Compassion is ethical intelligence: it is the capacity to make connections and the consequent urge to act to relieve the suffering of others.
We have not begun to scratch the surface of understanding animals. How can we know what it is to swim as whales, at home in the ocean depths and migrating thousands of miles, speaking in underwater songs and breathing together in conscious harmony, or to fly in a flock of sandpipers, whirling in an effortless synchronicity, fifty birds as one, or to burrow as prairie dogs, creating complex underground communities with virtually endless chambers, passageways, and interactions?
Joining together to pray for and visualize world peace is certainly a noble idea, but if we continue to dine on the misery of our fellow neighbors we are creating a monumental and ongoing prayer for violence, terror, and slavery. It is the prayer of our actions, and it is the experienced reality of billions of sensitive creatures who are at our mercy and to whom we show no mercy.
Heavens and hells are of our own sowing. We live in a culture that mindlessly exploits animals and encourages the domination of those who are vulnerable by the strong, the male, the wealthy, and the privileged. This culture has naturally created political, economic, legal, religious, educational, and other institutional vehicles to shield those in power from the effects of their actions, and to legitimize the violence and inequities required to maintain the system. Over the centuries it has developed an elaborate scientific and religious framework that in its reductionism and materialism denies the continuity of consequences in many ways.
The opposite of love is not hate but indifference. When we lift the veil and see the suffering our food habits cause, when we connect with the reality of the defenseless beings who suffer so terribly because of our food choices, our indifference dissolves and compassion—its opposite—arises, urging us to act on behalf of those who are suffering.
Our human spiritual evolution is a calling to liberate ourselves and the animals we hold in bondage. It’s founded upon recognizing the unity of cause and effect: whatever seeds we sow in our consciousness we will reap in our lives. The ancient teaching holds true: “Hatred ceases not by hatred, but by love. This is the everlasting law.” In the end, as Mahatma Gandhi emphasized, we must be the change we want to see in the world.
Besides the enormous amount of anecdotal evidence that animals behave altruistically, both toward members of their own species and also to animals outside their species, there is clinical evidence as well, such as the typically cruel experiments in which monkeys were given food if they administered painful shocks to other monkeys.
Researchers found that the monkeys would rather go hungry than shock other monkeys, especially if they had received shocks earlier themselves. The researchers were surprised (and perhaps somewhat ashamed?) by the monkeys’ altruism. Though it is our true nature, one wonders if we humans would be so noble.
Actually, the taste that we prize in animal foods is more like the sex we would have as rapists, for the prostitute may at least consent and profit from our cravings, but the animal is always forced against her will to be tortured and killed for our taste and questionable pleasure.
Billions are spent searching for drugs and other material means to cure what is actually an ethical and spiritual disease. Sowing disease and death in animals at our mercy, we reap the same in ourselves.
Much of medical research today is actually an apparently desperate quest to find ways to continue eating animal foods and to escape the consequences of our cruel and unnatural practices. Do we really want to be successful in this?
The act of regularly eating foods derived from confined and brutalized animals forces us to become somewhat emotionally desensitized, and this numbing and inner armoring make it possible for us as a culture to devastate the earth, slaughter people in wars, and support oppressive social structures without feeling remorse.
By going vegan, we’re taking responsibility for the effects of our actions on vulnerable beings and we’re resensitizing ourselves. We’re becoming more alive, and more able to feel both grief and joy.
Kahlil Gibran points out in The Prophet that unless we are able to feel our grief and weep our tears, we will not be able to laugh our laughter, either. Turning our pain and outrage into action on behalf of vulnerable beings will bring healing to us and to our world.
If our only motivation for not eating animal foods is our own health, it’s easy to “cheat” a little here and there and pretty soon go back to eating them again. When our motivation is based on compassion, it is deep and lasting, because we understand that our actions have direct consequences on others who are vulnerable.
To some, simply becoming vegan looks like a superficial step—can something so simple really change us? Yes! Given the power of childhood programming and of our culture’s inertia and insensitivity to violence against animals, authentically becoming a committed vegan can only be the result of a genuine spiritual breakthrough. This breakthrough is the fruit of ripening and effort; however, it is not the end but the beginning of further spiritual and moral development.
We can see that in general, the more a culture oppresses animals, the greater its inner agitation and numbness, and the more extroverted and dominating it tends to be. This is related to the scarcity of meditation in Western cultures, where people are uncomfortable with sitting still. Quiet, open contemplation would allow the repressed guilt and violence of the animal cruelty in meals to emerge to be healed and released. Instead, the very activities that would be most beneficial to people of our herding culture are the activities that are the most studiously avoided. We have become a culture that craves noise, distraction, busyness, and entertainment at all costs. This allows our eaten violence to remain buried, blocked, denied, and righteously projected.
When we are drawn toward a plant-based way of eating, it is in no way a limitation on us; rather it is the harmonious fulfillment of our own inner seeing. At first we think it’s an option we can choose, but with time we realize that it’s not a choice at all but the free expression of the truth that we are.
It is not an ethic that we have to police from outside, but our own radiant love spontaneously expressing, both for ourselves and for our world. Caring is born on this earth and lives through us, as us, and it’s not anything for which we can personally take credit. It is nothing to be proud of.
By harming and exploiting billions of animals, we confine ourselves spiritually, morally, emotionally, and cognitively, and blind ourselves to the poignant, heart-touching beauty of nature, animals, and each other.
Practicing veganism means practicing respect and sensitivity toward others, especially those who are vulnerable and without social privilege, and is precisely the practice required to bring healing to our corrupt and wounded culture.
Veganism is a call to renounce the core practice of our culture—reducing beings to mere harvestable and abuseable commodities—and to practice, in every aspect of our lives, its opposite: mindfulness, inclusiveness, equality, and respect.
There is no force more subversive to our culture than practicing vegans, no force more challenging, healing, transformative, and uplifting than people living the truth that all life is sacred and interconnected.
The pollution of our shared consciousness-field by the dark agonies endured by billions of animals killed for food is an unrecognized fact that impedes our social progress and contributes gigantically to human violence and the warfare that is constantly erupting around the world.
How could it ever be to our purpose to rob another living being of his or her purpose?”
In reference to the newborn calves taken away from their mothers shortly after birth...
He cannot fight the hands that take him from his mother or speak to us in human words, telling us how deeply it hurts. But it is obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. For us to ignore the suffering is to ignore and deny our own decency.
Enslaving and eating animals is relentlessly polluting our mental and bodily environments, hardening our hearts and blocking feelings and awareness, instigating fear, violence, and repression in our relationships, laying waste our precious planet, gruesomely torturing and killing billions of terrorized beings, deadening us spiritually, and profoundly disempowering us by impeding our innate intelligence and our ability to make essential connections.
Veganism is, I’ve found, a litmus test of religious teachings and religious teachers.
To the degree that religious teachings do not explicitly encourage veganism, which is the practice of nonviolence and lovingkindness, to that same degree these teachings are hypocritical and disconnected from their spiritual source.
As we make connections and become open to feedback, it will be increasingly obvious that one of the greatest gifts any of us can give to the world, to the human family, to future generations, to animals, to ourselves, and to our loved ones is to go vegan and dedicate our lives to encouraging others to do the same.
The inner feminine is our intuition, our sensitivity, and our ability to sense the profound interconnectedness of events and beings, and it is vital to peace, wisdom, joy, intelligence, creativity, and spiritual awakening.
With every baby calf stolen from her mother and killed, with every gallon of milk stolen from enslaved and broken mothers, with every thrust of the raping sperm gun, with every egg stolen from a helpless, frantic hen, and with every baby chick killed or locked for life in a hellish nightmare cage, we kill the sacred feminine within ourselves.
By ordering and eating products from the industrial herding complex that dominates the feminine with an iron fist, we squelch our opportunities for maturing to higher levels of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion. We remain merely ironic in our quests.
What goes around comes around. We must as a species stop the violence that is inherent in our meat habit. This should be of paramount importance for all religious movements and teachers. It is the call of spirituality. If our religions don’t hear this call, we must revitalize them or create new ones that do.
The great philosopher Schopenhauer, in criticizing how some Christians treat animals, wrote, “Shame on such a morality that fails to recognize the eternal essence that exists in every living thing, and shines forth with inscrutable significance from all eyes that see the sun.” All of us are celebrations of infinite mysterious Spirit, deserving of honor and respect.
Every day, we cause over thirty million birds and mammals and forty-five million fish to be fatally attacked so we can eat them, and it’s universally considered to be good food for good people. With these meals, we feed our shadow, which grows strong and bold as it gorges itself on our repressed grief, guilt, and revulsion.
Jesus’ exhortation that we love one another and not do to others what we wouldn’t want done to us is the essence of the vegan ethic, which is a boundless compassion that includes all who can suffer by our actions.