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In an early discourse from the Sam. yuttanikaya ¯ , the Buddha states: “I do not see any other order of living beings so diversified as those in the animal realm. Even those beings in the animal realm have been diversified by the mind, yet the mind is even more diverse than those beings in the animal realm.” This paper explores how this key early Buddhist idea gets elaborated in various layers of Buddhist discourse during a millennium of historical development. I focus in particular on a middle period Buddhist sutra ¯ , the Saddharmasmr. tyupasthanas ¯ utra ¯ , which serves as a bridge between early Buddhist theories of mind and karma, and later more developed theories. This third-century South Asian Buddhist Sanskrit text on meditation practice, karma theory, and cosmology psychologizes animal behavior and places it on a spectrum with the behavior of humans and divine beings. It allows for an exploration of the conceptual interstices of Buddhist philosophy of mind and contemporary theories of embodied cognition. Exploring animal embodiments—and their karmic limitations—becomes a means to exploring all beings, an exploration that can’t be separated from the human mind among beings.


© 2019 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

Stuart, D. M. (2019). Becoming Animal: Karma and the Animal Realm Envisioned Through an Early yogācāra Lens. Religions, 10(6), 363. doi:10.3390/rel10060363

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