When I Was Young, I Wanted To Be…

In my basic Japanese language class, the teacher required the class to make a very simple composition using the Nihongo that we have learned so far. We were asked to read our work in front of the class.

The topic was, “When I was young, I wanted to be . . .”.

Translated into English, my composition went like this:

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a teacher.

When I was in secondary school, I wanted to become an artist. I drew pictures. I made decorative crafts. And I wrote novellas.

But when I was in college, I wanted to join a revolution and be like Che Guevara.

Now, I just want to be a Buddha.

After reading my sentences, I peeked at my teacher who was standing by the side of the room. I waited for her comments and corrections. For a moment, she did not say a word. Then she smiled a very sweet smile.

I guess she liked my composition . . ..

As I went back to my seat, two South Asian classmates, stared at me. The one from India, his eyes, dark, deeply expressive, appeared very perplexed. The one from Nepal, his eyes, light brown, intense, also appeared very perplexed.

I was confused.

They both asked, “Did you say you wanted to be a Buddha? Or was it buta?

I said, I want to be a Buddha.

They then corrected me by saying that I should stress the double ‘d’ in Buddha. Otherwise, it sounded like I said ‘buta’ – which means ‘pig’ in Japanese.

The class was in Japanese language, but I had a simultaneous lesson in learning how to correctly pronounce a South Asian word!

allu

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My Friends and I, We Were To Overthrow the Government

I was sixteen going on seventeen, I just joined a movement that aims to overthrow the Government. . . .

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The indigenous Igorot tribes are one of, if not, the hardiest people living in the islands ‘still named after King Philip II of Spain’ (as one of my friends insists to call it). The Igorot’s harsh and tough environment undoubtedly shaped their hardy constitution. There was rarely anyone who did not work very hard. For how could they not? In order to have sustenance, the Igorots have to till the rugged, arid mountains they fondly call their home.

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Sunrise  over Maligcong rice terraces

Apart from his preserved rich but dynamic pre-colonial culture, the rugged, chilly mountains is all the Igorot got. Even so, within the given constraints of his exacting environment, he learned to adapt and make the best use of his lot. The Igorot forebear, with just his bare hands and a few rudimentary tools, painstakingly carved the steep mountains into a masterful engineering monument of rice and vegetable terraces. With foresight, he knew that the rice terraces, the forests, the clear streams and rivers, are enough to nourish and sustain many more generations of his descendants – for lifetimes after lifetimes. And indeed, in spite of his landlocked and austere location, a contrast to the sunny, wide, and fertile plains of the lowlands, the formidable, cloud-hidden mountains never failed to yield everything necessary for his survival. The Igorot thus survived, and thrived.

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Banaue rice terraces

For many hundreds of years, the various Igorot tribes did not need or expect much from the Government. After all, they have always provided for themselves. They built functional irrigation systems and colossal rice terraces without a centralized authority ordering or commanding them. They built without the use of forced labor or slavery. Each tribe was self-subsistent, and aware, that it existed long before there was a Government. . . .

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I was sixteen, newly arrived in the city – “to do college”. I was very lucky. A year before that, Mother told me that I could not do college – because we have no money. Father had just died, where would she get the money to send me to college?

But I was lucky. Unexpectedly lucky. . . I got a scholarship, from the Government!

When I arrived to the city, I knew nothing of the city and the people in the city. So I obeyed everything my elders told me to do – to be a good girl, basically. They put me in a convent dormitory for girls. There, they said, the convent nuns would make sure that I prayed, and followed the rules.

In the dormitory, a roommate looked down on me, for being a mountain girl, an Igorot, and for being poor.

But in campus, I met new good friends. Exuberant, free-spirited, intelligent friends. They told me that we – The People – whether we hail from the lowlands or the highlands, are poor, because of the Government. That no matter how hard we work, even if we work to our deaths, we will remain poor and wretched because of the Government, and its accomplices.

“But we are scholars of the Government!” I told my new friends, aghast at their plans to overthrow the Government. My friends then told me to listen, very carefully, as they tell me the ‘truth’. That the truth is, it is our right to be given education by the Government. To where do The People’s taxes go, but to be rightfully spent for The People’s free access to education, as well as for the provision of other basic needs for all the citizens of the State?

My friends then showed me facts, statistics, the well researched and well analyzed data regarding the Government’s spendings and transactions. They told me about the Government’s unjust deals and crooked laws and agreements with other nations’ governments, business entities, and the big banks. One of these, which directly disadvantaged my people, was the standing Mining Act that gave mining companies the freedom to devastate tribal lands, allowing 100% foreign control and ownership of these lands, and these companies having the right to displace and resettle people – all this without having to consult the indigenous inhabitants of the land.

My friends’ arguments about overthrowing the Government sounded all too logical. They believed that we – The People – have put the Government in its place. So when it fails in its responsibility and breaks its ‘Social Contract’ with The People, we have all the right to bring down the Government.

I thought of my father. I thought of my mother. I thought of all the people who would be unceremoniously displaced to clear the way for Government-Business projects that would only essentially benefit the few. I thought of the mountains and rice terraces crumbling once the mountains are excavated. I thought of the fresh streams and rivers, polluted. I thought of the dense forests and their animal inhabitants, wiped out.

I could then, clearly, and reasonably see why the Government must, indeed, be overthrown.

My friends claimed that our problem is structural: that the problem of our country, and of the world at large, is embedded in the prevailing economic and political structure. And that our goal is to crush this oppressive and unjust structure and replace it with an alternative.

I was sixteen, going on seventeen; together with others who were more or less of the same age as me, we were fearless, we were dangerous, we were adventurous, we were idealistic – we were ready to face Death – to offer our young lives, for what we believed was a just and noble cause.

The Drunken Zen Master

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Hui-k’o, the Second Patriarch of Zen passed on the bowl and robe to his successor, the Third Patriarch, Seng-ts’an, signifying the transmission of the Dharma.

Hui-k’o, who had received the seal of approval from Bodhidharma himself, then went everywhere drinking and carousing around like a wild man and partaking in the offerings of the brothel districts. When people asked how he could do such a thing, being a Patriarch of the Zen school and all, he would respond with:

“What business is it of yours?”

🙂

Vegetarianism – A Path to World Peace?

Kat contemplating world peace (arguably)

Kat contemplating world peace

A while back, I blogged about vegetarianism and meat-eating which was a part of an interesting exchange I had with a certain spiritual teacher who is a staunch advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle.

Said spiritual teacher believes that vegetarianism is the answer to world peace. I understand that his premise comes from the belief that vegetarians are more peaceful, compassionate, non-violent people because of their diet and non-involvement in violence (the killing of animals for food).

Personally, I agree that vegetarianism can significantly contribute to world peace. However, it is not always the case that vegetarians are more peaceful and less inner-conflicted than meat-eaters.

I gave him two first-hand examples.

I have vegetarian friends who belong to a certain religious persuasion, and there was this incident I heard from some of them:

A group of them entered a restaurant and instructed the food servers that they do not want meat, oil from meat, and MSG in their food. The cook, in his total ignorance and lack of exposure about vegetarian people, put a little MSG on the vegetables as he worried that plain veggies would not satisfy the palate of the diners. Upon discovering that there is MSG in their food, the group of vegetarians stormed out of the restaurant, cursing the cook and the rest of the crew, upsetting other diners.

Where is the peace and the love, brothers?

Another story is the story of my friend who had been a vegetarian for more than a decade. For more than ten years, he did not join his family for meals. If it has meat in it, he refused to eat what his mother lovingly cooked as he was resolute about his vegetarian beliefs. And then, one day, he joined a volunteer group to do some projects in a very remote province. He observed that the indigenous people who welcomed them to their villages made all efforts to make them comfortable, despite that these people lived very simply and that they do not actually have much to offer in terms of tangible things. My friend observed that the little they have, they gave it all. If they have hunted meat, they served it to the guests first, and only after the guests have eaten their fill, the host family ate if there were leftovers. If there is no other ‘presentable’ food available, they catch their chicken (which they would not normally eat by themselves on ordinary days) to have something especial to feed the guests. They sacrifice their chicken so they can serve the best food they know of.

And the best food they know of happens to be meat!

Why is that?

For two reasons:

First, within the indigenous contextual framework, the meat of animals, specifically, wild animals, contain a special life-giving force. And the animal that allowed itself to be hunted down means it was willing to impart this life-giving force to its other relations – the human kind. Within the same contextual framework, the hunters reciprocate through the rituals and offerings they do before the hunt, and in the thanksgiving celebrations they perform after hunts and harvests.

Second, it has to be taken into account the fact that these remote villagers are mostly farmers, hunters and manual workers who work hard with the land and with raw nature. Hence, the best viand they know of is meat, for the reason that they feel it gives them more strength and energy which they specially require for their hard labor.

In addition, compared to people in towns and cities where commercial meat (with much less life-giving force) is readily available, these indigenous people do not have the luxury to eat meat any time they want. This adds to the special value they put on meat. This is also one reason why it is an absolute ‘paniyu’ (taboo) for them to waste animal meat.

Naturally, in a cultural context where hospitality means everything, people feel obliged to give their guests what they themselves consider is the best. And it so happens that for some, the best food to be offered to guests is animal meat.

With that peculiar experience and exposure, my vegetarian friend started eating meat again. He said he was deeply touched by the unsophisticated villagers’ nurturing quality, their authenticity and deep hospitality which he realized are values more important than rigidly adhering to a particular doctrine.

He learned that in a world of rich diversity, there is no absolute right or wrong. There is only what is appropriate at every given moment.

Is vegetarianism the key to world peace?

No, not entirely.

The first step to world peace is inner peace. And a crucial step to inner peace is to be at peace with the external things you cannot change. Again, this does not mean that you are condoning the wrong that you see in society. But maintaining a strong aura of peace is more influential and more transformative than any change that can ever come from militant and agitative action. How do I know? I’ve been there, done that.

A solution to world peace is certainly not found in arguing as to whether vegetarianism or not, is the answer or a path to world peace as this act is obviously not any different from the never-ending ideological and religious battles raging around.

Yes, compassion is definitely the key to world peace, and compassion includes understanding, tolerance, open-mindedness, and non-judgment.

To Eat or Not to Eat – Meat?

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Polar the pup trying to eat raw chayote to compete with the cat that loves to eat the same.

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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.

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My cat enjoys raw cabbage.

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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?

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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.

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SEMC 3MP DSCKat munching on raw chayote.

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