Compassion is generally defined as the awareness of suffering, and is most often accompanied by a desire to alleviate that suffering. The indisputable fact of biology that non-human animals possess the capacity to suffer is also a matter of pure common sense. Non-human animals strive to avoid pain and their reactions to it, just like we humans do, and even though they do not have the ability to express it in spoken language it still remains immediately recognizable as suffering. We human beings do not have a monopoly on suffering, and it is compassion that enables us to realize that the capacity of non-human animals to suffer is analogous to our own.
In order to be truly compassionate, consideration for, plus a desire to alleviate the suffering of all animals, both human and non-human, is imperative. Then it will naturally follow that we must not abuse or mistreat any animal (human or non-human). If we accept this as true, then we must also embrace the notion that abusing animals by proxy is also completely incompatible with a compassionate existence. It will not suffice to merely refrain from direct acts of abuse or violence toward animals; we must also withdraw any of our support, morally, ethically and practically, from those activities. There really isn’t any appreciable difference between committing an act of violence ourselves and paying someone else to do it on our behalf? After all, commissioning an act of violence is the moral equivalent of committing that act.
“No matter how much a person distances themselves from the act of violence that they have paid for or persuaded someone else to perform on their behalf, will that distancing extricate them from the moral implications of the deed itself.”
The truth that the production of meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy involves tremendous suffering on the part of tens of billions of animals each and every year is both inescapable and incontestable. In just the USA alone, eight-billion chickens are slaughtered for human consumption every year. Consider this: by the time you finish reading this sentence; over two-thousand chickens in the United States alone will have had their throats slit in order to satiate the gastronomic preferences and appetites of humans. It is directly opposed to the principles of compassion to condone or in any way support violence and cruelty, especially on such an enormous scale. Simply stated, any diet that includes meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy is altogether incompatible with the desire to lead a compassionate life. There is no avoiding the fact that such a diet must rely on (actually it is inseparable from) the abuse and slaughter of those creatures who are at our mercy. The abuse and slaughter of non-human animals for the sensory pleasure of humans who consume meat and dairy is completely and undoubtedly irreconcilable with the basic premises of compassion.
Those of us who are concerned with cultivating compassion in ourselves and in others must not allow our notion of “mercy” to be restricted to our own species, but instead we should extend our sphere of compassion to all sentient beings by living a cruelty-free, vegan life-style while relying entirely on nutritionally dense plant-based foods for our dietary requirements.
In order to cultivate compassion it is required that we be mindful of our intentions and that our intentions be consistent with the basic precepts of compassion. Mindfulness of this kind requires constant and continuous effort and although lapses of attention are unavoidable, the devotee of mindfulness and compassion must avoid consciously exempting or excluding any part of their lives or their behavior from the practice. And there is no logic whatsoever in the idea that mealtime should or would provide us with three opportunities a day to disengage our mindfulness and insulate ourselves from the suffering of others. Actually it is just the opposite; whenever we sit down to eat, we are making a conscious choice: either to alleviate suffering or to perpetuate it. Whenever we are motivated by compassion, that choice is perfectly clear.
Stay tuned, coming up next, the question, “Are Plants Sentient Beings” will be considered in respect to the common assumption that plants have feelings too.
Rae Indigo is ERYT 500