A Spiritual Perspective
All tremble at violence; life is dear to all.
Putting oneself in the place of another,
one should not kill nor cause another to kill. One who, while himself seeking happiness,
oppresses with violence other beings
who also desire happiness,
will not attain happiness hereafter.
A grandfather was teaching his young grandson about life and explained that everyone has two wolves inside their hearts which are always at war with each other. One is a good wolf who represents bravery, compassion, love, generosity, and truth. The other is an evil wolf who represents fear, cruelty, hatred, selfishness, and lies. “This fight is going on within you – and within everyone else as well,” he pointed out. After thinking for a moment, the young boy asked, “Grandfather, which one will win?” The old man replied quietly, “The one you feed.”
Humans have choice.
Humans have choice. We can decide which wolf, which aspect of ourselves, to feed. Of all the world’s species, we alone are given the power of discrimination. While animals can have rich emotional lives, ultimately they do not have the power to decide to be one way or another. The jackal cannot make a commitment to live as an antelope; the elephant cannot adopt the habits of a tiger. Humans alone have the power, an innate free will, to choose between actions and attitudes that will help us achieve our highest aspirations or those that will lead us away from them. As humans, we can even wonder, “What is the real point of life? What is our objective?”
We have both the ability to ask these questions and the ability to answer them. People in general have never been as free as we are today to inform ourselves on any subject we choose, to share our ideas and communicate across the globe, and to manipulate nature. This freedom and power carries with it an increased urgency to bring to the forefront of our lives the human impulses of love and compassion.
We cultivate these qualities through our actions, which lead inevitably to their logical conclusions. In order to have hearts and minds filled with joy, generosity, and wisdom, our actions must be rooted in those same qualities. Wellbeing and happiness are the consequence of deeds that caused wellbeing and happiness to others; pain and suffering are the consequence of deeds that caused pain and suffering. This is the law of karma, or the law of cause and effect. The equivalent repercussion of every action bounces back to the doer. There are no exceptions.
While science has revealed some of the workings of creation, it can explain only what can be observed and measured. Science is a wonderful tool for understanding our world, but it is limited. What about those important parts of life that can’t be perceived with the physical senses, like love, sorrow, happiness, or pity? Aren’t these emotions as real as gravity or radio waves? Yet they fall outside the bounds of science.
The law of karma, too, falls outside those bounds. The explanation for this law comes from spiritual leaders and philosophers rather than textbooks. The logic of karma is a foundation for understanding our lives and is intertwined with teachings of the eternal reality of who we really are. These beliefs teach that the spirit of all living forms never dies but moves from body to body, carrying a record of all thoughts, words, and actions. The effects of our actions may not be felt for many lifetimes, but they will definitely be felt.
Killing creates a load of karma that is carried like a heavy suit of armour as our soul transitions from one body to another. When we restrict our killing to the simplest forms of life, we free ourselves from much of that weight. Avoiding this burden is a strong motivation to be vegetarian. Aside from the benefits to our environment and our health, many people choose to eat plants rather than animals because doing so is good for their souls.
As a principal law of creation, karma makes us accountable – sooner or later, in this life or in another – for every single thing we do. Understanding the inevitable workings of karma is a strong motivator for making compassionate, wise choices to shape our lives. By the law of karma, life will deliver to us only the crops of seeds we ourselves have planted. When we recognize that our experience of pain is rooted in pain we’ve caused others, we begin to learn to act differently. As we taste the fruits of our positive choices, our desire to be loving increases, not simply in order to receive love in return but because we are pulled by its magnetic attraction.
We want to respond to this magnetism and to minimise suffering – our own as well as others’. Choosing a vegetarian diet is a natural outcome of this desire. In doing so, we distance ourselves from the violence of a world where life subsists violently on life. We decide to eat plant-based foods, rejecting the idea of living off creation’s more complex forms – animals, fish, and fowl. This choice is a spring from which happiness and all other positive feelings can flow. When we act with compassion and caring as we choose food – saying “Yes!” to the rainbow of vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans grown around the world – we are choosing kindness many times each day.
As we use our minds wisely to make compassionate choices, we are responding to our deep desire for happiness and fulfilling our natural ability to reason. By committing ourselves to living with compassion, we choose to fulfil our longing to live in a circle of love so large it encompasses all and everyone. We can use reason, and we can love.