Being Spiritual and Veganism
Spirituality, Religion and Veganism
Every religious teaching we could find commonly emphasizes one core value: compassion. Many religions, however, interpret this as compassion for only humans. We invite you, however, to deconstruct that narrowly defined assumption and consider extending compassion to all sentient beings. Here are some fundamental teachings relevant to veganism in spiritual traditions. Erin has given a talk on the spiritual concept of Interconnection which you can listen to here.
Central to Christianity is, of course, Jesus Christ, for whom the religion is named. Jesus embodied very specific characterological traits including compassion and mercy. Yet, many seem to be reluctant to confront the truth about the lack of both compassion and mercy for animals which both, oddly become irrelevant at the dinner table:
“Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible." - The Pope
Contemporary animal agriculture is utterly devoid of compassion and mercy: worse, it's a place of torture and violence and agony for God's creatures. Many do not want to know the truth perhaps because of the cognitive dissonance that will ensue. There is no way that a person with a compassionate and merciful heart can witness what happens to innocent animals and their babies in the current factory farming systems and agree that it is nothing short of systemic sociopathy and torture. This is in complete contradiction to the teachings of mercy and compassion in the Bible.
From Christian vegan and advocate, Matthew Scully:
...[I]t is a terrible thing that religious people today can be so indifferent to the cruelty of the farms, shrugging it off as so much secular, animal rights foolishness. They above all should hear the call to mercy. They above all should have some kindness to spare. They above all should be mindful of the little things, seeing, in the suffering of these creatures, the same hand that has chosen all the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the things which are strong. 'Who so poor,' asked Anna Kingsford more than a century ago, 'so oppressed, so helpless, so mute and uncared for, as the dumb creatures who serve us -- they who, but for us, must starve, and who have no friend on earth if man be their enemy?
- Quote from Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
Let's just call things what they are. When a man's love of finery clouds his moral judgment, that is vanity. When he lets a demanding palate make his moral choices, that is gluttony. When he ascribes the divine will to his own whims, that is pride. And when he gets angry at being reminded of animal suffering that his own daily choices might help avoid, that is moral cowardice.
- Quote from Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
Some Christian groups, even Evangelicals, are awakening to the inherent problems of humans' exploitation of the natural world. This movement is called 'creation care.' The Bishop's Committee on the Environment issued this statement in relationship to its events:
God created the world and all living creatures, and blessed human beings with the role of the stewardship of all creation. Offering vegetarian/vegan dishes at all diocesan events where dishes containing meat are served is a responsible and visible action of creation care. Reducing our consumption of meat reduces global warming gasses, world hunger, and animal suffering. It also offers hospitality to those who eat vegetarian/vegan for reasons such as spiritual or ethical beliefs, personal health, world hunger and environmental stewardship.
• Reducing meat consumption has a positive effect on the environment because animal agriculture is a significant contributor of global warming gasses (more than all transportation together, including cars, trucks, planes, etc.), as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
• Reducing meat consumption has a positive effect on reducing world hunger because 10 times more people can be fed from a hectare of land used to raise crops to feed people than if that hectare of land were used to grow crops for animal agriculture to feed people meat, as reported by the World Health Organization.
• Reducing meat consumption shows compassion to God’s creatures by reducing the number of animals that suffer in factory farming...
• Our diocese could extend hospitality to the increasing number of people, many of whom are young, who eat a vegetarian/vegan diet for personal health reasons or as a way of caring for God’s creation.
And there are vast resources for Christian vegans or wanna-be-Christian vegans. Take a look at this powerful page from the Mary T. and Frank Hoffman Foundation. Perhaps no act of spirituality is as Christ-like as the extension of compassion and mercy for all of God's creation.
The Hebrew Scriptures (The Torah) describe vegetarianism as an ideal. In the Garden of Eden, Adam, Eve, and all creatures were instructed to eat plant foods. (Genesis 1:29-30) The prophet Isaiah had a utopian vision in which everyone will once again be vegetarian: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb … the lion shall eat straw like the ox … They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
Jewish tradition forbids tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, the inflicting of unnecessary suffering and pain on animals. Drexel University notes that the "parameters of such laws are discussed in the Talmud and codified in the Shulchan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). The revered medieval legal authority/philosopher Moses Maimonides wrote that we should show mercy to all living creatures. The 16th Century mystic Rabbi Moses Cordovero and 19th Century thinker Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch expressed similar sentiments. By contrast, factory farms routinely confine animals in cramped spaces; often drug and mutilate animals; and deny animals fresh air, sunlight, exercise, and any opportunity to satisfy their natural instincts. In response to this, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland Rabbi David Rosen has written, 'The current treatment of animals in the livestock trade definitely renders the consumption of meat as halachically unacceptable [not kosher]. Other rabbis, while agreeing that animals should be raised and slaughtered in humane ways, do not agree that such meat is forbidden" (Drexel University, online).
Jewish values embody compassion and this aligns with veganism (read more here). Judaism advocates treating the environment respectfully, while animal agriculture squanders water, energy, land, and other resources. Judaism holds that human life is sacred, and we should diligently care for our health. Since animal-based foods can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, we should move towards a plant-based diet. Judaism encourages us to share our bread with hungry people. Yet, the inefficiencies of animal agriculture waste grains and lands that could be used for staple crops, thereby depriving hungry people of food. In summary, although Judaism does not mandate veganism, many Jewish teachings support the diet. Learn about Ethical Kashrut here and visit Jewish Veg for more information and support.
Morality plays a central role in Buddhism. In the oft-quoted Kalama Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni asserts unequivocally that, regardless of our views on karma and rebirth, there are moral imperatives about which we can be certain – we must abandon hate, malice, and defilement, and cultivate purity of mind. Whatever our opinions may be on other matters, however essential, morality is indispensable.
First among the moral injunctions, and one that also is accepted and shared by all schools and lineages of Buddhism, is the First Precept – Do Not Kill: I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
Importantly, the prohibition on killing does not apply only to someone personally killing an animal. It also applies to someone who causes another to kill. This recognizes the notion that you are not absolved from responsibility by simply asking another to do an act that you choose not to do yourself. Whether you solicit someone to kill on your behalf or conspire with another to kill, you are as morally liable as if you did the killing yourself.
The Buddhist teachings repeatedly emphasize compassion towards all beings.
Let him not destroy, or cause to be destroyed, any life at all, or sanction the acts of those who do so. Let him refrain even from hurting any creature, both those that are strong and those that tremble in the world. (Dhammika Sutta, Sutta Nipata II:14(19))
Whether they be creatures of the land or air, whoever harms here any living being, who has no compassion for all that live, let such a one be known as depraved. (Sutta Nipata)
I have loving-kindness for footless creatures; for those with two feet I have loving-kindness. I have loving-kindness for those with four feet; for those with many feet I have loving-kindness. May all beings, all living beings, all creatures, every one, meet with good fortune; may nothing bad come to anyone. (Snakes, Anguttara Nikaya 4:67)
The proscription against killing or causing another to kill an animal is undisputed in the Buddhist teachings. It is the foundation of morality, which is the cornerstone of the development of concentration and wisdom. The killing of animals has no place in the dharma.
The question of eating animals is addressed at length in several Mahayana sutras, and the prohibition is clear and unequivocal.
Given that compassion and liberation from suffering are core Buddhist teachings, many senior teachers agree that a vegan diet is most compatible with Buddhism.
"Eating meat, at the cost of great suffering for animals, is unacceptable. If, bereft of compassion and wisdom, you eat meat, you have turned your back on liberation. The Buddha said, “The eating of meat annihilates the seed of compassion. —Shabkar Tsodruk Rangdol
“Buddhists are encouraged to love all living beings and not to restrict their love only to human beings. They should practice loving kindness towards every living being. The Buddha’s advice is that it is not right for us to take away the life of any living being since every living being has a right to exist. Animals also have fear and pain as do human beings. It is wrong to take away their lives.” —Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
“Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have already expounded extensively on the faults of eating meat in the Elephant Power Sutra, Mahamegha Sutra, Nirvana Sutra, Angulimala Sutra, Lankavatara Sutra, Sutra Requested by Subahu, and various Madhyamika treatises.” —Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche
“As the noble Katyayana observed when on alms round, the meat we consume in our life is the flesh of our mothers and fathers from previous lives. If we are upright and have a conscience, how can we bear to eat the flesh of our parents killed by a butcher? If we quiet the mind and ponder this, we will definitely be filled with great compassion for these pitiful beings that were our mothers.” —Jigme Lingpa
"It is said that offering to the wisdom deities the flesh and blood of a slaughtered animal is like offering to a mother her murdered child. If you invite a mother for a meal and then set before her the flesh of her own child, how would she feel? It is with the same love as a mother for her only child that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas look on all beings of the three worlds." —Patrul Rinpoche
“Just as no pleasures can bring delight to someone whose body is ablaze with fire, the great compassionate ones cannot be pleased when harm is done to sentient beings. Flesh free from the three objections, not prepared, unasked, unsolicited, there is none. Therefore one should not eat flesh.” —Arya Shantideva
"Flesh-eating is wicked, for we should not kill, nor cause to kill. To purchase flesh in the bazaar is to cause slaughter; for the supply is proportional to the demand. […] He who consents to the killing, he who strikes, he who slaughters, he who buys, he who cooks, he who serves, he who eats —they are all murderers.” These are the words of Manu, an Indian philosopher. So everyone is an accomplice in the murderous game; beginning from the butcher and ending with the one who eats.
"There are people who sacrifice to the gods, and there are people who sacrifice to their stomachs — I think that their stomach is their god. Let us practice infinite loving-kindness. It is impossible to say: 'Let all beings be happy.' Because, if a flesh-eater says: 'May all beings be happy', while he is crushing flesh between his teeth, it will be sheer hypocrisy. Therefore if a flesh-eater wants to be logical, he should say, while eating flesh food: 'May all creatures be happy, except those creatures which I am chewing between my teeth.' For I am sure that the creatures which are being masticated, cannot be happy, or could not have been happy when they were killed for the sake of the flesh-eater. Therefore he cannot practice all embracing love when he is eating flesh, because by eating flesh, he automatically demands a certain proportion of the creatures in the world to die for his sake. It is the doctrine of selfishness that one should live on the flesh of another.—Ven. U Lokanatha
“Mahayanists observe the Bodhisattva precepts, one of which is the prohibition against partaking of the flesh of an animal. This prohibition is called tapasa shila-vrata, and is a practical rule for eradicating the evil of wrath. This Bodhisattva precept was observed by Lord Buddha when he was called Shakya Bodhisattva, before he attained Enlightenment. ” —Ven. Thich Huyen-Vi
“The salvation of birds and beasts, oneself included: this is the object of Shakyamuni’s religious austerities.” —Zen Master Ikkyu
“We should not restrict our Bodhichitta to a limited number of beings. Wherever there is a space, beings exist, and all of them live in suffering. Why make distinctions between them, welcoming some as loving friends and excluding others as hostile enemies?” —Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
"Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I undertake to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life." —Thich Nhat Hanh
“It’s best to avoid eating meat out of compassion. Before eating the meat, think of where it came from, through cutting an animal’s neck, against its will, and how much suffering the animal experienced. After thinking about that, you can’t eat the meat!” —Lama Thubten Yeshe
“Life is more precious than anything else in the world. Even insects want to live. Whenever we break any of the Five Precepts of Buddhism , we have violated some other sentient being. Whenever we kill anyone, we violate that being at the deepest level possible. Meat eating should be avoided…” —Ven. Master Hsing Yun
"There is just no reason why animals should be slaughtered to serve as human diet when there are so many substitutes. Man can live without meat. People think of animals as if they were vegetables, and that is not right. We have to change the way people think about animals. I encourage the Tibetan people and all people to move toward a vegetarian diet that doesn’t cause suffering." —HH Tenzin Gyatso, the XIV Dalai Lama
Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard has said that adopting a vegan diet is the key to long-lasting happiness. He goes on to say:
"Today, 150 billion land animals and 1.5 trillion sea animals are killed for our consumption. We treat them like rats and vermin and cockroaches to be eliminated. This would be called genocide or dehumanization if they were human beings. We even go one step further with animals: we instrumentalize them. They become objects. They become the pig industry, sausage or meat factories. Ethically you cannot imagine progressing toward a more altruistic or more compassionate society while behaving like this.”
For more information on the Buddhist perspective on veganism, please visit Dharma Voices for Animals.
Islam is the religion we know the least about in relationship to veganism so we went to the experts, The Vegan Muslim Initiative. Founded by two vegan Muslims, Sammer Hakim and Elysia Ward, who explain why Islamic values are in alignment with veganism. From health and spirituality to spiritual hegemony, the Vegan Muslim Initiative believes that "if Muslims are going to be relevant and positive contributors to our planet’s future, then there must be a major paradigm shift in how we view and approach food. We can no longer do what we inherited and expect good things to happen."
Hindu scripture has long supported the spiritual benefits of a diet of non-harming. There are a number of passages discussing these benefits, including the following:
“The sins generated by violence curtail the life of the perpetrator. Therefore, even those who are anxious for their own welfare should abstain from meat-eating.” — Mahabharata, Anushasana Parva 115.33
“How can he practice true compassion, who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?” — Tirukural 251
“Those noble souls who practice meditation and other yogic ways, who are ever careful about all beings, who protect all animals, are the ones who are actually serious about spiritual practices.” — Atharva Veda 19.48.5
Poignant scriptural citations counsel against eating meat. The Yajur Veda (36.18) calls for kindliness toward all creatures living on the Earth, in the air and in the water. The Tirukural, a 2,200-year-old masterpiece of ethics, states, "When a man realizes that meat is the butchered flesh of another creature, he will abstain from eating it" (257). The Manu Dharma Shastras state, "Having well considered the origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let one entirely abstain from eating flesh," and "When the diet is pure, the mind and heart are pure."
On November 7, 1966, in Delhi, 200,000 Hindus rioted, demanding an immediate ban on government cow slaughter. The rally was spearheaded by sadhus, or Hindu holymen.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), asks: "How can vegetarians tell the meat-eaters not to kill cows and other animals if the vegetarians themselves are killing cows (by purchasing dairy products from the commercial dairies)?
We simply request, 'Don't kill. Don't maintain slaughterhouses.' You are killing innocent cows and other animals--nature will take revenge. We don't want to stop trade, or the production of grains and vegetables and fruit. But we want to stop these killing houses. It is very, very sinful. That is why all over the world they have so many wars. Every ten or fifteen years there is a big war -- a wholesale slaughterhouse for humankind. But these rascals--they do not see it, that by the law of karma, every action must have its reaction."
Jainism emphasizes non-violence and believes that all living beings possess a soul and therefore should not be harmed. Jains don't even kill insects. Many Jain monks and nuns even wear fabric over their mouths to avoid breathing in insects or microbes, and sweep ahead of themselves while walking to avoid treading on bugs. Jains believe that harming others harms one's own soul. Protection of life is the highest value!
Tying up, injuring, mutilating, burdening with a heavy load or depriving food or drinks from any animal (human or non-human) is contrary to the vow of ahimsa, or non-harming. The purpose of nonviolence is not because it is a commandment of a God or any other supreme being. Its purpose is also not simply because its observance is conducive to general welfare of the state or the community.
The insistence of ahimsa is not so much about non-injury to others as it is about non-injury and spiritual welfare of the self. The ultimate rationale of ahimsa is fundamentally about karmic results of the hiṃsā on self rather than the concern about the well being of other beings for its own sake.
Jains follow a strict vegetarian diet, although several leaders contend that a vegan diet is more aligned with their beliefs. Maharaj Saheb says, “Mother’s milk is for the child and only till he/she is a child”
The Jain Vegans groups advises: Modern dairy production involves significant violence to innocent dairy cows. For most Jains, this is the strongest motivation for giving up dairy.