I know that the statement in the title is quite bold. I am probably going against many spiritual teachings of ‘doing what your body and soul tell you to do’. I’m also against considering something ‘more spiritual’ than something else, because that would only be a battle of the ego (have you ever read Eckhart Tolle?) but stay with me, I swear you’ll get the full picture in a minute.
Lately there have been a lot of debates on people in the spiritual world going back to being omnivores because they ‘felt it was the right thing to do for their body’ and that being vegan is often a ‘self-created identity that makes us slaves to our egos’. I totally agree that veganism IS a huge ego construct for many people. It is just another excuse to fight against something, to feel part of a minority, to feel part of something. But for many people it is not just that.
Let me digress for a second on my take on veganism. I don’t like calling myself a vegan for the reasons I mentioned above, and also because I’m not sure I am what a vegan should be. I mean that I am not against the fact that we as animals could ‘use’ other animals’ products, because even animals themselves do that. I am against the fact that we as human beings take this for granted and take advantage of our position of power to exploit other species. That is where we hugely go wrong as a whole race.
We think that it’s natural and normal to exploit other animals for our vanity, pleasure, taste, convenience. Let me tell you something: it is not. What is normal is eating another animal when you live in nature and you’re hungry, or using other animals’ skin to keep warm (I’m sure you’re all thinking about Bear Grylls at this point, I’m sorry!) That’s no longer the case for us, because we don’t live in nature and we have plenty of other means to satisfy our primary needs.
‘There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.’
Spirituality and Compassion
The reason why I say that a cruelty-free lifestyle is more spiritual than many spiritual practices is that it stems from compassion. Compassion is ‘a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” The way I see it, compassion can only be felt by someone who feels that everything on this Earth is not separated from each other. Everything is connected, we are all connected, animals, nature and humans alike. This means that if we harm someone else, we are harming ourselves, too. From my compassionate and spiritual point of view, this vision makes perfect sense.
If someone has a lifestyle that doesn’t involve cruelty towards any animal I am inclined to consider him or her a spiritual person. Of course, this person must also respect the environment and other human beings, as those things are part of the whole, too. For me, that’s the main reason why I live cruelty-free. I don’t see the point in doing harm that I can avoid doing, in spreading suffering when I can live without those items that cause that very suffering. Especially when it comes to unnecessary luxuries like clothing (fashionistas, you must admit it. Clothes are awesome, but we don’t need so many!).
‘By eating meat we share the responsibility of climate change, the destruction of our forests, and the poisoning of our air and water. The simple act of becoming a vegetarian will make a difference in the health of our planet.’
Thích Nhất Hạnh
Are all Vegans Spiritual People?
And are all spiritual people vegan? Of course not. But I think that there’s large room for improvement when one starts caring about something outside of himself. If you stop eating, wearing and using animal-derived products, you are one step closer to feeling more and being more. I also believe that if you think of yourself as a spiritual person, master, teacher, you can’t ignore the harm we are doing to a lot of other species on a large scale. Nowadays, it’s not about ‘life is killing, there is no life without death’ and other spiritual lessons like this. These days it is about gratuitous violence, it is about completely taking over other species just because they’re weaker. That’s a huge, monstrous ego taking over the human race with effects to the planet and other species. It’s not about doing what the source within you calls you toward. It’s about compassion, empathy, looking at what we are doing as a race, as a whole, understanding the whole picture. Listen to what a true spiritual master told us:
‘One should not kill a living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite another to kill. Do not injure any being, either strong or weak, in the world.’
Spiritual and Cruelty-Free Living
For me, it was a natural process. I stopped eating meat, I stopped using leather, I stopped eating fish, I started to worry about other animal-derived products and stopped eating and purchasing them. It’s all very easy: when you understand what we are doing from the bottom of your heart, it’s not hard to stop. Even so, it took me ten years to come to these conclusions: in fact, I first went vegetarian when I was 16, but I went back and forth a couple of times before having a deep understanding of what was right and taking consequent action.
The interesting thing is that the turning point came when I started delving into spiritual practices. That’s why I’m sure the two things are related: they certainly were for me, and as I grew more present, more calm, more conscious, I also grew more compassionate and less dependent on animal-derived products.
‘Being vegetarian here also means that we do not consume dairy and egg products, because they are products of the meat industry. If we stop consuming, they will stop producing. Only collective awakening can create enough determination for action.’
Thích Nhất Hạnh
What about you? Do you think that your spiritual progress is connected to your compassionate living? Let us know in a comment below.