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Monday, November 30, 2009

vegetarianism, or why the avoidance of eating flesh is a good thing

Originally uploaded by alxindia

a few people have asked me to write something about why I advocate a vegetarian diet, what its benefits are, how helpful it can be to the human system, especially for spiritual seekers, healers, or people on some kind of self-discovery path.

there are many reasons why I became a vegetarian (and I should qualify that I'm not a vegan, ie, I do eat animal products, especially dairy), ranging from practical health concerns to spiritual energy principles. I'll try to lay a few of them out, here, with the understanding that people are often highly charged about their diet, and the opinions of others regarding same.

I'm not trying to upset anyone, or challenge their habits, but I am definitely advocating a particular point of view, based in my own experience and what I've learned over many years of spiritual research and practice. I'm happy to inspire others to question the status quo of meat-eating, and to really examine their own inner feelings or beliefs about the necessity of consuming the flesh of animals and birds.

HEALTH RISKS associated with red meat
the first benefits that accompany a vegetarian diet are health benefits. many studies in the past (a quick google search will show these results) have shown that eating red meat can increase the risk of heart disease, and cancer -- in particular, colon cancer.

in Japan, for example, where the diet was largely fish and rice, there were few incidences of cancer of the colon -- but when the Japanese started adopting a heavy red meat diet, like Western industrialized nations, the numbers of colon cancer soared until Japan's stats match any Western nation, today.

recently, however, studies have expanded their scope and the results are even more dramatic: eating red meat can shorten your life. according to comprehensive study, conducted over ten years, people who ate the most red meat were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease or any type of cancer.

links here

and NPR's story about the recent study here

it's clear that in our world, eating meat -- especially red meat -- carries serious health risks with it. people stop smoking because of the risks associated with that behavior, over time, and cut down on their alcohol consumption for similar reasons -- why not cut down on the levels of meat we consume, as well?

the London Telegraph story's headline (link above) reads, "Millions unaware of red meat cancer risk" -- it's not hard to make a leap between the lack of public information in circulation about the dangers of eating red meat, and the entrenched interests of the factory/industrial farming, meat-packing industries and fast food producers.

these industries are making billions of dollars from the consumption and demand for red meat -- in other words, they are making billions of dollars off of the ignorance of millions of people who simply don't know about the link between red meat and cancer (plus heart disease).

cigarettes at least come packaged with a warning label about the health risks associated with smoking. shouldn't red meat, as well?

which brings us nicely to the second reason to avoid eating meat: the environmental impact, especially on greenhouse gasses and global warming.

A recent United Nations report title "Livestock's Long Shadow" concluded that the meat industry causes almost 40% more greenhouse gas emission than ALL the world's transportation systems -- that's all the cars, trucks, SUVs, planes and ships, in the world, combined. The report also concluded that factory farming is one of the biggest contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every level - local and global.

The majority of commercial destruction in the Amazon Basin -- destroying millions of acres of rainforest -- from the 1960s to the '90s has been performed by cattle ranchers and land speculators, burning enormous swathes of rainforest land in order to plant those areas with grass, for grazing animals like cows.

links here
and here, for more information about the environmental damage caused by meat consumption.

researchers have concluded that if an American changes his or her diet from meat-eating to vegetarian, it reduces more CO2 emissions than trading in a standard car for a hybrid! (are we willing to trade in our cars but not our burgers?)

ANIMAL TORTURE = meat on your table
one of the least-discussed aspects of vegetarianism involves the moral issues, and the ethics, around torturing and killing animals to eat them.

most animals that are consumed as food are not raised in nice little Charlotte's Web-like family farms, where they're allowed to run freely in beautiful pens, and fed nourishing food, and then quietly taken out back and put to death, with dignity, for a family feast.

the meat industry in America is just that -- an industry. in order to minimize costs, and maximize profits, animals killed for food are neglected, and tortured. many will never see the light of day; they are kept in dark little cages, unable to stand up, until they are slaughtered. the animals are kept in filthy conditions, inhumane in the extreme -- no one in their right mind would keep a pet, for example, in any conditions even approaching the feces and blood that are found on the floors of animal cages in the industrial world.

when it's time to kill them for meat, the animals are often slaughtered in painful ways, such as having their throats cut while fully conscious, or put into grinders while they are still alive.

the conditions under which these animals, millions of animals, from cows to lambs, turkeys to chickens, are kept and killed is barbaric in the extreme.

if you've never seen how your food is treated before it reaches your table, I highly recommend viewing the films available at this site...

when human beings are herded, tortured, murdered at large, we recognize it for what it is -- mass torture, and genocide. we are revolted by accounts of the killing fields in Asia, against concentration camps kept by Nazis in World War II Europe -- any human being of conscience would be, and should be, appalled by these kinds of atrocities. what's happening in the factory farms in our country, millions of animals being totured and destroyed daily, is a hair's-breadth of difference from those outrageous acts of violence and destruction we call genocide -- only now, perhaps, we can call it faunacide.

have we become so desensitized, as a culture, that we are happy to consume the tortured, brutally killed bodies of these animals without so much as a second thought?

which brings us to the spiritual issues about killing and eating animals as food, or why it's important to have more than just a second thought.

SUBTLE VIBRATIONS -- eating the fear
most of us in this world have absorbed the spiritual messages present in all traditions about the necessity of being kind to others, of loving other people as ourselves, of trying to help others wherever possible. whether we call ourselves Christian, Buddhist, New Age, or other spiritual paths, we have an underlying philosophy of some kind that suggests kindness to others.

yet, many spiritually earnest people have a lack of balance between their philosophy of kindness to others, while eating animals that have been killed as food. if we are all beings of the divine, including the animals (who do have souls, just as people do), how can we justify to ourselves - in our own hearts, in our consciences -- that it's okay to harm another being, simply for food?

when an animal is killed in a slaughterhouse, or is about to be killed, it is in total fear. they know what's coming, they smell it, and hear it in the line just before them. (depending on the slaughterhouse conditions, they may even see it just before it happens to them.)

the amount of adrenaline in the system of the animal right before it's killed is enormously increased. this adrenaline -- the by-product of pure fear -- creates toxins in the flesh of the animal, who is then killed... and those toxins are part of what we consume when we eat the animal.

is it really possible we can ingest those toxins, day in and day out, and not be affected by them?

I've heard spiritual masters say that the problem with eating meat is that we're eating the animal's attachment to its body, in the moment before it dies. in other words, we are consuming fear. we are eating fear. we are ingesting fear. and metabolizing it.

if we look at the levels of fear in our society, from national fears of terrorist attacks, to community fears ("is my town running out of water resources?"), to fears within families or relationships... to the ultimate fear we all face, the fear of death.

no matter how positively we try to think, often anxiety and fear wins the day in the human system. it can be exhausting, or overwhelming, leading to emotional problems like depression, addiction, sleep disturbance, and health problems.

at a certain point, I think we have to explore the possibility that the underlying fear levels in ourselves are linked to the vibrations inherent in what we've eaten. we're consuming frightened animals -- a lot of them. is it really possible that we can escape the tension and impact, in our own lives, from such an action? I don't think so.

what I've learned, in years of spiritual research and study (using my own experiences and those I've observed in others along the way), is that eating meat, because of the vibrations of fear and attachment in the animals, creates emotional instability, turbulence, and mood swings in human beings. we go on a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows when we eat meat -- the vibrational residue of that increased adrenaline, suffering, pain and fear of the animal causes a reaction in our own systems.

if we're constantly eating meat, we're not as sensitive to these ups and downs, or how emotionally intense they are -- maybe we consider arguing with family members or mates just a normal part of life, for instance, or depression is a daily struggle we deal with, anyway.

but when we create a little distance from our normal routine, enough to stand back and research it -- in this case, say, by avoiding meat for a few weeks and then eating it again, to see what happens! -- then we start to observe, if we're honest with ourselves, cycles and patterns of behavior that aren't peaceful, positive, easy, or smooth, especially in our interactions with others.

I had one vegetarian friend who kept a journal, for 3 months, of her partner's mood swings and the spats they got into, based on her meat-eating partner's cycles of eating meat. there was a one-to-one correlation between events of eating meat, and emotional outbursts or irritable behavior. when confronted with this journal, prepared with enormous love and detachment, the non-veg partner became convinced to try not eating the meat. an increased level of peace has prevailed in their relationship, since.

KARMA: the spiritual law of action-to-reaction
Eastern spiritual systems (and Christian, too, although it's more veiled in the Bible) embrace the concept of karma, action to reaction. "as you sow, so shall you reap." any time one creates a violence against other creatures, it does cause an equal and opposite reaction, in the fabric of this creation, the violence we support or enjoy (like by eating animals who've been tortured and killed), does impact on us and does come back to us in different ways.

animals are pure open-hearted creatures who only bless the human beings, even as we're destroying their lives. it's been said by many holy people that an animal shot by a hunter uses its dying breath to bless the hunter. it's like trampling flowers in a garden, destroying the peaceful fragrance and beauty of the flowers. who among us would do that and enjoy it? especially if it's not our own garden in the first place?

by eating the flesh of animals who've been tortured and killed for food, we're not only ingesting the violence and fear the animal itself was subjected to, but we're then carrying something of that same upset and negative vibrations in our own systems. by people continually participating in that cycle of mass torture and death to gentle creatures, continent-wide, we're actually creating more suffering and more violence, increased negative vibrations and more pain in this world.

if these are our actions, collectively, what kind of reactions can we expect to receive back?

if we want to be treated lovingly, and peacefully -- is it really possible we can elicit that reaction from our environment and nature, and the people around us, if we're not ourselves behaving in a loving, peaceful, harmonious fashion with our environment, and the creatures in nature?

FALLACIOUS OBJECTIONS to eating a vegetarian diet
-- one objection that folks who don't embrace vegetarianism like to bring up is the killing of plants and vegetables, as if it were on par with killing animals to eat. while it is perfectly true and demonstrable that plants and vegetables have feelings and responses to stimuli, it's not true that they're imbued with the soul's level of consciousness that a mammal or bird is. plants and vegetables, not having a third eye (nor do fish), are a different layer of creature in the spectrum of this creation. they represent a different phyllum, and it's considerably less of a violation of nature to pull a vegetable from the ground, or a fruit from a tree, to eat, than it is to torture and kill an animal.

-- another objection heard frequently is that there isn't enough protein to be found in a vegetarian diet to sustain a healthy life. this is a myth. there are many resources on the net providing ample information about protein, such as this one -- one can easily obtain enough protein to live beautifully, without once ever consuming meat. especially now that varieties of protein supplements are readily available, fake meat substitutes can be found in any health food store, and staples like beans and rice (which together form a complete protein) are plentiful in our society.

VEGETARIANISM in world religious texts

From The Christian Bible (Romans 14.21): “It is neither good to eat flesh, nor to drink wine.”

It is also established in the Bible (Isaiah 66.3), “He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man.”

In Hinduism, the Vedic text of the Manu-samhita (5.45-8): “He who injures innoxious beings from a wish to give himself pleasure never finds happiness, neither living nor dead. Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to the attainment of heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun the use of meat.”

The Buddhist scripture (Sutta-Nipata 393) advises: “Let him not destroy or cause to be destroyed any life at all, or sanction the acts of those who do so. Let him refrain from even hurting any creature, both those those that are strong and those that tremble in the world.”
It is also said in the Buddhist scripture, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, “The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.”

For Jews, the Talmud (Avodah Zorah 18) forbids the association with hunters, not to mention engaging in hunting.

Orthodox leader St. Basil (320-379 A.D.) taught, “The steam of meat darkens the light of the spirit. One can hardly have virtue if one enjoys meat meals and feasts.”

John Wesley, (Founder of Methodism and Wesleyanism.)
"Thanks be to God!" he wrote to the bishop of London in 1747. "Since the time I gave up the use of flesh-meats and wine, I have been delivered from all physical ills." Partly inspired by Isaiah's vision of the Kingdom of Peace, where "on the new earth, no creature will kill, or hurt, or give pain to any other" (Is. 11:6-9), Wesley further taught that animals "shall receive ample amends for all their present sufferings."

FINALLY, in America alone...
If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save:

* 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months

* 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year

* 70 million gallons of gas -- enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare

* 3 million acres of land, an area more than twice the size of Delaware

* 33 tons of antibiotics.

Monday, November 02, 2009

the quest: to love or to be loved

Originally uploaded by alxindia

I'm ruminating today on what a spiritual journey (over a few decades, now) has been like, in my life. in the early years, I was suffering from extreme heartbreak, depression, real trauma from family circumstances and abuses.

my primary motivation in life was to be loved; there seemed to be such a lack of love, cumulatively, in my own experience, everywhere I turned. toward that end (wanting so desperately to be loved), it was easy for me to extend friendship and love to people -- but underneath the very real and warm feelings of affection and caring, there was often an undercurrent, an edge, of selfishness, of manipulation, of being loving and accommodating and understanding and kind out of a desire to be treated reciprocally.

it's a painful moment, to recognize that the majority of one's actions, seemingly loving on the surface, are motivated from internal pain and a nagging sense of a lack of love.

that was a huge wake-up call for me, in my mid-twenties, that left me reeling. having identified that overwhelming tendency in myself, it was almost too painful to examine, to look at clearly, to admit -- and yet, having seen it, I couldn't then un-know it.

I think many people -- not all -- come to spirituality and seek a spiritual path out of that desire to love and be loved. something is missing in their lives, in their experience of living and interacting with others -- something just under the surface facade of daily life is disappointed or yearning for love.

looking back, I'm convinced this was a primary motivation for me to (reluctantly) seek a spiritual life. I had survived my youth and upbringing, and my turbulent, dramatic twenties -- and I was more interested in finding out what thriving, rather than just surviving, might feel like.

fast forward to now, in my early forties, having spent so many years on an intense spiritual path, living a good portion of the last decade in South India (at an ashram), and I realize that the constancy of that yearning for love and understanding has pretty much dissolved. it is no longer an urgent longing, a theme in my daily life and interactions, like is was before: "oh, but you're not UNDERSTANDING me!" "but I just want to be LOVED!!! why is that so difficult?"

and my insight today (certainly not a new idea, the Sufi poets have talked more eloquently than I on the subject) is this: it's like a fish in the water.

the desire for love in our lives, although natural, means that we're not perceiving how much we are loved by the divine (in, through, and around us). 

the fish in the water doesn't identify how wet the water is, he's simply in it. (the Sufi saying is "the fish in the ocean's not thirsty.")

similarly, we're surrounded constantly by divine love but don't feel it, mostly, as such -- we feel the illusion of separation from it. and then yearn for that love, and spend our lives pursuing it -- but it's already with us! has always been with us! can never NOT be with us, except in our perception of it not being there.

a few years ago, when I was in and out of this awareness, sometimes swinging into those moments of forgetting, and thinking, "oh, but I just wanna be LOVED!" inevitably St. Francis of Assisi's famous prayer would come into my mind as if written in neon lights:

"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love."

Francis' statement is so bold, so courageous -- grant that I can love more than I am, myself, loved.

to take those words seriously and try to live to them is creating a kind of revolution, on a fundamental level, in terms of how we perceive ourselves, truly, and perceive our interactions/relationships with others -- and how, finally, we perceive our connection with god.

if we truly see/feel/perceive/recognize how deeply the divine is with us, in every moment, in every circumstance, in every breath, in every molecule in our make-up, in every waking or sleeping state -- then we are experiencing the depth of god's love constantly.

and god's love isn't selfish, god isn't sitting there mourning a lack of love -- god IS love. as children of god, ourselves, we are endowed with the identical capacity of love: boundless, flowing, unconditional, pure love in all directions, at all times.

the trick is, how to ask, like St. Francis, not so much to be loved, but to love. Francis is essentially asking to become like god is: purely loving.

it sounds so easy but the leap of faith required, the leap of surety in god's love -- it can take a lifetime to make that jump. it seems like having to leap over a whole life's worth of suffering, of selfishness, of a chasm of belief systems and limitations that simply aren't working any more but are too familiar to just jump over. it's like jumping over a gaping canyon of our fears. and it is, initially, frightening to survey that chasm and even consider a leap like that.

spiritual work, it seems to me, constant practice and sadhana and meditation and sacrifice and honesty about our limitations and service to others -- is preparing us, systematically, to make that leap into unconditional love.

by the time we've done so much work, over time, with faith and patience being tried to the extreme -- that leap isn't monumental at all, over a giant gaping chasm of self-doubt and yearning for love, but it's like making a peaceful, natural step up into the front door of god's home (where god has been waiting, just waiting, to welcome us, all along).

because that doorway into god's home? it's the doorway into our own home, our own divine heart.