Leaving Home

Originally published in VegNews Magazine, July 2003

Dr. Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

The practice of questioning the underlying assumptions of the family and culture we are born into has been understood for centuries as fundamental to spiritual awakening and social progress. In Buddhism, it is called “leaving home,” and is pointed at also, for example, by Jesus when he asks rhetorically, “who is my mother?” Leaving home is Buddhist shorthand for questioning our society’s values and adopting a higher set of values. It means undertaking the spiritual path that leads to higher consciousness, greater compassion, and ultimately, to freedom from the delusion of being a fundamentally separate self and the suffering and violence this delusion necessarily causes.

By no longer unquestioningly accepting the values, worldview, and practices of our parents, family, and culture, leaving home is the foundation of and prerequisite for spiritual growth, and for undertaking what Joseph Campbell termed the Hero’s Journey. The hero’s journey is the cross-culturally recognized spiritual quest in which we leave the confines of home and culture, undertake an inner/outer journey and attain higher understanding, and then return to our culture with new powers to reform, vitalize, and uplift our community through the inner growth attained on our journey.

In questioning our culture’s most fundamental and defining practice, that of imprisoning and brutalizing animals for food, we are truly leaving home and embarking on a spiritual journey that will put us fundamentally at odds with our culture’s values, but which at the same time makes it possible for us to be the heroes who can help uplift and transform our ailing culture. It is perhaps the greatest gift we can give the animals, the other members of our human family, and ourselves.

The key to success on this journey is practicing spiritual principles, and the principle of leaving home is fundamental, since to grow spiritually we must question the culture we live in, and that lives in us. As we practice leaving home by examining our own societal indoctrination and questioning all the propaganda continually spewed forth by the military-industrial-meat-medical complex, we can liberate ourselves and live a life of greater compassion based on vegan ethics and a plant-based diet, and be a voice for those vulnerable sentient creatures who have no voice. In this we fulfill the universal teachings that promote spiritual living. We are practicing compassion and making connections, and our life can become a field of freedom and love as we continually affirm our interdependence with all life, and practice non-cooperation with those forces that see beings as mere commodities.

The biggest danger is that we leave home but don’t return. That is, we awaken to the hypocrisy, violence, and enslavement inherent in our culture’s commodification of animals for food, products, entertainment, and research, but fail to bring this awakening to our people by becoming a voice for the animals. If our understanding isn’t articulated in ways that are meaningful for us, it can become imprisoned within us and turn sour, becoming anger, cynicism, and disease. This doesn’t serve the animals, our culture, or us.

Even though people may resist hearing it, spreading the vegan message is the greatest gift we can give, for it is ultimately liberating for everyone. With study and practice, we can articulate it skillfully, passionately, and effectively, and help other people to leave home as well! There is, I believe, no greater work than this: leaving home, and returning with a liberating message of compassion and truth that can inspire others. Only by leaving home can we find our true home and allow the animals with whom we share this precious earth a chance to be at home as well.

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.

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