To eat or not to eat meat? This is a most controversial topic. The simple and natural act of eating has unbelievably stirred fiery debates within the spiritual community. Whether to eat meat or not has created a divide, a battle among so-called spirituals.
I corresponded with a certain spiritual teacher who is an avid vegetarian. By the sounds and looks of it, he is the militant vegetarian type. He believes that everyone should become a vegetarian. I, on the other hand, come from a culture that eats meat, so we do not see eye to eye when it comes to the simple act of eating.
I have nothing against vegetarianism, and I am not an advocate for meat eating for any reason. In fact, I had been a vegetarian at some point in my life, and I have only good things to say about vegetarianism.I respect other people’s personal choices, so when it comes to eating, I try not to eat meat when I am in the company of vegetarians. I am aware of the many reasons why vegetarians choose to be vegetarians, and I agree with all their undoubtedly noble reasons and intentions for themselves, for the animals, for the environment, and even purportedly, for world peace.
I wrote a very long essay to this spiritual teacher, mentioning to him why some people are not vegetarians and why these people don’t necessarily see meat eating as sinful, impure, or deliberately a non-compassionate act. There are all sorts of people who eat meat, but the particular case I cited to him was my tribal group – an originally shamanic, animistic people who engage in traditional hunting.
I mentioned to him that unlike some people on this planet, we do not see human beings to be the apex of creation. We do not see a linear, hierarchical structure like a pyramid where human is on top and animals below.
As indigenous people, the way we see relationship is a circle where every creation is equal and interdependent.
It may appear a paradox because although we do not see animals as beings of a lesser divine essence (or, as some religions believe, animals incarnated as animals because of bad karma in some past life) compared to us humans, we do eat their meat. While we eat their meat, however, it does not mean that we look down on them, or that we see them as simply food to consume to satisfy our appetite for tasty meat. This is what many militant vegetarians seem to believe about all meat-eaters in general.
Hoping that he’ll understand better if I elaborate and give examples, I told him about our indigenous practice of communing with Animal Spirit first by doing a ritual and offering a small gift (a symbolic token) before a hunter goes to the forest to hunt. We do this because of our belief in reciprocity and the importance of aligning our energy with the spirit of the animal to be taken.
We also have the belief that an animal in the forest does not give away its meat if it does not want to. So no matter what a hunter does to catch a wild animal if the animal does not want to be taken, the hunter will have to go home to his family empty handed. The point being – we do not see these animals as innocent victims. We see them as powerful in their own animal way. They have their own spirit overseers that look after them.
My cat enjoys raw cabbage.
We respect Animal Spirit.
One way of showing respect is to not waste any meat (including fishes, crabs, etc.). It is a taboo to waste animal meat because it is an offering from Animal Spirit. We consume all the edible meat, including edible bones – nothing goes to waste. This is how we show appreciation and gratitude to the animal being that offered its meat.
As we believe that we humans have eternal spirit and when we die only our body die, we also believe that animals have spirits, and when we eat animal meat, we are only eating flesh whose spirit has already been withdrawn.
Of course, just like us humans, animals experience pain because it is the nature of a body with nerves to feel pain. But it does not mean that when we butcher an animal, we have a malicious intent to inflict pain on it (not unless a meat eater has that weird intention!).
We live so close with animals and in nature that we see how nature naturally works – the Circle of Life. We know that someday we will also die and the earth will devour our flesh which will nourish the plants which the animals will in turn, eat. We know of death and we know of pain, and unlike the very clever Western mind, we are not always trying our best to avoid what we know as inevitable. Instead, we deal with these realities of life by striking a peace deal with Nature – through being at peace with “what is.”
I also told this spiritual guru how animals appear in our dreams and communicate to us, or how they guide and serve us in the waking state by giving us signs, or how dead ancestors and live sorcerers may shape-shift into animal forms which necessitates us to be extra-careful and knowledgeable when dealing with the animal kind. I related to him how we, ourselves, are animals in a parallel reality.
I shared with him about an exotic and parallel world which he knows nothing about.
And, what was his response?
He refused to take any of it as a valid excuse to eat meat.
I was surprised. He is a spiritual teacher, he told me.
I was not, at all, trying to make an excuse. It was not my intention to condone animal eating. If at all possible to dictate how everyone should eat, I would be one who will champion against meat-eating because I love animals too! I grew up with them! Growing up in the village, we did not have toys and dolls, we only had animals to cuddle and play with. We feed them and are affectionate with them, and they love us back unconditionally. So what’s not to like about dreaming to grow old with our animal companions?
For so-called spiritual people seeking for happiness, peace, and enlightenment, is it not wiser to let go of all the judgment and labeling and acknowledge ‘what is,’ by being at peace with the things we cannot change through sheer force or by preaching?
Accepting the things we cannot change does not mean we are condoning the ‘wrong’ that we see.
There are seven billions of us here. Seven billion humans to interpret reality. Seven billion humans who have free will and personal preferences, which, unfortunately, is beyond one righteous man’s control. Can we control how seven billions should eat and drink to conform to what we believe is moral and spiritual so that we can finally feel good and find peace within ourselves? Believing that our advocacy or particular belief system is the most upright one that every one else should uphold?
Honestly, I found it a bit naïve for anyone to think that he/she can put an end to meat-eating on this planet, just because there will always be people who do things differently than he/she prefers to do.
If God allows meat-eating why do some people not want to allow what God allows?
I was merely trying to make this spiritual teacher see a different perspective. I was not trying to convince him that meat-eating is right. (Why would I make my life harder by trying to convince anybody about anything at all?)
I believe that eating and drinking are a matter of personal or even religious choice. But just like the conflict that exist among different religious faiths, a specific way of doing things ought not to be believed to be the only way for everyone else to follow.
Tolerance, respect, understanding, compassion, open-mindedness, live and let live: these are the very core values I want to communicate. It is not about a rigid belief or dogma on what to eat and how to eat.
The Awakened Buddha, was he a vegetarian? No, he was not. He saw through all the illusion.
Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking.
Indeed, higher spirituality goes beyond the business of eating and drinking.