Why Buddhists Should be Vegetarian

As a Buddhist and imperfect vegan who more accurately fits the definition of vegetarian, this post offers much food for thought, if you’ll pardon the unfortunate cliché, and the comments that follow are every bit as thought provoking and helpful in their way as the author’s most excellent writing on the subject. Let us all reason together, explore, discuss, evolve and change for the better. May we try each day to live Metta, or loving kindness, to the very best of our imperfect ability. Namasté, Sonnische/Shielagh

Sujato’s Blog

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…

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The Postie and the Pig

In New Zealand it appears that the advertising business gets that not everyone sees pigs as edible commodities. At least the Vodafone people get it! Watch this cute video, maybe more than once as I did, to savor the full message.

Needless to say, pigs make great pets but they don’t stay small, even the so called “teacup” variety. Best Friends Sanctuary shares their insights here. There are a myriad of deceptions breeders employ to sell buyers on the belief the piglet they buy will be “tiny”, “teacup” or “micro”.

Pigs are big creatures in maturity, and loving, intelligent and playful non-human animals. Visit the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, as we have, to get up close and personal with wonderful adult pigs. By the way, WFAS has moved to better, bigger digs closer to New York City, in High Falls, New York, and will have their Grand Opening Labor Day Weekend! They could use your help, both hands on and monetary. Maybe this will be the year you get to celebrate Thanksliving with the animals, including sharing pumpkin pie with the turkeys! Learn more here: http://woodstocksanctuary.org/news-events/events/

Remember our nonhuman brothers and sisters today, every bit as deserving of compassion and caring as the human family. The world is changing, and in this case, in a good way!

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Thanksgiving Thoughts

 

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Thanksgiving is one of those conduits through this life I’ve been living since 1951. No, I don’t remember each and every one of them, but I do remember many. Here are some of those:

  • The turkey dinners ordered from Zucky’s kosher deli with all the trimmings
  • Mom learning from Gracie how to stuff and truss a turkey, with needle and button thread
  • The lentil loaf we had one year instead of turkey when Mom was a vegetarian
  • Thanksgiving dinner with Granny at the Santa Ynez Inn
  • The year when Lucille put her turkey on the counter and our cat and hers dragged it onto the floor and gnawed on it
  • Making my first pumpkin pie in high school from canned pie filling and a store-bought crust
  • Learning to make pumpkin pie from canned pumpkin and scratch crust
  • Jumping up on down on a scratch crust that refused to turn out, and starting all over again
  • Finally making pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin and a frozen crust
  • Getting the Betty Crocker Cookbook and making the turkey and everything for the family
  • Discovering the ubiquitous green bean casserole with French fried onions on top
  • Spending Thanksgivings during boarding school with my aunt and uncle in New Jersey
  • Discovering the ease of the disposable foil roasting pan, learning to put a cookie sheet under it
  • Adding a roasting bag and making the whole thing so much easier
  • Wanting to go to Dysart’s (inspired by Tim Sample) but new friends insisted we join them
  • Spending more than one Thanksgiving serving turkey at a church covered dish supper
  • Realizing there are many different Jell-o salads and Ambrosias, all with lots of whipped topping
  • Becoming a vegetarian briefly and actually making a lentil loaf for our Thanksgiving one year
  • Going on Atkins and eating way more turkey than anyone else at the table, and not much else
  • Watching a Mercy for Animals video on factory farm cruelty to turkeys, cows and other beings
  • Becoming a vegetarian again and eventually going vegan and remaining so
  • Making my first vegan Tofurky Feast, lots of work but good, especially the stuffing and gravy
  • Enjoying the Gardein Holiday Roast, a tasty turkey substitute

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And that brings me to this Thanksgiving. It was supposed to snow all over the northeast but in New York it only rained yesterday, and Wednesday is a very bad day to try to drive from New York to Pennsylvania, a Gridlock Alert Day, because everyone wants to get out of town at once. So this morning we drove to PA and once we hit New Jersey it snowed the rest of the way. There was about a foot of snow on the back deck, and although our driveway had been plowed this morning, there was another inch or two of fresh snow on our walk and driveway. The house warmed up fast with the fireplace and heat pump working beautifully. I put on my apron and started cooking. I roasted a turkey leg for my husband according to a recipe with rave reviews (it was disappointing), and I made stuffing in the crockpot, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans, and a wonderful Field Roast Celebration Roast as my vegan main dish. We had a lovely loaf of cranberry bread, cranberry sauce and olives. I turned to Mary McDougall and the Happy Herbivore for my recipes. Last week I had made butternut squash soup in advance for today. Dessert was a three-berry crumb pie from Fairway, with decaf. Delish!

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The food was fine, but I am so thankful for my family, our health, my recovery from back pain, our cat, our friends, my Buddhist practice, our material blessings, my work, and so very much more. And this year, as my teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh lies in a hospital in France recovering from a severe brain hemorrhage, I am so thankful to have learned so many valuable lessons for my life from him. I hope and pray for his full recovery. I also understand that at 88 he may transition from this life before long.

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Namaste

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They are Everywhere

UPDATE: I just reread this post after more than two years. It merits sharing again, especially in this new, frightening climate of political extremism and the threat of diminishing entitlements for those who need them most. — Shielagh 2/23/17

They are everywhere. 

The Four Noble Truths: – The truth of suffering – The truth of the origin of suffering – The truth of the end of suffering – The truth of the path to the end of suffering

 

I cannot help but see how they suffer. I am not sure what the blessing is in suffering through homelessness and hopelessness. I see them on the subway, asking for money, food, Metrocards, help, hope. I see them sleeping in corners and in doorways, laid out awkwardly across subway platform benches that are uncomfortably partitioned for four. I see them at the end of subway cars, sleeping or pretending to sleep, surrounded by bulging bags of their things, some with a plastic hospital bracelet on one wrist. Flip flops in winter, dirty feet in slippers or worn-out shoes, sometimes in wooden surgical boots. Reddened, swollen ankles blotched and shiny with edema. Often and more now than before, I see well-groomed men sitting behind polite cardboard signs asking for compassion, for a hand up, bus fare home, a meal, as they read a book or magazine, avoiding eye contact. Groups of grimy kids sleeping on cardboard with dogs or cats, their cardboard signs asking for money for food or a hotel room before the next storm hits. I see the long, matted blond dreadlocks about begrimed, drawn faces of kids young enough to be my grandchildren, skateboards under arms and sleeping bags and backpacks weighing them down as they move from place to place, rousted by police or in search of something much needed right then. I see the African hair, wild and long, grizzled into shaggy beards framing dark, dusty faces. I’ve seen men and women, in couples and alone, sleeping against buildings in midmorning in mummy bags or bedrolls, their things in bags about them, the smell of old urine strong by the nearby broken payphone enclosure. Once I looked up from my own thoughts to see an old woman defecating into a plastic bag between the bike rack and the litter can by a busy intersection downtown. I didn’t want to see. I felt her suffering, a reality that seemed to say, there is nowhere else for me to go.

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Homeless man on the F train

I see the bloody socks, the bandaged hands, the haunted faces, the vacant eyes. I see the plastic rosary beads around scrawny necks, the cigarettes, the brown-bagged cans and bottles, the battered paper coffee cups hopeful for change. I hear the  guitarist on the subway platform singing a Neil Young song as tenderly and tunefully as Neil himself. I watch as passersby waiting for their train or heading towards the stairs drop a dollar into the guitar case, or hurry by unaware of the fragile life of the man behind the instrument. I have seen him for at least ten years now. He no longer has teeth. I have given many dollar bills over those years. Once he stood near the stairs crying and asking if anyone could help him get new guitar strings before the music store closed, saying someone had damaged his guitar at the hospital. I gave him a five and told another woman who stopped, looking worried, that he sings as beautifully as Neil Young. He was too upset to respond and kept weeping. There is something very broken in him now, because between his haunting songs he sometime yells and screams at no one in particular about world injustices, thoughtless people, all the “motherfuckers” and “assholes,” whoever and wherever they may be. I am sure he suffers greatly.

I hear the crazy rants, the anger, the fear, the hopelessness, and see the dirt, the empty eyes, the pathos written all over the faces. I used to tell myself they were students in a sociology class, running experiments to see how others react to homelessness, poverty, need and hopelessness.  It’s been a very long time since I comforted myself with that fantasy. I know there are police patrols and pairs of homeless workers who travel these streets to see who needs help, but many withdraw from them and are not seen. When winter comes and rough weather prevails, vans traverse our streets with workers trying to get homeless men and women into shelters for the night. Places they’d rather die than go, mostly. Addictions, experiences being robbed, histories of abuse, compounded fear and layers of hopelessness scare them away from shelter and often from helping hands up and out of their despair. Such suffering.

I hear the pleas on the subway cars as we rattle between Manhattan and Brooklyn, from the tall man in fatigues asking, “Can you help a homeless Veteran?” From a small dark-eyed woman with a large child on her hip, both with doleful expressions, who stands in front of each passenger holding a sign that says, “I am deaf and mute. We need food. Can you help us?” And the young woman with several children in tow, repeating the length of the car, “My house burned down, we have nothing. My children and I are homeless, can you help?” Sometimes while the person is traversing the car, an announcement comes over the loudspeaker reminding us that it is against the law to solicit on the subway. “Ladies and gentlemen soliciting money in the subway is illegal,” it drones. Ignore the suffering, it suggests. Others will see to it.

I don’t always, but I’ve offered what I can, a Metrocard with a few trips left on it, a little money, a protein bar, a sandwich, dog or cat food for a homeless person’s animal companion. And when money or food or something else is offered, they nod and sometimes say, “Thank you.” “God bless you.” “You are very kind.” And when nothing is offered and they stand at the doors as the train comes to a stop, I’ve heard, “You folks have a good day now.” “Hope you never know how hard this is,” and “God bless you.”  And then there was the weather-beaten old woman I once offered a plastic container of holiday cookies that I’d planned to share at the office. She screamed at me incomprehensibly and batted away my offering with as much force and rage as if I’d pulled a knife.

They tear at my heartstrings, and their suffering fills me with fear from depths unknown, fear of destitution and homelessness, fear of extreme isolation and loneliness, fear of rejection, fear of untreated mental illness, fear of surrender to hopelessness, fear of losing faith in my ability to manage, fear of losing the belief I will be taken care of if ever I cannot take care of myself, fear of giving up and giving in to addiction, fear of illness and parasites and dirt. Fear of growing into very old age alone and defenseless, of outliving savings. And my practice has taught me that it is out of fear that aversion grows. Every day I aspire to be free from aversion, attachment and indifference. I am learning to see past fear and into fellow beings, beings whose lives are as transitory as my own, to see their suffering, to have compassion, and to remember that within each of them learning and growing and karma are also taking place.

So I read every single day, and recite aloud most days, the Buddhist text of the Metta Sutta. I often read it in the morning during my subway ride. My version says, “Let none deceive another or despise any being in any state,” to despise no beings–none, to have loving kindness for all, no matter how small or great, no matter the circumstances. To love each being, human and otherwise, “freed from hatred and ill-will,” to love them all dearly, as a mother loves her only child. How difficult this is to do, and yet how important it is to try.

And today this is my practice.

Namaste

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Gazing at Peace and Truth

 We gaze at the face of the Buddha, one who has shown countless beings who have gone before us the way of peace and truth, of right living, of non-harming (ahimsa), of mindfulness, of dwelling in the moment, of experiencing life open and aware (mindfulness). We see calm and beauty in his face, and we remember why we seek it, for peace in our hearts and for peace in the world we inhabit. We seek to live honorably, fairly, humanely, responsibly and rightly, and embodying loving kindness (Metta).

What do we bring today to honor this enlightened being who has spoken wisdom, passed down to us through the ages, offering tools by which to bring an end to suffering in ourselves and in others? If we follow the Dharma, we bring the intention to align our lives, every moment of every day, with the Noble Eightfold Path. Perhaps we succeed only momentarily, but as we continue to practice with the intentions of Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration, we will have more such right moments. Even more perhaps than the peace right living brings to us is the peace it can bring to all with whom we come in contact in our lives. The ripples spread ever outward, and the healing influence and positive effects are endless.

The path awaits.

Namaste

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A Vegan’s Guilty Pleasures

Is being vegan boring? No way!

We who become vegan each do so for our own reasons. Some for health, as I did initially, some for ahimsa,  the principle of non-harming, and some for the environment. It takes way more water, land and feed to raise a pound of meat than an equivalently nutritious portion of vegetables, grains or fruits to be eating directly by the consumer, rather than inefficiently processed through the mastication and digestion of a animal confined for the purpose. The waste materials from factory farmed animals alone account for more water pollution than many other contaminants on the planet. The methane gases produced by ruminants raised for their meat is the single largest contributor of carbon dioxide to global climate change. So the reasons are many but all are compelling to each of us vegans at some point and we change ourselves. I am not proselytizing for veganism here, but if you want to know more, feel free to comment and ask!

That said, let’s examine the vegan lifestyle. Some people think that when someone becomes a vegan they eat nothing but tasteless leaves and twigs. Couldn’t be further from the truth! I have some criteria for vegan snacking such as no high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and naturally no eggs or dairy or any ingredients containing them or their derivatives. This is not always easy. Oreos are vegan but have HFCS so I don’t buy them anymore, but Newman’s Os are vegan. But I always read the labels because some versions of familiar products have unwanted ingredients somewhere down the list. For example, certain chili-lime flavored tortilla chips get their tanginess from a milk derivative. Who would think?

I’m not saying they are healthy, but one of my favorite snack treats are Snyder’s Buffalo Wing Pretzel Bites. Chunks of broken up pretzel pieces flavored with a zesty, spicy vegan buffalo-sauce-flavored coating. Vegan! Yummy! They are in every store around, so I won’t link to the company, but you can if you want to know the ingredients.

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I love the various meat analogs (meat substitutes) such as these (and there are many more):

  • Tofurky cold cuts, sausages and franks, and roasts with all the trimmings for special occasions p_holiday_feast195
  • Field Roast frankfurters, sausages, cold cuts, and meat loaf  sausages3-670x523
  • Gardein Beefless Burgers, Crispy Tenders (chicken-free), and everything else they make gardein_CrspyTndrsgardein_frz_BflsBrgr_US_Sm-225x238
  • Lightlife’s Fakin’ Bacon which is delicious with a tofu scramble or on a vegan Reuben sandwich tempeh_smoky_201210

I don’t miss mayonnaise when there are delicious egg-free versions such as Vegenaise, Nayonaise and more.

Who misses butter when one can use avocado, hummus, extra-virgin olive oil or Earth Balance margarine?

Cream cheese? There are several delicious vegan versions.

Hard cheese? No problem! Several great ones exist with more being introduced all the time. I love Daiya shreds and slices. There are amazing artisanal vegan cheeses, cultured and aged just as dairy cheeses are, but made with cashews instead of milk or cream, such as Kite Hill and Heido Ho and others.

Ice cream? Don’t get me started. There are several amazing soy and coconut-milk based variations that rival that pint you used to devour with a spoon at one sitting. You know what I’m talking about! I’ll leave it to you to research this one.

Where do I find all these amazing foods? Some at Whole Foods, Fairway, Wegmans and Giant. I have also found many of these products in the South at Kroger and Publix. You can order many of these products, even the perishable ones (with cold packs), at Vegan Essentials and Pangea, the Vegan Store. These and several other great online vegan resources are detailed here. Some products can be ordered directly from the producers, such as Meatless Select’s Fishless Tuna that is so good, I ordered a case. Check it out!  Product-Page_Tuna2

So why are all these yummy foods that make transitioning to a plant-based, animal-free diet so easy listed among my guilty pleasures? Because if one relies too much on them, the sodium and calories can add up and keep one heavier than one would expect a vegan to be. Ahem. I’m just sayin’ So eat more veggies and whole foods. Whole, as in big green salad, or a whole potato or bowl of brown rice, or a massaged kale salad, or a luscious mango, or a slice of whole grain bread with a little nut butter spread lightly. The possibilities are endless. If you want to know more, check out The Happy Herbivore whose bestselling cookbooks are available on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.

But unquestionably, these foods are much healthier for you than their non-vegan counterparts. Just go easy and don’t have them at every meal. Even though I often do. I am a work in progress. So copping to my ways and sharing them here is one way I may get better with it all!

Bon appetit!

Namaste

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Being An Instrument of Peace

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Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

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How do we become an instrument of peace?

St. Francis of Assisi lived the words in this prayer attributed to him. He, as did the Buddha, gave up a life of wealth and ease to live modestly and spend his time and energies ministering to the poor and those in need of compassion and relief from suffering. It is said that animals of all kinds came towards him, and he is often depicted with birds on his shoulders and resting in his open hands, and adoring animals at his feet. The Franciscan Order was founded in his name and espousing his values, and Francis, the current Pope, himself a Franciscan, has demonstrated his commitment to being an instrument of peace wherever he goes.

  • In order to transmit peace, we need to receive and nurture peace. This means seeking it and sharing it.
  • Being an instrument of peace, in my view, means abstaining from harming any other beings, practicing ahimsa, the Eastern principle of non-harming.
  • To receive peace we need to be in harmony with the peace around us. We therefore must tune in to peace wherever it may be. We must seek out beauty and tranquility in nature, and we must gravitate to those beings with whom we feel at peace. Animals who share our lives can bring us the peace of their presence.
  • We can find peace virtually anywhere, even where suffering occurs. Even in suffering, we can be at peace, and we can comfort others in their suffering with our peace. Even one suffering and near death can be at peace and in so being transmit that peace to us.

To be an instrument of peace means to earnestly seek peace for all beings–whomever, however and wherever they may be. When we can do this, we begin to become liberated from the schadenfreude that characterizes much modern emotional life. We no longer wish for our allies, candidates or teams to win at the expense of their competitors suffering ignominious defeat. It becomes possible for us to feel at ease with win-win, rather than requiring win-lose for our happiness. This is not to say that we will not yearn for goodness, right and charity toward all to prevail. Naturally we will seek these things always. But we learn to refrain from wishing ill towards those who fight against goodness, right, and charity toward all. Perhaps as peace truly takes up residence in our hearts and minds we aspire for those who sow misery to be transformed into loving, caring and better beings.

One way we can transmit peace toward all beings, to truly be an instrument of peace, is to make Metta, or loving kindness, meditation a part of our daily practice. We aspire to all the desirable states of being for ourselves, then for our loved ones, next for those with whom we do not feel peace and harmony or are aware they do not feel them towards us, and lastly for all other beings, whomever, however and wherever they may be.

When we aspire to Metta, or loving kindness, for all beings, we do so in a sweeping “lighthouse” sort of manner:

For beings in this universe and all other universes.

For all beings above us and below us.

All beings to the north, south, east and west of us.

Male beings and female beings.

Young beings and old beings.

Human beings, animal beings, and all other beings.

Living beings, and beings who are not yet living.

Beings in the air, beings on the earth, beings under the earth.

Beings in or on the waters of the oceans, rivers, lakes and streams.

Beings wherever they may on the path toward enlightenment.

Beings at any plane of existence or level of consciousness.

When I first began practicing Metta meditation, I failed to comprehend the value of this sweeping, inclusive nature of the practice. I simply wished for “all beings” all the aspirations I wished for myself. Now I find myself visualizing peace and all goodness for all beings as I list the various kinds of beings and their various states and positions, and I can feel the loving kindness permeating me as I visualize it permeating the universes and all who dwell in any state of being within them. In this manner, I believe we broadcast loving kindness in all directions, and thus truly become Instruments of Peace.

Today I heard a beautiful rendition of the St. Francis Prayer by Singh Kaur, a devout Sikh convert and amazing musician, and a being whose life ended long before its time, or so it must feel to all those who loved her. This beautiful floral slide show complements her heavenly voice.

 

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Namaste

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