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Archive for the ‘buddhism’ Category

I was born in Taiwan but grew up mostly in Africa and the U.S. I have very few memories of Taiwan but one vivid memory I do have is of my mom taking my brother and me to the market to buy turtles. We then traveled to a river somewhere and set them free. This practice of “releasing life” is common among devout Buddhists and we continued to do it on occasion even in Malawi, where we would buy tortoises and turtles and let them go as well.

But unlike Buddhist monks and nuns, we were not vegetarian. In fact, I hated vegetables and wanted to eat only meat. My mom had to force me to eat vegetables so that I would have a healthy diet. For most of my life, meat and animal products were central to my diet. I never saw anything wrong with that.

Even though I would get to know many vegetarians, I always saw vegetarianism as a “preference” or a “healthy lifestyle choice” rather than an ethical practice. In my 20s, I would even tell my vegetarian friends (half-jokingly) that I was going to write a book about how vegetarianism is bad for our planet. How naive I was back then but I loved meat – it had to be part of every meal I had.

In my early 30s, I became more interested in ethics as a secular alternative to religions. I started reading books on ethics, including Peter Singer’s Writings on an Ethical Life. The book covered many issues but there was enough in there about animal welfare to make me give “vegetarianism” a try. It lasted six months – I gave it up when I had to travel to the Philippines and Mexico for work.

Fast forward to May 2006. Peter Singer released another book called The Way We Eat. I listened to the entire book on my iPod within two days. This time, I knew there was no going back. I had to give up meat for good. Not just meat but all animal products.

Having tried vegetarianism before, I knew that this time, I had to learn how to cook. So I bought several vegan cookbooks, rolled up my sleeves, and started cooking in earnest.

I wanted to make sure that my focus was not on what I’m giving up but what I’m eating. The new diet has to be more pleasurable, not less. That wasn’t really difficult, considering I didn’t really cook before. Now that I am cooking for real (and not just heating up food), my meals became more tasty, more adventurous, and more healthful.

A year and half later, I still make new dishes and new desserts every week. I invite friends over for dinner all the time and they can see and taste for themselves what vegan food is all about. No one has made the jump to veganism just yet but at least we’re talking about it.

I remember how long it took me to make the switch and I know everyone has to go on their on journey and it may take a while.

My own journey has taught me the following:

1) People can change.
We may be creatures of habit and we may follow traditions blindly. But from time to time, we do escape the mental cages that society puts us in.

2) Inner strength is key.
Our society, our families and our friends will all dissuade us from veganism. That doesn’t mean we need to argue, fight or struggle. Instead, we should listen… and share… and continue to follow our inner compass.

3) Veganism is not just about food.
Colleen teaches me this through her podcast. I’m still learning.

4) The joy of veganism is felt every single day.
Every time you cook, eat or shop, you are aware of the suffering you are alleviating and the liberation that is possible for yourself and other animals. Our efforts may pale by comparison to the amount of exploitation around us. But we know we are making a difference – that we are “releasing life” every day – and there’s true joy in that.

Thank you, Colleen, for being our guide on this incredible journey. When you become vegan, you soon realize it’s one of the most important things you’ve done in your life. You begin to see life more clearly and more truthfully than anytime before.

~Charles in Vancouver, British Columbia

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THE FIVE STEPS OF MY VEGAN JOURNEY SO FAR

There were several steps in my becoming vegan, which I’d really like to share with others. Like many, I’ve arrived to this transformation in middle-adulthood, and I’ve largely arrived at it alone and on my own.

The process (so far) for me could be roughly broken down into five steps: emotional, intellectual, educational, “spiritual” and communal.

First, emotionally: I felt guilty and sad about what happens to animals in order to provide me food. The worse I felt, the worse all of it tasted, until I just couldn’t eat meat anymore. But this wasn’t enough to really push me from “lacto-ovo vegetarianism” into a more solid veganism. (By the way, I hope that someday the word “vegetarian” is reclaimed to mean what it originally meant, and what it sounds like. Eggs and cow milk certainly don’t sound “vegetarian” to me.)

Second, intellectually: I read a couple books. The most important for me was Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. I know that the title of that book is going to sound extreme to a lot of people who have not read it yet, conjuring images of militant action, breaking into laboratories, etc. But, in fact, the book is about more about the liberation of human morality than anything else. It may as well be titled, “When Is It Okay to Cause Suffering To Others?” or “What Is Morality, Really?” or many,many other titles. The book — as many others do — provides a very solid philosophical argument that gives you some basic ideas and tools by which to judge one’s own behavior on such basic moral grounds that even a small child (perhaps especially a small child) could understand. You may feel that something is wrong, but how can you KNOW that it’s wrong. This book can help. Basically, if you can survive and thrive without needing to cause suffering to another being, then to knowingly cause them to suffer is immoral, and it behooves you to change your ways. Do I need eggs and milk (whose production requires chickens and cows to suffer) to survive and be really healthy and satisfy my taste buds? No, no and no. Professor Singer ‘s book helped me clear out the eggs and cow milk from my diet.

Third, educationally: I began to learn HOW to live vegan — this really began at Colleen’s site and through her podcasts. Through her podcasts, it was the first time that a human voice explained to me patiently how to live a vegan life. And that made all the difference in the world. The human voice — we must all remember — is perhaps the most powerful tool we have! It’s the one thing or nonhuman friends need of us most. In my book, people like Colleen are bodhisattvas. In order that the rest of us might also see the light, they tirelessly share what they know. The good news is that, as time progresses, I believe it WILL become easier, not more difficult, to live a vegan lifestyle. People like Colleen are almost like secular rabbis or independent teachers, and as more of them become available to the average person, this process will become easier.)

Fourth, spiritually: I visited Farm Sanctuary — farmsanctuary.org — a place where rescued farm animals get to live in peace with humans for the rest of their natural lives, and for the first time in my entire life I felt that I was standing on sacred ground.

I’m an agnostic, but I’d use the word “spiritual” to describe those kinds of experiences which seem to tie into intelligences that are greater than any single person’s individual mind and experience, or connections to greater and more complex forces than those we can easily grasp intellectually. I’ve been to hundreds of churches and temples all over the world, all of which felt and seemed ‘sacred,’ but that little sanctuary in Orland, California, was the first time I felt with all my body and mind the sense that a place was really sacred. I kid you not, as I left that place, I broke down in tears. Bittersweet, overwhelmed, joy mixed with sadness. I’m not sure what St. Paul experienced on the road to Damascus, but I can tell you for sure, it could not have been more powerful than what I felt on the road home from Farm Sanctuary to San Mateo.

I don’t believe in heaven, but I’ve seen a small corner of what it might look like in Orland. I do, however, believe in hells — they are called “factory farms” and “slaughterhouses.” So, here’s the deal you get at Farm Sanctuary: You get to meet sentient beings who have literally escaped hell and are now in the care of human angels.

I dare anyone to really absorb that reality and not be moved.

If you’re unsure of your veganism or feel threatened by peer pressure, then plan your next vacation to spend a day at one of these places. Visiting a place like Farm Sanctuary is like seeing the future. (Hey, and put it this way: A vacation to Farm Sanctuary can save you a lot of money. Instead of flying off to some exotic, expensive locale, or Disneyland, just spend a day or two with animals who just got back from hell, and the wingless angels who watch over them. Adopt a turkey or burro before you leave. It will make your seemingly boring, unexotic hometown seem like the “happiest place on earth,” because you will come home with a lot of joy in your heart, and new connection to a place otherwise known as Planet Earth.)

Farm Sanctuary truly “closed the deal” for me, and I can never imagine returning to a carnivore lifestyle ever again. Wouldn’t give it a second thought. I’ve been transformed, and I can feel my whole body and mind changing as the reality becomes more “natural” to me.

These first four stages add up to a sense of basic integrity in my life. I have all the other problems that everyone else has (trust me on this one, as my friends know), but now there is a baseline of sanity and well-being. For the first time in my life, I really believe in my own “politics”: What I eat, what I wear, and most of the things I use are in alignment with my belief that all sentient beings have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I feel related to the world again, and not just a “consumer” or part of “the marketplace,” but as part of a conversation that really matters, a conversation that literally could change the world. (“Industrial agriculture,” the euphemism for the horrible things we do to thinking-feeling fellow earthlings, is literally killing the biosphere. According to the UN, this meat habit of ours is doing more damage than trains, planes and automobiles! Someone else’s “right” to eat steak, baby back ribs and cow’s milk, is literally depriving all of us the right to a planet.)

If there’s a Fifth stage in my vegan lifestyle, it’s actually happening right now, and it’s about actively building a community of vegans around myself. Why wait? Why feel left alone and misunderstood? Why waste time being frustrated that mainstream society doesn’t “get it”? Be the change.

After all, in this world, no one’s going to come find you and knock on your door and offer you a medal for “being vegan.” (Well, Colleen might, but she’s an angel, and angels can fly and all that sort of thing, and she might have superpowers too.) Again, just “be the change.” It’s a simple guideline by which to organize one’s life.

Anyhow, as a result of the first four steps of this process, two friends and I have started on this “fifth step.” We started a regular weekly dinner (“Vegan Thursdays” is what we call it) in our hometown of Beijing, China, and now have our simple website — the Vegan Social Club of Beijing, at http://vegansocialclub.com. And guess what? We just made seven new vegan friends in the last week alone.

Frankly, I sometimes get very frustrated by organizations like PETA and HSUS, because, despite their monumental work raising consciousness and working for better legislation, they do so little to actually create community. Communities are ultimately far more powerful than the media or celebrities or shocking images or donations. Both Peta and HSUS send strong messages to the media and do wonderful work in terms of fighting for better legislation, for which I’m grateful, but I wish I had their mailing list!


Those members are potentially my friends and why is Peta and HSUS not enabling them to meet each other? I sometimes hear stories about vegans backsliding into meat-eating because of peer pressure. Same thing happens to sober recovering alcoholics surrounded by heavy drinkers. Duh! Humans need community to survive in more ways than one.

Anyhow, nevertheless, I still thank goodness for orgs like Peta and HSUS, and maybe community-making is NOT their job.

Maybe it’s YOUR job — whoever you are who might be reading this right now.

If our little experiment in building a community here works — and it IS working — we’re going to help other people (anywhere in the world) repeat whatever we did that was successful. We’ll make mistakes, I’m certain, but in general it’s so much better than nothing. So much better than grousing about the lack of vegan options. So much better than being silent and alone.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re a lonely or underappreciated vegan, then make yourself a community! MAKE IT. You can do this. If you can’t find one, then, guess what: You’re really lucky, because you have the opportunity to build one yourself. Even if there already IS one, maybe it’s not your style. Well, make another one!

Find a vegan or vegetarian restaurant you like, put up an on/offline classified ad, make a simple website, and watch fellow compassionate humans come out of the woodwork. And, by all means, welcome curious non-vegans to attend! Some of the nicest, most inspiring vegans you’ll ever meet PROBABLY aren’t even vegan yet! Some day, years from now, they’ll be thanking for introducing you to the opportunity to “wake up” and see a new reality. I guarantee you, to be on the receiving end of gratitude is a good place to be. Instant cure for depression or sadness or whatever other unpleasant stuff is going on in your life.

Don’t know how to set up a website or community blog? Well, a vegan-near-you probably does! Don’t know how to organize dinners? Well, do your best to organize the first one and I guarantee some vegan will show up who DOES know how to organize dinners! Too shy to do this kind of thing? Find a partner who’s not too shy, and just get it started. People naturally “make community” — all you have to do is get them into the same place at the same time.

I’m only a month and a half into my community-building phase, and already it’s changing my life. Our last vegan dinner in Beijing had only 6 people (compared to 11 the week before), but four of them were newcomers (people who needed this community and were very happy about being there) and all of them were some of the finest people you’ll ever meet anywhere in the world.

For me, “Thursday” has become the one day of the week I know I’ll go to sleep feeling good about things — no matter how badly the day started. I could be broke, feeling depressed, frustrated, etc, but I know that on Thursday nights, I’m going to be surrounded by new and old friends, and unexpectedly good things will happen or be said. (Which is why we’re already thinking about starting some kind of event on Saturday too.)

Anyhow, I’m SO GRATEFUL TO COLLEEN PATRICK-GOUDREAU and everyone who makes compassionatecooks.com possible. You’ve changed my world and indirectly, you’re changing the world for people far, far away from Oakland, California. You have no idea!

Christopher Barden
Vegan Social Club of Beijing
http://vegansocialclub.com

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I tried being vegetarian a number of times but it never stuck.  I realize now that while intellectually I was drawn to it, my heart wasn’t really in it.

Then about 2.5 years ago I was going through a divorce (a nice kick in the butt causing me to reevaluate pretty much everything) and got connected with a Buddhist group based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings.  The first mindfulness training is: Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow 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.

There are so many different ways and levels to read and understand that…and over time it started to sink deeper and deeper into my heart.  I realized before long I would be vegetarian.

First however, I was moving towards a life without alcohol as I began to see how it wasn’t serving me or supporting my life’s journey.  This was a real challenging one though because a significant part of my job involves entertaining clients (which inevitably revolves around drinking).  Also, when I would connect with friends from college, it was the same thing.  So while I had a lot of resistance around giving it up, there was a strong sense I needed to to be true to myself.  Then…a lyric from a song called Western South by Kate Callahan pierced me.  The song was about her struggle with alcohol and the line was:

          it’s not the drink I think I need

          it’s the illusion that i’d be so much happier free

          from the sound, and the weight, and the history

          that comes from saying “no” all the time

It was like my own heart talking to me.  And shortly afterward, I was done with it without any struggle at all.  Amazing. 

A few months later, I went on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and the movement towards being a vegetarian became permanent…and again it very easy because my heart had opened even wider.  I knew my only remaining resistance was the same as it had been with alcohol…the perceived weight of explaining my choice again and again to people who didn’t understand it.

But I had no choice.  My heart had already decided for me 🙂

In the following year I slowly learned more and more about the suffering and killing involved in cheese and egg production and my resistance/fear to living vegan quickly became untenable.  Last fall, following my heart I made the switch, again without struggle.  I’m learning to cook 🙂 and am loving the exploration of all the new foods I never new existed!  Physically, my body feels great.  And best of all, I’m living in greater harmony with my heart and soul.  What more can I ask for?

That’s my story in a nutshell.  I found your podcast a few months ago and am so grateful.  Thank You for shining your Light in the world! 

~David in Colchester, CT

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It was the first time I had ever been so close to an animal so large.  It was the summer of 1992, and I had joined two friends in Pamplona for that annual foolishness known as “The Running of the Bulls.”  This was something I had long wanted to do, and I found myself sprinting up a cobblestone street with hundreds of other people from around the world.  The six bulls easily caught up with us, and they galloped past, their brown heads and sharp horns rising and falling.  They were so strong and graceful. 

After the run, my friends and I wandered back to the bullring.  Dozens of bull-runners were chasing several bulls around the arena, smacking them with newspapers.  These bulls would die in the afternoon bullfights.  The spectators cheered as men poked and teased these noble animals, mocking them in their fate.  Whatever excitement I had felt earlier was now eclipsed by contrition.  These bulls, I realized, wanted to live as much as I do.  Am I the only person to travel to Spain, run with the bulls and then feel shame?  What separated me from everyone else?  I felt isolated, like the only Bing Crosby fan at an Aerosmith concert.

That morning, I began to extend my circle of compassion — though I still had a long way to go.

Later that year I was in Ladakh, India, spending two months living with a Buddhist family high in the Himalayas.  Nearly every meal I enjoyed came from the family’s large vegetable garden, and I realized I had never felt more physically fit in my life.  Then two cows came to visit one day.  It was late fall — time to bury the remaining vegetables to store for the winter.  The cows, who lived with a nearby family, came to feast on any plants that remained.  One cow in particular made a deep impression on me.  She stood still as we looked into each other’s eyes, and I was taken aback by how sentient she appeared.  Clearly, she had as much right as anyone to a life without pain and suffering.  What, I wondered, entitled humans to murder these beautiful animals?  Was this really the way for one species to treat another?  Moreover, was I not enjoying the best health of my life on a plant-based diet? 

Of course, one does not develop an abiding personal tenet overnight.  I gradually gave up eating animal flesh while examining my life and the role compassion played in it.  I looked for opportunities to be more humane … to make choices that reflected my belief that all life is precious.  Upon returning to the US, I worked for and wrote about human rights, which eventually led me to “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins. I was horrified to learn about battery cages and the dairy industry.  I contacted Karen Davis at United Poultry Concerns.  Wouldn’t it be OK if I ate free-range eggs? I naively asked Karen.  No, not really, she replied. 

When I discovered there was a sanctuary not far from my home where I could visit farmed animals rescued from abuse, I arranged for a tour.  Like so many people who visit Animal Place or any other haven for the former inmates of agribusiness, I was profoundly moved by each animal’s story: hens who had been rescued from battery cages, cows who had escaped slaughterhouses and transport trucks, goats who had survived vet schools, pigs who had been surrendered by 4-H students with a change of heart, sheep who had been neglected by farmers.  I went vegan that day and commemorated my decision by getting a tattoo of a rabbit on my arm (not just any rabbit, mind you — the PETA logo rabbit). 

The next step, of course, was to share the joy of being vegan with others.  So I began writing about animal exploitation in magazines, volunteering for Animal Place, rescuing animals and trying to be the best example I could be.  Then something happened: several people I knew stopped eating animals.  I never asked them to; I simply told them about the industrialized abuses billions of animals suffer every year.  I gave people vegan cookbooks and books about factory farming.  I told them about my volunteer work and how much it meant to me.  I created and mailed Christmas cards focusing on animals.  I read everything I could about nutrition and animal rights so I could answer questions about this ethical lifestyle.

This conviction — this reverence for all life — has become my guiding principle.  It informs every aspect of my existence, including my choices about work, entertainment, home decor, healthcare, fashion, and, of course, diet.  I have found my core belief surprisingly simple to adhere to.  Yes, sometimes it means that I don’t buy a certain product because it’s been tested on animals.  It means I buy shoes made without leather and make special requests when dining in restaurants.  And sometimes I spend half an hour in some parking lot after a rainstorm, gently lifting wayward earthworms from the wet blacktop and returning them to safety.  But these are not sacrifices for me.  If compassion is my religion, these are the actions I use to celebrate it.  They are my rituals.  For me, living fully awake means embracing all species with the same level of respect and kindness. 

Being a joyful vegan doesn’t take willpower — just a willingness to try new things and choose mercy over misery.

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I was probably a very “typical” vegetarian. I had slowly transitioned into it because of a smart, loving, vegetarian boyfriend, who had asked me some great, poignant questions like: “Could you kill an animal yourself?”  Eating less meat, I slowly realized how much happier and better I felt about my food choices. Simultaneously I was learning about loving-kindness (a Buddhist way of life), and the environmental impact of a meat diet and it all just sort of clicked.  I started educating myself and learning more about living a life of compassion, and it just felt perfect…. and right. I started to view “meat” as “suffering” and couldn’t imagine feeding myself something with so much pain attached to it.

Meanwhile, I was listening to a ton of podcasts and came across Vegetarian Food for Thought with Colleen. I was instantly hooked; emotionally and intellectually. Once I knew about the dairy industry and then saw the film “Earthlings,” there was no going back. You can’t take off your blinders and put them back on. It just doesn’t work that way.

It’s become a moral issue for me now, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing that I was contributing to the horrors of the dairy and meat industry.  I do have memories of having said things like: “I could never be vegan, no way!” but the truth is, it’s been extremely painless…literally and figuratively! A couple of weeks ago I went to a farm and was reminded…. animals are incredible beings! It made me so proud of my choices.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your compassion and wisdom through your podcast. I feel so enlightened and educated, and am proud to be transitioning towards living my own truth, through a mindful, vegan diet.

~Nina in Somerville, MA

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