A few days ago I came across this image - Liu Xue's Pigman on facebook under a comment that said, "You are what you eat". I stared at the image, breathless and then uttered an awed and shocked "wow". This image is an outstanding representation of how the law of cause and effect has caused sickness and misery in our modern society. Let me explain...
Across all religions, spiritual teachings and even in the eyes of many who are unreligious there is a universal understanding and agreement on 'the golden rule': the law of cause and effect. From an early age we are taught to 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. We understand that every action has a reaction, which many of us call 'karma', as we have adopted from eastern philosophy. Scientists even agree on this idea, as we are taught in our early science classes about Newton's law of causality. With this understanding so prevalent in our society, a teaching that is given to us from so many different perspectives, we would be right to assume that we all would all actively apply this in our own lives...but this is where our problem lies. Though we may all have this strong universal understanding, we certainly do not practice what we preach.
There are many ways we ignore this simple rule in our society but the area I want to focus my attention on today is in our treatment of animals who are bred, kept and killed for human consumption. It is something which has such a profound effect on so many aspects of our world - our health, our environment and the animals - and which I believe is one of the easiest to change in our own lives. On average, we consume three meals a day, including snacks. Therefore three times a day, every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, we have the opportunity to choose how we practice the golden rule. We can choose to eat animals - their flesh and bodily secretions - or we can choose not to. Many of us choose to eat animals because we never stop to consider the consequences; we never think about the law of cause and effect. What I'm asking you to do now, is to sit, take a deep breath and consider your choices with an open mind, conscious of our golden rule....
The following is an excerpt from my favourite book Yoga and Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon and is a look at the life of a average dairy cow:
"She lives in a tiny stall with a concrete floor in an indoor 'milk factory' and has never seen the sun or stepped on ground or grass. She is not even a year old, yet she has just given birth to her first calf a few hours ago, which wasn't easy while being chained by the neck. She has tried to lie down, but it was hard, and harder to get back up. Now the tethering chain makes it difficult for her to get close to her baby, but the baby is there, she knows. The baby is nursing, but not for long. Within hours, men come to take her baby. They shout at her, using harsh words. She tries to turn her head to see what is happening, but the chain prevents her from moving. She cries out to her baby, who cries back. In a few minutes, she no longer hears the cries of her newborn. He is in a truck being driven to a 'veal facility' and his cries are out of her range of hearing. She is left in her place, her milk dripping from her breasts.
The milking machine now mechanically moves into place and clamps onto her nipples, sucking her and emptying her of the vital life force, which is intended for her baby. She becomes sad and depressed for weeks. Soon after a farm worker returns to her stall. She is chained, unable to turn around, defenseless when he inseminates her. She has given birth, had her baby stolen from her, been milked excessively by a machine, and now she is being raped. The worker first inserts his hand, then forces his arm up to his elbow into her vagina to open it up and locate her uterus. He then lodges the inseminator, a long stainless-steel syringe, into her vagina and pumps sperm into her to impregnate her. She is now lactating and pregnant. She has to be lactating or pregnant to be able to produce milk, and in our culture, producing milk is the only reason for her existence."
The story goes on to tell of how once she is 'spent' she is taken to slaughter, because she now cannot produce enough milk to make enough money. She is killed, her last unborn baby cut from her womb and his skin sold as precious soft leather. This is the horrific and yet true life of an average dairy cow. All animals kept for humans are treated much in the same way. There is no such thing as 'humane' animal production because all animals are eventually slaughtered and there are too many animals - farms holding hundreds upon thousands of them - to give each individual the care, attention and love that they deserve. They are seen as objects for money, not animals with individual souls, personalities, friends or families.
Whilst not all cows are kept in confinement, all have their babies stolen so we can take the milk, all are made to over produce milk, all have to be raped ('artificially inseminated') so that they can be re-impregnated so that they can continually produce milk and all are slaughtered well before their expected life span and their flesh is sold as food for humans. My question is, how can we sow this sadness, pain and suffering in animals and not expect to reap it in ourselves? The law of cause and effect is always working upon us. We cannot expect to be happy, healthy and free when we deny others their own happiness, health and freedom.
Animals kept for human consumption are fed special diets so that they can become as fat as possible in the shortest amount of time; they are sold by weight rather than by the individual animal and so the bigger an animal is, the bigger the profit for humans. We can see, especially in the image above of 'Pigman', that what we have sown in these animals we have reaped in ourselves through the plight of obesity raging across our planet. They are confined in unhygienic sheds, filled to maximum capacity with thick, polluted air and we find ourselves in the same conditions, confined in overcrowded cities of concrete, and toxic air both of us far from our natural habitats. We deny animals the basic right to create families and solid relationships and we continually find that we no longer have stable families and we feel disconnected from one another, despite us all being so greatly confined.
The simple fact is you can never be truly free if you enslave others; you can never be truly happy if you deny others happiness; you can never expect to be loved if you do not love others. The list goes on.
I practice Jivamukti Yoga whose core beliefs are based on the 5 yamas of yoga (Ahimsa – non harming, Satya - to tell the truth, Asteya - nonstealing, Brahmacharya - not to abuse others sexually and Aprarigraha – to practice greedlessness) and jivamukti yoga applies each of these yamas to one's diet, giving us the opportunity to conciously decide not to sow and reap the animal suffering I have just mentioned above. We do this by choosing to follow a vegan diet and lifestyle.
There is a beautiful Sanskrit manta Jivamukti teachers always chant before a yoga class, which I think is the perfect finish to this blog post: "Lokah samasta sukhino bavantu" which means, 'may all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute to that happiness and to that freedom for all'.