|Vegetarian Era Vegetarianism and the Path to Compassion|
Vegetarianism and the Path to Compassion
By Little Lambs, Tokyo, Japan
While traveling recently in the United States, I obtained a copy of Diet for Transcendence: Vegetarianism and the World Religions by Steven Rosen. As I read the book, I began thinking about my usual response to the frequently asked question “Why are you a vegetarian?” I find it easy to list the health benefits, such as lowering one’s cholesterol level, preventing cancer, reversing heart disease, etc., all of which are great reasons for not eating meat. But I suddenly realized that I was neglecting to mention the most important reason: compassion for all sentient beings.
In his book, Rosen points out that both the Sixth Commandment of the Judaeo-Christian Bible and the First Precept of Buddhism are “Thou shalt not kill” or “Do not kill.” The language is clear and not specific only to humans. The author also states that the “Golden Rule”— “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” — is found in almost all the world’s sacred books, begging the question “Aren’t animals also ‘others’?” Because they live, breathe and think as humans do, and show love, fear and anger as well.
Both Christians and Jews adhere to the first forty-six books of the Bible, collectively termed the Old Testament in Christianity and the Torah in Judaism. The first book, Genesis, introduces God’s original plan for the earth, stating that “in the beginning” humankind was supposed to follow a vegetarian diet. The seed-bearing fruits and vegetables were intended to be our food, and humans were given rulership or dominion over fish, birds and other animals. Thus humanity’s earthly “job description” is defined — we get free vegetarian food for being the rulers or caretakers of God’s Garden — a good position with excellent benefits and the best possible Boss. And it follows that a good ruler of the animal kingdom would naturally look after his subjects with compassionate concern for their well-being, and not confine, abuse, kill and eat them. However, over the centuries the concept of rulership or dominion over the animals has been misinterpreted to mean that humanity can use these creatures in any way it pleases, including slaughtering and consuming them.
An example of how compassionate relations with animals receives God’s grace comes from the Old Testament book of Daniel, where the main character, the Jewish prophet Daniel, is captured, carried from Israel to Babylon and held captive by King Nebuchadnezzar. After being recognized for his genius, however, Daniel is given the best Babylonian education. At one point in the book, when Nebuchadnezzar’s court presents Daniel and three Hebrew companions with Babylon’s best meat and wine, they refuse the fare and instead ask to be fed only vegetables and water for ten days, saying that their captors can judge the results at the end of that period. After their trial, Daniel and the others seem healthier than another group of students who had dined on the King’s food; so the captives are permitted to continue with their vegetarian diet.
Daniel later becomes the king’s seer and dream interpreter. He also serves two subsequent kings and is sentenced by the third, Darius, to be sealed in a lion’s den for worshipping his own God. When Darius comes to the den the following morning, Daniel tells him that an angel of God came and shut the lion’s mouth. Regarding this incident, Rosen states that “perhaps because the animal sensed the vegetarian Saint’s extreme compassion and lack of ill will,” Daniel was left unharmed.
In a related
section of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah (11:7) the Prophet predicts
that a time will come when a lion will eat straw as an ox and lie
down with a calf. In support of this prediction, a true story about
a vegetarian lion can be found on the Internet at http://www.vegetarismus.ch/vegepet/tyke.htm.
It discusses the lioness Little Tyke, who resided at Hidden Valley
Ranch in California, where she was cared for by Georges and Margaret
The Westbeaus finally accepted Little Tyke’s vegetarianism when a visitor reminded Georges of Genesis 1:30, where God says that every animal is to eat every green herb for food. The lioness became so gentle that all types of creatures could lie down with her, including the “most dangerous species of all: Homo sapiens.” (pic. 1)
A similar story can also be found on the Internet (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/fr/604076/posts) about a lioness, named Kamuniak (‘Blessed One’) by Kenyan park rangers, who spent her days protecting an oryx calf, chasing off hyenas, jackals and other predators and treating the calf as she would a lion cub by lying in the grass at her side. It was a surprise in the Kenyan wild to see the lioness adopt an oryx and the two walking next to each other in peace, fulfilling the Biblical prophecy “The lamb and the lion shall lie together.” (pic. 2)
These two stories dispel the myth that carnivores must eat meat to survive, and also show that, amazingly, the diet recommended for humans in Genesis is appropriate even for lions!
Rosen also implies that the Prophet Mohammed was a vegetarian and made concessions for his meat eating followers “who were not ready for that level of spiritual understanding.” Also, in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, many stories highlight the benefits of being compassionate to all God’s creatures. In one such account a female Sufi saint who is surrounded by animals is surprised by another Sufi. When the animals run away at his approach he asks the saint why they scattered. So she asks him in return what he has eaten recently; when he tells her onions cooked in fat, the saint replies, “You eat their fat! Why should they not flee from you?” (Note: Diet For Transcendence, p. 63)
In addition, many Hindu scriptures advocate a vegetarian diet but this quotation from the Mahabharata (one of India’s great mythological epics) seems to best describe the meat-eating process: “The purchaser of flesh performs himsa (violence) by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying the taste; the killer does himsa by actually tying and killing the animal. Thus there are three forms of killing.”
Another story from the Internet involves slaughterhouse workers taking a lunch break. One of the lambs destined to be killed at the place escapes from its pen and walks over to join the men. The lamb then begins nibbling the lettuce from their sandwiches, and the hardened workmen start to pet the animal, soon finding it impossible to slaughter it. So they turn the lamb loose, demonstrating that when one has personal contact with an animal it is extremely difficult to kill it. Even if a person has slaughtered hundreds of times, personal interaction with a loving creature can stimulate compassion.
The stories above show that until we become vegetarians it is difficult to proceed on the path of compassion. When one eats an animal’s flesh, the emotions of fear and anger that the creature experienced at the time of death are ingested and become part of the meat eater’s body. However, when one stops consuming meat the body begins the process of purification and allows compassion to grow within. Thus, even lions can become compassionate, loving creatures on a vegetarian diet. But of course practicing the Quan Yin Method is essential to this process as well. As Supreme Master Ching Hai says, “If everyone practiced meditation and ate a wholesome diet without killing involved, the world would long since have been in a peaceful state. There’s no need to give up your property; just give up the meat-based diet. That would be enough to save the world.”