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I Never Expected Revelation
By James Friedan on VegetarianFriends.net
I never sought spiritual revelation. I distrusted the idea of life-altering experiences in which people suddenly gained a new relationship with the universe. Surrounded by people who led happy and productive lives without strong religious feeling, I was surprised when revelation grabbed me, lit up my world, and gave me a new place in the universe.
My revelation came not from thought, nor in a flash of insight, nor in a flood of emotion enhanced by the swell of music. Revelation requires an opening of the heart. It came from the very practical everyday act of putting food in my mouth with a commitment that no animal would have died or suffered so that I could taste his flesh or drink her milk.
My parents, confirmed meat eaters, taught me the Golden Rule: ďDo unto others, as you would have others do unto you." This was the first step toward a destination far different from anything my parents had in mind.
Another: on holiday some thirty-five years ago, influenced by the fiction of Ernest Hemingway and seeking the romance of Spain, my wife and I attended a bullfight. We saw a magnificent animal facing a matador. Enraged by the picadors and taunted by the matador, the bull repeatedly charged toward his death. But my wife and I noticed that he was urinating continually, and we started to think about the scene from the bullís perspective. The walls of the stadium gave him no escape. Thousands of people screamed and trumpets blared. Men on horseback kept poking at him and the matador waved the red cape. This massive beast was bewildered and scared; he died in confusion and agony. That was our first, and last, bullfight.
The journey to revelation would stall for years at a time, but as life went on, my wife and I gathered pieces of information, scattered here and there.
For about twelve years, recognizing the brutality of factory farming, I ate neither meat nor fowl, consuming only seafood, dairy, and plant based foods. But there was no revelation in this half-way measure.
As we learned more about the way that animals are treated on farms, we realized that being caught in the machinery of the dairy industry is perhaps the worst fate for any animal. The life of a dairy cow on a mechanized farm is an endless cycle of giving birth and suffering agonizing loss. When their milk production dips, dairy cows are sold to the slaughterhouse to be gutted and ground up for hamburger. Better never to have been born than to suffer that life.
Another station on my journey occurred when my wife introduced me to philosopher Peter Singerís book, Animal Liberation. Professor Singer points out that human beings can thrive on a plant-based diet with a Vitamin B-12 supplement. This means that we kill animals for food only because we like flesh, the taste and the texture. He points out that torturing and killing animals because we like to eat meat and milk products elevates the most trivial of our interests (taste and convenience) above the most vital of theirs (avoiding misery and remaining alive). Looking to the Golden Rule: would I want my life made miserable or even taken away, just because someone or something liked the way I tasted? It took decades for me to grasp the full meaning of the ideas in Singerís book.
The final stage of my journey to revelation began when a restaurant served me an entire fish, battered and fried. As I looked at the dead eye of what was once a swimming, shimmering beauty, I realized that I had to stop being a party to death just to eat a tasty meal. Over the next few weeks, troubled by my inability to justify killing any animal merely for food, I resolved to eat a fully plant-based diet.
Opening My Heart Ė and then Soaring
At first, my thrice daily ritual of eating food that wasnít tainted with suffering and death was merely a discipline. However, after a few weeks I realized that a tremendous weight, a weight of which I had never been aware, had lifted from my shoulders. For days, I felt incredibly light, no longer carrying on my emotional back the suffering of sentient beings killed for my food. I didnít realize it, but revelation was coming.
When we view animals as commodities to be killed or living machines to be milked, we cut ourselves off from a natural fellow feeling with other sentient earthlings. Even when I had eaten only dairy and fish, I had relied upon denial to protect myself from the painful history of what I put into my mouth. My denial about the torture of dairy cows and the killing of fish had kept me from realizing a full brotherhood with all living creatures. In the weeks leading up to revelation, my mind broke loose from the chains of denial and my soul could soar.
My heart suddenly opened up to all living creatures. I realized that my loyalty lay with all the striving, wriggling mass of living things, in all our incredible diversity, in our adamant denial of entropy. No longer separated, I was pulled up by revelation and my consciousness seemed to expand throughout the universe. There was joy and happiness just in being. The quantum of love that I could give had expanded a thousandfold.
Philosophically and logically, I can pick holes in my position. Does a slug or a mussel feel pain as mammals do? I donít know, but I have to draw the line somewhere. And what about the indirect effects of development, when animals are displaced for farms, houses, roads, factories or parks?
These are issues that I worry about, but in my six decades I have learned that life is seldom a matter of absolutes. I donít know of any animal that can exist without impinging in some way on the lives of others. However, despite all the moral ambiguities, the unanswered questions, and the compromises with which I live, eating with compassion has allowed me to achieve an escape velocity that has taken me to a state of expanded consciousness beyond anything I had ever thought possible.
Over the years the first rush of feeling and amazement, this opening of my heart to life, has settled down to a pervasive feeling of happiness. I may sometimes be tempted, but the wonder of life pulls me away from the food of torture and death. This is the revelation that has grabbed hold of me and which carries me along from day to day and year to year. I cannot imagine ever letting it go.
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