I recently returned from the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto. This year’s theme was “The Power of Love and the Promise of Inclusion.” It was my first time attending and I was surprised by how much I liked it. Even though both my ordaining organizations (Unity Worldwide Ministries and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary) were represented there, I went with the express purpose to staff the Interfaith Vegan Coalition booth. The Interfaith Vegan Coalition helps faith traditions bring their ideals of nonviolence and loving kindness to fruition by promoting vegan living. Being vegan is far more than a diet. It is a way of living that makes it possible for all beings to thrive and be free from harm. It is an essential step for anyone who wants to live non-violently and create a sustainable future for everyone. It is a spiritual practice consistent with the ideals of all the world’s faith traditions. This is the work that called to me because I believe it is the most important work on the planet right now.
The Interfaith Vegan Coalition booth was rarely without people gathered around it. Over the course of the week, hundreds came by gathering information and asking questions. There were many who already recognized the connection between spirituality and vegan living and were delighted we were there. Some represented seminaries and asked if we could teach a class to their students on "Veganism As a Spiritual Practice." Many more were vegetarians who told us they just hadn’t been able to make that final step to give up dairy or eggs. We engaged these people gently with probing questions, because most vegetarians don’t know (or prefer to not know) the inherent cruelty in dairy and eggs. Others came who knew nothing about us or vegan living, and we provided support and resources. These were the kinds of interactions we would have – supportive, engaging, encouraging and questioning. We were there to plant seeds and help or inspire in whatever way we could. For me it was a sacred service to the world.
I think the most amazing thing about the Parliament is that I sensed a tipping point on the horizon. Were members of the world’s many religions starting to wake up from their deep slumber and recognize that oppression is oppression and exploitation is exploitation regardless of who the victim is? The conversation seemed to be opening. With an estimated 300 religious leaders and 8,000 people attending from 80 countries, seminar themes were predominantly focused on topics like Equality, Sustainability, Inclusion, Non-violence and Compassion. These are aspirations that we know will make a better world. But they are usually presented by people who are blind to the normalized violence we participate in daily when we sit down to eat. If we were to look at our aspirations for Equality, Sustainability, Inclusion, Non-violence and Compassion through social, scientific and spiritual lenses, we would be forced to see that all roads lead back to the need for humankind to fundamentally change the way we live, eat and relate to other beings (not just human) with whom we share our planet.
I sensed palpably that this message was starting to land in people’s ears. The heavy interest in the Interfaith Vegan Coalition booth, coupled with other significant happenings at the Parliament, made me hopeful that in time, it would land in their hearts too.
Perhaps the most prominent way this showed up was at the opening banquet. For the first time in the Parliament’s 125-year history, an all-vegan meal was served. Unlike most banquets, where someone like me could request a vegan meal, this one served gourmet vegan food as its only option to everyone. The all-vegan banquet idea was conceived by Frank Lane of UnitedVegan.com who brought all the players together. It was hosted by the Charter for Compassion and sponsored by Good Dot and In Defense of Animals' Interfaith Vegan Coalition. Good Dot is an Indian food tech start-up, whose purpose is to bring plant-based proteins to India (and eventually to Canada and the U.S.) that are affordable for everyone. They provided the food that was prepared by Chef Sandra Sellani, author of The 40 Year Old Vegan. Good Dot Co-founder and CEO, Abhishek Sinha, gave a short speech at the banquet. He said, “We cannot expect the power of love and the promise of inclusion to succeed if we continue to cause unbearable suffering to billions of animals and to the earth. That is why we are grateful to the Coalition for allowing us to provide a vegan meal.” Banquet attendees left having experienced just how delicious plant-based food could be, and making the mental connection between their plates and their spiritual ideals, beliefs and values.
I was grateful to meet Abhishek personally. He shared space in our booth to showcase samples of his tasty and shelf-stable vegan food products with Parliament attendees. I found him to be a delightful and engaging visionary. He shared with me his vision of making palette pleasing, plant-based foods accessible for people of every economic level – “as cheap as McDonald’s.” He envisions Good Dot’s vegan products being distributed in the U.S. via food trucks, with a focus on accessibility to low-income communities. He and I made plans to team up and potentially create a similar banquet at a future Unity convention. I’d love to see every denomination do the same.
I also made meaningful connections with some extraordinary spiritual and religious voices in the world. Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland and Honorary President of the Jewish Vegetarian and Ecological Society, came by our booth with his wife. His energy was magnetic. He spoke with a direct and confident style, instantly conveying that he was an accomplished man. He is also a vocal and staunch vegan, believing that religious/spiritual people have a religious obligation not to be party to the mistreatment of animals. He shared with me that when he presents on the topic, he clearly points out that animal products in global industrialized food production are all in violation of Jewish ethics regarding tza’ar ba’alei hayim (the suffering of living creatures). While at the Parliament Rabbi Rosen gave a talk on Inter-religious Understanding and participated in a panel alongside New Thought minister, Rev. Michael Beckwith, another committed vegan spiritual leader, where they discussed the ethics of veganism.
Another absolutely amazing person I connected with was Sailesh Rao, Executive Producer of Cowspiracy and What the Health. Sailesh (who incidentally dedicated 20 years of his life to help make the internet happen for all of us) shared our booth space to promote Climate Healers’ Vegan World 2026, which is fundamentally about creating a culture of normalized non-violence. This new culture will require the establishment of a new economy based on completely different spiritual, ecological, social, economic and political principles than we have today. It’s an intriguing idea, and one I have to delve into more deeply.
Sailesh is also the Executive Producer of the new spiritually-focused documentary, A Prayer for Compassion. He held two screenings of the film in Toronto during the Parliament. In it, Director Thomas Jackson asks the question, "Can compassion grow to include all beings? Can people who identify as religious or spiritual come to embrace the call to include all human and nonhuman beings in our circle of respect and caring and love?” He then interviews a variety of people representing faith traditions from Hindu to Muslim to Jewish to Unity to Evangelical Christian, who each speak about living spiritually aligned lives as vegans, and creating a world that works for all. It’s a must-see film for spiritual communities and I would love to see it shown in every religious and spiritual center.
Sailesh Rao being interviewed after a screening of A Prayer for Compassion
Every day during the Parliament, the Ontario Sikhs and the Sikh Gurdwara Council offered a beautiful plant-based lunch to all attendees. While veganism is not a tenet of Sikhism, abstaining from the meat of a slaughtered animal is part of their code. This lunch wasn’t your typical dining experience. There was a process we each went through that began with taking off our shoes, then sitting in a chair and having someone wrap an orange scarf on our heads, then heading for a buffet line where we were each personally served by Sikhs. All diners then sat on the floor to partake in their delicious meals while the Sikhs walked up and down the aisles offering us more. The food was abundant and provided to everyone every day at no charge. It was a fabulous experience. The holy energy of sacred service was palpable. I walked away each day feeling divinely loved…and with a very happy belly.
There were more activities at the Parliament that focused on restoring our relationship with animals, vegan living, and how they both relate to sustainability and religious/spiritual responsibility. Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, which promotes a strictly vegan diet and stands against animal testing and vivisection, participated on a panel called, “Role of Religion as Injustice Healer.” Lisa Kemmerer, author of Animals and World Religions, gave a talk on “Integrated Justice,” showing how nonviolence to animals is critical to justice for all. She also participated on a panel titled, “Justice for Just Us? – Extending the Moral Circle to Include Animals” along with Candace Laughinghouse, Charlotte Cressey, and Dr. Alka Arora. Lisa shared our booth space with her beautiful traveling art exhibit, “Animals and World Religions.”
In every way my experience at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions was mind-blowing, and I wanted to share it with you to give you a feel for the wave that is coming. It’s a Vegan Wave. It’s not here yet. In fact, it may still be far off the shore. And yes, maybe most people can’t see it. But it is there and building momentum. It’s coming. Ask yourself if you are ready to be on it. Because riding it is much more fun, more kind, and better for the planet and humanity than being on the other side of normalized violence and planetary destruction. I am predicting that many of the world’s religions will ultimately be on it. Because Compassion, Non-violence and Justice are bigger than just us.
© carol saunders 2018
I am grateful to Lisa Levinson, Campaign Director of In Defense of Animals and Founder of Vegan Spirituality, and Judy Carman, author of Peace to All Beings - Veggie Soup for the Chicken's Soul, for inviting me to participate in the Interfaith Vegan Coalition booth at the Parliament. I am excited about future opportunities to co-create together.
I wanted to share a letter I recently wrote as part of an exchange I had with a speaker I met at a conference last year. You will discern the points he put forth to me from the content of my response. I offer this as one way to share with another how essential our relationship with animals is to co-creating a world that works for all, and how our speciesist worldview upholds exploitation, the very thing we all want to eradicate.
As evolved human beings, we have a choice to live in the kindest way possible, or not. I fundamentally believe that people on the spiritual path seek this way of living, whether they know it or not. That is why I am here to do all that I can to awaken the loving spirit within.
I added images to support my message, but they were not in the original letter. Here it is:
Greetings to you!
Thank you for your complete and thoughtful answer. I appreciate learning your beliefs and understanding how you heard mine. It gives me the opportunity to make myself clearer and to hone my communications going forward. My purpose is to create a kinder world. You may remember that my original question to you at the conference was about speciesism because you had centered your presentation on eliminating racism and sexism. All of these 'ism's' are interconnected and rooted in the same thought. So, it’s not a matter of prioritizing one over another, or putting human concerns ahead of animal concerns (or vice versa). It’s a matter of transforming the thought under the ‘ism’s.’ If we don’t do this, we won’t make our way out of the mess we are in and evolve into a kinder world. I hope that you are willing to read my complete response below.
To start, I am not someone who believes that vegans or vegetarians are more peaceful just because of their diet. There are mean vegans/vegetarians out there who hate or hurt people, including the horrific examples you provided [Hitler and Sri Lankan soldiers]. Charles Fillmore would certainly have been wrong if he had written, “If we stop killing animals, we will have peace.” But that’s not what he wrote. In the Statement of Faith (the quote I sent you), what he basically put forth was, “Man should not kill animals – because as long as we objectify and kill animals, we will objectify and kill each other.” I believe that is a true statement. Because as long as objectification is in our consciousness, it will be in our world.
The Sri Lanka killing fields documentary you asked me to watch is horrific and I am certain that the vast majority of humans would agree. But the vast majority of humans justify horrific actions (abuse, maceration, bodily mutilation, confinement, separation of children from mothers, starvation, brutal killing, rape, and more) toward animals – who are sentient – every day. If you are skeptical, I am happy to refer you to tons of literature and videos. In the US alone we do these things to billions of animals, and we kill over 1,000,000 of them every hour for food when it’s not even a need that we have.
We won't have peace as long as we systematically exploit animals in these ways because systematic exploitation is what needs to be eradicated - in every form - in order to have peace. We don't want any killing fields of any kind.
Killing fields that exist today in Nepal - an mass ritual sacrifice of an estimated 250,000 animals
'Killing fields' in USA slaughterhouse lines
Right now we are immersed in a speciesist culture, to the point where your response about killing with mindfulness almost makes sense. But it’s important to recognize that we would never say the things you mentioned about human beings. That’s how we know we are immersed in speciesism. For example, we would never say, "To live we have to rape and separate children from their mothers, so it's just a matter of the consciousness with which we bring to the act." Nor would we say, "To live we have to kill babies or young people, so it's just a matter of the consciousness with which we bring to the act." But we do say these things about the animals we eat because their needs and desires are made secondary to our wants. If our lives truly were at stake maybe they would be secondary. But our lives aren't at stake because we have alternatives. The thought – that another's needs and desires are secondary to what I want – is incredibly damaging to its victims and to the world. But it's also frighteningly familiar. It is the thought under all practices of moral superiority, greed, abuse and exploitation. Regardless of who it is directed toward, this is the core thought that needs to be transformed
This is a very difficult awakening process. It is so ingrained in our social fiber that it can be nearly impossible to see. But there is hope because we are morally evolving. Human slavery was also once similarly ingrained – something that seemed 'necessary' (from the perspective of the dominating population) for thousands of years in our history. No reasonable person today would ever think that slavery was okay as long as the slave owner did it consciously. Slavery, as all human exploitation, is considered an abomination today, thanks in no small part to abolitionists who could see beyond the accepted view of their culture and speak out up about it. Animal exploitation will similarly be considered an abomination at some point in our future, thanks in no small part to today’s abolitionists.
Yes, we need to eat to live. And yes, life consumes life. But it comes down to these questions:
If we can live well without harming another sentient being,
then why wouldn't we? Why would we choose to harm
someone if we didn't need to?
In today's world (or at least our western world) there are plenty of healthy, plant-based alternatives readily available to us. We just have to walk down the street to the store. Choosing to kill an animal is far different from choosing to kill a plant. There is nothing similar in the experiences of a broccoli and a pig (or cow, chicken, turkey, lamb, fish, etc.) when they meet death. Plants lack a central nervous system and brain, which are required to feel pain. In stark contrast, we know animals are sentient. Like us, they have personalities, personal interests, and feel pain, happiness, and suffering. Like us, they want to live, fear death and run away when threatened. This is probably why in Genesis, God established a plant-based diet for humans. “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” (Genesis 1:29)
To be the highest ethical form of ourselves, why not make the choice that benefits the most and causes the least harm? The choice of what to eat is not really a personal one, because there are many, many others involved. For example, if we stopped eating animals we could feed four billion more people with the plants that we currently feed to livestock. Our planet would be cleaner with significantly less environmental destruction (air, water and land). Many of our communities would be healthier, because as it is now, low-income people who are situated near large-scale animal farms are devastated by massive feces and urine pollution. We would end the systemic suffering of trillions of fellow sentient beings who have done nothing to harm us. And we would actually destroy a lot fewer plants! I would think that spiritually-minded people – or those who truly want a kinder world – would want to do this, and then advocate for it.
If we don't include animals in our circle, then the idea that we are "co-creating a world that works for all" has no real meaning. Instead we are co-creating a world that works for those who look like us. Or co-creating a world that works for some. This is why I approached you at the conference. I believe this understanding is consistent with your message and vision.
One last thing, for 37 years I also thought that milk, butter and eggs did not involve the taking of life. I wish I had known earlier just how egregious the violence is in the dairy and egg business. It causes enormous suffering. For milk it entails rape, endless cycles of pregnancy and birth, newborn babies being taken from their mothers shortly after birth, female calves being raised without a mother, male calves being imprisoned in veal crates, and more. And for eggs it entails confinement or crowded conditions, complete depletion of the hen's body to produce eggs beyond her body's natural design, forced starvation, maceration or suffocation of newborn male chicks, babies being raised with no mother, and more. And even if hens and dairy cows are raised in the best of conditions (which some are, but relatively few), they are all killed when their 'production' no longer economically justifies their existence. Think about that. This is domination of the Feminine – the exploitation of female bodies – in the worst way. It is also complete obliteration of family structures. When I awakened to this, I knew I didn't want to be any part of it. It was a challenging transition for me, but it was very freeing, because our souls yearn to live in congruence with who we say we are.
I appreciate the opportunity to be in dialogue with you on this. Thank you.
Have a wonderful week.
© carol saunders 2018
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be interviewed by Vegan Spirituality on an online live webinar, broadcast to over 1,300 participants and shared on Facebook and YouTube. Judy Carman, a remarkable soul and author of Peace to All Beings – Veggie Soup for the Chicken’s Soul, led our conversation. It was a great opportunity for me to share my journey to becoming vegan, and my experience being a vegan minister. I was also able to share the fascinating history of Unity and its co-founders’ practice of ethical vegetarianism. In the early 1900's, Unity took a stand on the way humans used animals, going so far as to say, “Unity opposes the use of any product that necessitates the taking of life, whether it’s food substance, wearing apparel, or general utility.” Co-Founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore established the Pure Food Company to provide the public with healthy alternatives to meat and animal fats, including butter. They opened The Unity Inn, Kansas City’s first vegetarian restaurant, to demonstrate that people could live well on a meat-free diet. Unity bibles were bound not in leather, but in a plant-based alternative called Keratol. They published a "Vegetarian" column in their weekly magazine, and they openly taught that our treatment of animals was connected to our ability to express Universal Love and manifest World Peace. As an ordained Unity minister, I am gleefully proud of this heritage, even though today’s Unity has sadly fallen away from it.
Opened in 1906, the Unity Inn of Kansas City served 10,000 vegetarian meals per week.
On the webinar I also shared my view that veganism is the inevitable result of living our spiritual beliefs. Unity Co-Founder Charles Fillmore asserted, “In the matter of animal slaughter, who countenances it or defends it, after his eyes have been opened to the unity of life?” Like him, I believe that people on the spiritual path will release flesh from their plates and take up a more nonviolent way of living once they awaken to the unity of life. How can it be otherwise?
But what struck me most coming out of this webinar was my own personal awakening. Recently, I’ve shifted my morning ritual to include thanking Spirit in advance for the person(s) who will awaken that day and lay down their practice of harming animals. I know people are making this change every day. Somewhere there is a farmer who will choose to no longer send his pigs to slaughter and instead take up plant-based farming or sanctuary work. Somewhere there is young person who will choose to not sell her precious 4-H ‘project’ lamb whom she raised and cared for from infancy. Somewhere there is a person who will discover the cruelty of factory farming and consumer product testing and will today choose to no longer eat animals or use products that test on them. And somewhere there is a worker who will choose to leave his slaughterhouse job to pursue new, life-affirming work. I give thanks for every awakening that is taking place on this day. The world changes one soul at a time.
During this prayer time, I also sometimes open myself to awakening, and I ask Spirit to show me what I have not yet been able to see and teach me what I have not yet been able to know. It’s a bold prayer and I only recommend it if you are ready to have your eyes opened. Because Spirit will show you something that will inevitably cause your priorities and commitments to change. It's a blessing with responsibility.
This prayer was answered in part during the Vegan Spirituality webinar, because through it, my eyes opened to the realization that spiritually-minded animal advocates/activists are often in great need of encouragement, as well as a spiritual structure for living that will support and lift them out of sadness and even depression. Smack my head, but this had not been clearly on my radar prior to this experience. The people who showed up to participate in the webinar came to be inspired by a vegan pastor, because when it comes to spiritual matters, a vegan pastor is who makes sense to them. They have all experienced the stunning disconnect in church, synagogue and temple settings between religious talk about Compassion, Peace and Love, and actual behaviors. On one hand, they hear:
"Let there be peace on Earth and let it with me" (The Peace Song), or
“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), or
“Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7), or
"Blessed are the Peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9), or
“Put yourself in the place of others and harm none nor have them harmed” (Dhammapada 130).
And on the other hand, they experience sanctioned violence at pig roast fundraisers and meat-centered potlucks. They may also hear meat metaphors and jokes about vegans from the pulpit (yes, this happens). There is a huge blind spot in religious organizations when it comes to seeing the intrinsic value of ALL sentient beings and including them in the golden rule and the quest for World Peace and Love Universal. It’s no wonder that so many animal advocates have completely given up on religion.
Spiritual vegans are merciful Peacemakers. They are also mighty warriors because they face an acutely cruel world with courage. They don’t turn a blind eye like most people in our society who aren't willing to or can't face the fact that they are participating in cruelty to animals. Instead they bear witness to their suffering and deeply empathize with animals who are trapped, beaten, confined, skinned, mutilated, and slaughtered. And they fight for their liberation. Every day, they stand up boldly, undeterred, in staunch opposition to a majority view that can look overwhelming by its sheer immensity and ubiquity, and they advocate for a kinder, gentler world. It’s hard to keep one’s bearings and stay positive when the cultural tide of socially accepted violence is so enormous.
To put this in perspective, since you started reading this, 17,000 innocent animals have been slaughtered, and we don't even need to eat meat. This can be depressing, and spiritually-minded vegans need pastors who can lift them to a place of Hope while supporting the efficacy of their advocacy work. Today's vegans would pour into yesterday's Unity Church.
It is my life’s work to awaken people to widening our circle of Compassion to include ALL beings. And now it is also my life’s work to support the Ahimsa/Vegan movement in staying focused on the Good they are doing, and the Truths that God is Love, cruelty is not of God, and God as Love will ultimately prevail. A kinder, gentler world is coming into manifestation now through those who have the vision and are committed to manifesting it. Love, Freedom and Peace for all includes everybody. And it’s on our horizon if we work together and keep our intentions focused.
If you share this vision and want to accelerate its fulfillment, here are some things you can do:
If you are a vegan pastor, please make yourself known. You can add your name and ministry to a listing on all-creatures.org by emailing email@example.com. That's an easy step that will help spiritual vegans find you. The next step is admittedly harder. I encourage you to boldly teach Universal Kindness and Compassion from the pulpit – not the specific form that only includes humans. You can speak directly about it by making it a topic, or just be sure to include ‘all sentient beings’ whenever you talk about Oneness, Love, Peace, Nonviolence, God’s Creation, etc. Additionally, consider centering your community gatherings around plant-based foods versus flesh foods. You can promote it as a spiritual practice, encouraging everyone to reduce the suffering of animals and people, be more considerate of communities, improve the health of our bodies, and be good environmental stewards. These are all things we teach already! There will likely be resistance as your congregation comes face to face with an incongruity. They may experience cognitive dissonance. But ministry isn’t about retaining a complacent congregation. It’s about challenging people to live God-centered (aka Love-centered) lives, and to become the best form of themselves. It’s about being a living demonstration of Love and Peace for ALL, and inspiring others to do the same. With these few actions you wouldn't be forcing anyone to become vegan. You would be helping them awaken to living their beliefs. You would also potentially be creating a church, synagogue or temple that will attract a new set of very committed people, and one that your current congregation's grandchildren might want to attend.
Celebrating Earth Day with a plant-based potluck at my Unity spiritual center in Deerfield, IL, 2016
If you are a vegan activist and you sometimes needs support, or have no church/religious center where you feel comfortable, I invite you to consider joining with like-minded people in prayer and meditation to further your goals of Compassion and Nonviolence for ALL. The Ahimsa/Vegan movement will be even more successful when its vibration is high and when individuals and groups within it are consistently practicing Forgiveness, creative visioning and affirmative prayer. Judy Carman posts wonderful weekly prayers on the Vegan Spirituality Facebook page. I have some prayers on this site too. But there is power in focused group prayer and holding a sacred intention together. I’m not sure how this would look, but it’s an idea worth trying. I currently lead a weekly prayer call on Tuesday mornings at 7:30 am CT focused on animals and the awakening of humanity. This may not be convenient for a lot of people, so I would be happy to establish another call time, or support you or a group in getting one started. We could create multiple prayer, meditation and/or intention circles (via phone) with the purpose of supporting each other and advancing the movement in consciousness. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in partnering on this.
Together we are creating a new world. It will take all of us keeping our spirits high, our attention focused, and our consciousness expanding as we guide and inspire others to awaken to the unity of Life and enter a new relationship with all beings. I am grateful for my new awakening and happy to be in greater service to the vision and manifestation of a kinder, more compassionate world.
We are ALL One.
“’God is love.’ It is His love seeking expression in and through you that makes you question the advisability of killing animals for the provision of man, either for food or for raiment.” Unity Co-Founder Charles Fillmore
Note: If you are unfamiliar with the term, Ahimsa, it is a Sanskrit term used in the Hindu/Buddhist/Jain traditions. It is the practice of compassion and non-violence toward all living beings.
© carol saunders 2018
Today marks the beginning of the Season for Nonviolence - 64 days between the dates that memorialize the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi (January 30) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4). This season was established in 1998 by Arun Gandhi, son of Mohandas Gandhi, as a yearly event celebrating the philosophies of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Both of these men boldly used the power of Nonviolence in their movements toward Freedom.
For both men, the people they led faced horrific oppression by the forces in power. Oppression is a violent activity, and the human response to violence is normally to fight back or surrender to it. But Gandhi and King led their respective populations in a different way, calling them to a higher level of conscious action – nonviolent resistance.
Today we applaud the leadership of these great men and hold them in high esteem for what they were able to accomplish through nonviolent action. We seek to emulate what they taught and practiced. Through them, we know that the road to Peace begins with seeing no ‘other.’ It then calls us to overcome our tendency toward retribution, make nonviolent choices, and ultimately act in loving ways. It’s not an easy path. Gandhi and King both knew that any expression of violence perpetuates more violence; it is counterproductive. Its ugly energy compounds itself whether its underlying motivation is hate, greed, domination, fear, anger, lust or power.
But if we truly want to live in a peaceful world, we have a long road ahead of us. There are widespread forms of oppression and exploitation - which we do not see or want to know about - rampant on the planet today. In fact, we want so much to pretend they don’t exist, we have established comprehensive systems to keep them entirely out of sight.
An immense population today suffers horrific oppression and exploitation. They are not a minority. There are 70 billion* of them. At the hands of their oppressors they are marginalized, abused, exploited, oppressed and murdered. This population has no voice, and isn’t wired for violent retaliation in the same way we humans are. In fact, they are generally quite docile and completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
They are our animal brothers and sisters who we use for food.
These 70 billion animals suffer mightily at our hands simply because we like the taste of their their bodies and the look and feel of their skins, fur and feathers. If you don’t believe it, take a look here, here and here.
Most of us would be appalled if we witnessed humans being harmed and exploited in the same way that we routinely and nonchalantly harm and exploit animals. But since birth, we have been fed propaganda about animals. Propaganda is underneath all oppression and exploitation. It serves to help us feel okay about ourselves when we harm, exploit and kill others, because it convinces us that the lives of our victims have little or no value. The propaganda that we have been fed includes these ideas: ‘Animals are stupid,’ ‘They were created for us,' 'Their purpose is to feed us,' ‘They don’t suffer,’ ‘They aren’t as important as we are (so what happens to them doesn't matter),’ ‘Our bodies need their meat for protein and their milk for strong bones,’ ‘Humans are designed to consume animal products,' ‘Humans have always eaten animals and always will,’ ‘The spirits within animals offer themselves to us as a sacrifice,’ 'When we eat meat it's no different from what Native Americans did,' 'Animals live on happy farms (so killing them is okay),' and ‘Killing animals is just a part of life because we have to live.’
None of these are true statements. They are simply beliefs or ideas that were fed to us by our parents or culture.
Because we've accepted these beliefs, we have culturally normalized egregious violence against innocents. And as our human population has grown, the scope and number of victims is beyond what any of us could ever imagine. It is estimated that 60 billion land animals and one trillion** sea animals are killed as food on our planet every year, all while there is an abundance of healthy, plant-based alternatives readily available. That's an astounding level of completely unnecessary violence. It amounts to 33,612 lives taken every second. But it is much bigger than even that, because so many deaths aren't even counted.
Every violent act impacts the planet and all of us living here. How could it not? We are interconnected, and the energy of violence doesn't just disappear.
It is time to take a look at ourselves and seriously ask:
If we can live well without harming other beings, why wouldn’t we?
As we enter the Season for Nonviolence, now is a good time to begin making new choices. Allow the next 64 days to open your eyes, mind and heart and lead you to the path of nonviolent action. Gandhi taught, "Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind." It is. It is also the greatest and most noble way to live.
You can begin by taking steps to be kind to yourself and extend Mercy and Compassion to ALL others. Awaken to your interconnectedness with all Life. Withdraw your participation in unnecessary violence of any form. Diligently work on breaking the habit of using animals for food, clothing and entertainment, and being cause in any way of their endless suffering. Remember they are sentient beings, who desire life the same as you and I. Know that any action you take in this direction has a direct and profound impact on the world. You will single handedly bring the worst forms of violence on our planet down a notch. The world will edge closer to Peace. You will influence others. And you will love yourself for it.
So will your animal brothers and sisters.
Thank you Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. for showing us the power of Nonviolence. Now let's take the step we've been avoiding.
May all beings know Peace.
© carol saunders 2018
* Compassion in World Farming Strategic Plan 2013-2017
** "Why We Must Respect the Rights of All Sentient Animals" by Gary L. Francione and Anna E. Charlton, January 28, 2018
Note from the author: If while reading this post your mind has gone to the question, 'What about plants? If I eat less meat I'll be killing more plants...they also want to live," here are a couple sites to check out:
There are so many issues and concerns plaguing our world today. There’s the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of ISIS, the pervasiveness of opiates in our nation, election fallout, human trafficking, abortion, nuclear testing by North Korea, the national debt and on and on. Given all that is going on in the world, why do I bring attention to the plight of animals?
I am not going to argue here that animals are more important than any of the above issues. It’s not about what you feel is the single most important issue to you, but what is the single most important issue before you – one that has great impact and one you can actually take action on today. No other issue offers the same opportunity for you to concretely take positive personal action on today (except possibly abortion, but only if you happen to be pregnant today).
You can sit around and talk about the issues of the world with your friends, relatives and co-workers and think you are solving them. But you’re not necessarily solving anything because you don’t have that much control. You can staunchly hold your political viewpoint, support your candidates and vote when the opportunity presents itself. You can also decide to be more active and sign petitions, attend activist marches, call your representative or send money to support your causes. You can do all these things in hopes of - or with the expectation that - other people eventually will do what you want them to do to make the world a better place.
But today, you can make the world a better place. You can make the choice to inflict less harm, be kinder, and save a life. You can do all of this by deciding what to eat and what not to eat. That choice is completely in your control and has a deep and broad impact on your life, your society and the world at large.
In the United States alone, we kill animals for food at the rate of over a million an hour. I wish there was a way to make this humongous number sink in and have meaning.
Let me try this:
If we killed human beings at that rate, the people inhabiting the entire United States would all be dead in less than two weeks.
If that’s still too abstract, how about this:
At that rate of killing, if you live in the city of Chicago, you and your fellow Chicagoans would be dead in less than three hours.
But it doesn't stop. Because every three hours another population the size of Chicago is mercilessly decimated.
Does that give some perspective?
I hope you can see that this level of violence is staggering. Think of the energy that goes into that much killing. Think of the immense level of unnecessary, unwarranted and traumatic suffering of animals, who fight for their lives because just like us, they experience emotion and want to be free to live. Think of the shameful hardening of all those human hearts that are paid to be the fastest killing machines on earth. Think of their families who surely feel the effect of all that killing, or at least the hardened heart. You have to wonder, where does all that energy go?
It is a dark shadow looming over our lives. It is certainly not out there spreading good cheer in the world. Violence begets violence. And a good bit of it comes right back into our bodies when we eat the flesh of the beings who suffered and whose lives were blamelessly cut short. It is no wonder we are so anxious, hurtful to each other, and ill.
All of this begs the questions: Are we really the kind and thoughtful people that we think we are? Who are we that we would willfully cause so much suffering and inflict so much violence toward sentient beings who have done nothing to harm us? Where is our mercy? Are we not image and likeness of God? Is God not the power of Love Itself? Isn’t Love our true nature?
I believe that Love is our true nature. We learned this killing behavior from our parents. And they learned it from theirs, and so on. It is not natural behavior. No small child on her own would take a knife and slit the throat of a living animal standing before her. Rather, she would likely be curious, grin, and move closer to pet him. The innocence and curiosity of this child still lives within us and yearns to lead us to a more harmonious and light-filled life.
When we let the inner child lead us, we can instead direct our energies toward something much more enlivening and empowering, like authentic Kindness and Compassion. Think of how different our world would be if we stopped all this violence and replaced it with authentic Kindness and Compassion. The kind of Kindness and Compassion that respects every living being’s right to be treated like a some-one, and not a body with which we can do whatever we want.
Today you have an issue facing you that at first glance may not seem that important compared to all the other concerns of your day. But it is in fact the most important issue facing you today, because you have complete control to choose non-violence and make a difference now. When you choose Kindness and Compassion over killing, you bring greater peace to your life, to other beings, and to the planet.
Keep animal flesh off your plate and out of your body. Eat healthy plant-based food. And who knows? Maybe if enough of us make the choice to be Kind and Compassionate – bringing about a radical reduction in today’s suffering and violence - we will as a species regain our sense of value toward Life Itself. And the other issues just might take care of themselves.
© carol saunders 2017
Often when I bring up the plight of non-human animals, my friends will come back with the question, “What about people? Don’t you care about people?”
I used to wonder why this question would come up, but I am no longer startled. The answer is, of course I care about people! That’s why I am in the people business. I am here to raise consciousness on this planet in every way. As we evolve, we will not just talk about Oneness and Universal Love. We will come closer to actually living it. And as we come closer to living in alignment with our deeply held beliefs, we will become bolder, more authentic people. We will be less internally conflicted, and more at peace. We will be freer.
Professing our belief in Oneness and Universal Love while simultaneously hurting, killing and eating other beings makes for a crazy interior life. If we give it any consideration, we are simply not able to reconcile our sense of ourselves (the idea that we are good and caring people), our beliefs (the ideas that we are all One and killing is morally wrong), with our actual behaviors (the fact that we pay other people to kill innocent sentient beings because we want to/like it).
You will likely want to defend yourself against that last phrase. After all, you don't really like to hurt or kill anyone. Or you certainly don't want to think that you do. So if you actually do, it must be something that you can't help doing, that you absolutely need to do, or that you are supposed to do. Alternatively, you might think that there is something wrong with me and/or what I am saying to you.
You might then respond/deflect with comments like, “But animals are meant for us to eat,” or “Human beings need meat for health/survival,” or “From the beginning of time, we have always eaten animals,” or "But I only buy certified humane products," or “What about plants?” or “Lions eat other animals,” or “People are more important than animals,” or “Alaskan Eskimos live on only meat,” or “What about abortion?” or “Our human body is designed to consume animal products,” or “I don't want to look at this – you are making me feel guilty,” or any number of other responses that keep you (or me) distracted and not having to actually reconcile behaviors with values and beliefs. (By the way, I hear these responses/questions all the time - I did not make them up. Sometimes they are legit inquiries. More often they are diversions. Brief answers can be found at the bottom of this blog.)
This is called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values. (Scientific American, 1962 v. 207, L. Festinger) The inner anxiety causes us to rationalize, defend, deflect, project, blame, live unconsciously, split off or pretend. Rather than look at ourselves and take steps to be in better alignment, we shift our attention to something or someone else. Cognitive dissonance is the place in our consciousness where we shore ourselves up, rationalize/ignore our discontinuities, terminate reflection and inquiry, and stop growing. It is antithetical to the spiritual path!
When we are on the spiritual path, we seek to grow our consciousness. We seek to broaden our understanding of all Life and deepen our relationship with the Divine. We seek to become more of our spiritual nature and less driven by ego. Given that, wouldn’t it follow that we would naturally be grateful to have our inconsistencies exposed so that we may more closely tune ourselves to Harmony, Love and Peace? This is our heart's true desire.
But that’s not how it always goes down.
Awakening can be messy business. It forces us to look at our lives honestly. The good news is, when we awaken, we can actually get out of the nightmare that we are living in. I call it a nightmare because that is what it is for the animals. I believe it is also a nightmare for our souls that yearn to fully embody Kindness and Compassion. In this nightmare (which we inherited) we are humans who purposefully, repeatedly and systematically reproduce sentient beings – beings who have awareness, personalities, experience suffering, have their own interests and desperately want to live. We produce them so that we can do to/with them whatever we want, including but not limited to shortening their lives with a violent death. And we do all this when we have no biological or situational need to do so. In every other arena in our society we would find this abhorrent.
My friends, Oneness is Oneness. Kindness is Kindness. Universal Love is Universal. It applies indisciminately to everyone. It cannot co-exist with using other beings for our personal wants any more than it can co-exist with human slavery.
At the depth of our being, we know this.
You may not yet be ready to wake up completely, but perhaps finding this page is evidence that the voice of your higher Self or inner child is knocking at your door.
Let it lead you.
© carol saunders 2016
Thank you for listening.
If you are interested in looking into a plant-based lifestyle, here are a few links that might help you:
Here are brief answers to the questions hypothetically posed in the above blog. They will likely be handled in separate blogs at a later date:
"But animals are meant for us to eat." Says who? We made this up! It's not even in the Bible. All beings have their own purpose.
“Human beings need meat for health/survival.” Humans have no inherent biological or nutritional need for animals products. We also live in a society where there are so many healthy plant-based options. See the links above for guidance.
“From the beginning of time, we have always eaten animals.” There are dissenting views on this. Here is one of many that claims it is not true. From a cultural perspective it's irrelevant though. Would you use history to justify other human activities like slavery, child labor, war, living without indoor plumbing, etc.? We are evolving.
"But I only buy certified humane animal products." Beware of misleading labels. They want to mislead you so you feel better about your purchase.
"What about plants?” Plants have no central nervous system and are not sentient.
“Lions eat other animals.” Yes they do. And we are not lions.
“People are more important than animals.” I will never ask you to elevate the importance of animals above people. You are welcome to think that humans are more important than non-humans. I am asking you to consider non-human animals as sentient beings - a who, not a what. Choosing to not kill animals for food or clothing doesn't take anything away from any of your efforts to help humanity.
“Alaskan Eskimos survive on only meat." Yes they do. It shows how resilient the human body is! They also don't have community gardens, farmers markets, Kroger or Whole Foods like the vast majority of us do. We have choices.
“What about abortion?” This is deserving of its own blog. What I can say now is these are separate issues.
"Our human body is designed to consume animal products.” No, it really isn't.
“I don't want to look at this – you are making me feel guilty.” I understand. It is hard to look. But looking is how we grow. Remember that guilt is a mechanism of the psyche to help us to align our behaviors with our values. Do not dwell in guilt but pay attention to it! It is telling you something! This is definitely worthy of a future blog.
There will be a day when generations to come look back on us and wonder how we could have ever allowed all the suffering. They will look at us in the same way we look at the slave owners of the 1800’s or the Holocaust perpetrators and all the people who remained silent about it. How did people sit idly by when all this violence was going on? How could they not see? Why did they not act?
A few years ago I was listening to UnityFM radio. The radio show host and his guest were both bright scholarly teachers and they were discussing the gay marriage movement. They acknowledged that this last barrier was on the brink of breaking. At the close of the program the host posed a question to his listeners: “What do you think is the next moral barrier to be broken that we cannot yet see?”
I knew the answer to this! I could see it as clearly as Mt. Everest on a bright sunny day! The next barrier to be broken was the animal-human boundary. I immediately sent off an email to the show host with my answer. I was so excited to be in this dialogue with a person who in my eyes, was a spiritual giant.
His response took me completely aback. It was surprisingly dismissive.
He replied that what I was suggesting will never happen, that eating animals has been a part of human history from the very beginning - like fire - and it will always be a part of our culture.
It was a most peculiar response coming from a spiritual teacher whose radio show that day was focused on breaking historical cultural boundaries! The justification he put forth was 'history' as if history was something to which we were bound. Since when did history ever serve as a justification for anything? Slavery, child neglect/abuse/labor, domination/exclusion of women, segregation of races, alienation of homosexuals, etc. were also ‘always a part of human history.’ That is, until we awakened and saw their horrific nature. Then we changed.
What I saw that day was a very bright, spiritually accomplished person who couldn’t see that he couldn’t see.
And many years from now, people will wonder how it was that we as a people, were not able to see what is so obviously clear to them: being the cause of another being’s suffering because you want to, just isn’t okay.
Change in collective consciousness is slow. It usually starts with a small minority out in front doing what they can to point out injustices, immoralities, inequities and harmful behaviors. These few people are generally made fun of by the majority. They are marginalized and their voices are squelched and belittled. Or if they are in the spiritual arena like I am, they may be acknowledged for ‘sharing their personal truth,’ as if choosing to be kind or to not take the life of another is a personal truth.
But the thought leaders keep on. If their cause is one that will bring a higher level of ethics into the world - more Goodness, Kindness, Fairness and Love - then the message begins to spread. A few more people start to resonate with it. Those who resonate convert to the new ethics. They then join the voice for change and the sound gets stronger. Eventually it reaches a tipping point, and consciousness – along with what is considered socially acceptable or unacceptable – changes.
We saw this with the Abolitionists during the Civil War. We saw this with the Suffragettes in the late 19th century. We saw this with the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights Movement. And we saw this recently with the shift to legalize gay marriage.
And we will see this table turn for the non-human animals. We will see it!
Consciousness will change because wherever there is a cultural and personal shift toward creating a world of less harm, less suffering, less fear, less anxiety, and more love, move compassion, more care, more freedom, the Universe smiles and lights the path to its full expression.
Sometimes that shift is abrupt. Much more often it takes a long time. The time it takes isn’t our business. We must keep doing what we do, anchored in Compassion and Freedom. We are the ones. We must keep speaking. Even if we are speaking into what seems like an infinite, bleak tunnel of darkness; even if our friends or family turn away from us; even if we find ourselves in challenging or embarrassing situations; even though every day of our lives we must navigate through the violent world that we so deeply yearn to change. We must speak for as long as it takes. The animals need our Voice. Know that all the angels of Goodness are behind us, because we are a movement of Peace, Kindness and Compassion.
It’s very simple really. It’s much simpler than the movements to free slaves, give women the vote, end racial segregation or legalize gay marriage, because we can act without anyone else having to do anything.
We don’t need to wait for any big move to be made by our government. We don’t need to wait for any new law to be legislated. We don’t need to wait for Big Ag and the food companies to change their ways. We can simply choose differently, spend differently, invest differently and eat and clothe ourselves differently. By our personal actions today, we can stop being the cause of another’s suffering.
It comes down to this: in all the situations where you have the personal power to act, do less harm; do more good. Refrain from killing or being the cause of killing anyone or anything, unless you absolutely need to for your own survival. You don’t want to be abused or eaten, so avoid abusing or eating others. Non-human animals are sentient according to 2500 studies. They have rich emotional lives with the capacity to suffer and feel empathy. They want to live. They are complex social beings, not things. Let them have the freedom to be who they were created to be. Treat them how you want to be treated.
Start today. And perhaps future generations will be proud of us.
"It is man's sympathy with all creatures that first makes him truly a man." Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize winner 1952
© carol saunders 2016
Thank you for listening. If you are moved to do less harm or be in action to cause less suffering, here are a few resources (or check out the resources at the end of any of my blogs):
Rev. Carol Saunders
I am an ordained minister, speaker, writer and lover of all life. In 2010 I founded a spiritual community in Deerfield, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and have recently transitioned it to a weekly interactive gathering and podcast called The Spiritual Forum. Being a voice for the animals and a light for the spiritually-inclined who are willing to seriously examine the self and begin to awaken, are what Spirit has called me to be. I am here to support anyone who wants to move toward living in closer alignment with their deeply held spiritual values. Our world needs more Love, Peace and Kindness. We can make that happen. But we won't be able to until we transform some of the violent and unkind ways of living we inherited from our culture. Be Love. Be Peace. Be Kind. Today.