vegetarianism

Buddhism, vegetarianism, and the ethics of intention

One of the most attractive things about Buddhism is that it considers ethics to be based on the intentions behind our actions. This perspective is radical in its simplicity, clarity, and practicality.

When our actions are based on greed, hatred, or delusion, they’re said to be “unskillful” (akusala), which is the term Buddhism prefers over the more judgmental terms “bad” or “evil” — although those terms are used too, albeit mostly in the context of poetry. By contrast, when our intentions are based on mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom, they’re said to be skillful (kusala).

For many people accustomed to systems of morality based on commandments, rewards and punishments, the Buddhist ethical perspective is liberating and refreshing.

But sometimes the idea that Buddhist ethics is about intention is seen in too narrow a way. The problem is that a deluded mind is trying to become aware of itself! We’re not always aware of our intentions, or may choose to fool ourselves about what our motivations really are. We develop ethical blind spots and adopt evasive strategies to justify our actions and to avoid change. Delusion keeps us tied to our current way of being and stops us from making spiritual progress.

One tool that the Buddha encouraged as a way of breaking out of ethical confusion is paying attention to the consequences of our actions:

Having done a bodily action, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it… you should exercise restraint in the future.

If we notice that we’re harming others, or that we’re causing pain to ourselves — for example through inducing guilt — then we need to look more closely at our motivations, being open to the possibility that we’re not clear enough about our intentions. We need to look for and admit to hidden ethical agendas. I wrote about this recently in terms of the way some men harass women on the street, without being willing to look at the fact that their attentions are unwanted and cause suffering.

Another example is the way most people who eat meat say that they like animals. They don’t think of themselves as cruel. Most of them are shocked by actual cruelty and want animal abusers to go to jail. And at the same time, they pay people to abuse animals on their behalf. They don’t think of themselves as doing this, but when they buy meat they’re financially rewarding people who raise animals in stressful and unnatural conditions, transport them, terrified, long distances in trucks, herd them into a slaughterhouse, shoot them in the head, hoist them into the air by their back legs, cut their throats, and then disembowel and dismember them in preparation for being shrink-wrapped and sold.

Although there’s no overt ill intent when you pick up a steak at the supermarket, you’re paying for this whole process to happen — a process that causes affliction to others. And we don’t want to think about all this. We’re shocked by animal cruelty, so for example we don’t want to see videos of animals in slaughterhouses because we’d rather avoid being shocked. That way we can avoid the discomfort that comes from change.

If we’re going to take the Buddha’s teachings seriously as a guide for living, then we need to examine the harmful consequences of our actions, and then look for the hidden intentions and assumptions that drive those actions.

Implicit in buying meat are attitudes like, “You are more useful to me dead than alive,” and “I kind of like you, but I’m hungry, and so I don’t mind you being killed.”

The attitudes are rarely if ever experienced as overtly as that (and I’ve expressed them rather baldly here) but something like that is going on. I know. I used to eat meat.

Meat-eating is just an example. I’ve picked it because so many people who want to follow the Buddhist path fall into the trap of thinking that if their actions are not directly harming others, then there’s no ethical issue at stake. And I picked it because I really hope we can reduce the amount of suffering in our world.

The problem with discussing an issue like this, though, is that it’s emotive, and so the larger point — we should examine the consequences of our actions in order to clarify our hidden intentions — can get lost in our emotional reactions.

Setting aside any such reactions for the moment, the principle of examining the consequences of our actions extends into almost every aspect of our lives. One example is our interaction with the environment. I know that taking my car to work unnecessarily contributes to climate disruption. And I know that climate change causes suffering to people on the other side of the planet. And yet I still take the lazy route. This suggests that I care less about people if they live far away or if I don’t personally know them, and that I value my comfort over others’ wellbeing. My “forgetting” to do my share of the housework suggests that I have a sense of entitlement, and that I think other people’s job is to clean up after me.

The applications are endless; Buddhism is calling upon us to be radically compassionate, radically mindful of our actions.

The principle that reflecting on the consequences of our actions illuminates our unacknowledged motivations is rarely recognized, but it’s one of the most powerful teachings that the Buddha offered us.

Read More

Avoiding cruelty, the “far enemy” of compassion (Day 30)

Cute sheep looking directly into the camera. Who would want to eat this lovely person?

Yesterday I wrote about the complexities of the “near enemy” of compassion, which is the grief that arises from attachment. So we might feel bad when we see someone suffering, but not actually have any empathy for them. That’s not compassion. It’s “grief” at having our normal experience disrupted by someone who’s inconsiderate enough to suffer. Or we may spiral into despair and sorrow (which is called “failed compassion”) because we’re unable to bear the discomfort of knowing someone is suffering. This is all rather tricky for people to get hold of, sometimes, and it’s potentially undermining because we can end up doubting, in an unhelpful, self-hating kind of a way, whether our compassion is real. (Don’t worry. Just keep on going with the practice and things will sort themselves out.)

Cruelty, the opposite or “far enemy” of compassion, might seem to be more straightforward. But I’m not sure it always is!

The straightforward side of cruelty is deliberately causing physical pain to others. Now of course when we’re children we often just don’t understand that small creatures you’re tormenting are actually experiencing pain. We just see the worm writhing and think it’s funny. And we may need to be taught that what seems like fun for us isn’t fun for the other; that the other creature’s pain is as real to it as ours is to us. And with that leap, empathy is born.

There are a few places in the early Buddhist teachings where the Buddha helps children to become aware of their cruelty. One time he came across a crowd of boys who were fishing, and he simply asked them “Boys, do you fear pain? Do you dislike pain?” Of course the boys did. And the Buddha points out, in the Dhammapada, the empathic basis of non-cruelty: “All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.”

So this brings up the question of vegetarianism. If you eat meat you’re either killing or you cause another to kill. An animal has to die. So you might not think it’s cruel to eat meat, but a lot of cruelty has gone into bringing the meat to your lips. The Buddha didn’t force his monks and nuns to be vegetarian, but remember that the monks and nuns lived by seeking offerings of food as they went door to door. And although we think of India now as being largely a vegetarian country, it certainly wasn’t at that time; there are plenty of references in the Buddhist scriptures to butchers, and to cows being slaughtered (cows that Hindus now consider sacred). So imagine living by begging from door to door, accepting what’s put in your bowl, and remaining vegetarian. It wouldn’t be easy. And as confirmation of this, the early Buddhists saw vegetarianism as an ascetic practice, along with wearing cast-off rags and sleeping under trees. To be a vegetarian monk would have meant risking malnutrition and illness.

But I presume you’re not a monk and don’t live by begging from door to door. You do have a choice about what you eat, and you can choose to eat food that involves less cruelty. In fact I’ve been a vegan (again!) for the last four months, because there’s a lot of killing and pain involved in the dairy and egg industries, and I’d like to contribute less to that.

People get very attached to eating meat, and this attachment makes them indifferent to suffering.

But there’s a lot of cruelty involved in our lives in subtler ways. Not all cruelty is to do with causing physical pain or taking life. Cruelty is, fundamentally, the desire to make others feel pain (even emotional pain) or to deny them happiness.

So there’s a simple question you can ask yourself in your interactions with others, or when you’re thinking about them: am I trying to block another’s happiness or to make them feel bad?

Listen to your thoughts and words, and see how often you blame others for things that have gone wrong. We often want to make people feel bad.

Listen to the jokes and put-downs you make at others’ expense, or even at your own expense. (We can be cruel to ourselves, too).

How often do we rain on someone’s parade when they’re really excited about something?

How often does our ego prompt us to be obstructive: someone at work has an idea, and we immediately switch to fault-finding and obstructionism. It can be laziness or being unwilling to change on our part that leads to us acting in this way, or it may be that we don’t want the other person to get any credit, but we can take positive pleasure in stopping people from seeking happiness and satisfaction.

How often do we “blame the victim” or feel judgmental when someone’s suffering and their own actions contributed to their pain?

We tend to believe that punishment — the infliction of suffering in order to modify behavior — is a necessary part of everyday life, especially when it comes to children. Many people still hit their children, which I find incredible. And yet the most effective trainers of animals show us that punishment is totally counter-productive to getting the behavior you desire. Rewards work much better — and rewards can just be a “good job” or a “Thank you, I appreciate what you just did.”

So watch out for how you think and talk and behave. You can always backtrack, apologize, try again with more kindness. You can make cruelty less likely to arise by keeping the metta phrases (“May you be well; may you be happy”) running through your mind during the day. You can keep bringing your awareness to your heart as you go about your life and especially as you encounter people. And make sure that you’re not unkind to yourself as you become more aware of the small cruelties embedded in the way you behave, speak, and think. Be compassionate to yourself, for the most common target of our cruelty may well be ourselves.

PS. You can see a complete list all the 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

Read More

Why Buddhists should be vegetarian

The Buddha ate meat. This is a fairly well attested fact. The issue of vegetarianism is addressed a few times in the Suttas, notably the Jivaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya. The Buddha consistently affirmed that monastics were permitted to eat meat, as long as it was not killed intentionally for them. There are numerous passages in the Vinaya that refer to the Buddha or the monastics eating meat, and meat is regularly mentioned as one of the standard foods.

For these reasons, the standard position in Theravada Buddhism is that there is no ethical problem with eating meat. If you want to be vegetarian, that is a purely optional choice. Most Theravadins, whether lay or monastic, eat meat, and claim to be acting within the ethical guidelines of the Buddha’s teachings.

This position sits squarely within a straightforward application of the law of kamma, understood as intention. Eating meat involves no intention to do harm. As there is no intention, there is no kamma. As there is no kamma, there is no ethical problem.

The situation in Mahayana is more complicated. Mahayanists, especially in East Asia, embrace vegetarianism, often as a temporary measure for religious events, although the monastics are typically vegetarian all the time. The motivation is, at least in part, an expression of the greater emphasis on compassion in Mahayana. In practice, however, Mahayanists often adopt vegetarianism (as do Hindus) as a rite of purification. This is despite such texts as the Amagandha Sutta of the Sutta Nipata, where the Buddha insists that eating meat is not a source of spiritual impurity. Tibetan monastics, on the other hand, usually eat meat.

Despite the apparently straightforward situation in Theravada, the problem does not go away. For obvious reasons: eating meat requires the killing of animals, and this directly violates the first precept. Eating meat is the direct cause of an immense quantity of suffering for sentient beings. Many people, myself included, struggle with the notion that a religion as categorically opposed to violence as Buddhism can so blithely wave away the suffering inherent in eating meat.

Let’s have a closer look and see if we can discern the roots of this problem. There are a few considerations that I would like to begin with. We live in a very different world today than the Buddha lived in, and Buddhist ethics, whatever else they may be, must always be a pragmatic response to real world conditions.

Animals suffer much more today than they did 2500 years ago. In the Buddha’s time, and indeed everywhere up until the invention of modern farming, animals had a much better life. Chickens would wander round the village, or were kept in a coop. Cows roamed the fields. The invention of the factory farm changed all this. Today, the life of most meat animals is unimaginable suffering. I won’t go into this in detail, but if you are not aware of the conditions in factory farms, you should be. Factory farms get away with it, not because they are actually humane, but because they are so mind-bendingly horrific that most people just don’t want to know. We turn away, and our inattention allows the horror to continue.

The other huge change since the Buddha’s time is the destruction of the environment. We are all aware of the damage caused by energy production and wasteful consumerism. But one of the largest, yet least known, contributors to global warming and environmental destruction generally is eating meat. The basic problem is that meat is higher on the food chain as compared with plants, so more resources are required to produce nutrition in the form of meat. In the past this was not an issue, as food animals typically ate things that were not food for humans, like grass. Today, however, most food animals live on grains and other resource-intensive products. This means that meat requires more energy, water, space, and all other resources. In addition to the general burden on the environment, this creates a range of localised problems, due to the use of fertilisers, the disposal of vast amounts of animal waste, and so on.

One entirely predictable outcome of factory farming is the emergence of virulent new diseases. We have all heard of ‘swine flu’ and ‘bird flu’; but the media rarely raises the question: why are these two new threats derived from the two types of animals that are most used in factory farming? The answer is obvious, and has been predicted by opponents of factory farming for decades. In order to force animals to live together in such overcrowded, unnatural conditions, they must be fed a regular diet of antibiotics, as any disease is immediately spread through the whole facility. The outcome of this, as inevitable as the immutable principles of natural selection, is the emergence of virulent new strains of antibiotic resistant diseases. In coming years, as the limited varieties of antibiotics gradually lose their efficacy, this threat will recur in more and more devastating forms.

So, as compared with the Buddha’s day, eating meat involves far more cruelty, it damages the environment, and it creates diseases. If we approach this question as one of weights and balance, then the scales have tipped drastically to the side of not eating meat.

Sometimes in Theravada vegetarianism is slighted, as it is traditionally associated with the ‘5 points’ of Devadatta. Devadatta wanted to prove he was better than the Buddha, so he asked the Buddha to enforce five ascetic practices, such as only accepting alms food, live all their lives in the forest, and so on. These practices are regarded as praiseworthy, and Devadatta’s fault was not in promoting these as such, but in seeking to make them compulsory. Stories of the Buddha’s childhood emphasize how compassionate he was compared to Devadatta’s cruelty to animals, perhaps because of Devadatta’s asscoiation with vegetarianism. So rather than deprecating the vegetarians as ‘followers of Devadatta’, one could infer from this passage that vegetarianism, like the other practices, was praiseworthy, but the Buddha did not wish to make it compulsory.

To argue in such a way, however, is clutching at straws. There is a wider problem, and I think the discussions of the issue among Buddhists generally avoid this. And the wider issue is this: meat eating is clearly harmful. That harm is a direct but unintended consequence of eating meat. Since there is no intention to cause harm, eating meat is not bad kamma. There are therefore two logical possibilities: eating meat is ethical; or kamma is not a complete account of ethics.

Let us look more closely at this second possibility. The notion that actions should not be done, even when they involve no harmful intention, is found constantly in the Vinaya. For example, a monk is criticised for baking bricks that have small creatures in them, even though he was unaware of them and did not intend any harm. The Buddha laid down a rule forbidding this.

In another case, the Buddha laid down a rule that a monastic must inquire about the source of meat before accepting it. The context of this rule was that someone had offered human flesh (their own – it’s a long story!) and this rule is usually said to only apply if one has doubts as to whether the food is human flesh. But that is not what the rule states – it simply says that one should inquire as the the source of the meat, and that it is an offence to eat meat without doing so. Needless to say, this rule is ignored throughout Theravada.

These are a couple of examples in the context of causing harm to beings. There are many others. Indeed, there are several Vinaya rules that were laid down in response to the actions of arahants. An arahant cannot act in an intentionally harmful manner, so these rules cannot be taken to imply that the motivation behind the acts was wrong. The acts have unintended harmful consequences, and this is why they are prohibited.

In this sense, if the Vinaya pertains to sila, or ethics, then the scope of sila is broader than the scope of kamma. This is, when you think about it, common sense. Kamma deals only with intention and the consequences of intentional action. This is critical because of its place in the path to liberation. We can change our intentions, and thereby purify our minds and eventually find release from rebirth. That is the significance of kamma to us as individuals.

But ethics is not just a matter of individual personal development. It is also a social question, or even wider, an environmental question in the broad sense. How do we relate to our human and natural context in the most positive and constructive way?

I am suggesting that, while kamma deals with the personal, ethics includes both the personal and the environmental.

As well as broadening ethics in this way, I would suggest we should deepen it. Ethics is not just what is allowable. Sure, you can argue that eating meat is allowable. You can get away with it. That doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing. What if we ask, not what can I get away with, but what can I aspire to?

When we recite the first precept, we say, ‘I undertake the training to refrain from killing living beings’. This is a challenge, and in itself is a powerful ethics. Yet it is merely a short summary of a principle. It was never meant to fully describe the virtue of harmlessness. When the Buddha spoke of this precept in more detail, this is what he had to say:

Having abandoned the taking of life, refraining from the taking of life, one dwells without violence, with the knife laid down, scrupulous, full of mercy, trembling with compassion for all sentient beings.

This is not just an ethic of allowability. It doesn’t merely set a minimum standard. It calls us out, asking us to aspire to a higher sense of compassion, an ethic that deeply feels for the welfare of all beings. More than just asking, ‘Does this act come from an intention to harm’, we ask ourselves, ‘Is this act the best I can possibly do to promote the welfare of all?’ Rather than simply escaping bad kamma, we create good kamma.

One obvious criticism of this approach is that being vegetarian does not mean you don’t cause harm. We hurt beings in many unintentional way, driving cars, buying products, almost everything we do. If we follow this principle to its logical conclusion, we end up with Jainism, and will have to walk everywhere with a cloth over our mouth to keep the flies from dying, and a soft broom to brush the creatures away. (Note, though, that even the Jains have a complex relationship with vegetarianism.) It is simply arbitrary to identify meat eating as the cause of harm. This is, after all, the point of the well-known (though apocryphal) story of Siddhattha as a young boy, seeing the plough turning up the soil, killing some worms, and leaving the others to be picked off by the crows. Even eating rice involves the unintentional destruction of life. The only solution is to get off the wheel.

The problem with this argument is that it confuses the existential with the ethical. On an existential level, quite right, any form of life, even the most scrupulous, will inevitably cause harm to some beings. This is one of the reasons why the only final solution is escape from rebirth altogether. Yet meanwhile, we are still here. Ethics is not concerned with the ultimate escape from all suffering, but with minimising the harm and maximising the benefit we can do right here. It is relative and contextual. Sure, being vegetarian or vegan we will still cause harm. And sure, there are boundary issues as to what is really vegetarian (Honey? Bees are killed. Sugar? Animal bones are used for the purification process… )

But the fact that we can’t do everything does not imply that we shouldn’t do this thing. The simple fact is that eating meat cause massive and direct harm to many creatures. That harm is, almost always, easily avoidable. Becoming vegetarian does not involve any huge sacrifices or moral courage. It just takes a little restraint and care. This is even more so today, when there is a wide range of delicious, cheap, nutritious vegetarian foods available. The choice of becoming vegetarian is, of all moral choices we can make, one of the most beneficial, at the smallest cost to ourselves.

To return to the basic problem. As Buddhists, we expect that the Buddha kept the highest possible ethical conduct. And for the most part, he did. So if the Buddha allowed something, we feel there can’t be anything wrong with it. There is nothing dogmatic or unreasonable about such an expectation. When we read the Suttas and the Vinaya, we find again and again that the Buddha’s conduct was, indeed, of the highest order.

How then, if meat eating is an inferior ethical standard, can it be that the Buddha did it? This is the crux of the matter. And I don’t have an easy answer.

Part of it is to do with the nature of the mendicant life. The Buddha and his disciples wandered from house to house, simply accepting whatever was offered. It’s hard to refuse offerings given in such a spirit. Yet this answer is incomplete, as there are many foods, including several types of meat, that are prohibited in the Vinaya. Clearly the monastics were expected to have some say over what went into their bowls.

There are other considerations I could raise. But I don’t want to press the textual argument too far. In the end, we have a partial, and partially understood record of the Buddha’s life and teachings. For those of us who have been blessed enough to have encountered the Dhamma, we have found it to be an uplifting and wise guide to life.

And yet: we cannot let our ethical choices be dictated by ancient texts. Right and wrong are too important. The scriptures do not contain everything, and do not answer every question. As Buddhists, we take the texts seriously, and do not lightly discard their lessons. Yet there is a difference between learning from scripture and submitting to it.

There are some things that the scriptures simply get wrong. The Suttas make no critique of slavery, for example, and yet for us this is one of the most heinous of all crimes.

Why are these things as they are? I don’t know. I have devoted a considerable portion of my life to studying and understanding the Buddhist scriptures, and in almost all things of importance I find them to be impeccable. But my study has also shown me the limits of study. We cannot access the truth through scripture. We can only access certain ideas. Our understanding and application of those ideas is of necessity imperfect. There is always something left over.

This being so, it is unethical to cite scripture as a justification for doing harm. If eating meat is harmful and unnecessary, it remains so whatever the texts say. Our sacred texts are sacred, not because they determine what is right and wrong, but because they inform our choices and help us to do better.

The principle of harmlessness underlies the very fabric of the Dhamma, and if its application in this context is problematic, the principle itself is not in question. It simply means our scriptures are imperfect, and the practice of ethics is complex and messy. But we knew that already. It is not out of disrespect that we make our choice, but out of respect for the deeper principles of compassion and harmlessness.

Read More

Five steps to opening the heart to peace

Overhead shot of woman doing seated yoga pose

For many years I co-led a yoga and meditation retreat with a friend.  The retreat was called Open Heart, Quiet Mind and it was offered  at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire. My friend taught yoga and I led guided meditations on the metta bhavana, the meditation on the development of loving-kindness.

The retreats initially began on Friday evening and ended on Sunday afternoon. They were so popular the next retreat was fully booked at the end of each retreat. After sensing the rhythm of the retreats for several years, we decided to extend the timing of them and so we started Thursday evenings and ended Sunday afternoons so that we would have an extra full day to meditate and practice yoga.

With the combination of yoga and meditation, participants relaxed and looked inward and a community was established. Throughout the retreat we thought about an intention, something we wanted to consider during and after the retreat. The intentions came as a result of the yoga, meditation, silence, cooking together and having spaciousness from the usual routine of daily life.

Towards the end of the retreat we shared our intentions, with each person listening quietly as individuals described their intentions. The intentions spanned a range of topics from exercise, meditation, diet, communication, music practice to making amends with estranged friends and family members. Although each person’s intention was different, the common thread was that they came from the heart.

Although we did not lead people to make intentions based on ethical disciplines of yoga, most of them did fall into five ethical categories.  So, eventually, when leading meditation at the yoga retreats, I spoke about these steps to freedom.

Just as the practice of yoga releases tension in the body, these five steps will release blocks to the flow of the heart and release unconditional love.  When we love, we are free from the restrictions of ill will.

Here is a list of five ways to open the heart:

1. Ahimsa – nonharm – the practice of compassion and unconditional love for ourselves, for all human beings and all sentient beings

We can practice ahimsa with each word we speak, each action we take and each thought we think. Ahimsa is the foundation for vegetarianism.

Of course we don’t always reach our ideals so an important aspect of this practice is to be gentle and accepting of ourselves when our practice falls short of the ideal.

As a way of practicing ahimsa we might ponder the following queries:

  • In what ways am I critical of myself and others?
  • Recall a time when I blamed myself for an outcome of an action. What could I have done differently, if anything?
  • In what ways have I allowed others to be critical, cruel, unloving to me? What will I do to become free from this situation?
  • How can I be more loving and accepting of myself and others?

2. Satya – truth – the practice of being true in our thoughts, words and actions

To practice satya, we are fearless in understanding the truth and this is reflected in what we think, how we communicate and how we behave. We are also fearless when listening to others, to understand their truth. We recognize that the foundation of truth is ahimsa.

As a way of practicing satya, we might ponder the following:

  • In what ways am I true to myself?
  • When do my actions conflict with honoring the truth?
  • With whom am I truthful and which people “not so much”?
  • Reflect on relationships that are not based on truth and consider whether it is time to communicate with the person in an honest and kind way.
  • How can I be more true to myself and to others?

3. Asteya – not stealing – being free from desiring what belongs to others

Desire and craving what we do not have means that we feel insufficient, as though we lack something. This practice means that we respect the property of others, return what we borrow, act in a courteous way with others (respecting their energy and time) and to be at peace within ourselves.

We might practice asteya by reflecting on the following:

  • With whom do I feel “lesser than” or jealous? What is beneath this feeling and how can I change this sense of lack?
  • What material things of others do I desire?
  • When do I feel at ease and grateful for how things are? How can I develop this sense of ease?
  • How does generosity fit with asteya?

4. Aparigraha – letting go – freedom from collecting possessions

We desire to possess many things including material objects, thoughts and ideas, and even people. We cling to things – homes, cars, technological toys, books, adventures, partners, travel and pets. We feel secure when we have our “stuff”.

To practice letting go:

  • Consider times when you released your attachment to something or someone.
  • Consider what you cling to. In what, who and where is your sense of security based?
  • Which possessions are you most tied to? Which can you easily let go?
  • Make a list of your possessions and consider a giving away 10%- 25% of them! What is your felt sense as you consider this idea?

5. Santosha – contentment – being at peace no matter what our situation is

We may be in a partnership or single, live in an apartment or a home, drive a Subaru or a Lamborghini, work in a cubicle or the corner office with the view, we may be twenty or seventy, have a high school education or a Doctorate, healthy or ill, intellectual or not, artistic or not – whatever our circumstances, we are content and at peace.

Being at peace means that when we work with, or know, or hear of someone who seems to “have it all” or “have it easy”, we are centered and at peace with the understanding that we lack nothing.

Some ideas to ponder when working with santosha include:

  • When I find myself feeling jealous of someone’s conditions, how do I feel in my body and what emotions arise?
  • Consider a time you were filled with negativity, how did you react? How could you respond to move towards contentment?

Patanjali (150 BCE) is the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, an important collection of aphorisms on yoga practice based on reflection, meditation and ethics.

He wrote: “Peace can be reached through meditation on the knowledge which dreams give. Peace can also be reached through concentration upon that which is dearest to the heart.”

Read More

Russell Simmons on money, bliss and veganism

wildmind meditation news

The message of music mogul Russell Simmons’ latest book, “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All” (Gotham), may seem contradictory: A person can become “super rich” by reaching the state of needing nothing.

Simmons, the self-made millionaire often credited for putting hip-hop on the map with Def Jam Recordings, is one of the wealthiest black Americans in the country, but he argues a person can become rich not by obsessing about money but by giving to others.

Being rich is about finding the happiness inside, he says.

Slender and with a kind smile, the 53-year-old still looks youthful, part of what he attributes to a strict vegan diet he embraced 10 years ago.

“The last book helped change so many people’s lives. I wanted this one to do the same,” he says of the new book he co-wrote with Chris Morrow. (His previous one, “Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success,” also co-authored by Morrow, became a New York Times best-seller upon its release in 2007.)

The following is an edited version of our interview:

CNN: What does it mean to be rich?

Russell Simmons: The idea of “Super Rich” is likened to a state of yoga, being in a state of needing nothing. There is this space where you are awake, a heightened awareness, and this kind of space is very attractive.

The title is a little deceptive to some. It certainly is the road to having success in the world, having the toys, the trappings people refer to as rich. (It’s also about) those people who are good givers and feelers — the book practices to bring you toward a more enlightened state.

CNN: Has your definition of rich always been this way?

Simmons: No, I think “Super Rich” is a fun title, and I think I couldn’t call the book “Christ Consciousness.” It’s really about being in a blissful state, and I think all of us are looking for that.

CNN: What is that blissful state?

Simmons: I think the idea is we want to be happy, and happy is something that is not based on the outside forces. It’s something from inside. And when you’re calm and you’re in a state of needing nothing, it’s a place of operation and of abundance.

CNN: Do you think you’ve reached that state?

Simmons: I certainly can’t say I’m enlightened. I have faith in the process.

CNN: Why did you write the book?

Simmons: This is my second book on the subject. The last book was a big best-seller. It was fun bringing all the scripture together and making it simple and putting the book out. I never expected it to be so big. So many people from the last book — “Do You!” — came up to me and told me that my book changed their life.

I wrote this book more as a “how to” book but with a greater intention. It was not just — can I bring these teachings together but can I really make it an offering.

CNN: What are some of these teachings people can incorporate into their everyday life?

Simmons: The idea of giving. Wake up in the morning and decide on what you are going to give. Those people, who are selfless servants, always are successful. Many of my interns from Puffy, who you could put your left hand out and there would be a cup of coffee. … If you make someone better, then they keep calling on you to make them better. Then one day you’re their president, and they look to you for inspiration.

CNN: What are the ways you give?

Simmons: I run many charities. I make music. I have a financial service company that is very special.

CNN: The book talks a lot about being focused and awake. How can we do that?

When I say you need nothing, it’s a state of awareness so you can be focused on your work. People are sometimes focused on their results, and it can be a distraction. Be focused on the action, the work, and that’s what we want to teach people.

CNN: People can often link success to material objects, perhaps a new car or house. How do you break away from that belief when so many people are inundated with material objects?

Simmons: There is a simple chapter on meditation to watch your thoughts just a bit — to not to be a sheep through that practice and other practices. You start to think on your own, and you can check what society is telling you, whether the collective unconscious behavior is your behavior or your future. Do you have to do what everyone does?

As you come to meditate and look inside, you can make your own choices. And entrepreneurs absolutely have to think outside the box, don’t they? You want to have the creativity and a spacious mind. The book is about creating that kind of mind-set so you can be a better entrepreneur.

CNN: Meditation is one way to achieve that clarity. Are there other ways?

Simmons: Take stock in yourself. When you meditate, you take inventory before you transcend the thoughts. As you come to know what they told you is true … when you hear the truth, it rings a bell. This book is written in such a way that many people who might not hear it from their mother, their preacher, their prophet or their scripture, they are hearing it in this book.

CNN: Tell me about being vegan.

Simmons: I’ve been vegan for more than 10 years. It’s maybe the worst disaster in human history — 15 billion suffering farm animals. And I don’t want to participate in it. I’m 53 years old, and do I look sick to you? I don’t eat animal or animal products, and I feel fine. I feel pretty healthy.

CNN: What are your favorite dishes?

Simmons: I like this spicy tempeh dish. I like that a lot. People ask my favorite stuff, and I say the thing in front of me a lot. Right now if I weren’t on a liquid diet, if I had an avocado roll and some soy sauce, it would be that.

CNN: What can people learn from your book?

Simmons: I hope people become more compassionate and happier, and I guess the fringe benefit is they will be successful in the world.

Original article no longer available

Bodhipaksa

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Click here to find out about the many benefits of being a sponsor.

Read More

Actress Lindsay Wagner takes a holistic path

wildmind meditation news

Bruce Fessier, The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, CA: You may know Lindsay Wagner as the patched-together heroine of TV’s “Bionic Woman.” But even before that 1970s series, she was an ardent advocate of holistic health.

Wagner, 61, will speak Saturday at a Palm Springs Women in Film & Television luncheon in La Quinta, where she’s had a home for more than a year.

But she wasn’t sure what to talk about because she’s been more devoted to her holistic health studies for the past decade than her film and television career.

Wagner has devoted much of her time to working with convicted assailants in Los Angeles jails and conducting workshops with their families on how to awaken their human potential and heal emotional scars.

For her, finding ways to integrate body, mind and spirit can help anyone with their personal growth.

“That is what was going to keep me in balance while going through this strange and unnatural process of being a star and an icon,” Wagner said while eating a vegetarian meal at an El Paseo restaurant.

“It’s a very strange life and I found that (while) working 12 to 18 hours a day, learning things like health and meditation and power naps and understanding those principles were very helpful to my health. On an emotional-psychological level, to have a spiritual path that was grounding and richening was so valuable to keep my sanity going.”

Wagner is of a protege of Dr. Gladys McGeary, one of the founders of the holistic health movement in the United States. McGeary ran the Edgar Cayce Outpatient Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., and wrote “The Physician Within You.” Wagner once did promotion for McGeary and recently attended her 90th birthday celebration.

Wagner also is a student of the late William Hornaday, co-founder of the Church of Religious Science with the late Ernest Holmes. It was Hornaday who actually started Wagner on her holistic journey.

“I had a very bad case of ulcers when I was a kid, just before I turned 20,” she said. “UCLA was wanting to operate, but Dr. Hornaday and a colleague, who was a medical doctor (and) a practitioner of Science of Mind, came to me because Dr. Hornaday’s secretary was my boyfriend’s mother. They offered to help me if I wanted to possibly avoid the surgery. They taught me to meditate, they taught me self investigation, they put me on a severe fast (and) they taught me to do spiritual mind treatments, which is using the visualization of a healthy body with calling on the divine.”

After six weeks, her ulcers were gone, she said. She doesn’t recommend that regimen without professional supervision because she ingested nothing but skim milk for six weeks while meditating.

But Wagner said she learned so much about her human potential that she decided to begin a lifetime study of Hornaday’s philosophy of integrating the body, mind and spirit.

“By the time I started acting, I was already convinced,” she said. “I considered actually quitting the business at one point to become a homeopath.”

Listening to the body

Wagner actually practices several types of meditation. She sets aside at least an hour each morning for whatever technique she needs to balance herself — whether that means relaxing or re-energizing.

“When I’m talking about being balanced, I’m not talking about some horrible thing that happened to me yesterday,” she said. “(It’s) everything from the toxins in our food and the toxins in the air we breathe. To have the chakra system – the energy system of the body – balanced, it’s (about) going to the core. The core knows exactly what we need. In one moment we need more energy than we do at another. So to be connected to our core, that’s a lifestyle that helps me have more energy when I need it and be calm when I don’t need it all.”

Wagner, who has co-authored books on acupuncture and vegetarian food, supplements her diet and meditation with herbs and vitamins. She found primrose oil and Vitamin E helpful with the hot flashes associated with menopause. But she’d rather “listen to my body” than follow a strict regimen. She often discontinues using some supplements for a week or so.

The key to her holistic approach, she said, is “looking at the body and the mind and the spirit altogether. You can’t eliminate any one of them. You have to be balanced to have the total healing.”

Wagner says she’s more productive now than when she was younger because she can manage her energy better.

“I have learned through my life that the more grounded I am, the more energy I have to give to what I’m doing in the moment,” she said. “That’s way less tiring and way less draining of energy, so I outlast a lot of kids, so to speak, when I’m doing the same type of thing. I’m using my energy much more efficiently.

“I feel better than I used to feel ever. There are some times I wish I had some of that excess energy, but, when I look at it, I wouldn’t trade where I am today.”

Original article no longer available

Bodhipaksa

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Click here to find out about the many benefits of being a sponsor.

Read More

Vegetarian diet for five days reduces levels of toxic chemicals in the body

People who adopted a vegetarian diet for just five days show reduced levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies. In particular, levels of hormone disrupting chemicals and antibiotics used in livestock were lower after the five-day vegetarian program. The pilot study suggests that people may be able reduce their exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals through dietary choices, such as limiting consumption of animal products like meats and dairy.

Twenty-five participants lived in a Buddhist temple and adopted the monks’ lifestyle – including their traditional vegetarian diet – for five days.

At the beginning of their “Temple Stay,” participants completed a questionnaire about what they had eaten in the previous 48 hours. They gave a urine sample to provide information on level of exposure to antibiotics and phthalates before the program began. None of the participants had taken any antibiotics or pharmaceutical drugs in the previous month. After five days of following a traditional Buddhist monk lifestyle and diet, participants again gave a urine sample so that levels of chemicals in their bodies after the program could be assessed.

Because it is difficult to measure levels of phthalates directly, researchers typically measure levels of their breakdown products in the urine samples. In this case, the scientists looked at levels of six different phthalate breakdown products as well as concentrations of three commonly used antibiotics and two of their breakdown products.

The researchers compared levels of phthalates and antibiotics in the body before and after the program. They also examined how the foods eaten in the days prior to the start of the Temple Stay related to the before levels of chemicals in their urine.

Participants varied greatly as to which antibiotics were detected in their bodies at the start of the study. By the end of the study, in many cases, participants’ antibiotic concentrations were too low to be accurately measured. For those samples that could be measured, moreover, both urinary levels of the antibiotics and the estimated daily intake of antibiotics had decreased after the Temple Stay.

Every participant had measurable levels of all six phthalate breakdown products at both the beginning and end of the study. However, after the five-day program, levels of all but one had dropped significantly, as had the estimated daily intake of phthalates.

The researchers also found that the foods participants ate in the 48 hours before starting the program were related to the concentrations of antibiotics and phthalates in their bodies. Beef, pork and dairy were associated with starting urinary levels of the various antibiotics, suggesting that those foods may be major inadvertent routes of exposure to the pharmaceuticals. Similarly, levels of one particular phthalate breakdown product were related to number of servings of dairy products consumed in the previous 48 hours.

The dramatic reductions in antibiotic and phthalate levels resulting from the five-day Temple Stay program of lifestyle and dietary change suggest that the body’s chemical burden can be reduced even within a very short time frame.

At the same time, phthalates remained in the urine of all 25 participants, albeit at lesser levels, even after the five-day program. The finding reinforces current thinking that diet is an important source of phthalate exposure but not the only one. Other sources of exposure include personal care products, home furnishings and dust.

Antibiotic levels showed a more dramatic drop, suggesting that food is, in fact, the major route of exposure.

This study is among the first to look at how diet affects phthalate and antibiotic levels in the body and shows that reduced consumption of animal products may be important. However, it also leaves many questions unanswered. The specific type of vegetarian diet and the Buddhist monk lifestyle adopted by participants in the Temple Stay are not described in great detail by the study’s authors. Vegetarian diets can vary considerably and because no additional information on the Temple Stay diet was provided, it is difficult to make more specific dietary recommendations on how the public can reduce chemical exposures.

For instance, the authors don’t report on whether the Temple Stay diet was free of dairy products as well as meats. Whether the foods consumed by participants were mostly fresh and unprocessed is also an important question. When it comes to chemical exposures in the diet, the specific foods consumed may prove to be less important than how those foods are processed, packaged and prepared. Further research is needed to examine those issues, particularly in isolation from other lifestyle changes.

Aside from the dietary changes during the Temple Stay, the adoption of a traditional lifestyle during the five-day period may have also contributed to reduced chemical exposures in the participants, particularly phthalate levels. Although lifestyle factors likely played a lesser role compared to food, without knowing more about the participants’ living conditions and surroundings during the program, it is impossible to rule out the importance of phthalate exposure through the environment. Nevertheless, this initial finding provides strong evidence that dietary and other lifestyle changes can reduce exposure to a range of potentially harmful chemicals even on a very short time scale.

[via Environmental Health News]
Read More

Ask Auntie Suvanna: On eating vegetarian monkey brains

Monkey looking intently at a baby monkey

You ate what?

Dear Auntie,
Can I still consider myself compassionate if I like to eat vegetarian monkey’s brains? A local vegan restaurant serves it, and it is delicious.
Signed,
Ethical Eater

Dear Ethical,
It’s clear that when it comes to vegetable-based meat substitutes, emotions run high. Many people, both vegetarians and omnivores, feel that it is completely stupid to eat fake meat. Others say, well if you like the taste of meat, but don’t want to cause harm in that way, why not? The practice can be attacked and defended in various ways. In addition, some meat eaters seem to get a bit touchy around vegetarians, as if vegetarianism were invented as a direct attack on their lifestyle, just to make things inconvenient. And then there are the vegangelicals…

Why are we so righteous about food? Why do people care so much about what other people, even complete strangers, eat? Is the biggest issue in your world today whether your vegetarian acquaintance likes Tofurkey sandwiches? And this happening in a country with the most unhealthy people in an industrialized nation. But it just occurred to me that I am supposed to be answering questions, not asking them.

Your vegetarian monkey’s brain is probably made of wheat gluten, also known as seitan, pronounced similar to – but otherwise having nothing in common with – “Satan,” unless Satan is a vegetarian, which seems unlikely. Seitan has been used by northern Asian vegetarian monastics for hundreds of years as a protein-rich alternative to meat. The monk who came up with the famous unanswerable question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” had perhaps eaten a seitan monkey’s brain that day, which would explain a lot.

Overall, I would say that if you currently consider yourself compassionate, and you are, you may continue to do so while chewing wheat gluten, even if said wheat gluten has a remarkably brain-like texture. The only reservation I might have would depend on whether or not the vegans actually screw the head-shaped wheat ball into the table and saw off the top of it. If so, you may have in fact gone over to the dark side, where there is no compassion.

Love,
Auntie Suvanna


Ever despair at how to cultivate lovingkindness for Dick Cheney, or ponder the effect of anti-depressants on Buddha Nature? If so, check out Auntie Suvanna, who applies her unique wisdom and wit to your queries about life, meditation, Dharma, family and relationship issues, or anything else that comes up.

Read More

“Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat,” by Tsogdruk Rangdrol Shabkar

Shabkar, Food of Bodhisattvas

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol (1781-1851) is revered by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Living mostly on retreat in the mountains surrounded by a few close and hardy disciples, or on pilgrimages to the holy places of Tibet, he lived an austere life, with no fixed abode and possessing only the most meager of possessions, attaching himself to no monastery, adhering to no school, and remaining free from dependence upon benefactors. Shabkar was famed for his concern with animals, and lived strictly by a vegetarian diet: a rare accomplishment in the harsh climate of Tibet. In fact the practice of vegetarianism is still rare not only in Tibet itself but in Tibetan Buddhism in the West despite the relative ease of adopting a vegetarian diet here, and it this incongruity that this book addresses.

This book presents two of Shabkar’s works along with an introduction by the translators. The introduction is a fascinating work in itself, which gives an account of Shabkar and offers an overview of the historical relationship between Buddhism and vegetarianism from a Tibetan perspective. The translators are anything but impartial on vegetarianism, and advocate a meat-free diet as an expression of compassion for living beings.

The first translated text, The Faults of Eating Meat, is a compendium of extracts from Mahayana and Tantric scriptures and teachings by Indian and Tibetan masters. These are of interest primarily in giving a sense of how widespread the advocacy of vegetarianism was throughout the Mahayana and Vajrayana world. Moreover, many of these texts, such as the Angulimala Sutra, the Sutra of Close Mindfulness, and various tantras, are not readily available to the average western practitioner, and any exposure to them is to be welcomed. Moreover, the wealth of material from authoritative sources may well be effective in motivating followers of Tibetan Buddhism to reexamine their relationship to meat-eating. However, because there is a bare minimum of material connecting the extracts, Shabkar’s voice and personality are only dimly heard, which led to some disappointment for this reviewer.

The arguments against meat eating found in The Faults of Eating Meat are basically the same as those in the second text, The Nectar of Immortality, which is an engaging essay addressing in a more personal way the reasons why meat-eating should be avoided by those following the Bodhisattva path. Many of these arguments are typically Tibetan, such as the idea that all beings have, at some point in the endless rounds of rebirth, been one’s own mother, and that in eating meat one is in effect devouring a parent.

Shabkar also warns of a hellish rebirth for those who consume meat and tackles the idea that one can benefit a slaughtered animal by “compassionately” chanting mantras while eating it. Arguments for or against such propositions will necessarily lack persuasive force for all but followers of Tibetan Buddhism.

However, for a wider audience there are still arguments that may sway opinions. Shabkar writes, for example, that the notion – formulated originally for bhikkhus who lived by accepting whatever was put into their begging bowls – that it’s acceptable to eat meat as long as one doesn’t see, hear, or suspect that the animal was killed especially for the recipient, is not applicable in a market economy. Instead, he argues, the meat-eater creates the demand that the butcher merely fills. Thus, he argues, it is the meat-eater who is mostly at fault and who must take responsibility for his actions if he sincerely wishes to reduce the amount of suffering his diet entails.

The fact that many arguments that Shabkar makes are framed in a Tibetan world view does not of course invalidate the book. Shabkar was a Tibetan writing for Tibetans, and his arguments will remain potent for present-day Tibetan practitioners. This book will hopefully have the effect of encouraging more Buddhists in the West (and not just the followers of Tibetan schools) to become more aware of the suffering that meat eating entails, and at least to begin moving towards adopting a diet that helps avoid unnecessary suffering by animals.

Read More

Transcendental meditation can help heart (News 8 Austin, Texas)

News 8 Austin, Texas: Dr Brian Olshansky, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Iowa, promotes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and the Transcendental Meditation Programme (TM) to help take control of one’s health and prevent cardiovascular disease. Dr Olshansky is currently treating a group of people who have heart disease with alternative therapies, including TM, yoga, breathing exercises, herbal preparations, and a predominantly vegetarian diet. It is a joy for Global Good News service to feature this news, which indicates the success of the life-supporting programmes Maharishi has designed to bring fulfilment to the field of health.

Although the results of the study are not yet finalized, News 8 Austin reported that Olshansky plans to follow up with a larger study if the results are positive.

The article described the Transcendental Meditation Technique as ‘a simple mental technique that involves deep relaxation and rest. It is usually practiced twice a day, while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed.’ The article cited the recently published study wherein patients practising TM lowered both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers by an average of nearly four points by performing only two 15-minute sessions each day.

Olshansky said that currently health and heart problems are national epidemics and that although doctors perform cardiac surgery only as a last resort, at least 250,000 people die each year from the operation or from drug interactions. He wants people to avoid getting to that point by utilizing simple lifestyle changes, and techniques such as TM, proper diet, and exercise.

Original article no longer available…

Read More
Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X