Vegan or Carnivore? Is Spirituality in Our Food?
Fall brings hunting season in Alberta. Is killing geese holding up my spiritual growth? Get my thoughts in this week’s edition of “Isn’t That Ironic?”.
With nobody working and the cities going crazy, I took the opportunity to escape to the countryside and hunt some ducks and geese with my son. But I had pangs of guilt. Was this holding up my spiritual growth? “Do no harm”, as the Buddhists say. “Hurt no sentient being.” Could I be spiritually enlightened with blood on my hands and meat in my belly?
On the long drive, I listened to the Bhagavad Gita on audiobook. I read it in my teens, but that was many decades ago. I was struck by Krishna’s response to Arjuna in Chapter 2. Arjuna is facing the impending fratricidal battle between the Pandavas and the Dhrtarastras. He is naturally repugnant at the thought of killing his kinfolk and friends. He asks Krishna for advice. Should he lay down his weapons and allow himself to be killed rather than take the lives of his friends?
Arjuna is a soldier, a member of the Kshatriya, ancient India’s warrior caste. Krishna tells him to fight. It is his duty, his job, his role. Krishna says not to be distressed at killing these men. “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” Form is illusion. Spirit is real—and eternal. You are not killing, but merely changing the form.
If it is not wrong to kill men in battle, how can it be wrong to kill a fish or a chicken to sustain your own life?
And what of all past human existence? We have been hunter/gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years. And pastoralists for at least tens of thousands. Many people on earth still are. The Inuit of the arctic traditionally lived almost exclusively on animals and fish. Very few edible plants grow in the arctic. Have all hunters and pastoralists throughout time been relegated to the lower echelons of spiritual development? Is the food that feeds our bodies the same that feeds our souls?
What about the Biblical Patriarchs? Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? What about Moses? They were mainly pastoralists, living off their flocks of sheep and goats. Were none of them close to God? Did Mary and Joseph not eat meat? What about Jesus? We know he ate fish. He must have eaten lamb at least once a year, at Passover, and likely more often. Was he not enlightened?
As I set out on my first duck hunt in decades, I wondered if my conscience would repel me from killing. I didn’t hate the ducks. I loved them. I wished them no harm, really. It was food. It was the natural order. It was duty. It was destiny. Like Arjuna.
Ever since I was young, I have loved the outdoors—being in Nature. I feel at home there, at peace, more than anywhere else. I relish my days of hiking, canoeing, even skiing and fishing and walks in the river valley. I need that energy of nature regularly. I think all of us do. There is something primal and irresistible about it. We need that connection to Life itself. We feel the force of Life, the kundalini, the chi, that flows through all of Nature and all of us. It is our connection to Life.
Hunting has somehow always flowed in my veins. For some, it is a sport. For me, it’s always been something more primal. Perhaps it’s the Jungian archetype of the hunter in me. Perhaps it’s thousands of years of hunter/gatherer ancestry in my unconscious mind or in my DNA. Perhaps it’s hundreds of past lifetimes as a hunter. I don’t know. I only know that it feels right to me. It feels like my proper place in Nature, in the circle of life, as Simba would say.
As I waited for the birds to come, I breathed deeply and joyfully the rotting, half-putrid smell of the marsh. I felt the cool fall breeze rustle through my white beard. I heard the distant calls of mallards and teal and Canada geese and ravens. Some would be food, some not. Some would see another nightfall, some not. Such would my own fate someday. The circle of life.
Some birds flew within range. I felt no twangs of guilt, only the primal excitement of the hunt. I felt neither malice nor distress. It was the business of providing food. Some ducks and geese I hit, many I missed. My aim is not great, and most were safe while I was shooting. Even dispatching the wounded did not distress me. Life was not lost. Life is eternal. The form only changes. Their form becomes my form. My form will also pass away in time. Life itself remains. That Life of which all life is a manifestation.
A successful hunt. A primal experience of Life changing forms.
Everything that lives, dies. Form is constantly changing. Even our own bodies are constantly changing. Not a single cell remains in our bodies that was there ten years ago. They have all been replaced. Form changes, spirit is unchanged. Everything is food for something else. This is the circle of life. It is neither wrong nor right. It just is.
We are a part of Nature. We are omnivores—by nature. The hunter archetype is one of the strongest. Hunting as a family felt right—even perfect—bringing game home for my children and grandchildren, cleaning the birds, cooking and eating them. The geese tasted great. It is harvest season and all of it seemed natural—geese from the pond, potatoes and greens from the garden, wine from the vineyard. Is it wrong? Is it retarding my spiritual growth?
I don’t think so. I hope not. I will continue to pray and meditate and hunt, at least until I change my mind.
May your harvest season be equally blessed!
God Bless You!
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