communication between us and I knew I had to find a way to humanely end her life. The rabbit was utterly still; and in that silence we were connected by the thread of life and death. It was all over very quickly. What happened next was that I was conscious of an inrush of cascading light as the essence of the rabbit entered me from within. There was no sense of sadness or loss. It was not its ‘soul’ that had entered me but my acknowledgement of that beautiful creature returning to where it was loved. It’s a common though profound experience that often happens with the death of a loved one.
The idea of soul was intuited by Plato, the Greek philosopher and mathematician born in 427 BC. Plato made the distinction between the duality of the physical body and the mind as separate entities, declaring that the soul was immortal and the directing force of the body, unchanging and pre-existing the form. Plato’s perception of the soul was embraced by the radical thinkers of ancient Greece. It was a time when the impulse of the emerging western civilisation was to question the mythic origins of cultural traditions; and to formulate an intellectual understanding of new ideas relating to the natural world and cosmos. This was the accepted school of thought in philosophic enquiry for the next two thousand years.
The next significant evolutionary step was Christianity’s emotional embracement of the soul, with all its connotations of the sin and suffering of the individual seeking redemption in some future heaven. It was an understandable error of perception that unfortunately gave rise to a whole religious tradition. I say ‘unfortunate’ because the idea of soul is one of the main impediments in discovering the truth and being liberated from the religious idea. The difficulty, however, is that soul has consolidated its position within the human psyche to such an extent that we are stuck with it – until it is discarded for the direct experience of reality. As long as souls exist (and they do because we acknowledge them), there will be moments of great inner joy with the passion of life; but there will also be misery in the seeming distance from love.
Which brings us back to the question: do animals have souls? No, thank God – nobody told them. Animals have no souls because, to them, there is no distinction between life and death. They defend themselves and avoid physical pain wherever possible, but they have no fear of death when the time comes for the body to be left behind. In other words there is nothing to impede the flow of life, either in the living experience or within the invisible realm of the psyche. Within the rabbit and all the other species is an instinctual intelligence that responds without thought or intent as the spontaneous expression of life.