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Animal Practice, Animal Compassion

Online Program
Dates: Mar 21, 2024 - Apr 04, 2024

Instructor(s): Janet Gyatso

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Program Description:

How might our relations with the many animals who live beside us be part of our ethical practice? How do we cultivate skillful compassion for our fellow creatures who are facing ever-increasing suffering in our contemporary global society? 

In our three sessions together we will focus on developing our compassion and commitment to animal welfare through Buddhist-inspired practices. We invite both animal lovers and those with little sympathy for animals; our goal is to amplify our appreciation of the value of animals and reinforce our commitment to act ethically towards them. 

In the first session we will inquire into animal virtues and values and explore questions of animal ethics in Buddhism and Western thought. The second session will engage practices to cultivate animal sensitivity and compassion. These include periods of mindful attention to animal points of view, imagined empathy with animal-centered perspectives, and visualization techniques that increase our own capacity to envision a world of ethical kinship between all creatures. In our third session we will consider the impact of these practices on our own moral cultivation, along with practical steps we can take to improve animal welfare. 

Each session will consist of a presentation followed by a discussion. Together, we will engage in thought experiments and practices which will enlarge our leadership capacities for social change in order to benefit animal flourishing and decenter human dominance on Planet Earth.

    About the Instructor(s):
  • Janet Gyatso is a specialist in Buddhist studies with concentration on Tibetan and South Asian cultural and intellectual history. Her 2015 book Being Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet (Columbia University Press) focuses upon alternative early modernities and the conjunctions and disjunctures between religious and scientific epistemologies in Tibetan medicine in the sixteenth–eighteenth centuries. Gyatso has also been writing on sex and gender in Buddhist monasticism, and on the current female ordination movement in Buddhism. Previous topics of her scholarship have included visionary revelation in Buddhism; lineage, memory, and authorship; the philosophy of experience; and autobiographical writing in Tibet. Her current writing concerns the phenomenology of living well with animals and related ethical issues and practices. Gyatso taught at Amherst College before coming to Harvard as the Divinity School's first Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies. In July 2014 she became HDS associate dean for faculty and academic affairs.