One Grain, Ten Thousand

Originally published in Macrobiotic Guide, January 2009

By Dr Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

“From one grain, ten thousand.” This ancient understanding of the universal principle of generosity and abundance is at the heart of macrobiotics, veganism, ahimsa, and the spiritual teachings of the world’s religions. It points to the truth that we live in an essentially benevolent and cooperative universe, and that life is a miraculously creative exuberance flowering all about us, and with which we are invited to participate by giving of ourselves.

From one grain spring hundreds, thousands, and millions of grains, each of which has the same potential. How do we respond to this existential exuberance of life bursting with more life? Our response depends on our food! From the early days, there have been two types of agriculture: plant and animal. Plant agriculture is essentially more feminine work, cooperating with the cycles of nature, nurturing the spontaneous growth of herb-, fruit-, nut-, and seed-bearing plants, and saving the precious seeds so they could be planted again the following season. For thousands of years, sacred rituals celebrated the miraculous abundance of the Earth, the powers of rain, sun, and green growth, the fecundity of Nature’s ever-giving and replenishing womb, and the joy of receiving a bounty of fragrant, delicious, and life-giving vegetables, fruits, and grains.

From the beginning, roughly eight to ten thousand years ago, animal agriculture was essentially men’s work and it required violence and the cruel domination of animals who always resisted as best they could the mutilations, thefts, confinements, and killings that were forced on them for their flesh, fur, and secretions. It began with wild sheep and goats and spread to cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals, and it always brought out the worst in the people who practiced it.

Universally, we feel a sense of wonder and joy upon entering a lovingly tended organic garden. It exudes beauty, magic, delight, and blessedness, and we instinctively feel grateful, humble (from humus, earth), and blessed in the presence of the gifts we receive so freely from forces that accomplish what we can never do: bring forth new life from seeds, roots, and stems. And universally, we are repulsed by the violence and sheer horror and ugliness that are always required to kill animals for food, and at a deep cultural level, we feel ashamed of our relentless violence against animals for our meals. We cannot create life, but we can most certainly cause death, and we do so on a massive scale. It spreads to our plant agriculture. Though we could humbly cooperate with life by creating widespread networks of small-scale organic gardens, we tend instead to dominate nature violently, the way we dominate animals for food, and create the kind of pesticide-ridden, mono-cropped industrialized agriculture that is actually a manifestation of the same mentality required by thousands of years of animal agriculture.

As children, we are all taught to disconnect from our natural sense of compassion and mercy, and to participate in eating foods of blood and terror soon after we lose our mother’s breast. We are injected with all the stories that rationalize our violence, the no-soul, protein, taste-good, and superior-species stories that armor our feelings. As we get older, we are forced to participate in preparing the foods, cutting flesh from bone, hooking unsuspecting fish, stabbing “meat” and hardening our hearts to the cries of terrified calves and starving children, whose grain we feed instead to livestock.

We are cast out of the garden into the rat race of competition and consumerism, ashamed of ourselves. It is this low self-esteem that drives the profits of corporations enriching themselves on our insatiable craving for gadgets, drugs, and entertainment to help us forget what we know in our hearts, and to cover over the moans of the animals entombed in our flesh. The choice is set before us at every meal between the garden of life or the altar of death and as we choose life and eat grains and vegetables rather than flesh, milk, and eggs, we find our joy rising, our health increasing, our spirit deepening, our mind quickening, our feelings softening, and our creativity flourishing.

We are all connected. At the core of virtually all spiritual teachings are two interdependent directives: to love God (i.e., to connect authentically with the transpersonal dimension) and to love our neighbor (i.e., to treat other expressions of life with kindness and respect). In the Buddhist tradition, as but one example, these are considered to be mutually supporting, so the more authentic our meditation experience, the more we become spontaneously compassionate, and the more we practice compassion, the deeper our meditation practice will be able to bring us. At the core of the Buddhist teaching of ethical living is the Five Precepts, which are simply the five universal taboos that virtually every culture on this planet has honored and required of its members: 1.) not killing; 2.) not stealing; 3.) not committing sexual violence or misconduct; 4.) not deceiving; 5.) not forcing alcohol or drugs on others.

When we act in these ways, we not only harm others, we harm ourselves. As Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “The wrong done another reacts most heavily against one’s self.” In animal agriculture, we routinely break all five of these precepts against animals used for food. They are (1) mutilated and killed by the billions every year; (2) have their babies stolen from them, as well as their milk, their eggs, and their freedom; (3) are sexually abused and raped by the billions every year (euphemized as insemination); (4) are deceived by barbed hooks and dark tunnels ending with electroshocks, stun guns and stabbing blades; (5) are forced to take antibiotics, drugs, hormones, and psychotropic pharmaceuticals against their will. This violence lurks in all the animal-derived foods we eat, perhaps most ironically in the “humanely-produced” meat, dairy, and eggs that are growing in popularity. Cold, premeditated killing is an ultimate betrayal of trust and it is the fate of these animals, and it is an ultimate conscience-destroyer as well for the perpetrators who directly and indirectly cause the killing.

We are here to bless the world. We are each one grain who can bless ten thousand, and that is not just our potential but our joy. As we find our song and give it voice and wings, we contribute to the healing of our world and join with others in the celebration of love and beauty on this Earth. The inner teaching is generosity, humility, and gratitude: that as we give and nurture, we receive and are blessed. Mindfulness of our food choices is the key to creating not just the outer gardens of beauty, sustainability, and nourishment, but to nurturing the inner garden of our hearts. Choosing plant-based meals is the foundation of spiritual awakening, authentic generosity, humility, and ensuring the future of life on Earth—the ten thousands depending on us today. We are ALL connected.

From The Apocryphon of James (brother of Jesus):

The world is like a grain of wheat.
When a person sowed it,
He believed in it;
When it grew, he loved it
For he looked forward
To thousands of grains in the place of one;
When he worked it,
He was saved,
Because he prepared it for food.
And again he kept back some grains to sow.

So it is possible
For you to receive the kingdom of heaven;
Unless you receive it through direct knowledge
You will never be able to discover it.

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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