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Bodhisattvas in Burlington

Please help me.

Please help me.

I met some vegan Bodhisattvas in Burlington last week. It’s a small city just west of Toronto, Canada. They were standing on the corners and in the intersection of Appleby Line and Harvester road. They were holding a vigil, bearing witness, and sending love in all directions.

We all know what a vegan is: a person who due to ethical and moral reasoning has decided they cannot take part in the cultural norm of eating, wearing and using animals any longer. On the other hand, a Bodhisattva in the Buddhist tradition is the archetypical example of highest ethical potentiality a human can achieve. Bodhisattva’s by definition are driven (this life and life after life) to help all sentient beings become free from suffering. Bodhisattvas are completely compelled by love and compassion for all sentient beings. The famous quote from the Buddhist monk Shantideva (8th-century, India) sums up the Bodhisattva aspirational activity with the following four lines:

“As long as space endures,
as long as sentient beings remain,
until then, may I too remain,
and dispel the miseries of the world.”

If there are Bodhisattvas on the planet today the Toronto Pig Save volunteers are impeccable examples.

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Sabbe Sattva (Pali: All Beings)

From the very beginning, 2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught all sentient beings should be helped in any way we could and not be harmed. All sentient life was precious in the Buddha’s eyes. He felt, reasoned, and knew all sentient life forms have wants and needs, can experience pleasure and pain, and they will struggle to live with every breath. None want to die, all want to live, and in this we are all the same.

Appleby Line and Harvester Road

The slaughterhouse transport trucks roll in one after the other off of the 403 on to Appleby Line and stop at the light signal at Harvester road. Left blinker signals go on and a team of Bodhisattvas converge onto a dangerously small thirty-inch patch of concrete in the middle of the road. Armed with nothing but water bottles and love, they gently stroke the snouts of the pigs inside the harsh all metal transports. Evidence of defecation and vomit permeate the air, floors, legs and snouts. These incredibly intelligent beings reach out of holes to interact with the activists who tell them they are “sorry, I am trying to make a difference and wake people up.” They tell the pigs, “I love you” and show them the most kindness these beings have ever felt in their entire lives.

Pigs

Pigs are one of the smartest, cleanest, and sentient animals on the planet. You can see it in their eyes. They are checking you out. They are figuring you out. They are looking right at you with curiosity, and in some cases fear, from the metal holes in the slaughterhouse transport. You can tell each has their own personality.

It is well documented that newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voice and recognize their own names and that mother pigs are known to sing to their young when nursing. Pigs are very clean animals, cannot sweat, and will not soil themselves when they are giving sufficient room to live. Those who run sanctuaries have documented they enjoy music, playing with balls, exploring, sunbathing, and getting massages. Pigs dream, like to snuggle, sleep nose-to-nose and are continually communicating with each other. It has been documented they have over 20 words and vocal sounds from courting each other to simply declaring, “I’m hungry.” It is generally felt that pigs are smarter than three-year-old human children, cleverer than dogs, and can be taught to use joystick-controlled video gaming devices. They have as good a sense of direction as “Lassie” and are known to be able to  find their way home over long distances. “I know of no other animals [who] are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open mouthed enthusiasm. Pigs, I have discovered, are incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being,” according Johannesburg Zoo director, Lyall Watson, author of The Whole Hog.

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Morality

My teacher, Gelek Rimpoche, says that any killing is immoral from a Buddhist standpoint. He believes it creates terrible negativity for all of us in this life and the next. These negative activities can be against yourself and others. In general, any actions that hurt are immoral/wrong action and any action that helps is moral/right action. Helping and serving all sentient beings is moral. Building positive karma (action/activity) is moral and helps build merit. Therefore, in perfecting morality one restrains from wrong-doing, benefits rather than harms sentient beings, and accumulates merit.

Environment

When we look at the situation the world is in today we find a terribly messy tragedy. Forty-five percent of the entire planet’s surface and sixty percent of all arable land is devoted to livestock (sentient being) agriculture, either in the form of pasture or growing feed grains. Seventy percent of all said grains grown are fed to seventy billion animals (sentient beings) not people, yet one billion humans go hungry everyday functionally starving with six million children actually dying of starvation annually. We are running out of fresh water by draining aquafers faster than they can recharge to irrigate grain crops. We ignorantly choose to filter our protein through animals in a terribly inefficient manner rather than eating plants directly. It can take eight to fifteen pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. It can take between 1,800 and 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. Thirty to fifty percent of all anthropogenic (human generated) greenhouse gas emissions are caused by activities related to raising, killing and eating animals, i.e. our attachment to eating animals.

In a completely negative action, which today is scientifically irrefutable, we know it hurts us to eat the bodies of sentient beings causing us to be obese, get cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Thus we are killing the planet, ourselves, and the animals we choose to eat — creating three negativities.

Aspiration and Action

Gelek Rimpoche says there are two aspects of creating the mind of a Bodhisattva: aspiration and action. Many of us are very comfortable with the first form. We aspire and intend to do the best. We have good aspirations and intentions. The second aspect, action, takes courage and energy and it is where the most progress is made. Aspirational couch potatoes don’t change the world. Starting with aspiration we need to then follow it up with action. Intending not to hurt and kill but then doing so gets us nowhere. Hiding behind culture, taste, laziness, and the dubious three rules (when it is not seen, heard, or suspected that a living being was killed for you personally) is a sophistry of denial and delusion.

Right action can be seen on the corner of Appleby Line and Harvester road. It is here that the future for the planet is being fought. It is here where humanity is being exemplified.

While in the U.S. next week, on Thursday, November 24th, we will celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving and many will dine on the dead carcasses of sentient beings, at the intersection of Appleby Line and Harvester road you’ll find twenty or more vegan Bodhisattva activists holding signs, beseeching those driving by to take notice, and giving unconditional love to sentient beings on death row. For the pigs it is their last left turn in this lifetime before they enter the gates of the slaughterhouse never to return. When you stand on the sidewalk beside the slaughterhouse you can hear the screams and squeals of terrified individuals fighting for their lives inside and on the outside you can see the tears of people and hear their tender words, “I am so sorry, I love you, and I will always love you!”

Which side are you on?

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Links:

Toronto Pig Save website

Photos from Thursday, November 17, 2016 by Louise Jorgensen

Photos from Thursday, November 17, 2016 by John Bussineau

Facts about what happens at Fearman’s Pork and other pork producers:

  • 4 to 6 months old
  • 200 per truck
  • 50 trucks per day
  • Deafening screams of terror heard from the street
  • Forced into a gas chamber
  • Throats slit
  • Dragged through scalding water (some still alive) = Bacon

“When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain,
do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one,
but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him
who suffers, and try to help him.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

The Save Movement is comprised of groups around the world who bear witness of pigs, cows, chickens and other farmed animals en route to slaughter. Our goals are to raise awareness about the plight of farmed animals, to help people become vegan, and to build a massive love-based, grassroots animal justice movement.

The Save Movement started in December 2010 with the inception of Toronto Pig Save. Today there are close to 40 groups in Canada, the US, Australia and elsewhere.

Is the SAD diet the Middle Path?

Is the Standard American Diet a middle path diet or one of gluttony?

Is the Standard American Diet a middle path diet or one of gluttony?

The middle path seeks to find a way through the extremes of asceticism and gluttony. Ascetics in the Buddha’s time put their bodies through rigorous anorexic self-mortification practices to the point of almost death in order to exert control over the body and train the mind. On the other end of the spectrum was full sensual gluttony using every device for hedonistic pleasure, sexual debauchery, brutal sporting events, hunting, and excessive food-orgy intake regardless of the consequence. While we don’t know where the Buddha stood on the topic of veganism we certainly know he taught a middle path to living one’s life as a way to awaken fully. We know he discarded asceticism and gluttony in favor of a middle way. The question I pose is veganism more a middle path or is it diet, as I heard directly from a dharma practitioner just this week, “of people who have eating disorders” which would seem to put it in the realm of a modern ascetic practice of a somewhat disturbed person and certainly not the middle path?

The “normal” diet this Buddhist practitioner was alluding to as a diet of less disorder and thus more healthy, centered, and middle path, was a standard American diet (SAD) or Western diet, replete with beef, fish, chicken, pork, dairy and eggs. However, when we take into account the many disease states associated with eating a standard American diet; heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many others, a case can certainly be made for putting this common diet in the category of gluttony (and eating disorder) rather than a vegan plant-based diet. There are a number of reasons for this including the exorbitant cost of resources to produce animal products, health, and most importantly ahimsa.

We utilize inordinate amounts of resources to produce animal products versus plant foods. This is a well-documented scientific fact. When we consider it takes approximately 15 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef and that this one pound of beef can feed just a few people once and then transpose it against simply eating the grain directly (15 pounds of grain directly eaten could last a couple weeks) we start to see the waste of resources involved. When we consider that we can feed one person a meat diet using 2.5 acres of land versus feeding about 20 people on same 2.5 acres of land a diet of potatoes, cabbage and rice the resource cost is staggering, especially to the 800 million human beings who go hungry every day in the world and 20,000 children who die every day from starvation. But we don’t see the costs, which are not past onto the consumer due to government subsidies. The average cost to raise a cow in the U.S. is $498.00 but the market value is only $245.00. (Taxpayers subsidize meat and dairy industries annually to the tune of $38 billion). These costs are vast, and the costs to the environment are enormous as production of animal products are a leading cause of the sixth extinction due land use, clearing of rain forest, dead zone creation and the emptying of the oceans to feed land animals a diet rich in sea food, a completely unnatural food for them.

When we take into account the level of obesity in countries whose diet is the standard American diet we find many sick people killing themselves with food.

On the other hand when we analyze a vegan diet which is based on whole foods we find a regimen rich in nutrients, high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and naturally low in fat. In short we find a diet which creates health and does not harm the body. Therefore we find it is a diet which is not based on gluttony nor asceticism.

Can vegans practice anorexic asceticism by eating a diet of almond milk and Oreo cookies? Yes. Do they? Most do not. Most eat diets based on a variety of fruits, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Their diet is rich in calories, nutrition, whose foundation are whole foods, with a small carbon footprint.

Are there a few meat eaters who don’t eat correctly? Yes, all of them, even when they eat a so-called balanced-diet since it is too high in fat, lacks nutrients and contains animal protein which is inferior to plant protein by causing disease and global warming.

If a person is eating enough calories to keep up their body weight and eating a balance of foods from the many types of vegan food available they are creating healthy bodies and minds. As the middle path is one that acknowledges our short time on this planet and seeks to harm as few sentient life forms as possible in the process, eating a diet that does not create gluttonous obesity and disease states is more wholesome and compassionate and is closer to a true middle path diet.

A vegan diet is one that allows the individual freedom of choice to do less harm to their body, the planet, and the 6 million other species with whom we share the earth. All of which are just as important. Choosing to live vegan is a middle path between starving oneself and overeating fat, cholesterol, and protein. The middle path is choosing nutrition for the body so that we can be strong in our yoga, meditation, and lives. It leads to a healthier mind due to the body connection it makes through ingested food which is not connected to a being that died violently and lived suffering traumatized life. This diet has recently even been shown to have a remarkable effect on depression. It sets up an opportunity to choose a different path than the one we are conditioned to choose. Isn’t that what the Buddha taught? That we should awaken to the robotic trances we are all involved in? Mindlessly following cultural teachings which are harmful to ourselves and other beings? That we should awaken to make choices based on a more truthful assessment of what it is we crave and why we crave it in the first place?

We are generally loving as humans but remarkably most of us do not even realize the ways we discriminate against other humans and sentient beings. “I love my cat and dog and do all I can to protect and care for them but the mother pig on my plate in the form of bacon I do not even give a second thought.” Understanding why we dislike some while liking others is core to Buddhist thought and meditation practice is it not? In this light veganism is a way to expand our scope rather than hide behind a disorder. It helps us along the path of cherishing others. When we find ourselves learning to cherish others and building a foundation of equanimity toward others we are then on the middle path. When we find ourselves eating foods that kill others, harm and planet, and cause us to be fat and diseased, is this the middle path or a form of blindness and bondage?

Je Tsongkhapa, the Tibetan Buddhist master, states in the Foundation of All Perfections, “Sensual gluttony is a gate to suffering and is not worthy of a lucid mind.” This is true today when we look around and we see what we do to other beings. Sixty to seventy billion land animals are raised in cruel hell realm conditions and fight to live up until their throats are slit each year. This is suffering of a magnitude we cannot comprehend. Every day some 410 million land and sea animals are slaughtered by humans around the globe which is the equivalent to killing every man, woman and child in the U.S. every 18 hours without pause. Every year 600,000 Americans will die of heart failure, a disease that need not arise except for the gluttony and mindless eating habits based on culture and wrong view. Every year we kill thousands of species of animals and put additional climate change gas into the atmosphere causing those of us living to breathe more CO2 than any other humans have in history and causing the global temperature to rise mostly based on our choice to eat animals. Is this gluttony or the middle path? Is this suffering or happiness? We all know someone who has cancer and has died of cancer, yet we continue to eat dairy products which have been scientifically shown to be associated with cancer by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. The main protein in diary “casein is a chemical carcinogen, perhaps the most relevant carcinogen that we consume” according to Dr. Campbell but we continue to consume it, believing it will give us good health. Is this the middle path or is this suffering, ignorance, and insanity? Is a diet that stops using non-human animals as commodities a disorder or health? Is a diet what eliminates cholesterol, high blood pressure, fights obesity, improves depression and fatigue, lowers inflammation, saves water,  reduces carbon foot print, saves the rainforest, reduces social inequalities and saves lives — a disorder or a more healthy way to live?

As Buddhist practitioners are we not on a path to realize equanimity for all, beginning with our own selves? Does blindly following what society and culture has taught equate to learning to love all beings or do we have a responsibility to look at our own behaviors and make compassionate changes based on factual data? I would suggest that a diet which causes less disease, environmental damage, and direct killing of sentient life would be a more a middle path diet.

What to do?

  1. Embrace the suffering in a standard American diet. See the animals we use as commodities. Accept the scientific-based data showing the correlation between eating animals (and their secretions) and human disease.
  2. Take a breath and stop grasping, craving, and being attached to the bodies and secretions of sentient beings.
  3. Experience the space created by the stopping-breath to freely choose a more peaceful healthy diet.
  4. Then act and do something to change when this freedom occurs. At the point in which you embrace, stop, and experience a space/pause in your craving you are free to act in a more ethical and holistic manner.

This is the true middle path. This is dharma practice. Enjoy this freedom. Go vegan.

 

Some Sources:

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With the heart of a stone Buddha