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Lions Roar : May 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 39 they require. Eight billion animals give their lives to feed Americans every year. What would happen to sales if the meat department was decorated with images of cows wading through pools of coagulated blood, chickens crushed into forty-one- cubic-inch cells, geese being force-fed un- til their livers burst, pigs squealing on the conveyor belt? In India, the butchers sit at the markets with skinned carcasses, usually goat, and slice off pieces as needed. It seems more honest than a Happy Meal; it allows us to face the death involved and makes it more personal. Indeed, putting a being inside your own being seems to me the most intimate act one can perform, more than sex even, because as my teacher once said, “at least in sex it comes back out again.” Being a Buddhist doesn’t give one the license to condemn those who choose live monkey hearts over those of an artichoke. If you look closely, Buddhism doesn’t en- dorse any absolute moral codes of con- duct. Different teachings apply to differ- ent people at different times. It is all up to the individual and so much depends on their intention. Patrul Rinpoche said, “What makes an action good or bad? Not how it looks, nor whether it is big or small, but the good or evil motivation behind it.” And that motivation is not always appar- ent. One teacher told me that we can nev- er truly judge something by appearances or even actions; one’s view or motivation is the final reference point to determine whether merit is deserved. For example, Adolf Hitler was reportedly a vegetarian. Does that make him a good person? The yogi Tilopa sat by a river killing and eating fish. Does that make him a bad person? I will never know Hitler’s motivation, but according to the teachings, Tilopa was motivated by his wish to liberate the fish. He was killing out of compassion. Unfortunately, many nonvegetarian Buddhists fool themselves using Tilopa’s example to justify their habit. They say things like “this pork chop is lucky to be eaten by me because I’m making a karmic connection and praying for its liberation.” But I think that is disingenuous and actu- ally may result in more negative karmic residue than being honest and saying “I am giving in to desire.” That is more direct and shows awareness. Just be clear about your motivation; don’t sweeten it by think- ing you are being some kind of savior. My friends have advised me that it is bet- ter to eat little parts of big animals than lots of little animals. A plate of shrimp requires a dozen lives. But one pig or cow can satisfy a whole crowd of stir-fry fans. The bacon I ate last week came from a pig who lived in the backyard. The milk in our steaming mugs of coffee came from the same fam- ily of cows that we had hooked up to the milking machines earlier that morning. It was a luxury most people in the modern world will never know. I thought about the being whose life was taken to satisfy me as I lifted the fork. I hesitated before I could actually take a bite. I hadn’t eaten any flesh for the better part of a year. Like sex or city living, when you take a long break from eating meat, it’s hard to imagine physi- cally going through the motions again. I admit it tasted very good. But by the time it began its passage through my digestive system, I started to regret my indulgence. Ididn’twanttobesoindebttothepig.I didn’t want it to be part of me. I couldn’t help but imagine the flesh becoming part of my flesh. Instant karma. Searching within myself, I can only find that the motivation behind my ab- stinence is nothing but simple repulsion. It’s not very noble, I know. And I am eas- ily swayed by desire. All this makes me slightly uncomfortable, and my instinct is to sweep it under the carpet. But as I continue listening to and contemplating the teachings, this discomfort will hope- fully guide me in developing my view. For the time being, rather than labeling my- self a vegetarian or nonvegetarian, I will emulate my friend Robert, who coined the term “Vajra-tarian”—a mix between a Vajrayana Buddhist and a vegetarian. I will not seek out a plate of Miss Piggy, but if faced with it I will not make a big scene. I’ll just keep chewing on it. ♦ NOA JONES is a West Coast freelance writer who is currently on an extended Buddhist retreat in India. The emergence and blossoming of understanding, love and intelligence has nothing to do with any tradition, no matter how ancient or impressive – it has nothing to do with time. It happens completely on its own when a human being questions, wonders, listens and looks without getting stuck in fear, pleasure and pain. When self concern is quiet, in abeyance, heaven and earth are open. The mystery, the essence of all life is not separate from the silent openness of simple listening. – Toni Packer • Retreats with Toni Packer and others • Non-traditional approach without rituals or ceremonies • Rolling hills, distant views, hiking trails • Guest and volunteer opportunities • Books, CDs, DVDs, videos, newsletter Contact Stew Glick for information about staff, volunteering and rentals. Tel: 585-669 -2141 Fax: 585-669 -9573 E-mail: