You might have seen this sticker on a car: Meat Is Murder. The driver may have expressed a profound revelation: "Animals are soul too, just like you and me! How can I eat my friend?! I would be a cannibal!" Also, many of us have seen footage on TV from inside a slaughterhouse or from one of those huge buildings in which thousands of pigs or chickens are raised on less space per animal than we ever thought possible. After our initial shock, the first thought coming to mind is, "Never again do I want to support this cruelty by eating meat!"
There is nothing new under the sun. Since time immemorial, people on Earth have wrestled with the fact that we have to eat other living organisms, animals or plants, to survive. At times, we just do what is necessary: hunt, raise, plant or harvest. At other times we ask, "Why do beings have to eat other beings?" We grow sensitive to the fact that everything and everybody around us is alive just like us: the deer, the orange tree, the neighbor, the cow, the enemy, the rock, even the air!
Revelations like this usually come after cultural periods of abuse and estrangement. Just 200 years ago, people in the West viewed animals as machines. They were seen as just having reflexes, but no soul, no feeling, no consciousness. Logical consequence: "We can do with them whatever we want! Especially, since we are the crown of creation!" This led to above-mentioned horrible farming halls of today. In addition to animals there having lives in agony, they are packed with growth hormones and antibiotics to make them gain weight fast (greed) and survive long enough to be marketed. Consequence: We end up eating these growth hormones and antibiotics together with the meat of these terrified animals, the vibration of their fear still sitting on our fork when we are leading the bite to our mouth.
After periods of focussing on pure survival, civilizations begin turning inward and shifting their attention from utilitarianism to love. Love includes love for ourselves and thus survival, but also embraces the larger picture of the universe: Everything lives and is made of the same substance, call it intelligent energy, Spirit, God, All-there-is, Tao, The Force.
So, how do we deal with the fact that we are eating other living beings, be it cauliflower or a goat? A friend of mine went the radical route and told me of her plan to wean herself off food entirely and sustain herself henceforth from cosmic energy. Some saints in history are reported to have mastered this feat, like Rabbi Zadok of Jewish lore. I am glad, though, to report that this friend did not follow through with her plan. She is still very much among us.
What is life here all about? Some say, "Dog eat dog." The answer I favor goes like this: "To ever improve our skills in giving and receiving love." The famous song "Nature Boy" by Eden Ahbez puts it this way: "The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."
How, then, can killing, eating and loving relate? Periodically, memories come back to me of how the hunt for animals was practiced in a distant past. It was in North America before it was called North America. Many tribes lived here, and many herds of wild animals roamed this ancient land.
Living with and from nature was an integral part of existence. Central for people was to hunt the bison. It gave nourishment, clothing, shelter and many parts for tools. Herds were moving across the land in a predictable pattern, usually passing settlements twice a year. A few weeks before the anticipated arrival, a select group of elders got together, in a quiet location outside the village. They sat down in a circle, closed their eyes and turned their focus inward. They directed their attention to the leader of the bison herd that was about to come. It only took a few minutes to connect.
They bowed in greetings and presented their request: "Honored leader of the bison, we are very grateful for all the gifts we receive from your tribe throughout our lives. Now our tribe is at a point where we need three members of yours for food and clothing. Winter is approaching and we are well aware that we could not survive without you! Will you grant us what we hope for?"
The bison leader retreated to consult with his herd. He reappeared with the answer: "Dear humans, we are well aware that our relationship is beneficial to you, and we recognize your respect and appreciation for us. We also know that serving you is one of the ways in which we grow in spirit. In addition, we both know that true exchange can only happen in an atmosphere of complete freedom of choice. Our tribe brought forth three volunteers, a fourth one is standing by if you need more. May all our actions flow within the will of Great Manitou!"
More appreciation was exchanged silently between both sides, and some elders had tears of gratitude flowing down their cheeks. They knew with absolute certainty that what had taken place in their inner was real. They had an agreement with the bison. Now it was time to hold up their end of the bargain! This meant their hunters had to train their skills to perfection, and all bows, arrows, spears and traps had to be brought into mint condition. Also, preparations and actions had to be done in harmony with the rhythms of life for the right outcomes to happen.
On the morning of the identified day, the party set out to meet the approaching herd. Like in a dance, the spears and arrows would fly swiftly and the traps would work surely. Almost always, it was indeed the bison volunteers who were caught and killed. After the hunt was over, the elders inwardly contacted the herd again and gave them their Greatest Thanks. This went on deep into the night. The humans cheered for having been given the means to survive. The bison in return received so much energy of gratitude, their chances of surviving the winter rose significantly.
These were times when we used our predicament here on Earth to exchange love. We learned by giving and receiving, giving thanks and receiving food in this case. The quality of life was high because the land became covered by a layer of gratitude, and all creatures were moving and dwelling within it.
As far as I can tell, none of us invented this structure of life on Earth. We didn’t choose to eat other living beings. We just were born into this situation. Eating is a necessity of life. The only choice I see us having is whether we go about it with love, understanding and respect, or with a cold and selfish heart. As with all deep issues in life, I think the path through it is usually found by each of us individually, out of our own honest spiritual quest.