I’ve been back from the United States a little over a week now, and I’m being tested.
While I was in Los Angeles I had an epiphany. I mentioned this in the post Finding a Saint in the City of Angels.
I’d stepped into the Yogananda Lake Shrine Temple up on Pacific Pallisades. I’d sat on a chair looking at the wall in front of me. There was an array of portraits of Sacred Masters on the wall.
I began to meditate, and as I slipped into a stillness I got a sudden and very clear, very unambiguous message: The message was that I had to stop eating meat.
More than that, I was told that if I was about to eat meat, then I had to imagine that I was looking into the eyes of the creature or beast that I was about to eat, and ask myself whether I felt comfortable killing the animal.
Anyone who knows me, anyone who’s spent any time with me, anyone who’s walked with me, knows what an eager carnivore I am. More than eager, the word voracious springs to mind.
Those of you who’ve followed this blog might remember on my Camino last year, I tracked down a restaurant that specialised in steak and I gorged myself on a Fred Flinstone sized chunk of meat, conveniently cut into bite sized pieces, that still resonates with me as being the best steak I’ve ever had – ever.
Those of you who went on the Camino Portuguese tour will remember the gusto with which I attacked the Portuguese chicken meals that were placed in front of me.
Think of a Great White Shark and chum.
Think of the T-Rex being fed in the opening scene of Jurassic Park.
Think of a pack of rabid dogs attacking a hapless fawn.
That was me and Portuguese chicken.
I’m not a natural vegetarian. But since that moment in the temple I’ve not eaten meat. I’ve had salads and beans and tofu and nuts and more beans and chick peas and lentils and miso soup.
And some fish.
I stared into the eyes of that fish and thought – you’re gone buddy.
When I got back from America I went on a three day fast. I needed to clean my body out. Tonight I’m having spinach pie with feta cheese and carrot salad.
Can I keep this up? I really don’t know.
I’m not being silly about it. The Buddhist texts tell me to tread the Middle Path. If I’m invited to someone’s house and they’re serving meat, I’ll eat what’s placed in front of me, gratefully and graciously.
But I know that when I next go to Spain, it’s going to be hard resisting meat.
My son had pork chops last night. I love pork chops, but last night I had no urge to grab the chop from his plate and munch into it. I had corn and baked potatoes with an avocado salad. And it was yummy.
I travel to India quite a lot and over there it’s easy being vegetarian. There are “veg” and “non-veg” menus in the restaurants. Most Hindus are vegetarian. Restaurants are set up to cater for non-veg meals. Except those with a tandoori oven. Tandoori chicken in India is unlike tandoori chicken anywhere else. It is sublime.
When I next go to India I’m sure I will meet some chickens that deserve to die. I know that already, sitting here in front of my laptop in Mudgee. I will stare into their glassy beady little eyes and know that they are not long for this earthly plane. As I smell their succulent flesh simmering in that tandoori oven, I will momentarily lament their passing.
But then, maybe I’ll spare them. Maybe I’ll stick to the veg meals. Maybe the chickens will have a few more days picking through the garbage out the back of the restaurant.
I’m being tested. I know I am.
I’m not saying this is a life-long conversion. All I’m saying is that right at this moment I’m giving a lot of thought to the implications of what I choose to eat.
Too many times as I’ve walked along a country lane I’ve looked over into the paddocks and seen frolicking little lambs and soulful-eyed cows and I’ve thought of them being killed in abattoirs for food. It’s always unsettled me. But my desire for meat has always overridden these little stabs of guilt.
But that damn voice in the Lake Shrine Temple has changed everything.
Each day I try to be a good pilgrim.
I don’t always succeed.
But that’s my journey through this life…