I've been vegan for close to 6 years now, and I've had the opportunity to explain my choice to different people with different backgrounds in different ways. One time, my 5-year-old niece offered me some non-vegan food. I wanted to explain my veganism in a way that is clear and understandable while remaining true to my ethics. So I thanked her and said I cannot eat it because I do not eat anything that comes from animals. She looked at me with this expression on her face that basically said "silly you". Out loud, she said "This did not come from animals. This came from the supermarket!" And so I laughed because it was funny. She is sweet and innocent and takes things as they are presented to her, without suspicion and without cynicism. But a part of me was heartbroken. I was heartbroken because this sweet innocent child was lied to. We have all been lied to. Many of the norms of our society are lies. The meat, dairy, egg and other animal use industries use words to intentionally deceive us, to create that disconnection, so that we can continue to leave things unexamined. Words like meat or bacon or pork or beef are meant to disconnect us from the truth of what they really are. We were told they are things at our disposal, instead of the sentient beings that they really are, beings who like us would like to have pleasure and avoid pain, bask in the sunlight and play, fall in love and take naps and eat thing we enjoy, move and walk and run and swim etc etc. The words that are used and how they are said are meant to deceive. And so it breaks my heart that we have been lied to.
But we are yogis. That means we are not victims of the lies that are passed on to us, nor are we motivated to keep perpetuating those lies by staying in the dark. One of the yamas or ethical precepts of yoga is called satya. It means truth. It is to speak of things as they are, free from lies and obscurity, without deceit and embellishments. My teacher Sharon Gannon says yogis are radical-- we get to the root; we are courageous souls who are willing to dismantle systems that do not work. And so, through our choice of words, we can start to create a world that lives in the integrity of truth. We can break away and liberate ourselves from systems that oppress ourselves and others. We stop saying meat when we mean animal flesh. We use words to bring back the connection and truth to what things really are.
Lies hurt. They victimize the ones who are lied to or lied about while keeping the person saying the lie in a vicious cycle of negative karma. Think of someone who has lied to you and hurt you as a result. I'm going to challenge you to do the very difficult thing of forgiving this person and letting it go. Just as you let go of the anger, let go of the pain, and let go of the lies as well. Free yourself by choosing to break away. Do not let the lies keep you trapped. Even if you think that your anger and pain are justified, do not make them the reason for your continued suffering. Let go. Let go. Let go. Now think of someone you have lied to and hurt as a result. Make amends right now by choosing to commit to the practice of satya or truth. The best way to make things right for others is to stop hurting others. This includes the animals whom we have hurt-- in our thoughts by degrading them and seeing them as things, in our words by calling their body parts inanimate objects, in our actions by eating or otherwise using them.
It is often said that truth will set us free. It may break our hearts to admit we have been lied to, our trust betrayed, our feelings disregarded, but ultimately acknowledging it gives us the right to take our power of choice back. Love and compassion are our true nature. When we are connected to this nature, we will start to think it, speak it, and live it.
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all. May the words that we say and how we say them honor the truth and integrity of all living beings.