Monday, November 5, 2012

The one who is generous and protects

Aparigraha and Veganism
aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah (PYS II.39)
When one becomes selfless and ceases to take more than one needs, one obtains knowledge of why one was born. 

     Every November for many years Jivamukti has some kind of focus of the month that reflects an ethical vegetarian diet. For some of us who may not live in the U.S. or Canada this may seem a bit strange or abstract. In the States and Canada we have a holiday that is called Thanksgiving (Japan actually has a national holiday on Nov 23rd that was adopted during the American occupation also called Labor Thanksgiving Day...prior to that it was called Niiname-sai and celebrated the harvest). Many stories abound on when, why and how this holiday started in the states. In school I was taught that it was due to a good harvest that was only possible with the help of the "Native Americans" in the region of Plymouth, Massachusetts, perhaps the  Wampanoag but it has been a long time since I had a class on the first thanksgiving. However what I do know is that many of the original settlers were dying. Their crops ha been failing and it was the native people of the regions who helped them to survive and taught them the ways in which they could farm. Also having a Thanksgiving feast was not an uncommon practice in Europe. On occasions when there was a good harvest or some special occasion a feast would be held that celebrated the gifts that God had bestowed upon the people. There were also days of fasting when people thought a penance needed to be made because of something bad happening like a draught.
     In either case whether feast or famine human beings have always recognized the central importance of food. That is why you find feast and food wherever there are sacred festivals. The word festival comes from the same word as feast and often was used in conjunction with a church holiday or you could say a religious celebration. When one ate a sacred thing, when one was very aware that what was on their plate was a divine gift and gave them some form on communion with the world and the spiriti or one might say the divine spirit around them.
    Now more often than not when we eat, unless it is some special occasion many people do not have this same feeling about having a feast or festival. The rituals still exist but in many cases they have become devoid of their original meaning. We no longer see eating as the most intimate connection we have with this divine creation we call earth; a connection through which we actually embody the plants and animals of this earth and bring them into us and they become the cells of this body and become the energy that allows us to walk and talk, sing and dance, listen and speak.
     The act of eating is the act of transforming energy. We all know this on some level, no one has to tell us to eat or that it is important. We all have the desire, we all know that if we do not eat we will be ill and eventually die. The two times that we universally come together in most, if not all cultures, to stop and pause and take in the great mystery, is at death with funerals and at meals with prayers and grace. We all know that eating is a profoundly meaningful action.
     Traveling around the world I realized many of these things and recently, a few years ago, another idea came to my mind. I was having a discussion in San Francisco over dinner. A person who was eating with me made the comment "I could never be vegetarian. I grew up poor and all I could afford was vegetables. Now I live in America, I have a good job and I am going to eat meat." Eating vegetables he associated with being poor. Meaning that vegetables are more easily raised and sold at an affordable rate as they use less resources and that those who could exploit because of their position in society and the amount of money they had set themselves apart by eating meat. In effect eating meat was a sign of being wealthy. The fact that the further you go back in time, no matter the culture the more vegetarian food we find in the diet. In Europe, Asia, Africa many of the people ate what came from the earth more so then they did meat. As cultures "advanced" we find the consolidation of resources into the hands of a few, the wealthy landlords, kings and rulers that used the labor of the poor for agriculture to create a farming and herding culture.
     The word capital comes from the Greek word capita which meant a head of cattle (probably sheep or goats). The more capita or cattle you had, the more wealthy. No one can argue that it takes more resources to raise animals for food then it does to raise vegetables for food. We have terms like peasant bread on one side and a rich diet on the other. Most forms of cancer or physical disease that are caused by diet in our modern world are linked to rich diets. Of course we have places in the world where people are dying because they do not have enough food or are malnutrition and we also have some people who get sick from a vegetarian diet as they are no well informed on how to eat. With both of these exceptions if we look closely we can see they are linked to raising animals for food to a certain extent.
     John Robbins in his book A Diet for a New America he says that producing one pound of beef takes 15 pounds of grain and that if America cut its beef consumption by 10 percent it would be enough to save 16 million pounds of grain." That is roughly the same amount of grain to feed the population expected to die of starvation in the world. Would America even sell it at a price that other much poorer nations could afford is another issue. The fact remains that the planet produces more food than all the humans can eat. We have a shortage of food in many places because of the unequal distribution of resources and how we produce food, not that we cannot produce enough.
     Since we have this complex that meat is for the wealthy, we see many countries that try to mimic what we do in the west suffering as we. Diabetes has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a major cause of death with 347 million people suffering worldwide and over 3 million people dying every year from high blood sugar. Many causes are suggested but it is interesting to note that meat and dairy are insulin inhibitors. Adopting a vegetarian diet has been proven to reverse type 2 diabetes and in one very interesting study affect even type 1. Heart disease and many other forms of physical illness are easily reversed by adopting a vegetarian diet and having a healthy active lifestyle.
     The word aparigraha can be broken down to get a better understanding of the implications of the word. Pari means "all around" and graha is "grab" so parigraha is to grab all around. To grab at things and hold them to us for whatever reason, fear, desire, fashion or spirituality. Adding a short a is a negative meaning not. So aparigraha means not to be grabbing all around. Janma is "ones birth", Kathamtha is "purpose" and Sambodhah is knowledge. The verse is saying that when one stops taking more than one needs they gain the knowledge of the purpose of this life. To get a better understanding I had to contemplate the opposite. How would taking more than one needs cause confusion and block knowledge. Well when we are only concerned about what we can get we block out the needs of others or at the very least the needs of others takes a back seat. We create a division and see the others needs as less then ours. When that happens we think it is ok to hurt them, we minimize their existence we diminish their purpose. I believe that anytime we diminish the life's purpose of another we diminish our own. When we hurt another we have to harden ourselves and in so doing shut down a feeling part of our being that is essential in understanding of our own purpose.
     Many being grab at things around them to get an understanding of where they are and this is natural. We are seeking purpose and understanding. However we can very easily become burned by the things we hold onto, weighed down by that which we grab onto. This happens when we have a meat based diet...literally. Our life becomes about short sighted gains based on taste, fashion and societal acceptance all of which fade easily. All of the great saints and sages were not remembered for what they did for themselves but what they did for others. The became light and shining beings by letting go of those things that did not serve them or those around them. I am not saying everyone should be vegan or vegetarian nor that to be happy or understand your life you have to stop eating meat. I am saying that it may be easier for us. I am saying that it would be easier on the resources of the world and the very fragile environments that we see being crippled all around us. Give it some thought...