Meeting Animals In Prayer

Most high and most low

This month I’ve been observing Ramadan, which means praying five times a day. As I prostrate, the dog comes to sniff my face and then the cat pounces on the dog and then they’re all over the place. They’re annoying but it also tells me something. To humble yourself before Allah is to humble yourself before all creation. You’re literally on the ground with them. This is a lesson we all could use these days.
To be fair, the cat is usually the problem

I’m a Buddhist, and there’s a similar lesson from the Dhamma. On Poya (full moon) days some Buddhists observe sil, which involves not sitting on high or comfortable furniture. You spend the whole day on the floor, which again brings the animals right in my face. I think it’s the same lesson, or at least that’s what I’m getting in my ungodly concoction of religious experiences. At least once a month (and then for a whole month) I have to sit with these creatures, and see creation that way.

The idea I’ve been thinking about, via the physicist Tom Murphy, is human supremacy. The idea that humankind is special, and that humanism is a way out of anything. I think this is a deep philosophical error which prevents us from solving problems like climate collapse and overshoot in any meaningful way. Because ‘we’ are the problem in the first place. Every ‘solution’ we devise to save humanity is bound to fail because attachment to humanity is the cause of this greater suffering. Our inability to see our kinship with the animals and the lordship of the microbes leads, inexorably, to the destruction of ourselves, because we don’t understand what ‘we’ are. ‘Human’ is an arbitrary line of separation within a connected ecosystem and we effectively cut off our own heads this way.

Human religions, of course, contain human supremacy over the animals, but this is vastly overshadowed by human inadequacy in the face of higher beings. In lay Buddhism (as practiced here), one tries to avoid being reborn as an animal, which is considered lower and basically a punishment. At the same time, however, the first precept is to avoid taking life in general, not just human. Metta, or loving-kindness, extends to all beings, albeit in concentric circles out from one human, to their family, to all humans, and so on. In The Book of the main monotheistic faiths, man is God’s favored creature, but not that favored. In the Quran as well as the Bible, Satan’s fall was because he didn’t bow to man, but it also seems that most men will join him in hell on Judgement Day.

There’s certainly enough in all the faiths of the island to justify human supremacy over the animals, but there’s much more to explain our vast inadequacy before higher powers. The difference between human and cat seems marginal compared to the difference between God and human. This knowledge should really make us more compassionate not out of noblesse oblige but out of our own hopeless situation. If you expect grace, give it, and—given our behavior—we honestly deserve none. But Allah is most compassionate, somehow, if you’re able to admit wrong and try to heal the wound.

I think of this when I’m down with the animals because I’m literally down with animals. In many ways, the original sin was standing up. We put on airs like we’re better than everyone, but we’re still the same kilometers from the heavens, and giraffes are much taller than us anyway. If a person was truly humbled and god fearing, they would literally be nose on the ground five times a day with the animals and ants and aware of this fact. But we’re five hundred times a day on our phones and quite delusional these days.

I think of this as I prostrate in sujud and the dog comes to sniff me and then the cat bites its tail and they both sprawl in a tangle. They’re disturbing me, but God works in mysterious ways, including through these idiots. We are not better than the animals, we are at best custodians (ie, janitors) of this Earth, and we should be much more humbled before God than we are proud before our living relatives. Pride goeth before the fall, and indeed during it, apparently.I think also, of another statement, from a state. I think of all the Palestinians called ‘human animals’ by the cruel ‘Israelis’ and Americans, occupiers and defilers of the Holy Land. Their cruel logic is that all the people in Gaza must be starved and dehydrated to death to defeat a people’s resistance, but the even crueler logic is that even animals deserve to be treated this way. But ‘human animals’ is not some sort of insult, it’s literally what we are. This is what my children learn in school (where they study animals, including humans) and you can see it for yourself. I can see that in prayer, with my nose firmly to the ground, hoping that the Lord of The Day of Judgement untangles this ungodly mess, one of Their thousand-year days.