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Lions Roar : May 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 37 religious practitioners, can be fundamentalist extremists, bombing foie gras factories, declaring jihad on veal eaters, and organizing guerilla attacks on ladies wearing mink stoles. On the other hand, there are many who are all talk and no action—not practicing what they preach. I am lost somewhere in the middle. I say “lost” because of my inexact motivation. For the most part my path is unexamined; I am simply following my instinct, and my instinct is to forget about nonduality and avoid meat. It’s kind of gross to put something dead in your mouth...even if it tastes good. It’s difficult to make arguments for eating meat. Most meat- eaters play the protein card. Others don’t feel macho unless they find flesh on their plates. They insist we are natural-born killers and have been since our Neanderthal days. I’ve also met many longtime vegetarians who “force” themselves to eat meat once a month or once a week because their Chinese or Tibetan doctors said it was necessary to help “ground” them. Their motivation is self-preservation. I do not know the science behind ground beef ’s grounding properties, but I do know that many strict vegetar- ians seem frail, lacking in color, and susceptible to a light gust of wind. This may be because many vegetarians tend to subscribe to a number of other nutrition philosophies, constantly tinkering with their digestive systems—chugging slimy green drinks, swal- lowing pills and tinctures, scrubbing their colons. Personally, I feel that a little toxicity is good. Along with all the bacteria in my intestines, it helps protect me. It’s like homeopathy. Homeopathy is also my rationalization for drinking margaritas and smoking the occasional cigarette. True vegetarians are usually quite clear about their motiva- tion. On the sectarian front we have environmentalists who can recite statistics about the acres of farmland it takes to support one beef cow, the resulting nitrogen pollution, and the depletion of underground water supplies. Looking at it from the point of view of the relationship between human biology and the planet, even the most zealous Atkins dieter has to realize that we all run on carbohydrates; it is our basic fuel. All animals eat plants or eat animals that eat plants. The Atkins dieter, by the way, is the complete opposite of the fundamentalist vegetarian. During the first two weeks on the Atkins diet, one consumes almost noth- ing but animal products. I admit that I tried it once when I was looking to drop a few pounds. It worked, but my fridge looked like a morgue, my tongue tasted like a cow patty, my digestion quit—and soon after so did I. There are vegetarians motivated by compassion—strict Hin- dus, many types of Buddhists, and animal rights activists—who do not wish to harm other beings. In the original teachings of the Buddha, taking life is the first of the negative actions to be avoid- ed. And according to some texts the karmic repercussions of tak- ing life—a standard sentence of 500 lifetimes in an intermediate hell—comes to everyone involved; from the butcher to the one who orders a Big Mac. Although the butcher gets the lion’s share of the bad karma. Even the highest Tibetan lamas are not above reproach. In his classic, Words of My Perfect Teacher, the great eighteenth-century Tibetan yogi and sage Patrul Rinpoche chas- tises carnivorous lamas who accept offerings of meat and devour “piles of the still quivering ribs of yak until their mouths gleam with grease and their whiskers turn red.” He warns that they will be reborn in the ephemeral hells where they will have to pay back with their own bodies. Yet some of the most learned, authentic lamas I know eat meat. They must know something I don’t. There are other reasons to quit eating meat. Heart-attack can- didates heed the reports that connect meaty diets with coronary artery disease as well as other degenerative diseases such as obe- sity and diabetes. Clean freaks might choose to eat low on the food chain to avoid eating what other things eat. Aesthetes and those who have seen artist Sue Coe’s Porkopolis series, depict- ing the American meat industry at its most gruesome, stay away from meat because it sickens them just to look at it. But most meat eaters choose not to look. I actually have a little respect for those hunters and fishermen who are willing to look their dinner in the eye before they eat it. They are either brave or heartless or both. But as you skate down the aisle of your supermarket’s meat department, the grisly reality of your bacon’s origin is completely concealed by the sanitized pack- aging and presentation. Neat little geometric piles of pink and white with fancy labels camouflage the suffering and sacrifice