Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Karma of the Animals

If I can make you give me pleasure, even if it hurts you, why not?

Oppressor and oppressed. A relationship as old as the human race: cannibals and their prey, slave traders and their captives, invaders and the vanquished, lords and serfs, rapists and their victims.

Some are easy to recognize and revile. Others, I think because they are closer to home, are harder to see and more uncomfortable to face: domineering husbands and subservient wives, bullies and victims in the schoolyard and in the workplace, and one of my pet peeves: humans and other animal species.

Oppressors have a sense of entitlement. In some cases, we hardly notice it, but in others it's a cleverly constructed rationalization. I think what is uncomfortable is the disconnect between head and heart. Head says it's OK. Heart knows it's not.

In the latest post over at her terrific blog The Jizo Chronicles, Maia Duerr, a recently ordained Buddhist chaplain (congratulations, Maia!) quoted from her thesis. Introducing the concept of "Protest Chaplains", she refers to Fleet Maull, the founder of the Prison Dharma Network:

Maull observed that we are dealing with an accumulated toxic level of internalized shame and violence that is perpetuated when we violate our own integrity, and any time war and oppression take root in a culture and system.

I think the head/heart disconnect is the violation of our own integrity that Maull is referring to. Although I had intended this post just to be about our presumption of entitlement to oppress other species, it keeps coming back to the violence we do to ourselves in the process. Toxic shame, mostly buried beneath our awareness, I suspect, poisons us and the fruits of our actions in ways beyond imagining.

Mostly, by habit or by design, we don't give it a second thought.

The most damaging phrase in any language is "It has always been done that way".

- Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Hopper (1906 - 1992) Mathematician, First woman Admiral in the US Navy.

Here is one small example.  How much honey do we put in our tea, on our food, or in our cooking? How much effort went into producing that honey? I don't mean by the people putting it into jars. Here are some facts. A worker bee produces only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her entire life. To produce one pound of honey, bees have to visit approximately two million flowers and fly 55,000 miles - more than two trips around the world. The bees make it and we take it. Because it's tasty ... and because we can.

Some commercial honey thieves suppliers keep the hives alive over the winter by feeding the bees sugar. Others simply kill them and buy new bees in the spring.

This from the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists:

Colonies should be killed during non-flying conditions, such as in cool weather or in the early morning or late evening. Calcium cyanide should be used according to the label directions: 12.5 - 25 g (1-2 tablespoons) of calcium cyanide are sprinkled on a paper plate or sheet of cardboard and slipped into the hive entrance. Once the chemical is applied, entrances are blocked and the hives kicked or jarred to stir up the bees.

And then there is bullfighting. Did you know that proponents sometimes justify it as a culturally important tradition and a fully developed art form on par with painting, dancing and music? About 10,000 bulls endure this ordeal every year. Many horses, blindfolded during the “fight” to keep them from avoiding the enraged bulls, are also gored and killed by the bulls.

And on, and on. Rodeos. Greyhound racing. Silk production. Wool production. We take and take, just because we want to and because we can.

What about the karma part? That's easy - I don't know. If you mean something other than cause and effect, I honestly don't have a clue what you're talking about. Just be kind - really, what else matters?

The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.

- Henry Beston, naturalist and author (1888-1968)

Do you get frustrated sometimes by our glacially slow progress and by the seemingly overwhelming resistance to change? I do.

But just because we can't do everything is not a reason not to do anything.

PS - when you're shopping for cosmetics or detergents, don't forget to look for these symbols.


  1. David, thank you, thank you – for your wisdom and compassion as always. Am completely with you – SO OFTEN I hear justified here in the UK practices like fox-hunting (illegal and still happening, even more strongly since the ban) on the grounds of 'tradition'. Like boy chimneysweeps and miners, I say; like slavery? They were also 'traditions'. And don't get me started on bullfighting! But Catalonia has banned it, I think? Barcelona, certainly.

    As someone who has written quite a bit about bees, and their demise from neonicotinoids, viruses due to weakened immune systems, and EMR, I should have known the statistics you give. Damn - I knew that as a vegan I should give up honey (though I didn't know the cost per individual bee, and I do try and source from non-sugar-fed local hives). I might now have to give it up – so how do I rise my bread dough? Sugar, with foodmiles and cash-crop status? It's hard, isn't it, living ethically. But I guess I could try using concentrated apple juice - will let you know!

    I so appreciate your commitment; and yes I so often feel we are moving far far too slowly. But transformation of consciousness has its own speed, I guess. And yes, even one person makes a difference, as you point out in your starfish blog.

    1. Dear Roselle, thank you for your kind words! I must really be out of the loop - I didn't realize fox hunting was banned - or still going on. I think Oscar Wilde called it 'the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible'...

      Yes Catalonia banned bullfighting as of the beginning of 2012, according to trusty Wikipedia.

      I was sad to see honey go - I missed it on my cereal, but raisins seem to be sweet enough. I used honey in my bread too, but I think the yeast must get nutrients out of the flour because it still seems to rise anyway. Apple juice sounds like a good idea. Maple syrup might work too.

      I don't use sugar at home but I still eat vegan things (like dark chocolate!) that have sugar in them, although I'm a bit wary about it because I understand white sugar is decolourized by filtration through bone charcoal.

  2. Hi David, love this post too...yes, I sure do feel the frustration; just want it all to hurry along, everyone to connect the dots fast. You say it so well and with the perfect quotes, always giving your energy for those who suffer silently, without a voice. You have my respect.

    1. Hi Susan - thank you! My thoughts keep coming back to the critters. I like Beston's describing them as being other nations we share the earth with. That makes it so clear that they should have our respect and consideration, not our domination.

  3. "Just be kind - what else matters?" I love this... Yes... Problem is how does one "make" other people - the "violators" - be kind? How do you "make" people respect all beings, all life? I mean humans can't even respect each other! And we have a culture/society where most of us have been raised to believe in human dominance, to conquer and subdue the earth, the races, and the animal kingdom. I have a neighbor who allows his 13 year old son to shoot rabbits and squirrels *for fun* with a pellet rifle off their back deck! Imagine the suffering. We found 2 dead squirrels in our yard. We spoke to the father, but it was like it was no big deal... So how do we raise the consciousness of people like this who are training their children to be cruel for fun! Sometimes it's easier to be kind to the animals :) - the four legged kind.

    1. Thanks, Christine. I agree. I don't think we can impose our will on people to make them stop imposing their will on others. I think the way that will work is more like the old analogy of dispelling darkness with light. Sounds good in theory but the nuts and bolts of how to do it aren't always clear. I'm heartened by the changes I've seen in high school age kids since I went to school in the Middle Ages :) - more inclusiveness towards kids with physical and mental disabilities, less bullying and discrimination, and a growing number of vegetarians. I think the social media are helping this trend accelerate. We can only hope.

  4. thought-provoking post, David. Seems as if we evolve and devolve repeatedly...i find it difficult to believe we still subject animals to the circus...and the bullfighting! As a child I remember seeing bullfighting on t.v. from nearby Mexico. It made me cry -- I knew instinctively then how wrong it was.

    So, what is your take on the use of honey? I know a couple of folks who 'raise' bees and produce honey and I never thought about it in terms of karma. Love to hear your expanded thoughts.

  5. Hi Tara. I don't have any profound thoughts on honeybees - it's more like what you described - an instinctive uncomfortable feeling - I don't need their honey so why don't I just leave the little buggers alone? I'm sure there are ways to take honey from bees without causing them too much harm or suffering. There were compassionate slave masters who treated their slaves very well and very kindly, but it was still slavery. I'm not big on following precepts just because somebody says I should, but I'm drawn to the first two - not killing and not taking things that weren't given. There will always be exceptions, but I think we need to keep asking ourselves critically, are those necessary or merely desirable? If we are committed to relieving suffering, our first step can be to stop causing it.

  6. "If we are committed to relieving suffering, our first step can be to stop causing it." Well said.

  7. I have to say these pictures make me cringe and want to look away, to not think about it but I know that is a habitual response to suffering, not a helpful one.

    There is still honey in my house, someone loves it on their toast, perhaps I can convince them that the fruit juice sweetened jam is enough (we have this in the fridge too). I didn't realize the bee stats. The wonderful movie "Queen of The Sun" does talk about the plight of the bees. I recently heard someone say well if you're worried about the bees then you should probably stop eating all those mono cropped almonds from California which is a source of giant bee abuse.

    Yes, perhaps it is putting your money where your mouth is when we choose our food.

    Yes animals need advocates like you! Keep up these wonderful posts that make me cringe! It's not about personal comfort at all. Us humans forget our place on this lovely blue planet far too often.

    PS listening to Lynn McTaggart's "power of intention" the other day and interesting research monitoring plant responses to people's thoughts about hurting them!

    1. Thanks Carole, it would be nice to be able to write posts like this without causing cringing, but I guess the animals probably cringe more than we do... Maybe plants do too - it seems the jury may still be out on Plant Perception.

  8. Thank you for casting a bright light of reason on the hidden and dark violence we inflict on innocent others. It is as you say difficult for most to see because it is right under their (entitled) noses!

    I have a list of thoughtful quotes that inspire and comfort me when the world becomes a confusing place. This will be added and treasured: "If we are committed to relieving suffering, our first step can be to stop causing it."

    Thank you many times over.

    1. Bea, thank you so much for your kind words. I'm inspired by your tireless advocacy over at PROVOKED. I would be happy to read your list of quotes if you've posted them. The world is often a confusing place.

  9. Thanks David - Agreed about the confusing state of the world. I wish I could even entertain a time to gather all the accumulated quotes of inspiration and guidance. The saying goes... I'm not holding my breath. :/

    But I do have a link to share that I think you might find enlightening and comforting. It's called Creature Quotes. It's one of my favorite places to find solace... I hope it is helpful for you too.
    Enjoy! ;)

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  11. David, how good in what has been a tough year for me to come back to your blogs.

    I remember this one. I'm inviting guest blogs from people whose values I respect for my own blog over at qualia: partly for variety and because I've intended to for a while, and partly because I've broken my right - writing - arm, and can do very little.

    You would be the first guest. I wondered whether I might either reblog this one, or whether you might have time and inclination to write a new one - doesn't have to be long - on, say, your own take on Zen and animal rights/welfare/veganism? (I wanted to request to repost your mindful blindness rant, but having v recently had a similar rant on my blog myself, maybe not that one this time.)

    No problem if you don't have time; in which case may I reblog this?

    I've just finished 'Beasts' by Jeffrey Moussaief Masson (from memory); if you haven't read it, you might find it inspiring.

    Warm wishes to you.

    1. Dear Roselle,

      It's so nice to hear from you!

      I've been picking away at several drafts over the past months but nothing has shaken loose so far, so I don't think I should commit to producing something new just yet, but I would be honoured if you would reblog The Karma of the Animals.

      Even with two functioning arms, I've been quite remiss in my blog posting and reading lately, so your comment here came as a nice shot in the arm.

      Thanks for the tip on Masson - I looked him up and will definitely get into his books.

      Warm wishes back and healing thoughts for your arm.

  12. Thank you very much, David, for permission to reblog Karma, and I'll do that in the next few days. My internet connection is erratic here.

    All best to you with the writing – i'm finding it a bit of a slog myself!


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