Thank you to Andrew Rock for this very thoughtful sharing about vegetarianism and climate change.
I am very happy that our FCM community is having a discussion about vegetarianism! Compassion, loving kindness, and awakening are at the heart of our practice and our aspirations. Those of us who have taken Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings are committed not to kill… and not to let others kill.
In his wonderful talk at our Tampa Practice Center on Sept. 15th, 2014 (a video is available on FCM’s website and on YouTube) Venerable Geshe-la Phelgye told us that if there is a hell on earth, it is the animal industry. His campaign for vegetarianism began after he visited a slaughterhouse. If we knew the hellish conditions under which the meat industry keeps food animals, and then slaughters and processes them, we would stop eating meat, not only for ethical and health reasons, but out of sheer revulsion and disgust.
Geshe-la told us that even though most of us haven’t seen these horrors with our own eyes, and may not know about them, “it exists for us consumers; they grow as we demand.” We may not do the killing, but we make others kill for us. What he saw at the slaughterhouse opened his eyes and changed his life. He made the commitment to be vegetarian, and from that moment he felt no cravings for meat and had no health issues from its absence. He began his campaign within the Tibetan Buddhist community and around the world for vegetarianism.
My wife Nancy and I both stopped eating meat in the early 1970s. Nancy did it in the experimental spirit of the era, and Andrew for a mix of health, environmental and ethical reasons. At first I still ate chicken, then I happened to visit a relatively small chicken farming operation, and that was that for eating any more chicken. We continued eating fish and seafood until three years ago, when Nancy went on a solo retreat under our teacher Fred’s guidance at Empty Cloud Cottage. Even though Nancy had loved eating fish, she came back with the firm intention not to eat other living beings, and that was the end of our eating fish and seafood. We haven’t missed them.
We are both very healthy and we have lots of energy for practice, for work, for friends and community, and for enjoying our stay on this beautiful planet filled with wonders. We love being vegetarians, not just for reasons of principle, but because vegetables and fruits are so enjoyable to grow and harvest and prepare, and so delicious to eat!
It is a myth that vegetarianism means a sacrifice of taste and enjoyment. No, quite the opposite! During my short transition period from being a meat eater, I quickly realized that, for me, fruits & veggies were much tastier, more varied, more colorful and more fun than meat. We need to experiment for ourselves, to make a gradual transition if necessary, as Geshe-la said, and to learn to prepare varied and tasty vegetarian meals, and we’ll see how satisfying it is on every level.
It is wonderful that FCM and our Mindfulness Institute are offering vegetarian meals and classes on vegetarian cooking. We need to do more of this, to share the knowledge, the confidence and the enjoyment of a vegetarian lifestyle.
There is one more dimension of this discussion I’d like to address. As practitioners of the Dharma, we are not only committed to compassion, to non-killing and to alleviate suffering, we are committed to awakening. And when we open our eyes to what is happening around us, what do we see?
We see that we are in a time of incredibly rapid mass extinctions, and of accelerating destruction of the biosphere that supports all life on this planet. And we see that we humans, individually and collectively, are the cause.
The industrial meat and fishing industries are among the top drivers of global warming, climate change and environmental degradation. Vast amounts of land, fossil fuels, money, human effort and other resources go into raising, feeding, slaughtering and distributing “meat products.” (How appalling that we speak of “harvesting” and “processing” our fellow beings!) The pollution created is immense. The inefficiency of industrial meat and fish production as a way to generate calories is immense… But little understood: we don’t want to know!
We can feed everyone from the bounty of a healthy earth. But not if we continue to eat meat, and if by our example we encourage others to continue down this dead-end road. As North Americans, we set the standards, the aspirations for the developing world. As OI, we can set the example of moving away from consumption of animals and fish. Better than anyone, we understand our interbeing.
Yesterday Nancy and I saw the film “Revolution,” made by Rob Stewart, a young Canadian marine biologist turned climate change campaigner. It focuses on the dying oceans (“the lungs of the planet”) and the huge decline in corals, fish, and phytoplankton from acidification caused by global warming and from industrial scale fishing. I wept at footage showing hundreds and thousands of sharks lying dead on a dock (killed for shark fin soup) and of mutilated tuna and swordfish corpses dumped out of trucks on to concrete for processing, of massive nets and containers crammed full of dead and dying fish, of the billions of pounds of “by-catch” discarded, wasted, killed for no reason but our greed for money, greed for flesh. We are committing both murder and suicide, and it must not continue!
How wonderful that our teachers are showing us the way, and encouraging this discussion of a vegetarian lifestyle! How wonderful that our eyes are opening! How wonderful that we have the opportunity and the support to change!
If not us, then who? If not now, then when? Let’s do this, together as a community.