Monday, December 28, 2009
"Each of us has a valid sense of "I." We also share fundamental goals: We want happiness and do not want suffering. Animals and insects also want happiness and do not want suffering, but they have no special ability to consider how to achieve deeper happiness or overcome suffering. As human beings, endowed with this power of thought, we have this potential, and we must use it." - His Holiness the Dalai Lama
It looks like it's that time of the year again to make New Years Resolutions. It's kind of a mundane tradition, don't you think? I mean, do you even remember what your New Years Resolution was last year? Do you remember the year before? How long after New Years do you spend trying to achieve the goal, or do you pretty much forget about it after the ball drops? When I used to make resolutions, I would usually try the first few months of the year... and then I would drop the ball!
Why do we make New Years Resolutions anyway? Let's break this down.... For me, resolutions are about picking a specific thing that I want to work on, that I want to change, or something I want to add to my life to make me feel better or happier. I think a lot of the time they are the same for everyone... exercise more, get together with family more, eat better, get a better job, make more time for friends... or maybe it's a little more selfish... like buy that big screen tv, buy a house, or purchase a new outfit once a month. These are all things that we believe will make us feel better in the end. They are things that we have slacked on, things we want to change about ourselves, goals we have set out to achieve, or things that we just feel we need to work a little harder on so we won't have regrets later, and therefore, will be happier in life.
Why do we wait until New Years to do this? Who made up that tradition? If we look at the big picture, we pretty much have the same goal, and that is to achieve happiness and to end suffering. This is something that should be a life long goal and practiced daily, and I think, as a community, we should change the tradition of making resolutions each year based on what we need to fix about ourselves to celebrating the accomplishments of the past, and looking forward to the achievements of each year, all the while making the promise to continue this in our daily practice.
According to the Dalai Lama, the best way to achieve happiness and end suffering is to have compassion and benefit your life to others. Not that we shouldn't make sure that our specific needs and wants aren't met... that is important too. But, I think the point of this practice is that it leads to good Karma, and the more we do to help others, the more good Karma we will have. In other words, Karma takes care of meeting our needs.
There are many things we can do to show compassion. Without sounding preachy, one way to show compassion is by making the commitment to cut down on animal and meat consumption, or do away with it all together. When you make the commitment to do this, you are helping the environment, world hunger, the planet, ending animal cruelty, and most of all... you are choosing to improve your personal health.
Here are a few facts about how leaning towards veganism is a compassionate choice:
-Industrially raised livestock causes an estimated 18% of greenhouse gasses, and that is destroying the atmosphere
-Factory farms demand so much land and feed that it threatens rainforests
-We use so much feed for the animals on factory farms, and this threatens third world countries. If everyone stopped consuming meat, we could use those grains to feed at least twice as many starving people.
-Cutting out animal products means eliminating the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and several types of cancer. You will have more energy and trim your waist line. You will also you also cut the risk of other health problems such as diabetes because when you cut out animal products, you tend feel better and make healthier choices.
-Also, it's an ethical decision. We all know that factory farming is cruel and twisted, but people still consume animals out of habit. It's become an addiction. I hear people say that they would miss the bite or texture of meat, but feeling good about everything that you put into your body tastes much better... it lightens up your life. Plus, there are "meat replacements" that will give you that bite if you are ever feeling a craving. These replacements are also good for the transition phase between eating meat and eliminating it.
Now I know that may all sound preachy, but I am not trying to convince you to go vegan full force. I am just asking that you try to cut out meat from your diet at least one day a week. If everyone on the planet did that... think of how much we would be helping the rainforests, animals, starving people, and personal health. There is always room for improvement, so if you are already cutting out meat one day a week... make it two, and so on. There is actually a movement called Meatless Mondays who's goal is to cut meat consumption by 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of the planet. I hope you are interested... here is the website
Also, make an effort to find out about more where your food is coming from. Seek out farmers markets to buy locally grown fruits and veggies so that you can support and keep the money within the community. If you eat meat, do you research to find local farms so that you can see where your meat is coming from. See movies like Food Inc so that you are aware of how the meat industry operates, and so you can start to look for local farms where the animals are eating the right food, are hormone free, and most of all, are being treated ethically. Read books like In Defense of Food by Michael Pollen, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, You Don't Need Meat by Peter Cox, or Eating Animals by Johnathan Safran Foer to understand perspectives from experts on factory farms and the food industry. Get vegan cookbooks to learn more about how to live the vegan lifestyle and to overcome the myths such as food is boring, you won't get protein, i don't have enough time to be vegan, and so on.
Alright... so you might already be vegan, and being vegan isn't the only way to have compassion and help others... there are also many charities you can donate to. In this article, Nicholas Kristof, columnest for the New York Times, has composed a list of organizations that he has encountered that tackle global poverty in creative ways. He is focusing on the more unknown charities such as The Afghan Institute of Learning. This is an aid group run by Afghan women that run education programs, training centers and clinics, emphasizing local buy-in and self-reliance. Or, a Bangladeshi antipoverty organization called BRAC, that has had huge success serving tens of millions of people there. It emphasizes organizing village women and promoting education, health and microfinance. Another is Developments in Literacy They build schools in Pakistan, particularly for girls. These schools can help protect us from terrorism. There are many other charities in this article that are well worth while and put their efforts towards improving the world and communities, so give it a read.... and pick one.
I hope that I gave you some good ideas for 2010 and beyond. Whether you decide to start your path towards cutting meat consumption, or are choosing to give to one of the charities in the Kristof article (or both), you are doing your part to end suffering, break down boundaries, and overcome distances between people in communities. In the future... I am not going to end the year by asking you what your new years resolution is, but I am going to ask you what events in the past years brought you the most happiness.
Since I started with one, I will end this blog by quoting His Holiness the Dalai Lama, "As you calm your mind and your heart, your agitation and worry will naturally subside, and you will enjoy more happiness. Your relationship with others will reflect these changes. And as a better human being, you will be a better citizen of your country, and ultimately a better citizen of the world.
I will leave you with this video from Playing for Change, which is a foundation dedicated to connecting the world through music by providing resources (including, but not limited to facilities, supplies, and educational programs) to musicians and their communities around the world. This is a beautiful example of what is possible when we bring communities together.