Ancient Vegan Wisdom
Originally published in VegNews Magazine, November 2006
By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
What sort of world will our children inherit from us?
With every passing day, it seems to become more obvious: the mentality that underlies our culture’s socio-economic system is destroying the biodiversity, climatic stability, and ecological integrity of our earth and poisoning human health and damaging communities and relationships. This underlying mentality is mandated and continually reinforced by our culture’s daily meals, in which we’re taught as children to disconnect from animals and the suffering we cause them, and see them as mere commodities. We are taught to eat like predators, and the industrialized factory farms and slaughter plants permeating our culture are actually systematized predatory mechanisms that have co-evolved with other predatory mechanisms—the massive corporations and financial institutions that prey on the earth, animals, and vulnerable people being one example. Our meals and institutions reflect each other and reinforce the delusion that we are violent and competitive by nature.
Spiritual and religious teachings say otherwise. The Bodhisattva ideal that Buddhists emulate, for example, embodies the understanding that our true nature is wisdom, loving-kindness and cooperativeness. Our greatest joy comes in helping others and blessing them, and we hurt ourselves the most when we harm others for our own gain. This universal understanding has been suppressed in our culture, and we find the predatory violence of our daily meals projected in technologically magnified ways as cluster bombs, universal wiretapping, genetic engineering, whale-killing sonar blasts, and the commodification of the earth and her inhabitants.
It’s becoming obvious that our culture’s predatory mentality is blindly self-destructive. Veganism is ancient wisdom whose time has come—with a vengeance! Though the word vegan is relatively new—coined in 1944 by Donald Watson—the idea behind it goes back many centuries. I lived in a Zen monastery in Korea, for example, where people had been practicing veganism for over 600 years, following a tradition going back at least 2,500 years—eating no animal-sourced foods, wearing no animal-sourced clothes, and practicing nonviolence to other beings for ethical reasons.
This ancient idea of veganism is growing and even flourishing in our culture—a recent headline in the Tucson Daily Star proclaimed that “Veganism Creates $2.8 Billion Market”—and there is nothing more essential we can do than contribute to its propagation, and nothing more healing to our world than to be practicing vegans. Veganism is the essence of inclusiveness and nonviolence: seeing sacred beings when we see others, never reducing them to objects or commodities for our use.
Our culture’s dilemmas mount because our cultural mentality is obsolete. Our technology boosts this outmoded mentality in its task of predation and thereby reinforces it. Powerful high-tech weapons, bulldozers, fishing fleets, and surveillance systems are obvious examples of this. Of course, if lab-grown “meat” becomes available, that will reduce our killing and waste of resources. And it may help us move toward veganism, since our meals will no longer require us to disconnect from the suffering we’re causing animals. However, there are countless ways we oppress and abuse animals besides eating them, and if our culture doesn’t evolve to the vegan ethic of compassion to all beings, and continues to use and prey on animals, our technology will magnify our violence and we’ll do the same to each other.
Will Tuttle, Ph.D., composer, pianist, Zen priest, and author of The World Peace Diet, is cofounder of Karuna Music & Art and of the Prayer Circle for Animals and Circle of Compassion ministry.