Animal Worship…Oh, How Uncivilized!

Watching “Seven Years in Tibet” with my preteen daughter, I could see that she was enjoying learning about far eastern cultures. We could not avoid laughing at the humor sewn inseparably into the tapestry of the complex story – where the representative of the west protests, unsuccessfully suppressing his mirth, that he could not hope to save all the earthworms dug up in the course of the cinema theater construction he was commissioned to do. In dramatic style, that predicament was made more ludicrous in the movie with an observation that the simple people of that land – Tibet – believed earthworms could have been humans in a past life, mothers especially. And solved with a sweeping, positive request: “You are a clever man. Please find a way to save them all.” I explained to my daughter that this depiction dramatized an innate respect for all life that is an inseparable aspect of such cultures.

Another explanation had occurred to me…that such beliefs may prove true universally. But clouding a child’s mind with the thought that human bodies are recycled by worms, earthworms especially, when occupied in pushing up daisies, didn’t seem the right thing to do.

Nevertheless, this question pops up every now and then. The term ‘Animal Worship’ is sometimes employed pejoratively in discussions of our natural love for animals…perhaps in an overreaching attempt to assert opinion or win an argument. Yet, respect for animals is innate everywhere. For instance, an excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version, says: “We send thanks to all the animals of the world. They have much to teach us people…” It is encouraging to note that this is an adornment on pages of the American passport, though it may not yet have penetrated the individual American consciousness.

It is also interesting, and humbling, that ‘native’ cultures develop a great admiration, and respect, for all life. Scientifically, it is a simple matter to realize that without plants, without the tiniest of organisms (the phytoplankton, and bacteria) that inhabit the planet, life cannot be…more specifically, without the bacteria that live in all our guts, we cannot be.

A brief excerpt from Humbling and Humility – where I’ve dwelt at length on love and learning from other beings…

Sid did not clarify why cobras were employed to symbolize acts of extreme violence by men. A common reptile in India, the cobra is worshiped by simple folks in the land I come from, as are many other living things for qualities admirable to humans. A book written after the O J Simpson1 double murder case and its aftermath, by two psychologists, When Men Batter Women, reviewed in the New York Times in 19982, may have a lot to do with this rather unfair characterization. In that arguably opportunistic book, psychologists portrayed male behavior in dark extremes, employing these animals, and our revulsion to some of their behaviors, for dramatic effect.

So that makes all men batterers, Sid? If they are aggressive, clamp down hard, and won’t let go, they are then pit bulls, and if they are unemotional, and strike with great speed, cobras in the grass? You mean us men in your counseling class, surely, for we’d been duly deemed, one and all, violent or prone to violence with our domestic partners by the state. Yet the statistical fact of half of all murdered women harmed by their domestic partners was indeed frightening.


About Rian Nejar

Rian Nejar is an Indian-American author. He trained and worked as an engineer in India, lived briefly in the Middle East, and arrived in America in the early 90's. After a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in America, he worked as an academic instructor, engineer, entrepreneur, and technical writer over the two decades since. Humbling and Humility ( is his first mainstream nonfiction. He lives and writes in the Southwest United States.
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