Skip to main content
Log in

A Theocentric Argument for Animal Personhood in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta

Journal of Dharma Studies Aims and scope Submit manuscript


The discourse on non-human animal personhood is at once ontological and axiological; it can involve a proposal of (what are taken to be) ontological facts about criteria for personhood and usually implies a positive axiological valuation of those who are deemed to be “persons.” The argument in favor of non-human personhood is critical for environmentalists and animal advocates alike. It is often believed that as people increasingly recognize animals as persons that the perceived human likeness to animals (the ontological component) more readily inspires empathetic pangs (an axiological component) in response to the exploitation of animals. As the public increasingly supports the idea of animal personhood, such a designation can eventually come to have legal and legislative implications as animal personhood becomes an important basis for the argument of legal protection—a legal argument that is more likely to be successful as this notion of non-human and animal personhood has increasing paradigmatic currency in the public at large. Elsewhere, I have shown how themes in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (BhP or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam) affirm animal advocacy and animal rights in a way that is relevant to Gauḍīya (or Caitanya) Vaiṣṇava (GV) theology (Bohanec, 2018). This current work is a further movement in the construction of an animal-centered ecotheology that affirms animal personhood—where personhood is foundational to animal rights—from the perspective of the Gauḍīya tradition by investigating the implications of the 17th chapter of the Second Book (Madhya Līlā or just Madhya) of the Caitanya Caritāmṛta (CC).

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions


  1. “Ontology” loosely refers to “the study of what is real.” There are many different ontological commitments, only a few of which proposes “unchanging identities” (e.g., Democritus, John Locke, Newton, Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, and the inert soul of Yoga-Sāṃkhya). However, there are many process metaphysics such at Hegel, A.N. Whitehead, Leibniz, Jain paryāya, Yoga-Sāṃkhya prakṛti, or the broader theology of śakti in GV ontology (See Bohanec 2020).

  2. CC numbering follows Bhaktivedānta 1975.

  3. Here “chanting” refers to the practice of japa meditation, or the reciting of the Holy Name of Kṛṣṇa—understood to be his incarnation in sonic form—as an invocative and contemplative practice. See Bohanec 2021a, 2021b. “Semiotics.”.

  4. Chanting of the Gāyatrī mantras is a duty traditionally performed thrice daily by brāhmaṇas who have received upanayana initiation.

  5. Translation by Bhaktivedānta Swami: yatra naisarga-durvairāḥ sahāsan nṛ-mṛgādayaḥ | mitrāṇīvājitāvāsa-druta-ruṭ-tarṣaṇādikam ||.

  6. CC Madhya 17.227: sahasra-guṇa prema bāḍe mathurā daraśane | lakṣa-guṇa prema bāḍe, bhramena yabe vane ||

  7. Emanationism is the basic proposition that all things are an emanation from God, and therefore all things are a part of God, in contrast to (a strict use of) the term “creationism” that implies ex nihilo creation where God is separate from all things. Emanationism can be pantheistic, but GV emanationism is rather panentheistic (see Bohanec 2020).

  8. BG 2.18: antavanta ime dehā nityasyoktāḥ śarīriṇaḥ | anāśinoprameyasya tasmād yudhyasva bhārata || “These (ime) bodies (dehāḥ) are terminal (antavantaḥ). [However,] the soul that possesses the body (śarīriṇaḥ) is declared (uktāḥ) to be of an eternal (nitya), indestructible (anāśinaḥ), and immeasurable essence (aprameyasya). Therefore (tasmāt) fight O’ Bhārata!” (BG 2.18).

  9. BG 2.20: na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin | nāyaṃ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ ||ajo nityaḥ śāśvatoyaṃ purāṇo | na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre || “One is neither (na) born (jāyate) nor is one ever (navā kadācit) killed (mriyate). One has not (na + ayam) emerged into being (bhūtvā) nor (vā na) will they again (bhūyaḥ) so emerge into being in the future (bhavitā). One is [at essence] unborn (ajaḥ), eternal (nityaḥ), perpetual (śāśvataḥ), and has always existed even since ancient times (purāṇaḥ).”.

  10. BG 6.8: jñānavijñānatṛptātmā kūṭastho vijitendriyaḥ | yukta ity ucyate yogī samaloṣṭāśmakāñcanaḥ || “The yogī is known as (ity ucyate yogī) as [the one whose] spiritual practice (yuktaḥ) has overcome the external allure of the senses (vijitendriyaḥ), who remains focused on the supreme (kūṭasthaḥ), and who experiences complete satisfaction is within their spiritual essence(tṛptātmā) via wisdom (jñāna) and direct realization (vijñāna). [Such a yogī] is equiposed (sama) [towards] clay lumps (loṣṭa), stones (aśma) and gold (kāñcanaḥ).”.

  11. BG 6.20: yatroparamate cittaṃ niruddhaṃ yogasevayā |

    yatra caivātmanātmānaṃ paśyann ātmani tuṣyati || “Wherever (yatra) the conscious stream of attention (cittam) enjoys peaceful respite (uparamate) in the state of mental restraint from that which is external to the spiritual essence (niruddham) by the yoga of service (yoga-sevayā), and wherever (yatra ca) one beholds (paśyan) the soul with the perceptive capacities of the soul (ātmanā + ātmānaṃ), [thereupon] one becomes content in one’s own spiritual essence (ātmani).”.

  12. BG 18.54: brahmabhūtaḥ prasannātmā na śocati na kāṅkṣati | samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu madbhaktiṃ labhate parām || “One who has achieved the state of brahman realization (brahma-bhūtaḥ), the one whose spiritual essence (ātmā) has been illuminated by the tranquility of grace (prasanna, √sad like prasāda) neither grieves (na śocati) nor do they covet (na kāṅkṣati). Such a person is equipoised (samaḥ) towards all living beings (sarveṣu bhūteṣu), and thereupon obtains (labhate) the highest transcendental state (parām) which is being a bhakti yogī, a devotee towards me (mad-bhaktim).”.

  13. MacIntyre explains that a virtue ethic requires “three elements: [1] untutored human nature, [2] man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-telos [where telos is also one’s essence, which for GV would be the souls that all living beings possess] and [3] the moral precepts which enable him to pass from one state to the other” (MacIntyre, 2015, 54).

  14. CC Madhya 20.109 uses both of these analogies where the jīva (soul) is the “partial ray of the sun” (sūryāṃśa-kiraṇa)” and a “spark of fire” (agni-gvālā-caya) of Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇera).”.

  15. BhP 2.3.19: śva-viḍ-varāhoṣṭra-kharaiḥ saṁstutaḥ puruṣaḥ paśuḥ| na yat-karṇa-pathopeto jātu nāma gadāgrajaḥ ||

  16. Here, “moiety” means “each of two parts into which an entity can be divided.” “Moiety” is a common term used by scholars of the tradition to refer to what is otherwise known as Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava “bimodal monotheism,” where there is a single God who can be both undivided (abheda) and divided (bheda) into masculine and feminine personalities, but paradoxically still consists of a whole (bhedābheda).

  17. “Hume’s Guillotine” is the idea that one cannot logically infer what one “ought” to do morally from the basic facts of what “is” true. Macintyre writes that this “thesis that from a set of factual premises no moral conclusion validly follows” is take “as ‘a truth of logic’” from those who “formulated as the claim that in a valid argument nothing can appear in the conclusion which was not already in the premises.” While MacIntyre shows notable exceptions where the “is” does indeed imply the “ought” when the premise of what “is” itself contains axiological implications (MacIntyre, 2015, 56–57). Here I’m citing Hume’s Guillotine as an example where the logic is valid because, as I’m arguing herein, there are not axiological implications of a being having “lesser capacities.” This argument could itself be an entire work, and space does not permit further elaboration herein.


  • Bekoff, M. (2001). The evolution of animal play, emotions, and social morality: On science, theology, spirituality, personhood, and love. Zygon, 36(4), 615–655.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bohanec, C. (2018). Ecotheology, animal rights, and the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 26(NO.2), 17–33.

  • Bohanec, C. (2020). Process and dialectic in Hindu thought: Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava systematic theology and ethics. PhD Dissertation for the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

  • Bohanec, C. (2021a). A dialogical encounter between christian ecotheological ethics and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology. Sustainable Societies: Interreligious, Interdisciplinary Responses. Springer.

  • Bohanec, C. (2021b). Semiotics and illocution in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava SādhanāContemplative Studies and Hindusim: Meditation, Devotion, Prayer, and Wroship. Edited by Rita D. Sherma and Purushottama Bilimoria. Routledge.

  • Bohanec, C. (2023a). Towards a Jain ecotheology. Ecology & Indian Philosophy: Hindu, Jain, and Yoga Perspectives on Climate and Environmental Mitigation. Forthcoming. Routledge.

  • Bohanec, C. (2023b). Bhaktivedānta, Gandhi, and the social implications of nonviolence. Ahiṃsā in India: Diverse Traditions of Nonviolence. Forthcoming, Lexington.

  • Bohanec, C. (2023c). Bhakti Ethics & Affective Realism In the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Tradition. New York: Lexington. Impending, under contract.

  • Bhaktivedānta, A. C. Svāmī Prabhupāda. (1975). Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta: The pastimes of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Fourth printing (2011, pp. 1–9).  The Bhaktivedānta Book Trust.

  • Gilbert, B. (2022). The problem of anthropocentrism and the human kind of personhood. Philosophy and Social Criticism, 0(0): 1–21.

  • Gupta, R. M. (2014). Tattva Sandarbha, Part 2. Lecture given at ISKCON of Silicon Valley, August 6th, 2014.

  • Holdrege, B. A. (2013). Sacred geography: Vraja-Dhāman, Krishna embodied in geographic place and transcendent space. Published in The Bhāgavata Purāṇa: Sacred Text And Living Tradition. Edited by Ravi M. Gupta and Kenneth R. Valpey. Columbia University Press. 91–116.

  • MacIntyre, A. (2015). After virtue (3rd ed.). University of Notre Dame Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallach, A. D., Batavia, C., Bekoff, M., Alexander, S., Baker, L., Ben-ami, D., Boronyak, L., Cardilin, A. P. A., Carmel, Y., Celermajer, D., Coghlan, S., Dahdal, Y., Gomes, J. J., Kapal, G., Keynan, D., Khalilieh, A., Kopnina, H., Lyn, W. S., Narayan, Y., … Ramp, D. (2020). Recognizing animal personhood in compassionate conservation. Conservation Biology, 34(5), 1097–1106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cogen Bohanec.

Ethics declarations

Ethical Approval


Consent to Participate


Consent for Publication


Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals


Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Research for this project was supported by Arihanta Academy.

Cogen Bohanec is an Assistant Professor In Sanskrit & Jain Studies.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bohanec, C. A Theocentric Argument for Animal Personhood in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta. DHARM 6, 121–136 (2023).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: