‚ÄúFirst, live a compassionate life. Then you will know.‚Äù
So what are we, and what are animals? Our concepts only reveal our impeding conditioning. We are neighbors, mysteries, and we are all manifestations of the eternal light of the infinite consciousness that has birthed and maintains what we call the universe. The intuitive knowing that would reveal this to us, though, is mostly unavailable because as a culture we are outer-directed and fail to cultivate the inner resources and discipline that would allow us to access this deeper wisdom.
By ceasing to eat animal foods and thus causing misery to our neighbors, and by practicing meditation and quiet reflection, which can eventually extract our consciousness out of the brambles of compulsive thinking, we can begin to understand what consciousness actually is. We will see that to the degree we can be open to the present moment and dwell in inner spacious silence, beyond the ceaseless internal dialogue of the busy mind, we can experience the radiant, joy-filled serenity of pure consciousness.
Who are we? What is our proper role on this earth? I submit we can only begin to discover these answers if we first take the vegan imperative seriously and live compassionately toward other creatures. Then peace with each other will at least be possible, as well as a deeper understanding of the mysteries of healing, freedom, and love.
By living the truth of compassion in our meals and daily lives, we can create a field of peace, love, and freedom that can radiate into our world and bless others by silently and subtly encouraging the same in them.
‚ÄúCruelty to animals is as if man did not love God‚Ä¶there is something so dreadful, so satanic, in tormenting those who have never harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power.‚Äù
‚ÄîCardinal John Henry Newman
Because of our herding orientation and our unassuaged guilt complex due to the misery in our daily meals, we have warped our sacred connection with the infinite loving source of our life to an ultimate irony: comparing ourselves to sheep, we beg our shepherd for mercy, but since we show no mercy, we fear deep down we‚Äôll not be shown mercy either and live in dread of our inevitable death. We bargain and may proclaim overconfidently that we‚Äôre saved and our sins are forgiven (no matter what atrocities we mete out to animals and people outside our in-group), or we may reject the whole conventional religious dogma as so much absurd pablum and rely on the shallow materialism of science. However it happens, our spiritual impulse is inevitably repressed and distorted by the fear, guilt, violence, hardness, competitiveness, and shallow reductionism that herding and eating animals always demands.
We can argue that animals are largely unconscious, decreeing that because animals seem to lack the complex language that allows them to formulate thoughts in words as we do, their experience of suffering must therefore be less significant or intense for them. This same thinking, however, could be used to justify harming human infants and senile elderly people. If anything, beings who lack the ability to analyze their circumstances may suffer at our hands more intensely than we would because they are unable to put the distance of internal dialogue between themselves and their suffering.
Buckminster Fuller often emphasized that the way of cultural transformation is not so much in fighting against destructive attitudes and practices, but in recognizing them as being obsolete and offering positive, higher-level alternatives. The competitive, violent, commodifying mentality of the ancient herding cultures is, in our age of nuclear weapons and global interconnectedness, profoundly obsolete, as is eating the animal foods of these old cultures, which are unhealthy in the extreme both to our body-minds and to our precious planetary ecology.
All the world‚Äôs major religions have their own form of the Golden Rule that teaches kindness to others as the essence of their message. They all recognize animals as sentient and vulnerable to us, and include them within the moral sphere of our behavior. There are also strong voices in all the traditions emphasizing that our kindness to other beings should be based on compassion. This is more than merely being open to the suffering of others; it also explicitly includes the urge to act to relieve their suffering. We are thus responsible not just to refrain from harming animals and humans, but also to do what we can to stop others from harming them, and to create conditions that educate, inspire, and help others to live in ways that show kindness and respect for all life. This is the high purpose to which the core teachings of the world‚Äôs wisdom traditions call us. It is an evolutionary imperative, a spiritual imperative, an imperative of compassion, and, in reality, a vegan imperative.