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Why Are Few Spiritual Teachers Vegan?

Why Are Few Spiritual Teachers Vegan?

“How can being vegan be so important when so many spiritual leaders eat meat and dairy?”

On some level, we’ve all had to confront this thorny question. We naturally respect and often emulate those whom we perceive as more spiritually aware than we are, and so for Christians, for example, the fact that Jesus is portrayed as eating at least fish seems to be a direct refutation of vegan teachings. For Jews, there’s the passage in Genesis after the flood where Jehovah allows the flesh of certain animals for food, and for Buddhists, the Buddha may be portrayed as eating meat, or at least allowing his followers to do so, and I’ve heard the phrase, “The Dalai Lama eats meat” (though inaccurate) repeated as if it’s a mantra, to justify non-vegan behavior. For Hindus, many revered gurus eat dairy products and Krishna himself is portrayed as a cowherd.

As we mature spiritually and begin to question the routine violence required by meals of meat, dairy, and eggs, we naturally begin to question the teachings and example of people and traditions we have looked to for spiritual and ethical guidance, and this can be challenging, at best. Also, even if we reject religious teachers and traditions that enable or encourage animal exploitation, we will often find ourselves with people who use the words and example of these teachers and traditions to rationalize purchasing animal-sourced foods and products. This can be enormously upsetting. Spiritual teachings are supposed to help make us more compassionate and aware, not provide cover for cruelty and denial!

How do we navigate all this and understand more clearly the dynamics involved?

There’s a cogent old saying, “The people always get the leaders they deserve.” This is an essential liberating understanding to cultivate carefully, and is true in both the secular and religious domains. As we evolve, the teachers and leaders we attract into our experience will also evolve. We are ultimately responsible. When we look, for example, at our political leaders, we are often disappointed and distraught to see the level of corruption, privilege, and dishonesty that we find, as well as their willingness to go to war and jeopardize ecosystems, animals, and the underprivileged.

While it’s relatively easy to bemoan and blame corrupt politicians, greedy bankers, and sociopathic decision makers in the military-industrial complex for our woes, the obvious and undeniable fact is that these leaders and power brokers are, inevitably, an accurate mirror of the consciousness of we the people. Attempting to improve the quality of our leaders without improving the quality of ourselves is an exercise in futility. Gandhi and many others have correctly reminded us that there can be no authentic positive social change without personal change, and because we are all conditioned from birth by our culture’s programming, contributing to a better world means questioning this programming, reconnecting with our inherent wisdom and compassion, and evolving beyond the ethical level of the culture we were born into.

The heart of all this is the cultural food program. Because all of us are born into a culture that kills 75 million animals daily for food (in the U.S. alone), we have been programmed as agents of reductionism, elitism, exploitation, and oppression in our behavior and attitudes toward other beings, and we will ineluctably manifest leaders with similar characteristics. If, for example, we were to continue in our exploitive meals of animal foods, and were to succeed in fomenting a political revolution to improve our lives, we can be assured that our new leaders would be similar to the old oppressive ones because we would be continuing the devastating oppression of animals, ecosystems, wildlife, children, and hungry people that eating animal foods necessitates. Thus, it is not difficult to see that the only way to create a positive world for ourselves socially, politically, and economically is to transition to vegan living, where we take responsibility for our actions and stop our exploitation of those weaker than ourselves. The most powerful actual and symbolic effort anyone can make toward creating a positive future for all of us is to question the violence we were acculturated into by our daily meals, and shift to a plant-based way of eating and living for ethical reasons.

Just as our political and social leaders reflect we the people, so do our spiritual leaders. The spiritual and religious leaders of a war-like culture will justify and encourage war, or they will simply be marginalized and ignored in favor of those who will (and who will be rewarded by the culture for doing so). As another example, it was fine for ministers in the ante-bellum South to own slaves and defend slavery. Similarly, the spiritual leaders and teachers of a herding culture (like ours) will justify and enable the exploitation of nonhuman animals for food and products, and they will be rewarded for this by being respected, affluent, and successful, and those who directly challenge animal exploitation will be ignored and marginalized. And yet, there always seems to be a few who resonate with these generally ignored prophetic voices crying in the wilderness, and through such as these, cultures and individuals can evolve in a positive direction.

We still live today in a herding culture founded upon exploiting animals for its daily meals and other needs, and all of the institutions in this culture, as I point out in The World Peace Diet, are the offspring of this herding culture and necessarily loyal to it. Even if a deeply realized spiritual teacher were to emerge and teach a vegan doctrine of compassion for all life, for that teacher’s message to be embraced on a mass scale, our culture would have to evolve and transform enormously so that individuals would be able to be receptive to it; otherwise the message would simply be suppressed or modified.

We can see evidence of this everywhere. For example, the original disciples of Jesus were described by their contemporaries as refusing to eat meat, as described in Keith Akers’ The Lost Religion of Jesus, yet today, this understanding is repressed because it is too challenging to the core of the herding culture in which we live. The same is true with many other cases. Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, cofounders of the Unity movement, were articulate in urging compassion for animals and encouraging plant-based eating, but today, in a mere 80 years, these key teachings have been repressed and forgotten.

Fortunately, as increasing numbers of people go vegan, we are seeing more and more leaders being empowered to articulate the vegan message without being shunned. The grassroots vegan “upwising” is in full swing, and so we see Bill Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres, and other social leaders finally able to manifest as vegans in popular culture, and we find a similar trend in spiritual teachers as well. The Dalai Lama, despite the resistance of those around him, has mandated Dharamsala as a meat-free zone, and several recognized spiritual teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Master Ching Hai, Sri Chitrabhanu, and Rabbi Gabriel Cousens encourage veganism and even require it of their serious students.

The momentum in this direction seems to be increasing daily, and given the urgency of our cultural, health, economic, and ecological predicament, bringing the vegan teachings of radical inclusion, respect, and lovingkindness into our religious institutions is a number one priority. If existing traditions are unwilling or unable to embrace and promote the vital spiritual teaching that veganism offers everyone, of all persuasions, then we’ll create new spiritual movements and traditions that do, and we see this happening as well.

The essence of the situation is this: all of us are born into a herding culture and are deeply conditioned to accept the underlying assumptions of this culture, and there are rewards in doing so (and punishments in not doing so) for spiritual leaders, for doctors, for teachers; for everyone. With the massive evidence now in place that points conclusively to the health benefits of a plant-based diet, why do so few doctors and health leaders, and their handlers, promote veganism? The entrenched programming and reward system is just too strong, not just for doctors to resist, but for spiritual leaders and their handlers as well.

Real political and spiritual progress comes from the grass roots, not from the top down. As vegans, we already are the spiritual leaders of the coming more-awakened society. As the vegan movement continues to gather momentum, spiritual teachers who aren’t vegan will be increasingly ignored as hypocritical and out of touch. This vegan evolution is, in many ways, a leaderless revolution where we are all leaders, and where the growing, awakening vegan community is itself the spiritual leader of our culture. It is essential that each of us contributes as best we can by connecting both with the community and even more importantly, with the vegan teacher of compassion and wisdom who lives in our heart.

It may be tempting to hope that we can be rescued by some outer force, like benevolent extraterrestrials, or a coming consciousness shift to the fifth dimension, or a benign political or economic group that destroys the evil leaders and brings us a new era of abundance. But we are called to be worthy of the freedom, peace, and abundance we desire, and the price for these is the hot dog, chicken breast, and fish filet, and understanding why this is so.

As another old saying goes, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and sowing the seeds for the coming generation of vegan spiritual leaders by embodying a message of compassion for all living beings is something we can all do in the garden of our hearts, and in the soil of our daily lives. It’s a beautiful and inspiring movement to be part of, and I’m grateful to you and to everyone who’s working so hard on so many levels to bring it to fruition. It’s the central challenge and endeavor for us who are alive on this Earth today.

Image Source: Ana Felix Garjan/Flickr

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9 comments on “Why Are Few Spiritual Teachers Vegan?”

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Master Shane
1 Years Ago

First, let us understand what spiritual is. Along with all of the other words and statements in which you made. In theory, a vegan diet sounds nice but how practical is it, especially right now? And is that what compassion is? What is compassion? Can one partake in the consuming of meat and still have a pure heart full of compassion? Is it really the food, the physical aspect of what one would label as food? What is it that heals? If one has fully surrender, could they not recieve from anything? The fact is, our ancestral blood comes from consuming animal products. Yes, we are programmed by society but it is only ourselves who must find outselves, as they say. Many people jump into this movement without understanding and so become very ill. This is why I am expressing this. It has taken time and so it will take time. Separating yourself from others is not the way. You are the one who labels and identifies themselves as a certain person with certain beliefs. You will be confined to this identiy until you surrender. It is funny how people argue over what certain spiritual masters were or are when in reality, they were the ones that did not label and identify themselves as a certain thing. What really matters? Why are you so emotional and angry? When was the last time you put the book down and journeyed inside yourself? Stop worrying about others, just know yourself. What are you afraid of?


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Mihaela
1 Years Ago

Not only vegan, but sentient vegan: food good for body and mind (no onlion, garlic, mooshroom and others): (nowadays must exclude dairy products): http://www.sdmyoga.org/health/vegetarian-philosophy.htm


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vegandaoist
1 Years Ago

History shows Christ was an Essene, good possibility of being a vegan and received spiritual teachings in India as well as his home areas of the middle east. If your goal is to reduce suffering, with the present amount of information on the cruelty of the animal industries, it can not be refuted. Still, as for others not being vegan, it is our opportunity to educate people and forgive them for their ignorance and honor them wherever they may be on their path be it a monk in a monastery or even the Dalai Lama. No judgement. We all have room to improve.


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Janet Cade
1 Years Ago

Well said Will - Wake Up Everyone. Wouldn't it help to move our world toward peace if our spiritual leaders make some kind of sacrifice and moved towards the enlightened state that was lived by great spiritually inspired vegetarian men of the past such as Ghandi, Einstein, Shaw, Pythagoras, Schweitzer, da Vinci and many others. Reading 'The World Peace Diet' woke me up to change my eating to a plant based no meat, dairy or fish diet. Like you said Will - Veganism is 'coming home to your own heart' and shocking to me - even after people KNOW all the details of how a carnivorous meal is brought to a plate - the tortuous cruelty which is the life of these animals - people feel at ease to carry on as before. Even the 'supposed' spiritual leaders seem to care less about the endless suffering and death which is the lot of the 'domesticated/livestock?' (what??) - gentle, beautiful, creatures who are entitled to life as much as you and I. The World Peace Diet SHOULD BE required reading for EVERY citizen who cares about the future of this planet earth and who cares even a bit for the future of their grandchildren. Let's Quit with the 'me, me, me' thinking and living and lets 'take a risk' - Please read The World Peace Diet with an open heart. Let's stop believing that our dog and our cat is any more special and worthy of a pampered life than the pig, baby cow/'veal' or lamb/'mutton' that our taste buds are convincing us that we must have for the sake of taste. Some of the most delicious meals I have had have been vegan. There really is no sacrifice of taste here. What astounds me is how we all like to talk and talk and talk AND TALK endlessly about the state of our world and its problems and needless murders and shootings... Y E T we are not prepared to do "THE ONE THING" that each person, meal by meal can do that WILL change our world back the 'The Garden of Eden' that some spiritual teachers love to talk about. Talk - even from the pulpit is cheap. Let's take up the challenge - Read this very well researched and documented book and make what could amount to an actual Sacrifice - 3x's a day at meal times where we have the possibility to contribute to Peace on this planet. .


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Deb Ozarko
1 Years Ago

What a beautifully written and heartfelt piece of very necessary information in today's world of apathy and disconnect. I applaud your love, compassion and courage to spread this message of hope. Consciousness is elevating. I personally feel it. I also feel the increasing polarization between the "herding mentality" and those who are waking up. It is an interesting time to be alive. Will light prevail? I can only hope. It seems as though this is happening despite today's "new age" spiritual leaders. From my own personal observation, I've noticed that anything that has been westernized - including spirituality - has also inevitably been bastardized. This means that it has been indoctrinated into the rigid Western belief structure that the consumption of animal flesh and secretions is a physiological necessity. This belief system is so deeply entrenched in the collective psyche of the western world, that even westernized "spiritual teachers" are unable to break free of the deep trance created by this belief. As you mention in your article however, we are the ones we've been waiting for and when the conscious, compassionate masses fully embrace these powerful words deep in their hearts, our collective inner light will prevail over the dark veil of status-quo existence. When the mind becomes servant to the heart, we lead with courage, compassion, empathy and love. The world is desperate for people who follow the wisdom within - the wisdom of the heart. It's time for light to prevail!


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Ariel Nessel
1 Years Ago

Brilliantly said Will, and I believe predictive of how change will occur in spiritual communities and in politics. May our teachers and leaders not only lead and teach, but learn from their students in this regard, and overcome their unexamined assumptions above animal exploitation and adopt a vegan consciousness.


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Delisa Renideo
1 Years Ago

Great article! The point that our leaders -- spiritual, political, or social, -- are a reflection of the consciousness of the people being led is most important. It is actually very empowering. We don't need to wait for the right leader to come along to "save" us; we just need to step up, raise our own consciousness, and help to raise the consciousness of the whole. Doing so, we will attract, elect, and hire leaders who have the values and beliefs that we have attained.


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Alexander Gosselin
1 Years Ago

If you meet someone who claims to be a spiritual teacher, but eats meat or other animal products, you might prefer not to learn the lessons in store. If you want to learn compassion and peace, choose a teacher who practices it. If you want to learn enslavement, follow a master who shamelessly engages in slavery, mutilation, and murder.


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Renee
1 Years Ago

But DID Jesus really eat fish...? This article says, no: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kamran-pasha/was-jesus-a-vegetarian_b_276141.html


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16 Jan 2013

Although interesting, the Huffington post article was written by a novelist and Hollywood film maker rather than an enlightened spiritual teacher. There are many metaphors in the bible. For example, “eating” and “drinking” refer to learning spiritual truths. Many things in the bible are also used as metaphors for people, for example, vines, trees, briers, thorns, salt, cattle and fish. Water is used to describeAnother metaphor is used to describe truth and knowledge and “bread” is the truth that leads to salvation.

Michelle Berry-Shaffer
16 Jan 2013

Although interesting, the Huffington post article was written by a novelist and a Hollywood film maker rather than an enlightened spiritual teacher. Its always advisable to find a spiritual teacher so that we may feast from the bread of life. That being said, there are many metaphors in the bible. For example, “eating” and “drinking” refer to learning spiritual truths. Many things in the bible are also used as metaphors for people, for example, vines, trees, briers, thorns, salt, cattle and fish. Water is used to describeAnother metaphor is used to describe truth and knowledge and “bread” is the truth that leads to salvation.



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