Vegetarianism – right ethics or right choice?
‘I have only three things to teach: simplicity, patience and compassion‘.
As I meditated on such words whilst on retreat last week, I developed strong realisations that something had to change.. I could not help but think of how things in our world are so out of balance compared to how they should (and could) be. How greed and materialistic pleasure now dominate our lives at an enormous cost and cause a lot of suffering.
The evolution of mankind has seen “choice” take centre stage. Since humans have evolved into the highly intelligent species that they are today, the choice that we have in our lives almost knows no bounds. Our choice of partners, careers, our lifestyles and at the very primal level, the choice of food that we eat. Choice, in fact, has become a pseudonym for pleasure.. However, it is only in the last decade or so that the ethical choice with respect to one’s selection of food has become important – solve the issue relating to animal welfare and the decision to eat meat is an easy one.
A recent article published in the Guardian regarding the topic of vegetarianism argued exactly that. This topic was of course very interesting to me, since I maintained this same view until recently. The story goes something like this:
‘Humans are at the top of the food chain, eating meat is natural and healthy and if the animal did not suffer during its life, it’s ethical to eat meat’.
On the one hand, it is a very logical line of thinking. It makes us feel good about our meat consumption. Who can argue otherwise with something that tastes good, is ethically raised and is nutritious.
On the other hand, after a gentle stroll through Palma’s famous Mercado de Santa Catalina last week, I came to realise that it is time to make a different choice…
It’s a scene we have seen many a time before, but perhaps it was the influence of working on a deeper level during the retreat that triggered it. As we walked through the market, I could not help but feel dismay as I observed the many fishmongers and the large-sized fish (monkfish, tuna, etc) on display – some the length of a human arm with a well-defined body, face and mouth that looked as though the animal had led a full and proper life, rather than being merely an item of human consumption.
I immediately remarked that we are just ‘raping the ocean’ – no doubt half of the fish would remain unsold and disposed of, just like much of our produce that is farmed or caught today – all in the name of choice. When one then takes into account the huge environmental cost of feeding the 7 billion people on this fragile planet today, we have to question whether this choice is the right one, let alone sustainable.
Whilst mainstream agriculture is the backbone of the global economy, to my great surprise I recently learnt that one does not in fact need to eat or drink (much) to survive at all. I understand that there are some yogis in India who do not eat or drink, such is the immense strength and energy that they have cultivated through practising advanced yogic techniques. Paramahansa Yogananda in his legendary book, Autobiography of a Yogi, depicts ‘The Sleepless Saint’ and other advanced yogis who have mastered their bodies and minds. Paramahansa notes in his chapter on the “Science of Kriya Yoga” that:
“A Kriya Yogi, however, by use of a spiritual science removes himself from the necessity for a long period of careful observance of natural laws”.
It’s the stuff of fantasies but by all accounts, real.
Maria Strydom, a vegan mountaineer, who tragically lost her life (due to altitude sickness) whilst attempting to climb Everest, had wanted to demonstrate that vegans are just as capable of exerting themselves physically as someone with a conventional diet. Maria noted that:
“It seems that people have this warped idea of vegans being malnourished and weak. By climbing the seven summits we want to prove that vegans can do anything and more.”
Maria’s example to the world will leave a strong legacy and help counter the misnomer that eating meat is a functional necessity. Such attitude is merely the result of a simplistic view of the human body and mind – humans are much more than purely biochemical, we are electro-magnetic as well. Working on the energetic level can often lead to far superior results than simply focussing on the physical side of things. Mind after all, created matter.
Compassion and kindness are virtuous and omnipresent qualities and represent the development of an advanced mind. The choice then to kill another being for our own pleasure seems on reflection, quite primitive.
The morality of eating meat per se is actually not a question since we, in the West, already deem it acceptable. If though the choice to eat meat is purely based on one’s own gratification rather than grounded in necessity or need, and the qualities of compassion and non-harming are virtues of an enlightened, healthy human being – then, may I ask, what is the point of eating meat?