That Man is a special creature, is hardly disputable.
That having been said, the fact remains that those who take animals just as seriously as human beings are few and far between. Even fewer people can relate to (the fate of) animals. How do these people view this relationship?
Starting with the majority who consider themselves superior to animals, one wonders where this mentality comes from. The philosopher Descartes, who had a great influence on man's way of thinking about animals throughout the centuries had a high opinion of man's powers of thinking. His most familiar theory is "cogito, ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am"). Titus Rivas writes on Descartes: "In Christian philosophy it is generally assumed that animals have a sort of a soul which enables them to observe, feel and move. This is how St. Francis of Assisi could feel so spiritually related to his brothers, the animals.
The majority of Christians believed, however, that the animal's soul was mortal and as such would perish along with the physical body at death. Animals count for little within this global concept, which is in keeping with the Christian teaching that Man is central to the Universe. It gets even worse, as appears from the philosophy of the French writer René Descartes. This 17th century mathematician, scholar and philosopher proclaimed that animals have no soul whatsoever. In his view, animals are purely corporal beings and have no feelings, desires or thoughts. They can best be compared to "automatons", an early robot of his era. This justifies treating animals as useful appliances, and practicing vivisection on them whilst they are still alive. According to Descartes, if a dog begins to scream when his stomach is being split open, his anguished yelps cannot be attributed to actual pain. A dog is, after all, a mere insensitive robot and his screams can be best compared to the noise of an appliance or a machine. If you would not attribute feelings to a singing tea kettle, you could hardly do so in the case of dogs or other animals, writes Descartes". End of citation Rivas.
Whereas it may well be possible that animals are purely corporal beings, there are very few people today who doubt for one moment the fact that animals do, in fact, have feelings.
Eckhart Tolle: "The animals are at a level prior to thinking. They haven't lost themselves in thought. We rise above thinking and then we meet them again, where we're both in non-thought. There's a deep connection".
Eckhart Tolle says that the "awakening man" no longer loses himself in thought or feeling, but is, as it were an observer of his own internal thought process. As an observer, man realizes that he is connected to all forms of life and thus, also, to the animals.
On the subject of observance, Frits van Haeften writes:
Respect brings us to the second condition of spirituality, an attitude that can be considered meditative and which encompasses witnessing. Here we can speak of respect: where we experience all that there is, as in a temple where all things are related to each other. Within this way of thinking, the microcosm of human observance becomes a holographic fragment in which the entire macrocosm is reflected.
Meditation can be in the form of a certain state of consciousness, or put even more exactly: being conscious. A form of alertness without any prescribed sense of perception, experiencing a state of pure observance, uncluttered by thought. As departure point, this "state of observance" can lead to a meditative stage of observance, detached from the ego, whereby it can attain a Universal nature.
Meditative spirituality is more than a programme for religious orders, food for philosophers, or a hobby for the eccentric. In each of us, spirituality is expressed in personal relationships which supersede material connection to all fellow creatures, both human and animal. This is manifested in our realization of the sense of eternity in the here and now, in our discovery of an actual cohesion beyond normal empiricism. With this realization comes respect for life, such as visualized by Albert Schweitzer. A careful involvement in life and matters around us, in a world which is no longer facing us, but is right alongside us. End of citation van Haeften. In other words: repeated practice of spiritual perception can lead to heightened awareness. And that in turn leads to respect.
Internal respect and awareness
Inner freedom and awareness are elements of a processs whereby man no longer wishes to coincide with his own reason and feelings. In other words, he possesses thoughts, feelings and emotions, but he no longer identifies with these sentiments by disconnecting his ego from them. Man becomes, as it were, an actual observer of the processes within himself. In this way he creates space and quietude in himself. The human creator is also conscious of his connection to others and all other forms of life in the Universe. In this way he creates a unity and thus behaves respectfully, he respects the integrity of all living creatures.
Respect is the combination of being involved (connected) and keeping distance. Inner respect leads to awareness of the universal connection with the other (man and animal) and the freedom that exists apropos the inner processes.
What do animals gain from inner freedom in humans?
Having compassion for animals entails that human beings allow themselves to experience emotions when attempting to envisage the fate of animals. Whereas we should not allow compassion to be a burden to us, suppressing that compassion only stunts one's personal development. It is important that subjecting animals to a dependent position by humans is kept to an absolute limit; that mankind becomes less indifferent to the fate of animals and that it tries to be consciously aware that that fate can be improved. These improvements could be achieved (preferably) by eating less meat and certainly not meat produced from factory farming. Also the motive that humans should not wish to keep (capture) animals as pets, even if only because they do not wish to commit to caring for them, is a favorable development. In this case, and in many other examples of the consequences of human behavior for animals, "active non-action" seems to be the best motto.