“The energy was beyond powerful.”
“It was a smash success.”
“What a great retreat. Life will never be the same and the good vibes going out from the event will radiate on and on and on...”
“The retreat has given me so much to consider as I move along my path, deepen my spiritual practice and recognize my innate spirituality in thought, word and deed.”
“I will always remember the kindness of the people there.”
“The food was way beyond what I expected and the venue was way better than I could have imagined. It was a sensational and splendid retreat.”
“The presenters were amazing! The venue was amazing! I was inspired by the food.”
--comments from participants--
Nearly three years in the making, the first-ever Vegan Spirituality Forum & Retreat was held at Unity Village, Missouri in early October 2021. By all measures, it was a huge success. We hosted 50 people from around the nation -- a good turnout considering these uncertain times -- including spiritual vegans, vegetarians and a handful of curious omnivores. Many faith traditions were represented, including Unity, Episcopalian, Judaism, Hinduism, Unitarian Universalist, Interfaith, Earth religions, Seventh Day Adventist and United Church of Christ. The omnivores attending were wonderfully open-minded and they were openly embraced by everyone there. When I welcomed everyone on the first day, I shared that we were seated in the heart of the Midwest, and our energy would reverberate outward and be profoundly felt throughout the nation. All of that was true. Our energy was indeed invigorating and inspiring, and palpable to the people who worked there.
Photo of about half the group after the Interfaith service and blessing
Unity Village was the perfect place to hold this event. It is a magical-feeling place, which I attribute to the 24/7 Silent Unity prayer ministry that has taken place there for more than 125 years. The grounds are incredibly beautiful, inspiring and peaceful. Unity Village sits on 1,200 wooded acres and boasts a gorgeous fountain display, award-winning rose garden, and beautiful walking trails. If you haven't been there, it is bucket list worthy.
Unity also has a unique history of ethical living. Its founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, gave up meat eating in 1895, and taught and lived ethical veg living as a key part of their ministry. Charles wrote and spoke with clarity and conviction for 40 years about the connection between our relationship with animals and our ability to develop spiritually, manifest peace, express love and live ethically. Together Charles and Myrtle opened the first vegetarian restaurant in Kansas City (Unity Inn), started a food company to sell meat alternatives (Unity Pure Food Company), offered bibles bound in a leather alternative, and published this statement: “Unity opposes the use of any product that necessitates the taking of life, whether it’s food substance, wearing apparel, or general utility.” This was part of Unity's early identity -- when the movement most fervently thrived. For many years I have felt guided by the spirits of the Fillmores to bring their teachings back to life within the Unity movement and beyond. That guidance is what made this retreat happen.
Our schedule was packed with four keynote speakers, five workshops, spiritual practices, and a food demonstration. Dr. Will Tuttle spoke on "Spirituality and Vegan Living - Trials, Progress and Challenges,” Victoria Moran shared her “Life of Ahimsa,” Dr. Milton Mills taught us “What the Bible Has to Say About Plant-based Diets and Animal Rights,” and Dr. Lisa Kemmerer spoke on “Religions of the World and the Vegan Moral Imperative.” The workshops included spiritual practices and animal rituals, ideas for faith-based vegan advocacy, and how to get to a vegan world by 2026. We also watched Thomas Jackson’s film, A Prayer for Compassion, and previewed his current film project, Compassion in Action -- Bring the Elixir Home. Dr. Kemmerer’s Animals and World Religions exhibit was on display for all to see. Each morning began with a meditation or gentle body movement exercise, and we concluded on Sunday with an animal-focused Interfaith service and an animal blessing ceremony.
A surprise to almost everyone was just how good the food was. Everyone raved about it! Each meal was delightfully colorful and included cooked and raw versions and delicious desserts. The chef – not vegan himself – took this on as a challenge, and he outdid himself. It was fun to see how excited the servers and staff were about the beauty of the food. They were eager to taste it themselves. There’s no better way to convert a person to plant-based eating than to create fabulous food!
The energy and success of this first event has inspired me to make it annual. Next year we will put into the schedule more time for reflection, collaboration and spiritual practice. We will incentivize the attendance of curious omnivores and provide a workshop track to support where they are. We will have practical workshops to help people hold conversations with friends, family and clergy. We will schedule time for sharing of best practices. I am sure each year we will learn and adjust the program. But the most important thing that happens here is the connection and inspiration. This is a great place to come if you are a spiritual vegan, vegetarian or curious omnivore. It’s like stepping into another dimension – one where we inspire each other to carry ourselves and our message powerfully into the world…and maybe get a little retreat time too.
The organizing team: Judy Carman, Carol Saunders and Lisa Levinson
I’d like to thank the hosts and sponsors who contributed to the event:
In Defense of Animals
Main Street Vegan
The Spiritual Forum
Circle of Compassion
Unity Worldwide Ministries
Interfaith Vegan Coalition
The GoldenRuleism Group
Please regularly check thespiritualforum.org/retreat for future announcements about 2022 dates and registration information.
© carol saunders 2021
The following is a short telling of my story, published in the July/August 2020 issue of Unity magazine. It was billed as "One woman's journey to becoming vegan and making that her ministry." I was very happy to be published in Unity magazine since the message of compassion for animals is sorely needed today in a movement that taught and lived it in its earliest days.
by Rev. Carol Saunders
Those of us on the spiritual path are called to live as one and love everyone. We value nonviolence and work to manifest a world of peace, free of exploitation and oppression. We envision a sustainable world, capable of feeding everyone. None of us would deliberately hurt an innocent person or animal. We want connection, love, and oneness. That’s why I believe we are all vegans in process.
Veganism, in its purest form, is a conscious way of living that recognizes the inherent right of all sentient beings to not be exploited. Veganism is also a process of becoming.
My process began in childhood and continues today as an evolving spiritual practice. As a young girl, I loved all creatures. I had a collection of animals: cats, dogs, turtles, rabbits, fish, mice, rats and guinea pigs. I could not understand killing for sport and agonized about the suffering of any animal. I even saved the caterpillars and worms I saw on the sidewalk from the impending doom of passersby. I felt a profound connection to all beings, knowing they were part of God’s Creation, each with its own purpose.
I also ate meat. I particularly loved my grandmother's turkey soup. I enjoyed marinated roast, fried chicken, corned beef and hamburgers. Dishes like leg of lamb – despite its obviously named body part – seemed normal. I gave no thought to where they came from. Like nearly everyone, I was indoctrinated into a system of eating animals.
This is my grandmother, Ethyl Blue, featured in the St. Louis Post Dispatch December 17, 1950
We do as our culture does, with little reflection or consent. Over time, our favorite flavors become intricately entwined with traditions and memories. For me, partaking of my grandma’s turkey soup always seemed to invoke her spirit.
However, I neglected to think about the turkey.
The Process of Awakening
It took years for me to awaken to my own hypocrisy. How could I love my cat and dog and eat the flesh and wear the skins of a cow or pig? They all have intelligence and the same capacity for joy and suffering.
Awakening is rough and requires peeling back many layers. Doing the deep work and discovering behaviors that contradict our beliefs and values is part of the path to wholeness. We say we are love and want peace, but our plates are filled with violence. Do we ever pause and ask ourselves why?
Many of us were taught that God gave us animals for food. However, Genesis 1:29 says, “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.”). Many people were taught we need meat for protein, but getting protein directly from plants is easy. Many people were also told that eating animals is justified because we’ve always done it. However, when has history justified the continuation of something we’ve outgrown?
Our world has changed dramatically since our ancestors’ hunting-for-survival days. With healthy plant-based options now widespread, what once may have been a necessity is now a preference. Today, at least in the developed world, we can live well without harming other beings. So why don’t we?
When I was 15 years old, I woke up enough to declare myself a vegetarian. The year was 1973, and without role models or outside inspiration, I finally felt ready to take the important step toward living in alignment with my values. However, I was still a long way from being fully integrated.
My younger brother Warren and me with my pet ducks, circa 1973
When I found Unity, I was ecstatic to discover a place that taught universal love, oneness and peace. It was freeing to learn we are fundamentally creative beings, gifted with divine powers and untethered by thoughts and beliefs from the past. In addition, Unity founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, were ethical vegetarians, concerned about the plight of animals! I was at home.
Spirit then guided me to the book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully. Dominion delivered a blunt, two-by-four of raw, painful awareness. It uncovered realities I simply had not known, including the large-scale cruelty (even under the best of circumstances) of factory farming and the methods involved in turning the bodies of living, sentient animals into meat, and using their reproductive systems to produce milk and eggs.
Previously, I hadn’t realized that young egg-laying hens and milk-producing cows were slaughtered when their production levels declined. I also hadn’t known that calves were taken from their mothers, denied the milk designed for them, and that male chicks of egg laying hens were cruelly destroyed after hatching. I bore witness online to horrifying practices, seeing for myself the frightened and depressed faces of these innocent animals and how painfully de-sensitized the workers were to the value of life.
I was now wide awake.
With new knowledge comes the opportunity to choose differently. My next step was to transition to veganism. This was a big move because dairy and eggs had been staples of my diet for 40 years.
However, any habit can be changed when we put spiritual principles to work! Within us are the powers of release (the ability to let go of old thoughts, beliefs and habits), will (the ability to make new choices), and strength (the ability to stay the course). These powers help us to become better versions of ourselves. Soon I preferred my new choices instead of the old and not surprisingly, my health improved. I was now in closer alignment with who I said I was.
More awaited me. Throughout the years, I had simply outgrown my decades-old, quiet, personal-choice approach. Spirit called me higher, to be a voice for animals and awaken others to unity for all. At first, I resisted this calling like a headstrong child, because the social tide of normalized violence toward animals was enormous, a Goliath. However, our Unity founders also faced this Goliath. The Unity Archives include mounds of their original, largely forgotten teachings that connect our relationship with animals to universal love, spiritual development, and world peace. The Fillmores were pioneers of social change and helped people awaken to love in a bigger way. In putting their beliefs into action, they established Kansas City’s first vegetarian restaurant, distributed healthy meat alternatives through the Unity Pure Food Company, and published Bibles bound in a leather alternative.
I too, could be a voice for the voiceless. It was just ministry, after all. The same ministry I was already doing – teaching oneness, universal love, nonviolence and the Golden Rule – but widening the circle to include everyone, not just humans.
Eventually we will all be in the circle…until there is no circle. Only unity.
Art by Becky Jewell
© carol saunders 2020
The booklet The Forgotten Teachings of Charles Fillmore: How Our Relationship with Animals Connects to Universal Love, Ethical Living, Spiritual Development and World Peace, compiled with commentary is available at here.
Wolf and the Lamb has also sold t-shirts with the above logo. Email me if you are interested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By now nearly everyone has heard or read Joaquin Phoenix’s acceptance speech at the Oscar’s. It was a wonderfully crafted speech that inspired with a vision and avoided the usual pitfalls of condescending or shaming. He delivered his words with a raw, openhearted grace, rarely seen in our world of image and punch-counter-punch debate. There’s a lot to be learned from his approach.
His speech was broadcast to 23.6 million viewers, and viewed by at least that many via YouTube (shown below) and TV network web videos. While tens of millions watched or read about it, the people he was mostly speaking to were social justice fighters, those who already were in action (words or deeds) to widen the circle of inclusion.
We’ve all heard speeches by Hollywood celebrities about racism, sexism, workers’ rights and climate change. These are all human-centered concerns (yes, most are primarily concerned about humanity when it comes to climate change). But Phoenix used his three minutes to highlight the plight of a dairy cow and her calf, as they are torn from each other so we can enjoy milk in our coffee and cereal every day. He didn’t even go into the repeated inseminations of females and slaughter of male babies and low producing teen moms. He spoke a single sentence about the anguish of a mother when her baby is taken from her. And in that sentence, he moved the goal from taking care of our own (humankind) to taking care of all kinds - all beings who suffer by the hands of a larger system.
It takes guts to bring to light something that practically no one can see and that if seen, would disrupt our everyday lifestyles and sense about ourselves as being compassionate and fair people. It opens the messenger to an extraordinary amount of push back in its myriad forms including misrepresentation, misunderstanding, conflation, projection, mockery and disdain. And of course, that’s a lot of what Phoenix got, after his words soaked in a bit. It’s what any consciousness pioneer gets. It’s the price we pay to awaken humanity to its next moral frontier. But the price is worth it, because some people do wake up, and the world gets a little bit kinder.
I’ve been crafting my own message for years, succeeding at times and failing miserably at others. The message of Compassion for All is nearly always met with resistance because we live in a culture of normalized violence toward animals. We like our food, entertainment, medicines, cosmetics, accessories and clothes, even if animals are exploited in the process. The biblical edicts, “Thou shalt not kill” and “Love one another” are assumed to only pertain to our human family. But some of us see further than that, and are called to deliver a more inclusive and compassionate message, searching for those who might also come to see. And when we do, we are often tempted to don psychological armor to protect ourselves from the slings and arrows that might get launched before we even start. We may puff ourselves up, get rigid, defensive or even offensive. We may take a superior stance on the high ground, slinging our own arrows as we look down at the one facing us with a different view. It takes a lot of practice (and moral defeats) to learn that the armor never works. It tells our audience we are up for a fight. It hides our true nature. Our message is one of Nonviolence after all, so the armor must come off. The raw, authentic and vulnerable self is up to bat on this one. And it is scary.
Phoenix came to the stage with no armor. That’s why it was so beautiful. Even if people resisted or misunderstood his message (did his Hollywood audience get it?) most were moved nonetheless. Because it is rare to see someone’s honest heart, and a privilege to bear witness to one.
I don’t know if he had a deliberate plan, but he took the listener through steps that were quite effective. He started with humility, then established commonality. While reminding his audience that they all share the same values, he also masterfully tapped at their awareness, stretching them to see beyond their woke boundaries.
The most confronting part of his message had a punch to it. But rather than beat that drum, he chose to deftly move on, allowing the image of a crying mother to quietly burrow itself in minds and hearts. He didn't point fingers and make people wrong, but chose instead to gracefully pivot to the amazing nature of humankind and our ability to create. Change is scary to us, but we are at our best when we get about the business of creating something new -- with Love as our guide -- that works for everyone. It’s a universal and optimistic message that we can all get behind if we believe in our highest nature.
He concluded his short address by reminding us that we are not at our best when we stand against and cancel each other. There is so much of that in today's world and it advances nothing. Instead he encouraged us to support and give each other grace, to be each other’s educators and guides as we find our way to a better world. And that, he said, is the best of humanity.
Thank you Joaquin Phoenix for three beautiful minutes of authenticity, awakening and inspiration. And for the grace you showed the following day.
We can do this.
© carol saunders 2020
The Speech Broken Down
In a nutshell, Joaquin Phoenix offered a blueprint for any of us who yearn to be more effective messengers. Let’s take a look.
1. Start with humility.
This is always a good place to start. It helps make the speaker approachable and non-threatening. Phoenix opened by putting himself at the level of his audience – not talking up or down to them. It created a very effective opening. He also started to make a connection with his audience right away, focusing on what he shares with them.
“God, I'm full of so much gratitude right now. And I do not feel elevated above any of my fellow nominees or anyone in this room because we share the same love, the love of film. And this form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life. I don't know what I'd be without it. But I think the greatest gift that it's given me, and many of us in this room, is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless.”
2. Establish and grow a connection. Speak to the interconnectedness of common goals.
Next, he spoke more deeply to commonality. No matter who we are trying to bring new information to, it’s important to first find the space where we intersect. What do we both (or all) love or care about? What values do we share? Even with the most unlikely ‘others’, there is always some commonality. In this case, the commonality was social justice and fighting against the dominater principle. With another audience, it might be more of a stretch, like sharing a love for family, life or sustainability. Without this common vision, the listener feels distant at best and condescended to at worst.
“I've been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively. I think at times we feel, or we're made to feel, that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think, whether we're talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we're talking about the fight against injustice. We're talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity. I think that we've become very disconnected from the natural world, and many of us, what we're guilty of is an egocentric world view — the belief that we're the center of the universe. We go into the natural world, and we plunder it for its resources.”
So far no one in his audience would take exception to any these statements. Everyone is with him, and he kept everyone connected to him through his use of ‘we.’ No one is sensing he’s on a soapbox preaching. His heart is wide open and he has successfully opened everyone else’s.
3. Present something new (the core idea) that connects to common goals.
This is where his boldest statement is so far. It is carefully sandwiched in the middle after everyone is nodding in agreement about their common values and goals. But no one is expecting him to bring up the plight of a dairy cow, because that is outside what is normally included in the social justice advocacy circle. For me, I wanted to hear more, but I’m already on this wagon. For his audience, it was just enough. These two brief statements ended up being the focus of attention in the days to come.
“We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then we take her milk that's intended for her calf, and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”
4. Inspire with a vision.
With the prior two sentences reverberating in our collective psyche, he next inspires with a vision. Human beings are not wired to be excited about or even welcoming of change. When our comfort is threatened, we either go to cognitive dissonance or resistance, because change and seeing what may be true can be just too dang hard. Phoenix eloquently speaks to the idea that we are the best versions of ourselves when we leave systems of oppression behind and create new ways of living that are loving and compassionate. He inspires us with our own divine potential because somewhere deep down in the consciousness of each of us, we remember that we are all One.
And I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something, to give something up, but human beings, at our best, are so inventive and creative and ingenious. And I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment.
5. End with humility and grace (and with a splash of inspiration).
The speech concludes with Phoenix vulnerably laying out his own shortcomings and expressing his gratitude for the grace people granted to him throughout his live. We’ve all been scoundrels in our lives in some way. Being willing to expose that and say, “Yep I’ve messed up and I’m grateful for a second chance,” takes any audience to a place of vulnerable acceptance. No one likes someone who ignores their faults and only sees faults in others. Phoenix did neither. Instead he humbly spoke to what is possible for humanity. He reminded us that when we are at our best, we take care of each other and seek to guide each other, even if we are on different sides. Only then can we go through the gates of redemption. In other words, we must be our best selves and use Peace to bring about Peace.
Now, I have been, I have been a scoundrel in my life. I've been selfish. I've been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I'm grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. And I think that's when we're at our best, when we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of humanity.
And so it is.
© carol saunders 2020
To learn more truth about dairy, here are some resources:
Once again, it’s Mother’s Day. As we celebrate motherhood, our own mothers, our mothers’ mothers, mothering, being a mom, having a mom, being in relationship with a mom – all things mother – my message is short and sweet this year.
Don’t eat your mother.
Don’t eat anyone else’s mother.
Don’t eat or harm anyone who has a mother.
Don’t take babies away from mothers.
Don’t injure or take anything that belongs to your mother.
Don’t injure or take anything that belongs to any mother.
I know, it’s generally considered not nice to say, “don’t.” “Don’t” statements can shut people down. None of us like being told what we can’t do. But there are times when “don’t” is the best – maybe the only – way to effectively and accurately convey a message.
When I was a little girl and my mom said, “Don’t touch the stove,” right as my hand was about to touch said stove, it was actually helpful. It made me see something I hadn’t seen before. It stopped me from doing harm to myself. She didn’t take the time to lay out all the things I could touch without getting hurt. Had she done that, we might still be there, and my hand would have been burned. I would have suffered. “Don’t let a boy convince you to [fill in the blank]” was also very helpful advice to a young girl, as was “Don’t lie to people,” “Don’t cheat,” and “Don’t hurt others.” These were boundaries that didn't carry judgment, but when honored yielded a satisfying and self-possessed life, and when not, yielded suffering.
“Don’t” statements provide clarity. The kinder and gentler ”do” statements are vulnerable to interpretation and rationalization – activities of the mind that we humans excel at. I’ve sat around thousands of tables where people (including me) celebrated Love, Family and Motherhood while the bodies of babies and excretions of mothers were passed around and apportioned to plates without thought. I’ve participated in thousands of conversations about the importance of Freedom and Family, while the flesh served up on the table was there only through the denial of another's Freedom and the breaking up of another's family. We unconsciously draw lines that cause enormous harm to others – harm that we simply do not want to see. “Don’t” statements help us see those things. They help us grow and as a result, mitigate suffering. How much I wish someone had said to me when I was a child, “Don’t eat your mother or anyone else’s.” I would have been stunned into awakening much earlier, caused much less harm to other beings and suffered much less myself. Because when I bring harm to others, I'm out of alignment. And when I'm out of alignment, I suffer.
Turkeys are born without mothers to care for them and are slaughtered at just 4 months old. Dairy cows are slaughtered when their milk production is economically insufficient, around 6 years old (after giving birth and being separated from their babies multiple times), Mother pigs are confined in gestation crates, unable to comfortably move, and are slaughtered at 3-5 years old. Her babies are slaughtered at just 6 months.
As we celebrate mothers today, let us genuinely celebrate all moms. Let us take an honest look and appreciate the wonder of the body that nurtures an unborn baby and labors for hours to give birth. Let us revere the spirit of the one who commits her life to the life of a being who comes through her! Moms literally make the world go ‘round. Moms are everything. No one can do what a mom does. Any mom. ALL moms.
And that is something to celebrate.
So, this Mother’s Day, don’t eat your mother…or anyone else’s mother...or anyone who has a mother. Because we choose to lift all moms up in every way.
Happy Mother’s Day.
© carol saunders 2019
Today is International Golden Rule Day. The Golden Rule is an ethic of reciprocity – treat others how you want to be treated. This rule for life has deep historical roots and is universally found in all faith traditions. It can be stated in the positive (do this), stated in the negative (don’t do this) or illustrated through story. Here are just a few examples:
Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” Hillel the Elder
Christianity: “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.” Jesus in Matthew 7:12
Islam: "Pay, Oh Children of Adam, as you would love to be paid, and be just as you would love to have justice!" Qur'an 83:1-6
Hinduism: “If the entire Dharma can be said in a few words, then it is—that which is unfavorable to us, do not do that to others.” Padmapuraana, shrushti 19/357–358
Buddhism: “One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.” Dhammapada 10
Confucianism: “Zi gong (a disciple of Confucius) asked: ‘Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?’ The Master replied: ‘How about 'shu' [reciprocity]: never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself?’" Confucius, Analects XV.24
Yoruba: “One who is going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.” Yoruba Proverb
Native American: "All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One." Black Elk
Zoroastrianism: “Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself. Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29
Wicca: “I command thee thus, O children of the Earth, that that which ye deem harmful unto thyself, the very same shall ye be forbidden from doing unto another, for violence and hatred give rise to the same.” The Book of Ways, Devotional Wicca
[most of these quotes were pulled from wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule]
In 1993, The Golden Rule was endorsed by 143 leaders representing the world's major faith traditions as part of the "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic.” In 2007, the United Religions Initiative-Africa (URI) and the Interfaith Peace-building Initiative jointly called upon all citizens of the world and many organizations – including the United Nations – to join them in living in accordance with the Golden Rule and establishing April 5th as International Golden Rule Day. Their underlying intention was to make a more peaceful world,
There is a reason the Golden Rule has been so ubiquitous over millennia. It is a way of living that we all sense is 'right.' Treating others how we want to be treated is the seedbed for peaceful coexistence. From a macro level, it transcends all those petty things that separate us. From an individual soul level, it fills us with joy and keeps our burdens light. It helps us to become the best human beings we can be.
The spiritual path always calls us to grow beyond our normal comfort zones and to continually widen our circles of Compassion. In each of our hearts there is a perpetual Divine tug, pulling us toward a new understanding, a higher perspective and a fuller expression of our Divine nature. Can you feel it? I invite you to deeply ponder how you can live this Golden Rule in ways you may not have considered in the past. There’s nothing complicated about it, but most of us simply cannot see some of the ways we cause harm to others. To make it easy, I’m just going to be short and sweet and provide some practical actions steps that anyone can take today to more fully embrace the Golden Rule.
If you want to be loved, love another.
If you desire respect, respect others.
If you don’t like being gossiped about, don’t gossip about another.
If you value your freedom, allow others to be free; don’t oppress, exploit or enslave another.
If you don’t want to be eaten, don’t eat another.
If you want to keep your children with you and raise them yourself, don’t take children from another.
If you want to not see your friends be tortured and killed in front of you, don’t torture and kill the friends of another in front of them.
If you don’t want to be ground up alive, don’t grind another up alive.
If you don’t want to be suffocated or electrocuted, don’t suffocate or electrocute another.
If you don’t want to be impregnated against your will, don’t impregnate another against her will.
If you want to have room to live and the freedom to be with friends and family, allow others room to live and freedom to be with friends and family.
If you don’t want to die prematurely, don’t take the lives of children.
If you want to keep your skin, flesh or breast milk for your own purposes, don’t take the skin, flesh or breast milk from another.
I can keep going, but I think you get the message. Yes, there are many ways we can treat our human family better, and we should continually strive to do so. But if the Golden Rule was just meant to be applied to those who are like us, it would have little meaning. It's not that hard to take care of our own. Instead the Golden Rule calls us to consider others who are not like us, and behave in ways that may be counter to our impulses.
There are more than just human ‘others’ with whom we share the planet. There are billions of animals here too, who suffer mightily by our hands. Every day most of us participate in the exploitation of these others. We use their bodies for our entertainment and test our cosmetics and household products in their eyes and on their skin. We wear, wrap our furniture or make rugs with their skins. We mass produce and consume their eggs, milk, and flesh. We do these things without consideration for who they are, what they desire or the immense cruelty they are subjected to (some of which is described above). We treat them in ways we would never want to be treated.
They are God's beloved Creation too.
The Golden Rule reminds us that everything we do to or for another – any other – matters. It challenges us to honestly assess how we want to be treated, and to offer kindness and fairness to everyone. Let this be the day you allow the Divine tug in your heart to guide you toward including all beings in the Golden Rule. Choose to be Compassion, not the cause of suffering. When you do, you will enjoy the journey to a more harmonious and integrated self, and a more loving and peaceful world.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:7,9
© carol saunders 2019
This is a video which I participated in as part of the Interfaith Vegan Coalition in celebration of International Golden Rule Day. "Compassion encircles the Earth for all beings everywhere."
For those who may not know:
Go vegan on International Golden Rule day! Here are some links to kits that will get you started:
The holy season of Lent begins today. This season holds great meaning for some, and no meaning for others. For me, I grew up with no observance of Lent. As a child, I don't even remember going to church as a family on Easter morning. So I definitely get people who don't get Lent. Since those days, I have grown in my spiritual life and now experience Lent as a 40-day period where I can create meaning, come closer to my true Self, let go of blocks, and embrace my honest purpose. That is actually what Jesus did during his 40 days in the wilderness before he committed to his ministry (which is what Lent is patterned after).
During Lent we enter into our own wilderness to be in honest inquiry. Who am I? What is my purpose? What temptations of the world block or don't support my beliefs, values and life purpose? Who am I willing to commit to being? These are some questions to ask yourself. Take as deep a dive as you can.
Perhaps not all of us are meant to do grand things that will dramatically impact the world, but we can all be kinder and better versions of ourselves. Last Sunday, I invited my spiritual community to commit to being kinder people during Lent - to do the most good and the least harm to the best of their abilities. I invited them to look at how they treat themselves and other people, what words, thoughts and behaviors they employ. I then went further, encouraging them to also look at their consumer habits -- what they eat and what they wear. It's important to look at these things, because the choices we make every day are a reflection of what we really believe. And every day, most of us choose to engage (consciously or unconsciously) in unnecessary violence, when we could make other choices that do far less harm. Our souls yearn to break free from this vicious cycle.
People predictably react defensively when I bring this up because it stirs up all sorts of inner conflict. In their hearts they want to do the most good and least harm, but not if it calls into question a culturally accepted (and enjoyable) habit, or asks them to look beyond a culturally accepted boundary. When it does that, I look like the weird one imposing a personal diet or lifestyle on them. I am very familiar with this response, so I reminded my community that I don't have a vegan agenda. Rather, my agenda is everything that we already embrace as spiritual journeyers – Oneness, Universal Love and Peace. When we refrain from all forms of exploitation and violence, we more fully express these values. We do the most good and the least harm.
Unfortunately, it’s a far cry from how we live. We have become miserably addicted to consuming the bodies and excretions of animals, which come to our plates by cruel and exploitative means, not by Compassion, Love, and the Golden Rule that most of us want to live by. Our culture has hypnotized us into believing that violence against some victims is okay, and that nothing too bad could be happening because we can't (or don't want to) see it. Our inner most vulnerable and kindhearted nature was relegated to the shadows long ago and is desperately trying to wake us up and restore our sensibilities.
I have no idea how my invitation landed in the hearts of my community members, but I trust Spirit. Spirit works in subtle and mysterious ways and will germinate some of the seeds that I planted. They may sprout today or in a few years; it’s not my concern. In the meantime, I keep planting, which is the most good that I can do.
For those with ears to hear, I invite you to join this Lenten journey and come closer to your authentic expression. Do some deep inner inquiry and find those thoughts, beliefs and habits that no longer reflect the best version of yourself, then let them go. Commit to doing the most good and the least harm in your life and in the world. Together we can create a world that works for all beings who share this beautiful planet.
I offer some considerations below.
© carol saunders 2019
During Lent people often give something up as an act of penance, and it is usually something that is dearly loved, like chocolate or coffee. Then after Lent, everyone goes back to status quo. What was it all about then?
Another approach is to take an inventory of the thoughts and beliefs that limit or don't accurately express our lives, and let them go. It is also good to release habits that no longer serve who we authentically are. Then stay with it.
Here are some thoughts to consider releasing:
I have a right over anyone else's body.
It's too hard to change my eating habits.
It's okay to exploit animals, just not people.
Animals are here to serve us.
Eating animals is okay because we've always done it.
What only matters is how I treat other people.
I'll change when the rest of the world changes.
The difference I make is too small.
Here are some habits to consider releasing:
If you are a meat eater release meat from your diet or reduce your meat intake by declaring meat-free days. Here's a good place to start. I am also happy to support you.
If you are vegetarian try giving up eggs and dairy. There are so many plant-based dairy alternatives available today and your digestive and immune systems will love you for it. So will the cows, calves, hens and chicks who suffer mightily by this business. Most of us don't know about the cruelty and exploitation involved with dairy and eggs. Learn about it.
If you are vegan there may be something you need to release that you haven't yet considered. Some of us may need to give up hostility toward abusers, because ultimately our movement is one of Love. Some of us may need to give up feelings of futility, hopelessness or despair because the challenges we face seem insurmountable. Be in inquiry on this. Wherever you are, you are making a profound difference and the world is changing.
Check out your wardrobe. For the next 40 days, consider not purchasing goods made with leather, feathers, fur, wool or cashmere. Animals like to keep their own skins (and nature's insulation), just like we do. The process of taking this from our animal brothers and sisters is very cruel. Also look for the leaping bunny label on the household and cosmetic goods you purchase. There's no need to use animals in product testing and this label will help you identity cruelty free products.
And here is an affirmation to embrace:
I AM a powerful being, not limited by my past or culture. I choose to make life-affirming decisions and to be Kind and Compassionate toward ALL beings. I treat all others how I want to be treated. I AM Love.
May all beings have Peace.
The holiday season evokes within us the spirit of Hope and power of Love. Hope exhorts our courage to move boldly toward a better world. Love is the limitless activity in us that sees beauty, value and quality in whoever or whatever is before us, just as they are, with no boundaries or conditions. The stories we tell during this season reflect these themes and remind us of humanity’s highest potential.
In the original Christmas story, a baby comes into the world as the embodiment of Love Itself and the promise of a new Hope for all of humanity. We tell this story over and over because we revel in its beauty and simplicity, and at some level we see ourselves in it.
We are also Love Itself and the promise of a new Hope for humanity, if we choose to be.
We also tell other stories during this season that bring promises of Hope and Love, like The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. As we witness characters who dramatically transform themselves from contracted, self-focused loners to generous lovers of Life, we see ourselves in these stories too. That is what the season calls us to do – to wake up and find ways to expand ourselves as Love.
In the first Christmas story, we find the Christ baby in a cradle, visited by shepherds and Zoroastrian Magi, and surrounded by all kinds of animals. Everyone was invited and included in the celebration. It was a first century diversity fest that crossed boundaries of social class, ethnicity, religion and species. What better place for such a promising Light to come into the world! The animals added their unique energy to the celebration. Nurturing, down-to-earth and utterly free of ego, they are the perfect energetic container for a new promise of Hope and Love. If we dared to let our hearts grow, we would be able to see their inherent value, independent of our projections.
Art by Simon Mendez
Sadly, we have taken another path – a contracted and self-focused one. We could appreciate and live in harmony with other species, but instead we live in a domination system based on the mistaken belief that their purpose is to serve us. This belief created a world where every year trillions of animals suffer to meet the desires of a single species – humans. For animals it is a loveless world, certainly not one created by Love Itself. We rarely stop to question this world, but it is deserving of inquiry, because the days when we needed animal flesh and skins for our survival passed long ago. We have lost our way, forgotten our place in Creation, and allowed greed to take hold in our hearts. We are playing the parts of the miserly Scrooge, who exploits everyone for his own gain, or the greedy Grinch, who takes everything for himself because he can. We could choose instead to play the part of the baby – unconditional Love and inspiring Hope.
Like Scrooge and the Grinch, we must transform, because our current animal-using paradigm is not only egregiously violent; it has placed us on a trajectory that is not sustainable. Our global meat-eating habit causes excessive water use, destruction of forests, degradation of habitats, extinction of animal species, hypoxification of ocean dead zones, and is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It also prevents us from being able to feed our growing human population, since the majority of the crops we grow are used to feed the animals we eat.
At some point we will find ourselves in a very precarious position, not unlike that of the Grinch who found himself being pulled off a mountaintop by a hugely over-packed, gluttonous sleigh, or not unlike Scrooge who found himself being forced into his own dismal grave by the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come.
Had the Grinch remained unchanged, he would have been doomed on that mountaintop. And Scrooge would have fallen into to his dark, loveless grave. But they both opened themselves to a new birth of Hope and Love within, and their hearts grew. Love gave them the ability to see with greater clarity. With expanded hearts they could see that those they spent a lifetime resenting or debasing had inherent value. The greed that once controlled their hearts completely vanished. They found new Hope for themselves and new Love for the world. That is the gift of Christmas and the promise of the babe born in the manger.
Can we learn from these stories?
We can and we must. The Light that came into the world at the first Christmas grew up to teach us that we are the Light. We are creative beings, unencumbered by any thought system we've inherited. We have within us the ability to create a world of Peace, Harmony and Love. That is our highest potential and possibility! We just have to surrender a bit and allow the power of Love to grow our hearts beyond the narrow boundaries we have set for them. We will then be able to see the Truth – that those we have spent a lifetime debasing have beauty and value unto themselves. We will include them in our circle of Compassion and be generous lovers of ALL forms of life.
This Christmas, may the power of Love fill our hearts and may the spirit of Hope give us the courage to boldly move toward a new world that nourishes and sustains us all.
© carol saunders 2018
Note to readers: I am well aware that these are not perfect stories. The Grinch was still unkind to his dog Max, even after his heart grew. And Ebenezer Scrooge bought the town's largest turkey for the Cratchit family after he awakened from his visitations. The stories reflect the consciousness of the time they were written. I would like to think that more enlightened versions will be written that depict an animal-sensitive Grinch and a vegan Scrooge. I used these stories for this post because their themes of awakening (albeit imperfect ones) resonate with our hearts.
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
Rev. Carol Saunders
I am an ordained Unity and Interfaith minister, speaker, writer and lover of all life. In 2010 I founded a spiritual community in Deerfield, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and led it through mid-2021. In my current ministry I host a 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 - i.e. sovereignty, freedom, love, peace and kindness. We have the power to change our world by changing ourselves. A first step is identifying and releasing all the cultural conditioning that normalizes cruelty and violence. Be Love. Be Peace. Be Kind. Today.
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