With awareness, our behavior naturally changes, and individual changes in behavior, rippling through the web of relationships, can lead to social transformation and bring new dimensions of freedom, joy, and creativity to everyone. It all begins with our most intimate and far-reaching connection with the natural order, our most primary spiritual symbol, and our most fundamental social ritual: eating.
Looking deeply, we see that the perpetrators are themselves victims of violence‚Äîthat‚Äôs why they‚Äôve become perpetrators‚Äîand their violence hurts not only the animals but themselves and the bystanders as well. All three are locked in a painful embrace, and it is the bystanders who have the real power. They can either turn and look away, thus giving their tacit approval, or they can witness and bring a third dimension of consciousness and awareness to the cycle of violence that has the victims and perpetrators hopelessly enmeshed.
If our only motivation for not eating animal foods is our own health, it's easy to ‚Äúcheat‚Äù 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.
‚ÄúWe need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creatures through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.‚Äù
Henry Beston, from ‚ÄúThe Outermost House‚Äù
What is compassion? It is not simply a sense of caring and kindness toward the being before you. It isn‚Äôt merely a warm-hearted feeling of empathy for the suffering of others. It is also the determined and practical resolve to do whatever is possible to relieve their suffering, the sustained urge to reduce and eliminate the suffering they are experiencing.
Veganism is still exceedingly rare even among people who consider themselves spiritual aspirants because the forces of early social conditioning are so difficult to transform. We are called to this, nevertheless; otherwise our culture will accomplish nothing but further devastation and eventual suicide.
Looking undistractedly into the animal-derived foods produced by modern methods, we inescapably find misery, cruelty, and exploitation. We therefore avoid looking deeply at our food if it is of animal origin, and this practice of avoidance and denial, applied to eating, our most basic activity and vital ritual, carries over automatically into our entire public and private life. We know, deep down, that we cannot look deeply anywhere, for if we do, we will have to look deeply into the enormous suffering our food choices directly cause.
‚ÄúVegetarianism serves as a criterion by which we know that the pursuit of moral perfection on the part of humanity is genuine and sincere.‚Äù ‚Äì Count Leo Tolstoy
From this new consciousness we can accomplish virtually anything; it represents the fundamental positive personal and cultural transformation that we yearn for, and it requires that we change something basic: our eating habits.