Someone is walking along a beach that is littered with exposed starfish who are dying in the low tide. He sees a young woman who carefully picks one up and flings it into the ocean. “Young lady,” says the observer, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach, and starfish everywhere? You can’t possibly make a difference.” She listened politely, then picked up another, and tossed it into the water, saying “It made a difference to this one.”
It is in no small way that the Buddhist practice and teachings have led me to the place I am today, who I am today. My life and perspective on all things has changed in ways that I could have never imagined. One of the most significant ways is how it helped me to awaken to the true connection that we all share with all life. And this directly resulted in my becoming vegan. In fact, I owe gratitude to the teachings for leading me to investigate Jainism, which in my opinion adheres far more clearly to the teaching of non-violence than do most Buddhist teachers.
While I have practiced and studied the dhamma of the Buddha for over 16 years, it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I made the connection. I sat in mediation at the temple every week and recited the blessings to myself, and to all other beings both human and non-human. May they be free from suffering and all causes of suffering.
And for 11 of those years, it never occurred to me that I was leaving the temple and going home only to have food made from tortured and murdered innocent animals. Innocent living sentient beings, who want to enjoy life exactly as we do, yet are confined as slaves awaiting a horrific death simply for someones palate pleasure. The horror that these gentle beings must face, with no one to hear their screams or please for mercy and compassion!
What part of the Noble Eightfold Path doesn’t address this directly? How can we possibly put an end to suffering while subscribing to the notion that this practice of enslavement, torture and murder is acceptable? It is certainly not Right View, Right Action, Right Mindfulness, or Right Intention.
Oddly enough, while this has now become so immensely clear to me, I am beyond mystified at how teachers of the dhamma can still eat animals. But I painfully accept that I cannot change anyone except myself. Yet a silent acceptance, to me, means an acceptance of the atrocity occurring every minute. And I cannot silence the screams that I hear from these sweet and gentle creatures as they wait in the dark and filth for their own horrific death. Instead, I can see the fields that each chicken, cow, pig and lamb would love to run in. The fresh free air and sunshine, their families and friends. The life that they deserve every bit as much as we do.
As mindfully as I can, I continue to speak for them. Often times shocked and angered by the insensitivity and callousness demonstrated by some people. But their cries never go quiet for me, and my love for them never fades. For me it is not just a catch phrase to say I am a voice for those who have none, it is my obligation to my family. My family of living, feeling, breathing beings. And to me this is not activism, but simply humanity. And we all have the power to use our dominion over them to show love, kindness, mercy and compassion. This is my path, my religion.