Friday, November 9, 2018

Parliament Speaks for Animals

I am so happy to report that for the first time in the 125 year history of the Parliament, there was a clear and strong emphasis on Veg/Veganism from start to finish. Some 7,500 people attended and heard these messages delivered from Unitarians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and many other representatives of Wisdom Traditions.





The Sikh community again served veg langar each day and were warmly appreciated, receiving the greatest gratitude from the all attendees.

In one well attended session concerning an exploration of ethics relative to addressing climate change, clear cases presented from each panelist ranged the spectrum from animal agriculture’s devastating effects on our planet's and our human health, to the need to recognize all living beings as sacred and treat them accordingly. A special emphasis was on being clear that we include animals every time we pray for “all beings" in whatever way we make such prayers. In an especially passionate speech, the Rabbi David Rosen referenced Hebrew scripture as he called for us all to rise to meet “our religious responsibility” to not abuse animals and to adopt a strictly plant-based diet for the sake of the Earth and all its inhabitants. Among this power packed panel that included the Rev. Michael Beckwith and Dr. Vandana Shiva – each in turn amplifying the case for vegetarian/veganism - the Hindu Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati (who serves on the Parliament Board) got the crowd of hundreds to stand and vow that we will work toward making the next Parliament the first to be all Veg/Vegan, in order to show the strongest commitment to the Parliament’s efforts toward protecting our declining Earth’s health and her animal and human populations.

Many felt it to be among the most moving, compelling and important sessions of the week.

May all beings be well and happy.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Tibetan Dharma and Animals

I just completed a 7-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat.

This Drikung Kagyu lineage retreat center hosts many Buddhist groups, including Spirit Rock Insight Meditation retreats. In the dining hall, I was interested to find a laminated document on the wall over the tea and coffee service suggesting 10 Virtues to cultivate.

Number one is "Protect the lives of all sentient beings."

During a Q & A period, I asked the retreat master if he would say more about protecting sentient beings.

He answered that it means to have the wish that all beings be happy and therefore to offer help to human beings as well as to animals. He gave examples about how humans can protect animals, including purchasing cows destined for slaughterhouses in order to give them sanctuary and save their lives. In the same breath, he described putting fishes back into water if their water home has dried to the point they may be exposed to the air, unable to live.

Another retreatant said that this made her wonder about vegetarianism, about eating animals who are sentient beings.

The Kkenpo's answer to this was unequivocal on the Dharmic view. He explained that it is not ethical to take the lives of living beings, certainly not because of any "desire," so "best thing, we don't want to eat meat." He offered that he himself is vegetarian, then went on to explain that in cases where eating animals is medically or otherwise necessary for a person to survive, then in that case, that person should feel great compassion for the animal's suffering, thank the animal and make strong prayers for it (OM mani padme hum, for example).

Khenpo Tenzin added that we should not criticize those who eat meat, and he summarized his answer by restating: "Best way is to be vegetarian."


The Venerable Khenpo Tenzin

The title of Khenpo is given to those who have a degree for higher Buddhist studies in Tibetan Buddhism. The Venerable Khenpo Tenzin has a PhD. in Buddhist philosophy, among other accomplishments.

May all beings be happy and not be separated from the causes of happiness.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Animals And The Buddha



This film includes interviews by several Buddhist teachers from many traditions sharing perspectives on the Dharma, on what Buddha taught about the ethics of eating animals.

The film contains some images that viewers may find disturbing, but these are few and not the focus of the film.

May all beings be well and happy, free of suffering and the causes of suffering.


Monday, September 3, 2018

Dharma Voices for Animals

"Dharma Voices for Animals (DVA) is an organization of those committed both to practicing the teachings of the Buddha (the Dharma) and to speaking out when animal suffering is supported by the actions of those in Dharma communities and by the policies of Dharma centers. We want to be the voice of the animals who cannot speak..."

"DVA Chapters play a vital role in fulfilling Dharma Voices for Animals’ mission of bringing awareness of the suffering of animals to the Dharma community. Located throughout the world ..."
I joined without hesitation.

Recently, two retreat opportunities arose for me. 

I asked the registrar for one whether the retreat would be veg only. The reply: No, there will be some "animal protein" [read: meat]. I explained that I no longer attend events for which animals are killed (meaning, meat is served), and I received a kind, understanding reply.

Hours later, I asked the same question of the other registar, again explaining my position. This time, much to my surprise and delight, the registrar said she would ask the retreat master and get back with me. About 20 minutes later, she called back to report that the Khenpo had agreed to make the entire retreat veg only!

In later discussion with the leader of the first retreat, during which I described the above, he said he'd consider making it veg if I were to decide to come.

Both of these are spiritual retreats at which prayers are made daily: "May all beings be well and happy...."  It's sad that I have to ask that no animals be killed, but I feel happy that one agreed and that the other would consider it.

In that conversation, the leader offered: "You could attend, but not partake [of eating meat at meals]." I countered: If I invited you to an event I was hosting and explained that we will be serving humans, would you come? It feels like that for me when animals are on the table.

This is true But my greater objection centers around the fact that if I pay to attend an event for which animals are killed, even if I do not participate directly by eating them, my money has gone to support that violence. I can no longer do that.

Mostly, I feel that conducting a retreat without harming animals should not be about whether I will be there, but whether harming animals is consistent with the purpose of the retreat and its greater message, which - in both of these cases - I understand to be about awakening Compassion and actualizing kindness in order to be of greater benefit to all beings. 

May all beings be happy and well, free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Breath of Fresh Air

This is refreshing. Here's an exchange on Twitter that went really well for a change!

Someone tweeted: Do vegans get hungry while mowing lawns??

Another replied: Do carnists get thirsty when drawing blood?

I said: Spot on! Do carnists look at animals and think "yum"? ...Cows? Pigs? Horses maybe? Dogs? All probably pretty tasty!

Shane replied (and continued with me in this) > Well I know hunters that do.

I replied: Probably deer, but not cats and dogs would be my guess. I bet they never wonder about that.

> Deer, Moose and Reindeer. I guess fisherman would look at some fish and shrimp this way too. But no not things like cats and dogs. I’m from Alaska where hunting can be a way of life.

"Way of life" sounds like a way to live that is necessary. Why would hunting, fishing - or, for that matter, eating animals - be necessary? My guess is that it comes closer to habituation, enculturation...or business. When those things cause suffering, we need to look closer.

>It’s culture and tradition, some see things as a rite of passage, then there is subsistence hunting and fishing. Which not everyone is familiar with.

Yes, surely. How many of those ideas involve careful consideration of the animals' feelings, or how their deaths may affect their mates or offspring, or their pack?

If a person kills an animal without sincere consideration for the animal's feelings (pain, fear, suffering) and the loss this may cause to dependent offspring or mate, it is not conscious and therefore can't be "humane" in any sense.

> So do you expect that everyone should change their cultures and customs? I’m genuinely curious, no argument and I’m not bashing at all. I have several friends that are vegan and I don’t give them any grief, it’s their choice and I respect that.

If someone asks the animal being killed whether they want to be killed, and they agree, then it's ok. If not, it is unethical. It's not about what I expect. It is that an unethical person cannot be happy, and I want all beings to be happy.

Taking the life of another may be conscious if it is directly necessary for survival in that moment, and no other unneeded killing or harm takes place. It could only be "humane" if it is some kind of mercy killing intended to directly help that being. How many think of this?

I don't support murder in any form. Killing only in the very rare case that it would be the last resort to help relieve the suffering of either an animal or a human. Killing someone who does not want to die is indeed murder, which is a crime.

Hard to give vegans grief, because they are trying to limit harm. The one who kills a being that does not want to be killed... it's not their "personal" choice, because [their choice] does not take into account the wishes of the one being killed. I can't respect that, if done unnecessarily.

> I can respect that answer so much, and I sincerely appreciate your consistency with your convictions. It’s far too often people are not consistent, but you, you very much are and that’s very admirable. I don’t know you, but I sense you are good people.

Thank you, Shane, for your kind words. I also feel that sense about you, based upon your thoughtful and considerate messages, ideas and questions. This is a breath of fresh air on an internet rife with so much animosity. Thank you!

PS: Since we are discussing hunting I feel it is important to recognize that some people may need to kill to survive. Many - such as most (if not all) Indigenous people - do have intimate connections with the animals and do understand the effects on their relations. There is much we can learn from them.

May all beings be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What Do You Think?


Which is more effective to save the planet and protect animals in the long run? 

Go vegan, or don't have children?

If we do all we can to help animals...be vegan, reduce plastic use, etc...then we have children, if those children do not do the same or better, in effect it cancels out our own best efforts, no?

One of my mentors says more people are comfortable with the idea of not having kids (to help save the planet, etc.) than to consider being vegetarian or vegan.

These are important questions we need to consider.

May all beings be well.


Monday, June 25, 2018

No Feelings


May all beings be well and happy.


A Friend's Questions

A dear friend asked about my vegan perspective, specifically:

No wool, unless from your own personal sheep? How does one survive freezing temps with cotton and hemp?

My replies:

Right.

Synthetics.


A sincere and caring person, she asked some other great questions. This is the rest of my response to her:

Workers being harmed is not a specifically vegan issue. It’s a human issue,
so I try to be careful about that, too.

We probably shouldn’t stop being concerned about the well-being of others.
That is a kind of death of the heart. (There’s a lot of that going around.)

We can’t have 100% information, but we can have enough to make ethical/moral
decisions – enough to at least illuminate our trajectory – then we do the
best with can with ample forgiveness for our shortcomings, and those of
others, too.

Awfulness against animals stops when humans stop being awful to animals.
There will be no endpoint to my own advocating for that, so long as I am
able. At the very least, I refrain from perpetrating harm as best I can,
toward all beings. Living by example turns out to be great advocacy – and
actually, directly saves lives, harm and suffering -, without much
additional effort needed.

Yes, anything we can/may choose to do! We can’t do it all, we do what we can
with what we have to offer. We can hope to be of greater and greater
benefit, then be at ease that our intention is good.

My two cents, anyway. :-)

Love....
May all beings be well and happy.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Which Ones Are Okay To Eat?


We abhor the killing of dogs for food at the Yulin Dog Meat festival, in part because the dogs are tortured before being killed and eaten.

I don't watch a lot videos, and yet I have seen many videos with people willfully torturing animals large and small in factory farms. From the dog, cow, pig or chicken's perspective, it is all misery. 

Why do we want to help some but not all? We need to ask ourselves hard questions.

May all beings, without exception, be happy and free.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

We'll Miss You, Koko

Koko the gorilla, who is said to have been able to communicate by using more than 1,000 hand signs, has died in California at the age of 46.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44559261

Koko forever changed the way we think about animal intelligence, sensitivity and feelings.
Rest in Peace, Koko.


See Koko with Mr. Rogers in "Won't You Be My Neighbor" and "It's You I Like."

All gorillas are "Kokos" and have the same natural capacity for communication and empathy. Visit Koko.org

May all beings be free.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

William Blake

William Blake understood "Biovinity" where he wrote:

“Everything that lives is Holy 

 Life delights in life." 


May all beings be well and happy.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Eating Animals

Please watch this interview of Natalie Portman on Stephen Colbert, then please see her new movie, "Eating Animals."



May all beings be free!

Sentient, or Not Sentient?

Recently, this question appeared in media:

"Are animals sentient? Over 2,500 scientific studies say that they are. Animals as small as mice, rats and fish exhibit similar sentient behaviours as humans."

Feeling confident I already understood that all animals (and even insects) are "sentient", I Googled the word: SENTIENT: adjective: able to perceive or feel things.


There can be no question that animals are sentient. (And, a good lesson in the given example for everyone!)

May all beings be happy and free of suffering.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Netherlands' Party for the Animals!

How great to learn from a friend in the Netherlands that they are the first to give rise to a political party that does not put humans first, but all of the Earth's inhabitants!

From their website:

"The Party for the Animals is the first political party in the world, which does not put the short-term interests of man at the pivotal position, but the entire planet and all her inhabitants instead. Thus, a fundamentally different approach than the traditional parties, which focus on the short-term interests of people and in particularly on money and economic growth without thinking about the consequences for humans, animals, nature and the environment. All our work and all our solutions have a planet-wide focus. And that makes us unique!" https://www.partyfortheanimals.nl/

Salutations to the Party for the Animals! May the movement spread far and wide!

May all beings be happy, may all beings be well.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Anima - A Film About Religion and Animals

A new short film, “ANIMA: Animals. Faith. Compassion.” could challenge traditions and misconceptions surrounding religion and animal consumption.

The film features influencers from 12 different faiths, all of whom discuss the pressing need for better animal welfare and dispelling myths about how their faith’s religious texts regard animals. The people featured come from a wide range of faiths and backgrounds, including Christianity, Buddhism, Muslim, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, ISKON (Hinduism), Bahá’í Faith, the Brahma Kumaris movement, Judaism, Vedanta (Hinduism), Indigeneity, and Jainism.

Exploring the theme of compassionate living, the film challenges long-upheld beliefs about the relationship between human and non-human animals. The film claims to be the first of its kind that unites religious figureheads from a multitude of different faiths for the greater good of animals and by extension, the planet. Its website says, “Our hope is that this film will help to forever change the way people interact with animals through understanding them as living, feeling, sentient and sacred beings.”



In the film’s trailer, Reverend Dr. Gwynne Guibord, Founder and President of The Guibord Center, addresses misconceptions surrounding Christianity and animal consumption. “In the book of Genesis it is written ‘And God gave man dominion over the animals.’ That’s a mistranslation,” comments Dr. Guibord. “It should read: ‘And God gave man responsibility or stewardship.’ It shifts the whole notion of [the word].”

According to Jan Creamer, President of Animal Defenders International, “Millions of people across the world draw their beliefs and perceptions about the other species who share our planet, from their faith.”

“There has never been a more important time to challenge the misunderstandings which have, in the past, been used to justify exploitation of animals. As Dr. Lo Sprague says in ANIMA, every religion has compassion as part of its mandate. It is time to mobilize that,” she adds.

Recent food system advances have introduced the possibility of “clean meat” — a slaughter-free meat product made through cellular agriculture with real animal cells — a process that could overhaul conventional meat production. Rabbinical leaders have previously discussed whether these products would be suitable for people following the religion. But Rabbi Suzanna Singer challenges the need for animal products altogether. “Our belief in Judaism is that God never actually meant us to eat animals. In the Garden of Eden, God shows us the fruit of the trees, the grass in the fields, and says ‘You may have any of this to eat.’ But God never mentioned animals,” she notes in the film’s trailer.

According to estimates from 2012, an overwhelming majority of people across the globe identify as religious. In numbers, this demonstrates the huge potential for a drastic reduction in animal product consumption.

May all beings be happy and free!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Buddha Dharma


May all beings be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Cut Rings!

I have made a practice of cutting ALL plastic rings, even ones like this that I found on the ground. They can do horific harm to wildlife, land and sea.


Cut rings and plastic bag handles, too!

May all being be happy and free

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Is This Dharma?

We recently sat with a well-known Buddhist teacher (whose name I will not share here) who gave a Dharma talk that included saying that it is more meritorious to feed a human than a dog, because a human is more intelligent.

When Parvati and I talked together later that night - each disgusted to hear this - Parvati pointed out that to believe what the teacher said would be like saying that it is better to give food to a physicist than to someone with a cognitive impairment, when actually, a stronger case could be made that the opposite is true.

I observed that "intelligence" ought not be the basis for why we have compassion for others, but rather their capacity to feel. If they feel pain or if they suffer, it is on that basis that we should help them if we can.

By saying that animals are less valuable than humans, she completely lost both of us.


Let's get clear:

Dharma isn't about compassion for others based upon their intelligence. It is about compassion for all beings with capacity for suffering, humans and animals alike.

May all beings everywhere - without exception - be well and happy, free of suffering and the causes of suffering, and may we refrain as best we can from causing suffering.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Vystopia

"Vystopia is a normal response of any human being distressed by animal cruelty."

A great read for those of us who care about animals and feel distressed that change to protect animals is not happening quickly enough:

HOW VEGANS CAN OVERCOME THEIR ‘VYSTOPIA’ AND CHANGE THE WORLD

May all beings be well and happy, free of suffering and the causes of suffering.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Why Only Some Animals?

I spent 7 days in silent meditation retreat at a lovely old ranch-cum-retreat center that had happy, well cared-for animals including horses, chickens, one pig and two goats.

The two goats have distinct personalities. The one who looks and behaves kind of like a teenager is uninterested unless you have food, but the other is very affectionate and connective when you engage him. He will come close to the fence and even sidle up to it so you can scratch through his fur down to the skin, whereupon he squints like a contented puppy.

It is obvious to anyone with a heart that these two friends love each other. They delight in playing together, gleefully butting heads in that almost ritualized dance they do and playing with a manzanita branch, often holding it up together with their horns and wrestling it around in unison, sometimes using it like extended horns to whack each other. When they rest, they always lie together, fur-to-fur. Sometimes one lays its head across the other's rotund belly. It is touching to see how happy they are together.



During the Question & Response period one evening, someone asked about eating meat, and our teacher deftly answered that it is a complex issue: people may have economic and health reasons for eating animals (which he explained he did not fully understand the basis for). 

Not fully satisfied with his relatively brief response, I asked him to say more about the "ethical integrity" he had been recommending as essential for doing this practice. Specifically with regard to our intention of dedicating all the merits of our practice by praying that all beings may be happy and free of suffering, I questioned -- in light of our understanding of the immense, unimaginable suffering involved in animal flesh coming to our plate -- how the action of directly supporting that suffering by purchasing and eating animals could result in ethical coherence?

The passionate intensity of my phrasing caused a bit of a stir. The teacher explained that he himself has strong opinions about this, and he does not share those opinions, because he does not want to "dictate" any particular behavior or code of ethics to his students. I thought he handled the question skillfully: while I do not know what his opinions were, I could roughly guess when he emphasized that it's good that we have access to videos about animal suffering and that we ought to be informed about the issues if we decide to eat animals.

He added that this is something best discussed within local sanghas, and that all voices should be included. 

I asked about the animals, who have no voice at the table: Are they part of our sangha or our community, or are their concerns to be excluded? The teacher said that he appreciated my advocacy for animals' interests to be included in conversations, and that it is important to do so.

Evidently flustered and in order to counter my question, a young woman sangha member immediately stood up and interjected to the group that "hunting has been proven to be beneficial in some ecosystems," then she asked another question, as if to change the topic, or maybe to divert attention from herself, having just spoken in favor of killing to a group of peace-loving practitioners.

After the Q & R, when we returned from our walking meditation period, I discovered that she had left a note of "apology" for me, saying that she hoped to talk later (after the end of our silent period); when she'd like to try to convince me that hunting is good. I found this, her overtly promoting killing while we had every day taken the 5 Precepts (the first of which is to kill no being), simply heartbreaking.

That night, saddened that even a practitioner who takes vows to do no harm to other beings and prays that all beings will be well and happy would advocate violence against them, I couldn't help but think about her point of view, which I could sense was shared in some degree or another by some others in the group. 

And, I thought about my own. I planned to offer no response, but I imagined what I might say about my feelings to folks at this retreat, if given a chance.

My heart went to the goats. My mind constructed a thought experiment.

I'd like to ask how many folks have noticed as we walk to and from the dining hall how sweetly the two goats play together? OK. So, what if, before our evening meal, I grabbed one of the goats by his horns and dragged him away from his companion, slit his throat and carried him up to the kitchen for the cook? Would that be ok with anyone? My hope and my sense is that no one would condone that. 

So then, what if there are some goats just over the hill there beyond our view? Would it be ok to go and get one of those, kill it and bring it back here to eat for dinner? 

And, how about if, before the retreat I had ordered some prime cuts of veal to be delivered to my home for my return, such that sometime during our retreat, some poor little calf is dragged away from its mother, brutally killed, sectioned and then sent to me via UPS. Would that be OK? If so, why?

If we befriend an animal, it would not feel ok to kill and eat it. But somehow, the animal across the way (who may be loved by someone else, or its own mother) is ok to kill and eat? 

If we love one animal, we should at least respect all animals, even if our hearts are not yet fully awakened to compassionate loving kindness toward all beings.

May all beings be happy and well, free of suffering and the causes of suffering.