May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
May all be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow…
How many of us would eat meat if we had to wrestle a sheep or cow to the ground and slit its throat? Would we be prepared to stick a knife into a pig, and ignore the squeals of terror? Could we wring the neck of a hen, or rip a bloodied hook through the mouth of a wriggling fish? Such images are far removed from our everyday lives. At the supermarket, we reach for a plastic tray of mince, vacuum packed, some ham from the cabinet, chicken breasts or a neat fillet of fish, in plastic wrap. There is no demand that we feel for the suffering of an animal whose life was taken to feed our own “meat body”.
Human beings generally regard themselves as being superior to all other sentient beings. This self–centred “speciesism” allows us to act as if other species existed only for our convenience and pleasure, and to treat animals with utter disregard for their capacity to suffer pain and experience enjoyment.
The nervous system of all vertebrates is similar to that of humans. It is therefore probable that animals feel pain in a way similar to us. When they feel pain, animals behave in the same way people do, only they cannot use language to voice their suffering. Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, points out that though babies, infants and people with brain damage are not able to speak, we would not dream of fattening them up for a gourmet dinner or using them to experiment on.
Today, the killing of animals for food is still prevalent. The
Sunday roast was a ritual enacted in most New Zealand
households in past generations, and now the “barbie” is
iconic in kiwi culture. “Fine dining” in cafes and restaurants
revolves around choice morsels of dead animal prepared by master chefs. The diners’ appetites would undoubtedly be spoiled by images of the pain inflicted on the animals they are eating, the suffering of their brief lives and unnatural deaths.
In Japan, I heard the story of a Buddhist who began to contemplate the sacrifice made by animals in giving up their lives to be eaten by humans. He determined to go to an abattoir and express his gratitude directly to those creatures. There, he forced himself to go to the slaughter area, where cattle are held before they are stunned, then, still struggling, hoisted and slit open from the throat. In the midst of this bloody place surrounded with the stench of terror, the Buddhist practitioner stood and offered up a silent prayer of gratitude. Then he became aware that one of the cows was staring intently at him. As he looked directly at it, he saw a single tear rolling from its eye.
In the name of factory farming, billions of animals worldwide are kept in hideous conditions. Here in New Zealand, our economy is still largely built on the raising of animals; standard practices are geared to maximum productivity and profit, rather than the welfare of animals. Hundreds of thousands of battery hens never see the sun or scratch in the earth, or even stretch their wings. On sloping wire mesh floors, their feet become weak and deformed. In a pitiful condition, with sores and feathers dropping out, their beaks are mutilated so they cannot peck one another to death with the stress of overcrowding. Forced by artificial lights into cycles of continual laying, their brief and miserable lives end brutally at 18 months, less that quarter of their natural lifespan. Male chicks are unwanted; a few days old, they are tossed live into blenders.
Pregnant pigs are still cruelly confined in stalls so small they can only stand up or lie down on concrete floors, unable even to turn round or later nuzzle their young as they suckle. New Zealand milk comes from herds of dairy cows kept continually pregnant and lactating by inducing labour, then removing calves (the ones that survive) from their mothers a few days after their birth. The hills of this land echo with the frantic bellows of mother cows cruelly separated from their young. According to animal rights activist Judith Morley‐Hall of KAWS (Kapiti Animal Welfare Society), bobby calves 4 days old go to little boxes at the end of the drive to be sent to the abattoir in trucks. Often they arrive in shocking condition, having been kept standing and without food for up to 30 hours. This is callous treatment of innocent creatures. More than one million male calves are killed each year. Beneath this land with a clean green image, rivers of blood flow…
Here paddocks are shaved and bare, lacking the protection of trees so often seen on European farms. Every year on sheep stations in New Zealand, thousands of newborn lambs freeze to death because the farmers provide no protection against the elements. This is absurd neglect in a climate prone to snow and hail. For thousands of years, European farmers have provided their animals with shelter for the harsh winters.
And the litany of miseries man inflicts on other species goes on and on. There is the cruelty of hunting and shooting, of deep sea fishing expeditions to catch species from dwindling populations that are rapidly approaching extinction. The testing of cosmetics on animals, the relentless dripping of chemicals into the eyes of cats and dogs to test shampoos, and close to home, the hundreds of beagles who live in cages in the “research” laboratory at Palmerston North.
Last year, over 300,000 living animals were abused in “animal research” in New Zealand alone. Not to mention the culling and eradication of “pests” such as the hapless possum, protected in Australia but poisoned here, using America’s stockpiles of super toxic 1080, which is considered such an extreme hazard to human health in the US that aerial drops are banned.
What on earth gives human beings the right to play God and decide which species have a right to life on this planet? How is it possible that we can commit such violence against other species, seemingly unaware of the pain and suffering we inflict on beings who are utterly powerless to protect themselves?
The assumption underlying such cruelty must be that human life is of higher value than the life of a merely sentient being, a misguided belief that the ability to think and reason renders humans more vatian teachings reinforce the Western attitude of domination and control in relation to animals, perpetuating the idluable to creation than other life forms. To consider ourselves to be of greater value than other beings in creation is an expression of an egoic perspective, based on our misguided idea of who we are.
Christian teachings reinforce the Western attitude of domination and control in relation to animals perpetuating the idea that they are of a “lower” order, unlike Buddhism, which promotes ahimsa ‐ an attitude of harmlessness ‐ that is extended to all life. In Hinduism, the soul in a human body is not seen as greatly different from the soul of an animal.
In ancient traditions, shamans honour the animal kingdom, with an understanding of man’s place in the sacred web of life, the Oneness at the heart of matter. Shamans “see” that we, like all living creatures, are ultimately dependent on Great Spirit. In modern life, however, feeling‐intuition and transcendental awareness do not tend to have priority. Science does not admit emotion and technology does not factor the feeling dimension of human experience into its equations. If the intuitive‐feeling faculty were alive and well in humans, our higher levels of awareness simply would not allow us to inflict such suffering on sentient beings.
However, our current intellectual sophistication has led us to regard ourselves as autonomous, as epicenters of worlds of our own construction, standing apart from the Great Mystery. From the bastions of intellect, we view other sentient beings as objects, separate from ourselves. In our unenlightened state, we have caged ourselves in a limited egoic identity. This is based on what our senses tell us, on the gross physical level of the body/ mind organism, which science and technology can measure and acknowledge. In focussing on physical form, the material level, and knowledge and intellect, we block ourselves from subtle levels of awareness. Without realising, we cut ourselves off from the fullness of our being, the freely creative, inherent happiness that is our true nature.
Hypnotised by the world around us to believe that the body/mind is who we are, on the basis of inherited beliefs and assumptions, we are not connected the transcendent being at the heart of all life. Disconnected from our own source, and locked into the restriction of an egoic identity, we suffer. Having fallen out of relationship with our own true nature, and true wisdom, we lose the easeand naturalness of a loving disposition, and instead find ourselves trapped in an egoic disposition, which is unhappiness. In the words of Sri Bhagavan YanchiGuruji, we are absent from the being of love. From that place, we perpetuate unhappiness in all our relationships ‐ our relationship with the environment, with each another, and with other species ‐ all become coloured by control and domination. “We have adapted… to satisfy our fearful needs for individual self‐fulfillment …rather than for the higher evolved potential and destiny of all human kind ‐ the True Compassionate Culture of Humanity.”
The treatment of animals is a barometer of our conscious state. Our current disregard for the suffering of animals and their exploitation is simply an expression of our loss of connection to our own wholeness, the transcendent Self at the heart of all life.
Animals have a most extraordinary capacity to restore humans to their inherently unproblematic state. Simply watching hens scratching in the soil, or a cat sunning itself has the power to re‐turn us to our own true nature. For animals, as Sri Bhagavan YanchiGuruji once remarked, are already in Satsang, unlike humans they live who they truly are, and their mere presence has the power to re‐mind us that we, too, are being lived and breathed by Life itself, consciousness, our inherent, divine being.