“Killing living beings?” I reminded my Zen teacher, who by law had to exterminate termites in order to sell his house. “We live in an imperfect world,” he said, “and we do what we have to do.”
Each one of us has her own path to follow, our 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, or what contracts they have made, and for what purpose they have made them.
My colleagues tell me that animals have given consent to be consumed and that by consuming them there is an energy exchange. 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 for me a gradual process of 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.
Then I started my Zen practice in 1994, and took Buddhist vows; no
killing or creating suffering for others. I then stopped fish, dairy, cheese, and eggs. I loved cheese and fish, and when I was tempted I would watch PETA’s Meet Your Meat to strengthen my commitment. (Also, a more comprehensive documentary to view on You-Tube is entitled Earthlings.) I stopped wearing leather, wool, 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’, grateful for the opportunity to do so. 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 not good for the environment. All our choices have consequences. I purchase, when possible, America man-made materials and buy only what I absolutely need. I’m not perfect, and nothing is black and white in a picture quite complicated.
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 in some parts of China and Korea, yet we do the same here to intelligent chickens, pigs, and cows. Why don’t we slaughter horses and dolphins for their flesh? Eagles instead of duck? 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, nor deprive my cats of a diet that they are designed to eat. They 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. We all have blood on our hands, I included, 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