As long as humans have existed, people have dealt with the question of what happens when you die. All major religions have a concept of the afterlife. Not all of them agree about what they believe, however, and certainly not all believe in the concept of reincarnation. Beliefs about the Buddhist afterlife, Hindu afterlife, and the Sikh afterlife all center around a version of reincarnation. Not only do these religions believe in the reincarnation of people, but many expand this concept to the realm of animals and pets as well.
For each of these religions, reincarnation is defined as the rebirth of a soul in a new physical body. This concept applies to the spiritual essence of a living being, where the physical form is just a vessel and therefore is not necessary. The spirit is reincarnated, or reborn, into a new physical form including a human or another species along the journey of oneness with the universe. The following religions believe that reincarnation is possible for pets as well as humans.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions on earth and it has a very deep concept of eternal life through many reincarnations and rebirths. Hindus believe that both humans and animals have souls and both of them are caught in the death and life cycle. The concept of the afterlife and reincarnation in Hinduism is linked to karma, which means you’re born again in a better or a worse form, depending on your deeds performed during life.
The concept of animal reincarnation in Hinduism shows up mostly as punishment for a human soul that was wicked in the previous life and now has been reincarnated in a “lower form,” such as an animal. Even though animals are treated very well in the Hindu religion, reincarnation in an animal form is considered to be a “lower form” based on a lack of qualities such as knowledge, self-awareness, speech, and intelligence.
To come back as an animal is mostly considered to be part of the cycle of punishment for a corrupt soul until it can redeem itself again to the level of a human body. Some Hindus believe the opposite can be true if a higher form needs to reincarnate as an animal to achieve a particular goal on Earth.
Because people can reincarnate in animal forms, animal mistreatment is considered to be an action that can alter your karma for the worse. A soul in animal form has limited freedom and liberty as it goes through the reincarnation cycle. It’s the responsibility of souls in human bodies to treat them kindly and help them along the way.
To understand the idea of reincarnation in Buddhism, we need to understand the difference in their understanding of karma.
Unlike in Hinduism, karma in Buddhism is an ever-changing state of a human being. It is based on the belief that, just like energy in the physical realm, humans emit and receive moral energy as well. The energy is constantly based on your actions and on the energy that comes back to you because of those actions.
Buddhists don’t view karma and fate as the same thing. To a Buddhist, fate has a sense of predestination whereas karma is entirely under your control and is not pre-planned. Karma is always evolving.
Interestingly, rebirth in Buddhism is considered to be a part of a painful cycle that only ends when you’ve achieved enlightenment and mastery over earthly desires. Buddhism believes in a concept of six realms that someone can be reborn into based on their karma. Three of those realms are considered heavenly: Deva (heavenly), Asura (demigod) and Manusya (human), and the other three: Tiryak (animals), Preta (ghosts) and Naraka (hell), are considered to be hellish. Unfortunately, animal reincarnation falls in the category of the hellish realms.
In both Hinduism and Buddhism, reincarnation as an animal is viewed in a negative light and is seen as a step backward in the journey to self-mastery. Followers are instructed by the religion to help souls in a lesser form regain a higher level of reincarnation. As a result, in Buddhism, people believe their pets have souls that need help and many followers of the faith involve the presence of their pets when they perform religious activities such as meditation, chants, and worship.
Sikhism has a similar concept of multiple life cycles until the soul reaches the ultimate level of spirituality and escapes death once and for all to become one with God.
Although Sikhism believes that animals have souls and should be treated with care and kindness, they believe it is only the human soul that can reach ultimate salvation, pure spirituality, and become Gurmukh (God-centered).
4. Ancient Egypt
It is no surprise that pets were widely popular in ancient Egypt as they are in the world now. Ancient Egyptians domesticated the dogs, cats, falcons, monkeys while their temples held in esteem many other animals like crocodiles, antelopes, hippos, and lions. They believed that their pets had divine powers.
They loved their pets so deeply that pets used to be mummified with their deceased owner and placed in the grave. Egyptians widely believed that animals had souls and could accompany their owners in their afterlife.
Cats were a much more common pet than dogs in Egypt and were revered because of their association with the goddess Bastet, the goddess of fertility, childbirth, and domesticity. Cats also provided the function of keeping a house rodent-free and required less care than a dog — they became widely affordable among the common people living in Egypt.
Cats were honored so much that the punishment for killing a cat (even accidentally) in ancient Egypt was death! Dogs were loved just as much and served important roles in hunting parties and military campaigns. A dog’s death was the cause of great grief for a family. Some families would be so moved by the death of their dog that they would have their entire bodies shaved as a public display of grief.
This affinity for animals arose primarily because of their belief that animals had divine attributes. Though Egyptians did not believe in the reincarnation of Buddhists or Hindus, they did believe that the spirit of the gods rested in animals. Because of this divinity, Egyptians believed animals would go on to accomplish great things in the afterlife with their masters. This was seen as a type of second life and rebirth.
Here’s another story to illustrate Egyptians’ loyalty to their animals: The Persian general Cambyses-II invaded Egypt in 525 B.C. His frontlines were made up of all the animals that Egyptians held in high esteem with the images of the cat goddess Bastet on his soldiers’ shields. The Egyptian army surrendered without a fight to save the cats and the animals they loved and lost their city of Pelusium to the Persians.
5. Other Beliefs
Some Native American tribes of America believe that animals have souls and are connected to the one great universal force. This belief is one of the reasons why they demonstrate immense respect for the conservation and protection of nature.
In some Native American communities, they believe in only having what they need. If they needed to take the life of an animal for food, they performed a special ritual. They would then use every part of the animal since they believed there should be no waste.
In the Islamic religion, animals are not believed to have a soul and animal spirituality is not on the same level as humans. However, Islamic afterlife teachings are clear that human salvation can be jeopardized forever due to the mistreatment of animals.
Pets in the Afterlife
You can find varying beliefs regarding animal and pet reincarnation but may be able to agree that humans should treat animals kindly. I
t doesn’t matter whether you believe your pet will accompany you in the afterlife, come back as another animal or a human being, or simply go to doggie heaven. It’s most important that you foster love and kindness for animals and treat them the way you would want to be treated.