A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion
Ricard (Matthieu)
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Amazon Book Description

  1. A powerful and wide-ranging indictment of the treatment of animals by humans - and an eloquent plea for animal rights.
  2. Every cow just wants to be happy. Every chicken just wants to be free. Every bear, dog, or mouse experiences sorrow and feels pain as intensely as any of us humans do. In a compelling appeal to reason and human kindness, Matthieu Ricard here takes the arguments from his best-sellers Altruism and Happiness to their logical conclusion: that compassion toward all beings, including our fellow animals, is a moral obligation and the direction toward which any enlightened society must aspire.
  3. He chronicles the appalling sufferings of the animals we eat, wear, and use for adornment or entertainment, and submits every traditional justification for their exploitation to scientific evidence and moral scrutiny. What arises is an unambiguous and powerful ethical imperative for treating all of the animals with whom we share this planet with respect and compassion.

Back Cover Reviews
  1. Are animals mere things, here for us to exploit? Or are they rather sentient, often intelligent beings, entitled to live their own lives? Matthieu Ricard examines theological, philosophical and scientific thinking on both sides of the issue and concludes that without doubt we must recognize each animal is an individual deserving of our compassion and respect. A Plea for the Animals is fascinating, instructive and compelling, speaking to us on both an intellectual and emotional level.
    Jane Goodall
  2. A Plea for the Animals continues and completes the wonderful work Matthieu Ricard did in his Altruism, drawing on science and philosophy to show that compassion cannot be limited to members of our own species but must be extended to all beings capable of suffering. This is a book for everyone who is willing to consider the case for a radical change in the way we treat animals."
    Peter Singer, author of Practical Ethics and Animal Liberation
  3. A Plea for the Animals is an outstanding and well-referenced book that surely will make a difference for the billions of nonhumans who routinely suffer globally at the hands of humans, be it in slaughterhouses, laboratories, or other captive situations, or in what's left of their natural environs. Matthieu Ricard's heartfelt plea for us to tap into our caring and compassionate selves and to treat other animals with unbounded dignity and respect will go a long way toward inspiring people to see other animals for who they truly are, to feel for them deeply, and to recognize how they fully depend on us to grant them the ability to be able to live their lives in peace and safety to survive and to thrive in an increasingly human-dominated world. By personally rewilding and understanding what other animals want and need, humans will more easily reconnect and become re-enchanted with other animals so that peaceful coexistence becomes a reality, and it will be a win-win for all concerned."
    Marc Bekoff, author of Animals Matter and Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence
  4. Matthieu Ricard received a PhD in molecular genetics from the Pasteur Institute in 1972 before departing his native France to study Buddhism in the Himalayas, eventually becoming a monk of the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal. Renowned also as a photographer and translator, he is the author of numerous previous books, including Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and Your World, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life s Most Important Skill, and, with his father, the late Jean-Francois Revel, The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life. He dedicates all the income of his work to two hundred humanitarian projects run in the Himalaya by the organization he founded, Karuna-Shechen.

    Translator’s Preface – xi
    Introduction – 1
  1. A Brief History of the Relations between Humans and Animals – 5
  2. Out of Sight, Out of Mind – 41
  3. Everybody Loses: Effects of Industrial Breeding and Meat Eating on Poverty, the Environment, and Health – 55
  4. The Real Face of Industrial Animal Breeding – 71
  5. Sorry Excuses – 93
  6. The Continuum of Life – 115
  7. The Mass Killing of Animals: Genocide versus Zoocide – 147
  8. A Little Side Trip into the Realm of Moral Judgment – 159
  9. The Dilemma of Animal Experimentation – 167
  10. Illegal Trade in Wildlife – 187
  11. Animals as Objects of Entertainment: The Will to Power – 199
  12. Animal Rights, Human Obligations – 239
    Conclusion: An Appeal to Reason and Human Kindness 263 Acknowledgments – 273
    Notes – 275
    Bibliography – 322
    Index – 330
    About Karuna-Shechen – 342

Translator’s Preface by Sherab Chodzin Kohn
  1. I am an unreconstructed omnivore. I shun food trips and diets. My guide to right eating is the Buddha, whose policy was to eat whatever was put in his begging bowl. Therefore, even though I had translated works of Matthieu Ricard's before, I was not a natural for translating his Plea for the Animals. I knew it leaned toward vegetarianism, and I feared it would entangle me in unwanted idealisms — as well as cast a bad light on my dinner. But trusting my author, I jumped in anyhow and began to experience the book up close and personal on a level of intensity that perhaps only a translator may reach.
  2. Indeed Ricard's book does counsel vegetarianism to the willing, and it does end up encouraging an array of what some might regard as idealistic outlooks. But I found that what it presented first and foremost was the facts. Primarily neither ideas nor anecdotes, neither morals nor homilies, hardly any Buddhism, but rather heaps and mountains of documented, hard data. I had to be sure my word processor was doing footnotes properly — there were lots of them.
  3. What I found I was carrying bit by bit from French into English was the story of the gruesome continuous, vast-scale extermination of animals brought on by us humans eating them. I also learned about intubated bears permanently immobilized in tiny cages in China, kept miserably alive as long as possible to be milked of their bile. I translated eye-witness accounts from slaughterhouses, industrial fishing vessels, animal-experimentation labs, zoos, circuses, and bullrings, all of which routinely function on the basis of brutal disregard for the life and suffering of animals. It was horror piled upon horror. Ricard was very thorough in compiling the factual basis of his plea for the animals. I realized soon enough that this Buddhist monk had beheld with a 360-degree lens the many faces of the human exploitation of animals that has been taking place for thousands of years, and he had seen it getting worse and worse. I realized that, rather than just a pep talk for vegetarianism, I had in my hands a work of compassion for all the sentient species with whom we share life, a plea to end or at least pare down all the ways in which we customarily abuse and torture animals for entertainment, sport, and profit, not leaving out the inevitable call to end or at least pare down the human practice of killing them daily in inconceivably huge numbers for food.
  4. As I translated Ricard’s unsparing presentation of the 365-day-per-year, 24-hour-per-day Calvary of the animals, for the first time in my life I felt a flash of really caring for them all. I also began to feel sick inside. Obviously, it should have been easy for me all along to recognize the horror that is in progress. But I exercise ignorance. The people in the neighborhoods of Auschwitz and other extermination camps during World War Two, Ricard tells us (while assuring us that he is not equating the value of animals with that of humans), more or less pretended not to know what was going on inside the walls and fences they lived next to. Similarly, I, and I expect many of us, are willing to toss into a deep dark hole all the troubling data that has come our way from many exposes about slaughterhouses, industrial fishing operations, the fur industry, and so on.
  5. I find it awkward and embarrassing. It troubles the conscience. It roils the pit of the stomach, and partly in self-defense, it sets one thinking. Naturally I want to find a thought that will salve my conscience but save my supper. Still translating away, I found myself conveying the many ideologies to this purpose that people have produced from ancient times until the present. Speciesism (on the analogy of racism) is the strategy that covers most of them. Speciesism deliberately or inadvertently assumes that humans have been set apart from the rest of creation as a higher order, and naturally it is our privilege to use the rest of creation as we see fit for our benefit. (This approach is handy for ravaging the environment as well as its nonhuman inhabitants.) Speciesism, in some of its many forms, is at home in religion. Genesis, the first book of the Bible, which sets Adam above the animals, provides a prime example. The automatism of Descartes was a form of speciesism. The influential and revered French philosopher proclaimed that all living beings apart from humans lack a soul, and though animals may appear to manifest pain, being soulless they are mere automatons whose mechanical reflexes may only mimic agony — in reality, they feel nothing. This mechanistic vision of all nonhuman life made it just fine for scientists and others from the seventeenth century-on to practice vivisection. With Matthieu, I had visited the extended horrors of the animal experimentation chambers and was deeply disturbed. Exaltation of human benefit above the rest of everything did not relieve me.
  6. Pangs of conscience similar to mine, apart from motivating rationales that justify animal exploitation, also (much more straightforwardly) bring about rejection of it. Human voices have been begging mercy for the animals since the beginning of the human-animal relationship. Translating on, I gathered that those voices are getting louder. Nowadays we have what is called the animal-rights movement and people who have found their calling in life as “animal advocates.” Matthieu Ricard describes the development of all this in historical and philosophical detail. In the end, the great argument is simply compassion for suffering. Compassion for suffering is something that is profoundly difficult to limit by species.
  7. Living vividly and in detail, as a translator does, all the data and thought supplied by his source. I experienced the stark conflicts and dilemmas of the case. My overall impression? The world is a very complex and bloody and lethal place. Sentience and suffering cohabit in it. It contains a lot of arbitrary cruelty. Compassion’s job is inexhaustible. Matthieu Ricard has done a piece of it. Through his devoted, intelligent, and very thorough effort, my compassion has been a little further awakened.

Book Comment

Shambhala Publications Inc; Reprint edition (24 Oct. 2017)

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2023
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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