My Path to Vegan: Spiritual

My most favorite book as a child was about a girl and her pet lamb. She made her lamb a necklace out of dandelions and brought him to a birthday party. I fantasized about having my own pet lamb despite living in suburban New York.

As a child, I loved Disney movies, Charlotte’s Web, and horses. I began riding competitively when I was 8 and I had a giant collection of model horses. I was allowed to adopt a kitten when I was 8 as well. I cried as we took her home because I felt the weight of responsibility for the very first time. I slept on the bathroom floor with her so that she wouldn’t be alone while she learned where her litter box was kept. And when I was 24, I also lay with her on the floor in in her final days, as she could not get up anymore, but still purred.

Having a pet as a child taught me something I could not fully understand or even identify at the time. It was only later that I was able to find the correct word. Soul. I was aware that Penny was sentient and I knew she was smart — but I also came to realize that she had a soul.

Until I was at an age to accept that Santa and the Easter Bunny were not real — I also similarly identified that God wasn’t real either. My family was not religious. And no talk of God was ever mentioned. Holidays were nothing more than traditional family get-togethers. I identified myself as an unwavering atheist and felt lucky that I was a free-thinker.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I really started feeling empty and wanted to find some deeper meaning to life. I once again felt feelings that I could not describe or label. While not comfortable with the word God (or the compulsion I felt to even capitalize it) I began reading many books about Buddhism. Which led to lectures and visits to monasteries (and even a visit to Tibet several years after). As a spiritual newbie and a critic, I remained skeptical — but couldn’t deny that many aspects of the teaching made sense to them. When a monk described karma, in a way that truly opened my mind — I felt I found the word I was looking for to describe feelings of destiny and cause and effect that I had had.

“Karma is always fair”, he said. When a baby dies at birth there is always a reason for it. Theists would say “It’s God’s will”… but I now understood life as existing beyond the scope of just one single lifetime and that we may reap the consequences of our actions in one lifetime or over the course of many. And I understood the meaning of the word “soul” as something eternal and possessed by all living things regardless of their form.

Aspects of these eastern religions, particularly Krishna Consciousness and Jainism, teaches that animal killing is wrong. The word “mamsa” is a hindu term that describes the karma associated with killing an animal. It directly means “In this life I kill you, and in the next life you kill me”. It is not a judgement or punishment, but merely an impersonal set of laws that exist. All is fair and all is balanced within this system.

I do believe killing animals is morally wrong. I also acknowledge that many people do not share these views. But I also am aware that to be ignorant of something does not mean it doesn’t exist or that there are not consequences for it. Karma is really a fascinating and mysterious thing. Cause and effect exists in all things and is inescapable. Lacking the ability to identify the cause of a consequence does not change the fact that there was a cause. Nothing is ever random. Nothing.

Today, I live with many species of rescued animals on my farm. While I do not currently have a lamb that I make dandelion necklaces for, I have been guided by this part of my childhood that fantasized about farm life and animals. In each one of my animals, I see their value as a soul deserving of life, respect, and protection. Some people though may look at them and see nothing more than a machine, an object, something to be used, and something insignificant and easily replaced or forgotten. Many are not capable to or do not allow themselves to see or feel the soul within an animal. To do so might mean that humans are not so unique and special.

I don’t live the lifestyle that I do because I fear negative consequences. But I do it because I know it to be right. I feel the value and connection to other living things. I can look at the slaughter of animals as being justified in a sense. Because the law of karma is always reaping what we sow. Whether it be as victim or perpetrator. But I can also feel immensely pained about it and compelled to do what I can to stop it. It is not easy to change the minds of others. But we all have our path and I believe the people who come onto our paths are there for a reason. There are no accidents in life. Seeds are planted in us all along the way. Not unlike the little girl who dreamed of befriending a lamb.