Luise (Unconditional Love of the Source) and Valentin (True Compassion of the Source) are currently enjoying the wonderful winter – sometimes together with their Wake Up Sangha in Aachen (Germany). When they are not on the journey of finishing their energy engineering studies, they both like to learn about loving communication, the building of communities, Buddhist psychology and the transformation of suffering.
Many of us have heard the teachings of Thay about what we consume and how we can look deeply to see whether the planet or other beings have suffered in the production of a certain product. We might already feel a call for us to change the way we eat so that we can contribute to a more peaceful society and world. But in our day-to-day, we find it hard to put these intentions into practice or stick to them consistently and we find ourselves stuck in our old habits. In this article, we want to offer a few stories and practices on how to move forward with more self-compassion, joy and clarity. Let’s begin!
Confronting the suffering
Right at the beginning, we want to share our stories about how we first came in touch with decisiveness and the willingness to change our habits:
Valentin: When I was 15, I was travelling back from a summer holiday with dear friends of mine. On the highway, in front of us, I saw a truck that seemed to lose some of the goods it carried, although I couldn’t quite identify what it was that was flying around behind it. It was only at a gas station where the truck and our car accidentally both stopped, that I could see that behind bars, it transported chicken and the poor animals had pecked feathers from one another in the distress they felt. They looked all tattered and didn’t stop to attack each other. Confronted with that pain, I started crying in compassion for these beings in pain. It was in that moment that I deeply decided that I didn’t want to eat animal products any more.
Luise: One day, during a semester abroad in Korea, I walked over a fish market. I had never seen anything like this place before. Living fish were placed in plastic buckets with water and every now and then poked with a stick to demonstrate to the customer their aliveness and freshness. Crabs with bodies larger than my two fists and legs as long as my underarms were crammed into aquariums. In front of me, one crab was taken out of the aquarium by the man selling them. The man started hitting the crab in his hand with a metal tool, again and again and again. Twitching, the crab finally went limp. It was dead, “ready to eat”. I started crying. Embarrassed, I tried to hide my tears from the people around me. Never before, I had seen an animal killed brutally like this in front of me. Never before, I was confronted right in front of me by the suffering caused by animal products. At that moment, I decided that I cannot eat animal products any more, acknowledging the suffering behind them for the first time.
Those moments and other similar ones we witnessed over the years, although painful, have been a source of willpower, clarity and decisiveness to carry on out of compassion. Our compassion is able to transform pain into dedicated action.
Harvesting the joy of compassionate living
When we think of a plant-based diet, we may believe that we are sacrificing a lot or that we might feel like we are restricting ourselves. But are you sure? These perceptions can turn into real obstacles on our journey to living more compassionately and in line with our sense of integrity. If we don’t look deeply into them, we might even give up on trying to change our eating habits because it feels overwhelming and paralyzing. Not doing something does not have to feel like painful restriction, but can be a celebration of love every single day. Not hitting strangers in the face does, for most of us, not feel like a restriction of our freedom, because it is a natural act of kindness to greet each other with a smile instead. Adapting a plant-based diet can feel the same.
We have experienced that a change of perspective is crucial here in order to focus on what we are truly doing. Our invitation is to mindfully and consciously enjoy our sense of embodied compassion, integrity and commitment in the very moments in which we choose to act more compassionately by eating plant-based. By bringing our attention to these positive and nourishing aspects, our practice becomes a vehicle of our growth. The fruit of it is the deep fulfilment that stems from living in line with our sense of justice. This is a concrete practice that can gradually change the way we perceive our actions. After some time, it becomes a habit to take a moment and enjoy our conscious and compassionate choice. We learn to feel into the moments that make up our compassionate growth while we are able to explore a colorful variety of tasty, fresh and nourishing foods every day of our life.
Taking care of our outrage over the unloving behavior of others
When we started our plant-based journey, a lot of sadness and anger arose. Sadness about all the suffering of sentient beings caused by the eating habits of humans. Anger at all those humans allowing that suffering for their brief moments of pleasure. We started to ask direct questions like “Do you not care that an animal died for this?” and pressured the people around us. But of course this didn’t work. People rarely perceive such harsh words as invitations for reflection. So over the years, we practiced looking more deeply in our anger. We found that part of it was a result of wrong perceptions about human beings and their reasons for acting in a way that produces pain. Rather than judging others, we could see that unloving behaviors towards other beings result from deep misconceptions like separateness and the inability to experience interbeing. A lot of compassion arose from that insight. Judging others would mean playing the same game of “you’re wrong and bad, I’m right and good” that is at the core of discriminative, dualistic thinking which is in itself the reason for a lot of pain. Through that exploration, we realized how deeply discriminative thinking patterns are engrained in our cultures and minds. We are very happy to share that today, we are able to experience a lot more gentleness and compassion towards ourselves and others.
Our exploration also led us to a point where we learned to compassionately hold and take care of the true outrage and sadness that naturally arise when we see other beings hurting each other.
Attending to those feelings with a lot of gentleness and tender compassion creates inner calm and stability.
For us, over the years, eating plant-based transformed from being a desperate protest to being a loving practice. Loving towards ourselves and the world.
In this article, we mainly focused on the challenges that we encountered during the adaptation of a plant-based diet. But we believe that we all share similar experiences on our journey to a more loving and sustainable life, regardless of the specific actions we choose.
May our collective awakening bloom!