Rev. Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
I hope that all vegans or aspiring vegans have the opportunity at some point in your lives to live in a vegan community for a while. I have had this opportunity a few times and it’s been transformative. Many of the difficulties we encounter in living a vegan lifestyle, for our families and ourselves, arise because we are basically alone in a culture that is hostile to our values. I found when I was immersed in large-scale vegan communities, contradictions and complications evaporated in a remarkable feeling of inner wholeness.
In 1975 I visited The Farm, a spiritual community in Tennessee, and lived for a while there. A thousand longhaired people with lots of kids living in converted school buses and self-built homes on a large piece of beautifully rolling farm and forest land. The Farm was set up, legally, as a monastery, and it was strictly vegan to avoid harming animals, people, and the environment. It had its own school, telephone system, soy dairy, publishing and printing company, rock band, Sunday morning serves, and Plenty, a blossoming outreach program that provided vegan food and health-care services both in Central America and in the ghettos of North America. Stephen Gaskin, the spiritual leader, was a student of Zen master Suzuki Roshi, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center.
My hitherto vague tendencies toward vegetarianism were galvanized there, and I was enthusiastically converted. The food was delicious, the spiritually- and ethically-based reasoning resonated within me, and it was so easy—everyone there was vegan. I saw that vegan parenting was natural and healthy, and the school lunch program was, of course, all vegan!
After I left The Farm, I lived in Zen and Tibetan Buddhist meditation centers in Huntsville, Atlanta, and San Francisco, and continued being an ethical vegetarian. However, back then I was not aware of the cruelty involved in dairy products and “free-range” eggs, and continued to eat them and to wear silk, leather, and wool. The general atmosphere in the Buddhist communities I was involved with was to be vegetarian, but it wasn’t cool to be too strict about it.
Then I had the opportunity to go to Korea and live in a traditional Zen monastery as a monk and attend a three-month intensive retreat, and also travel and visit many monasteries there. With shaved head, monk’s robes, and known only by my Dharma name, I entered the rigors of a Zen monastic retreat, as the only American. We rose at 2:40 a.m. to begin the day of meditation, practicing silence and simplicity, taking vegan meals of rice, soup, vegetables, and tofu, and retiring after the evening meditation at 9:00 p.m. The community consisted of over a hundred monks, with some lay people who helped with certain tasks, and it was the deepest vegan experience I’ve ever encountered. For many centuries, in that temple, people had lived the same way, meditating and living a life of nonviolence. There was no silk or leather in any clothing, and though I was there in the summer mosquito season, it was absolutely not an option to kill one—or any creature. We simply used a mosquito net in the meditation hall. Through the months of silence and meditation, sitting still for endless hours, a deep and joyful feeling emerged within, a sense of solidarity with all life and of becoming remarkably sensitive to the energy of situations. When I eventually returned to the bustle of American life, I felt a total shift, and my somewhat casual vegetarianism was spontaneously transformed into veganism with roots that felt as if they extended to the center of the earth. Veganism would never again be an option; it had become the core of living.
I sincerely hope we will be able to create more and more opportunities for people to experience vegan community in North America. Practicing compassionate living together can send boundless waves of healing energy into our world and help awaken the slumbering conscience of our species.
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.