"Killing living beings?" I reminded my Zen teacher, who, by law, had to exterminate termites to sell his house. "We live in an imperfect world," he said, "and we do what we have to do."
Each of us has our own path, lessons, and karma. And, as Carolyn Myss refers to, our "scared contracts," agreements made with others before we take birth. Most importantly, every individual lives their own truth. We can't judge what others do. We don't know what is right for them, what contracts they have made, and for what purpose they made them.
My colleagues tell me that animals have given consent to be consumed and that there is an energy exchange by destroying them. True, every being that is alive depends on another being for survival. Yet who among us wants to die? We all fight for life. We all want the same thing; to be free of suffering.
Not eating animals who are unnecessarily tortured and brutally slaughtered against their will does not free us from a karma-free diet. If we want to get picky, slaughtered animals are in everything we consume and use; rendered in the food we feed our companions, in homeopathy and Chinese herbs, medications, and chemicals tested on innocent laboratory animals. Even refined sugar is processed using animal bones. The list goes on. We all have blood on us. It's impossible not to.
Like everyone else, I live my truth and have chosen to live a vegan lifestyle. Becoming vegan was a gradual awakening and practice of ahimsa, or nonviolence.
It was not easy to stop eating meat in a world that socially accepts it. I became a "vegetarian" in 1978. The word in quotation marks, for during the early years, I still ate fish. At the time, not eating meat had nothing to do with health or animals. It had to do with being anorexic in a ballet company and having little money for groceries. I lived on granola, yogurt, peanut butter, lettuce, beer, drugs, and cigarettes. After three years, I could no longer get red meat down. I tried and tried for one whole year. It tasted like the smell of an animal's wet fur if you can imagine that. I stopped chicken in 1989 for the same reason. After that, raw eggs gave me the creeps.
Then I started my Zen practice in 1992 and took Buddhist vows; no
killing or creating suffering for others. I then stopped fish, dairy, and cheese. I loved cheese and fish. Who doesn't love mozzarella stretching from a pizza? And when I was tempted, I would watch PETA's Meet Your Meat to strengthen my commitment. (Also, a more comprehensive documentary on YouTube is entitled Earthlings.) I stopped wearing leather, wool, and silk and no longer use honey. I buy only 'cruelty-free' cosmetics and household cleaners, eat only dark chocolate, and burn soy candles. I try to do 'all the right things,' and I am grateful for the opportunity. Not everyone can make spirulina smoothies in their vita-mix. Nor do they want to! Choice can be a luxury.
Some friends pointed out that my faux leather (plastic) shoes are bad for the environment. This is true. All our choices have consequences. I purchase, when possible, American manufactured materials and buy what I absolutely need. I'm not perfect; nothing is black and white in a complicated picture where lines and boundaries become blurred.
What I don't understand is the hierarchy of the food chain. A wildlife sanctuary rescues tigers, lions, and chimps and serves the 'lower animals' for dinner at a fundraiser. We don't buy fur, but we wear leather. We are horrified that cats and dogs are raised for food and skinned alive for fur and consumption in some parts of China and Korea, and horses are led to slaughterhouses, yet we do the same here with intelligent chickens, pigs, and cows. Why don't we slaughter dolphins and whales for their flesh? Eagles instead of duck? Why don't we eat our pets? Who decides whose life is more important? All beings deserve a decent life - not just some, and not just us.
I don't force my way of life on others, judge others who eat flesh, or deprive my cats of a diet they are designed to eat. Cats are true carnivores with razor teeth for ripping, strong stomach acid for digesting meat, and short digestive tracks for eliminating it. I feed them raw meat shipped from New Zealand, where animals at least roam free. Like most of us, I have blood on my hands, dripping on my soy candles and dark chocolate. We do what we have to do. As my Zen teacher put it, "Everyone draws their line." Slicing his finger through the air, he added, "I draw mine here . . . where do you draw yours?"
Voice of Experience
Vegetarian or Omnivore
Summer, issue75, 2009