Meditations on The Journey Home – Lesson from Chapter 2
Inspirations from ‘The Journey Home ‐ Autobiography of an American Swami’
On entering India, Richard found everything excitingly new, yet very familiar. On the very first day Richard was exposed to a variety of experiences. He saw a multitude of people gathered at the railway station; some cooking, others begging, few lepers and dozens sleeping peacefully amidst the deafening noise all around. He also dangerously dived into a moving train and shared a compartment with two hundred people, in a coach which had the capacity of sixty. He was fed bhang, an intoxicating drink derived from the cannabis plant. Still reeling under its hypnotic effect, a snake charmer put a deadly snake around his chest and demanded fifty rupees. If this wasn’t enough, he ate a red hot chilli pepper and his mouth erupted into flames. Richard absorbed every bit of the panoramic scene of India’s capital, Delhi, and found the atmosphere to be a celebration of life.
A kind hearted man offered dinner to Richard, and while eating, Richard was moved to see a cow and a calf share loving exchanges, so similar to a human mother and a child. Just then, Richard’s host pointed out to pieces of meat on Richard’s plate, and for the first time Richard made a connection between his diet and the suffering of animals. He lost his composure, dissolved into tears, and was shaken with nausea.
“As I was dozing off on a bed of twine under the starlit winter sky, the mother and baby cow appeared in my dream. Their gentle, tearful eyes looked helplessly into mine while the blade of a butcher ruthlessly slaughtered them for meat. From my heart burst the biblical commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” … I awoke from the nightmare in a state of unbearable nausea and rushed to the toilet for relief. I could see only those two cows gazing at me with their innocent eyes… In that dark, rooftop latrine in Old Delhi, I offered another vow before my Lord. I will never again eat meat.”
Benjamin Franklin’s words echo in my mind, “Flesh eating is unprovoked murder.” To a spiritual novice as myself, meat eating isn’t attractive for other reasons. A meat diet has hazardous effects on the environment such as forest destruction, agricultural inefficiency, soil erosion and desertification, water depletion, and air and water pollution. Meat eating is also directly related to world hunger. If all the soya beans and grains fed yearly to U.S. livestock were set aside for human consumption, it would feed 1.3 billion people. While it takes only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer has estimated that reducing meat production by just 10 percent would release enough grain to feed 60 million people.
Besides the environmental hazards and impact on poverty, meat eating is also unnatural for humans. I ask myself, if I am stranded in a jungle with nothing to eat, and I see an apple tree and a goat grazing, what would be my natural choice? Will I jump on the goat and feast on its flesh or am I more naturally inclined to eat an apple? Since fruits and vegetables are the natural diet for humans, those with an unnatural meat diet are more susceptible to diseases and disorders as compared to their vegetarian counterparts. Comprehensive investigations by groups such as the National Academy of American Sciences have linked meat eating to cancer, and the journal of American Medicine reports: “90-97% of heart disease could be prevented by a vegetarian diet.” Albert Einstien thus noted, “It is my view that the vegetarian matter of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.”
For an aspiring spiritualist, Mahatma Gandhi’s words of wisdom ring in the ears, “I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants.” Richard had reached this stage of spiritual progress, and his sensitivity spurred him to vow giving up meat.