Peace articles that discuss ways of living in peace with humans, animals, and the environment.
I would like to start this article with a quotation that aptly describes today’s subject that is Non Violent Approach To Life through Vegetarianism.
“Unseen they suffer, unheard they cry.
In agony they linger, in silence they die.
Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?”
These are the lines that express the pain and suffering of the animals that are subjected to exploitation and torture for the human greed.
It is a sad to see that the innocent, dumb and defenseless creatures are being put to cruel pain far from the human eyes. The thought itself makes one’s heart bleed with anguish and grief. How can we as human beings sit quietly when our younger brothers and sisters are in terrible state? Is it not our duty to protect and help them? But how difficult it is to predict man for, “Man is an actor. He acts all manner of men, and each one is a lie. Only the animal in him is real,” says William Saroyan. Probably he is right by saying so, for the bestiality in the man has created a violent and destructive world in which we live today.
There is so much suffering going on in this world behind the curtain, that it is a highly guarded secret. How long shall we pretend to believe that animals have no souls and so they feel no pain. It is time to wake up from our slumber and ignorance and face the truth. Animals are living beings just like you and me and as we suffer from pain and agony they do also. Let us stop being violent and act to end the cruelty that is meted on the dumb and innocent creatures. For violence begets violence and love begets love.
To begin with let us see animals as living beings and not as things that are made for human beings to use and consume. For they are lives full of emotions and feelings that experience pain and pleasure as we do. As Dr. Albert Schweitzer the Nobel Peace Prize Recipient in 1952 said in his book “A Place for Revelation” that “wherever you see life- that is you. What is this recognition, this knowledge apprehended by the most learned and most childlike alike? It is ‘Reverence for Life,’ reverence for the impenetrable mystery that meets us in our universe, an existence different from ourselves in external appearance yet inwardly of the same character with us. Terribly similar, awesomely related. This dissimilarity, the strangeness between us and other creatures are here removed. Reverence before the infinity of life means the removal of the strangeness, the restoration of shared experiences, and of compassion and sympathy.”
In this way when we learn to see the animals as ourselves we change our perception of them and become more compassionate towards them. When such an understanding dawns on us, the first change occurs in the food pattern. One starts to observe what one puts into the body where the soul is housed. For we know that, we are what we eat. What we eat reflects in our thinking and our thinking reflects in our action. If we want a healthy body, the body should be provided with healthy and wholesome diet, pure and untainted by bloody food. If we want a healthy mind, the mind should be provided with inspiring and positive thoughts.
One is often not aware of the fact that when one eats meat, one takes in protein along with the chemicals that are injected into the animals to fatten them up and antibiotics to control diseases and viruses. One also forgets that in flesh, the negative vibrations of pain, fear and rejection exist, and they permeate in every cell of the human body creating there the feeling of fear, pain and rejection. Meat contains no essential nutrients that cannot be obtained directly from plant sources. By cycling grain through livestock, we lose 90% of the protein, 96% of the calories, 99% of its carbohydrates and 100% of the fiber.
How does one hope to live with good feelings of health, happiness and sound mind when negative vibrations of pain blended with chemicals are working in the body? These are the main causes that lead to the fatal diseases of the mind and the body. That is the reason why we see so many people suffering from emotional, psychological and physiological diseases. Meat-centered diets are linked to many kinds of cancer, most notably cancer of the colon, breast, cervix, uterus, ovary, prostate and lung.
Statistically, approximately two million Americans die each year of which 68% are victims of the three major chronic diseases in which diet is major contributory factor: heart disease, cancer and stroke. The foods that have been singled out for special concern in connection with these diseases are eggs, meat, poultry, sea- food, animal fat and many more. If the body is fed with pure, natural and wholesome food, that involves minimum of violence, minimum of environmental damage and minimum of ecological imbalance it helps create harmony within the body and harmony without.
It is good to know the statistics. It takes 273 litres of water to produce 450 grams of wheat ie. (1228.5 cups of water), 1136.5 litres of water to produce 450 grams of rice and approximately 9092 to 27,276 litres of water to produce 450 grams of meat. A chicken processing plant uses 454 million litres per day – enough to supply the water needs of 25,000 humans. Livestock are responsible for consuming 80% of the world’s water supply. A litre is 4 ½ cups of liquid.
Methane from cattle accelerates the global warming and the ozone layer depletion. PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal) research shows that 26 billion animals are killed for food in the U.S. alone each year (9 billion land based, 17 billion aquatic). In this way when man lives a life involving gross violence like these he becomes a terrible threat to himself and to the entire planet.
The planet’s entire petroleum reserves would be exhausted in 13 years if the whole world were to take on the technological methods used in the U.S. that produce the standard American meat-centered diet.
Trees are being cut down at an alarming rate all around the world for meat production. If people made radical change in their diet only in U.S. alone 200 million acres could be returned to the forest.
If one becomes a vegetarian he saves 2,400 animals in a lifetime thus becoming a blessing to oneself and a blessing to the Mother Earth.
Today we see many people around the world slowly becoming aware of the animal abuse and environmental pollution and are turning vegetarians. Though it may be for religious reasons, for ethical reason, for ecological reason or for health or environmental reason. Whatever the reason may be the awareness is gaining momentum day by day and people are questioning their beliefs and conditioning. If one can try this way of diet for few months from today one can find out for themselves the change in the state of mind and the body.
Let us see what vegetarianism means in today’s world.
The term Vegetarian is derived from the Latin word vegetus meaning “whole, lively, sound, fresh.” Thus a vegetarian is one who does not eat any meat, fish, fowl or eggs. There are those who consider themselves to be vegetarians even though they eat eggs. So the vegetarians are divided into three categories:
(1) Lacto -ovo-vegetarians : those that include milk, dairy products and eggs in their diets;
(2) Lacto-vegetarians : those that include milk, dairy products but no eggs in their diets;
(3) Vegans : those that do not include any animal products like milk, cheese, curd (yogurt), butter or eggs in their diets (most even eschew honey).
A vegetarian thus can easily sustain on foods like grains, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits that are good sources of protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
We just saw the ethical, ecological and the health point of view of vegetarianism.
Now let us address the philosophical aspect of the issue in brief.
Since time immemorial scriptural studies and researches have revealed one thing that is common to all living beings and that is the desire to live and to be happy and not to die and be unhappy. But man in his pursuit of pleasure and happiness forgets this and goes to the extent of exploiting everything and everyone for his greed. To satisfy his yearning he engages in violent acts like hunting, killing, confining, or taking the life of freely roving innocent creatures and ignores their right to live happily. In this way, not only does he abuse the living creatures, but in turn abuses him self by doing this. He forgets that he too is part of the planet and cannot remove him self from the universal law of vibrations of the living which is, that which you throw out comes about.
To kill someone one has to be callous inwardly and then take a life. When one acts from a state of hard heartedness, one is gradually erasing the goodness in the self and reaching a point of hating everyone including the self. If one does not have reverence for one’s own self, how can one have reverence for other living beings? So in this way the act of brutality perpetuates and the vicious circle of hate and violence continues.
One never stops to think that eating meat for taste involves much pain and torture to a life! A life that cannot be created in the laboratory! A very precious life with a strong will to live! A life that needs time to unfold its own destiny on the earth, for a premature death breaks the cycle of natural expression of that life. The philosopher Plutarch said, “But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we deprive a soul of the life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.”
Very often people ask the question, “Why then, kill vegetables if not animals?” The Jain school of thought answers this question precisely. According to Jain philosophy, all life is divided into five categories: one sense, two sense, three sense, four sense, and five-sense beings having the sense of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. Vegetables are one-sense beings having only the sense of touch and animals are five-sense beings having all the five senses. The more the number of senses the more evolved the life is and more the feeling of pain. Life has to go through a laborious and strenuous process to evolve from one sense being to five-sense being. By slaughtering an animal one destroys completely the evolutionary progress of that life, which it has attained through suffering and pain. The vegetable kingdom has not yet reached the blood “consciousness” which the animals and humans have. So the degree of pain is less. Where there is blood, there are more feelings, more emotions and greater possibility of feeling deep pain.
Here I would like to quote the views of Roshi Philip Kapleau on the above subject. He says that, “ Flesh eaters often say that if you eat only vegetables you are also taking life. What, then is the difference between taking the life of, say a pig and that of a vegetable? He answers: all the difference in the world. Does a potato cry out when it is taken from the earth the way a calf does when it is taken from its mother? Does a stick of celery scream in pain and terror when it is picked the way a pig does when it is being led to slaughter and is having its throat cut? And how sad, lonely, and frightened can a head of lettuce feel? We don’t need a polygraph to demonstrate that plants have consciousness of a sort, but this consciousness is obviously of a rudimentary kind far different from that of mammals that have well developed nervous systems.”
Nathaniel Altman said, “ a vegetarian actually eats fewer plants than a meat-eater does, because the animals that the meat-eater has for dinner consumed thousands of pounds of plants in order to reach slaughter weight.”
It is a fact of life that our present stage of evolution calls for the eating of plants in order to survive. Until we find a way of getting our nutrient from the sun we have to take it from the plant kingdom thus doing the least amount of harm to the sentient beings.
Two thousand and six hundred years ago, Lord Mahavir, the last prophet of Jainism and exponent of non-violence and compassion emphasized that thoughts that govern our actions are the products of the food we eat. The food that feeds the system has a definite influence on the person physically as well as emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Healthy, whole and harmless foods give rise to healthy whole and harmless thoughts. Once the thoughts are harmless and healthy, the actions also reflect the same qualities. Weakness in character always develops in those who are in poor health, mentally or physically.
Science has discovered in recent years that character and personality are attributes of the inner workings of the body and have a great bearing upon our success in life and in our happiness. The personality reveals and expresses itself through the physical body. The expression of the face, the smile, which is the manifestation of joy, happiness and compassion, reveal the personality within. Without a healthy body, these manifestations are not possible.
Thus a non-violent approach to life through vegetarianism expresses our reverence for all life forms including ourselves- from the minutest micro-beings to the major macro- beings, from the lowest developed consciousness to the highest developed consciousness.
I would like to end this paper with an Affirmation of Peace.
O Hidden Life, Vibrant in Every Atom
O Hidden Light, Shining in every Creature
O Hidden Love, Embracing All in Oneness,
May each of us who feels as One with Thee
Know that we are therefore One with every other.
Jain Meditation International Center
New York City