World Travel with a Twist of Zen - Fields of Indulgence  
 
After 31 years and thousands of animals ingested, today was the first day I saw the meat I was going to eat slaughtered and cleaned right in front of me.  In our attempt to avoid factory farmed meat, Neda’s Dad Petko found a local farm that sold goats and lambs (as well as the cheese and milk produced by them) and this morning we went off to buy a little goat. I asked if we could go early to witness the process of slaughter. It sounds like a morbid request, but let me explain.

From the age of 18-23, I was a vegetarian. I had read about the terrible conditions that most animals endure while moving through the meat industry and decided I didn’t want to participate in that system. However, while in university I took a class on applied ethics related to our relationships with animals and one of the books we read was Blood Ties by Ted Kerasote. In the book, Kerasote discusses the sustenance hunting that he performs while living a simple life near the Grand Teton Mountains. For him, taking the life of an animal in order to live is an act of engagement with the cycle of nature. It is coming to terms with the fact that all of life is built upon death. The question for us as humans is how to find a way to participate in the cycle of nature responsibly. The book convinced me that it could be ethical to eat meat if the animal was raised in respectful conditions and if it was sustainable for the environment. However, it also left me with a commitment to see my meat killed (and if possible kill it myself) so I couldn’t turn away from the exact process of how this food gets onto my table.

The request to go early to see the goat's death probably seemed strange to Petko, who grew up in a farming village and saw animals killed for his dinner regularly. But for this suburbanite, it was an opportunity to fulfill a commitment I was never able to fulfill in America. So off we went to this little farm. As we approached, a horde of puppies, dogs, kittens, and chickens mobbed our car. It reminded me of SE Asia, where animals are simply everywhere. The farmhand took the little goat out of the pen and I saw him running around, looking for his mother and her milk. Then the farmer tied up the goat, brought him over to a concrete block, and cut this throat. He died almost immediately, but the sight of the blood and the convulsing body made me nauseous and made me want to cry at the same time. How had I never seen this? How have I never taken full responsibility for what I was doing when I eat meat? In our society the whole process is so sterilized – you can go into a restaurant and order a hamburger and have literally no connection to the cow from which the “burger” came. I recognize that for most of the meat I eat in the future, it is unavoidable that I will have no substantial relationship with it. But the goat helped me to really face the actual consequences of my actions. By seeing its death, I can be more respectful of the life that was taken for my benefit and more conscious of my place within the cycle. For this I give thanks.

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The goat stew that Nadia made with the goat we bought today
As for our last post regarding my health, I am doing much better with some TLC from Nadia and Petko here in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, Neda came down with a high fever as well after returning from Vietnam (possibly Dengue as well) and has been recovering the past week, but she also seems to be out of the worst of it and on the road to recovery. Yesterday (24th of May) was a national celebration here of the creation of the Bulgarian Alphabet and written language by missionaries Cyril and Methodius in the 860s. Now, a 4 day weekend to continue recovering and think about next travels!

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Cyril and Methodius feature prominently in the parade to celebrate the Bulgarian Alphabet
Rinchen David Stopher
5/25/2012 11:45:56

Hi Jeff and Neda...I hope you both recover quickly! I've enjoyed following your journeys and reading the blogs. Neda you should be able to make beautiful 'tormas' now! You might get a lot of response to this blog about 'taking responsibility'. I would like to offer this one to you.... When I was young I was a hunter and spent time on the farms of my relatives where animals were commonly slaughtered.

There is a different view that I encountered along the buddhist way abt engagement in the act of killing the animal you eat. I have been trying to follow it for many years. I vowed I would never hunt again when I began practicing meditation. This view says, you can eat the meat of an animal that has been slaughtered for "all beings"...or for general consumption. You should not slaughter/hunt the animal yourself for yourself or have it slaughtered for yourself. (I think this presupposes that you understand the graphic reality of killing...many people may have no idea that meat doesn't grow on trees.) This view makes a distinction between being a consumer of meat and a killer of an animal. Engagement in killing is not a good thing. It is psychologically more harmful. Killing animals is not too far removed from killing human beings. One Tibetan teacher put emphasis on not killing human beings when teaching the precept of not killing.

Also there are exceptions to the practice of vegetarianism considered in the various Buddhist traditions in which I have practiced. But I think these exceptions would rarely apply to the view stated above. (There is the idea of proper nourishment in harsh environments...and during illness.)

One story about this subject that deeply moved me is found in the "Hundred-Thousand songs of Milarepa" by GCC Chang. Milarapa once visited a marketplace with one of his close disciples. He usually lived in seclusion in remote places. His austere life and many trials had made him a sincere yogi. In the market were butchers slaughtering animals and selling their meat. One large animal was being slaughtered poorly...not dieing quickly...its entrails even being pulled out while it lived. It saw Milarepa and broke away and went up to him moaning. At that time, sheding many tears, Milarepa performed Powa...transference of consciousness...to release the animal from its suffering and aid it to be reborn in a 'pure land'. Milarepa had gone to the market to help his disciple see the suffering in Samsara and to renounce it. (His disciple was very stubborn. He thought of himself as an advanced 'tantrika'.)

Again may you and Neda become well, and your families also be well and happy. Gasshos, Rinchen.

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