(- You can read part I here: My vegetarian adventure: How I became a contended carnivore
- You can read part II here: The Problems with vegetarianism)
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By Tony Saghbiny
Cherishing the circle of Life: is meat consumption anti-spiritual?
My spiritual-religious practices and beliefs were also evolving along with my diet. When I took the decision of becoming a vegetarian, I was still studying Eastern Dharmic religions, especially the Vajrayana school of Buddhism.
The perspective of most Eastern (and Abrahamic) religions is heavily dubbed with dualism: a sharp distinction between soul and matter, worldly and other-worldly dimensions is in place. Even the non-dualistic schools like the influential Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism, and Mayahana and Zen Buddhism, have a somehow dualistic approach in their teachings and practices.
From this duality comes the focus of detaching oneself from the material world, like in Hindu and Buddhist doctrines, or outright scorn toward most worldly desires, like in many Abrahamic sects. The emphasis on vegetarianism in Eastern religions comes from this longing to disengage oneself from the material processes of the world, and live with as minimum interaction as possible. The consequences of being in the world, according to Eastern spirituality, are to be constantly drawn to reincarnate again as some sort of punishment. Physical reality is considered either a “Great Illusion” or is based on seeing that “Life is suffering”, as the first Noble Truth of Buddhism declares.
This yearning for detachment as a spiritual path never appealed to me personally, and was the main reason why I drifted away from the three Dharmic religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
This duality seemed to be very anthropo-centric for me, revolving around humans as the center of all spiritual activity in the universe. The implications of such approach on the dietary level is having the assumption that man is on top of the food chain, and that he possesses the choice about whom to spare and whom to eat. It practically places man in the seat of the gods (deciding who lives and who dies), and entrusts him with a task that he can never accomplish: living without being “in” the world, and deciding the destiny of all other creatures. But this notion misses that as long as we live on earth, we are part of the circle of life, we kill to live, and when we die we restore our earthly debt to the soil, giving back to life what we took. Total material disengagement is only possible through death. Trying to separate ourselves from this cycle and having the illusion that we are the ones who decide who lives and who dies on Earth, is neither logical nor possible.
As I was looking deeper into shamanic religions, and my own ancestral religion of the Canaanites, and the ancient Mediterranean Mystery schools, I found a more holistic approach that resonated better in my heart and spirit. In these religions, life is not a punishment, neither is death. Life is not a great ordeal from which we need to escape or be saved of, but an opportunity to experience the bliss and greatness of the universe in the most intimate way possible. It’s a chance to live in virtue, to learn and grow and prove one’s metal, to forge a great spirit, and to add our own beautiful whisper to the winds, giving back to life more than we took…
Moral and dietary choices in this kind of approach are not based on intellectual abstractions and absolutes, but on a dynamic evolving relationship with the web of life. This opens the door toward reconciling with the fact that we are part of the great chain of being, and not on top of it. Countless organisms and beings offer their lives for us, while we do the same in return. Instead of a burdensome relationship of guilt, doubt and fear, this new approach gives us a basis to have a relationship of gratitude, respect and enchantment with all the beings around us, especially the animals we consume. These animals are an integral and beautiful part of life just like we are the same; they are our brothers and sisters who offer us their bodies just as we offer them the promise of keeping the well-being of this earth and maintaining it as a haven for their kin to survive and flourish…
This is not to say that meat consumption is a higher spiritual choice than vegetarianism, but to say that meat consumption is not anti-spiritual as many people are trying to portray it these days. It can actually help us to appreciate life more, and to better cherish and understand our symbiotic relationship with our fellow animals. If that is not a spiritual step forward, then I don’t know what is.
So this is my short story with vegetarianism; this is how I became a contended carnivore…