We all have our story of awakening. When I was about seven years old, I remember asking my mother, "The kind of food we eat--is that what everybody eats?" She answered, "Yes." Then she added, "Well, there are vegetarians..." in a way that made me think they must live on another planet.
At thirteen, I went away to a Vermont summer camp affiliated with an organic dairy and participated in killing my own chicken, and never questioned it in the least. After thirteen years in our culture, I knew that chickens are put on Earth for us to eat, that they don't have souls, they taste good, and if we didn't eat them and certain other animals, we would all soon die of a protein deficiency. Later in the summer, when we all witnessed and participated in killing a 2,000-pound dairy cow because she wasn't giving enough milk any more, I have to say that though I was shocked by the sheer terror, bloodiness and agonized death convulsions of the cow, I didn't question the rightness of our actions for a moment. Everyone in my world--relatives, neighbors, doctors, ministers, teachers, leaders, media--assumed that animals used for food are mere commodities.
As fate would have it, after graduating from Colby College in Maine in 1975, I went on a spiritual pilgrimage, heading west and then south, meditating, walking, and attempting to deepen my understanding of the world and myself. After several months of walking, I reached The Farm in Tennessee, a community of about a thousand hippies, mainly from California, who were living conscientiously on the land to be an example of peace and sustainability. They ate no animal foods, and their delicious meals, combined with my deepening understanding of how animals are routinely mistreated for food, made becoming a vegetarian a no-brainer. I've never eaten meat since.
Several years later, after moving to California, I went to Korea to live as a Zen monk, and found myself in a monastery that had been practicing vegan living for 650 years. No animal foods, wool, leather, or silk had been used there for centuries. For me it was a bit like heaven on earth--a deeply satisfying opportunity for sustained, undistracted introspection, and I found my consciousness relaxing into a sense of abiding peace as I was able to gradually extricate it from the brambles of multiple layers of programming, memory, and cultural indoctrination. The joy and freedom this brought were profound.
I have discovered that all of us raised in this culture have been ritually injected with an unrecognized mentality that renders our efforts for peace, freedom, justice, equality, and sustainability merely ironic. We want for ourselves what we refuse to give to others. Our massive and routine violence toward animals for food is our culture's defining blind spot, and when we look deeply enough, we realize that this is the situation in a nutshell: We are all beings of light and awareness and love, bon into a culture of violence and exclusion. We take on its darkness and fear, and the core ritual used by our culture to effect this is our daily meals, where we are forced to participate in routine killing by eating and buying the flesh and secretions of imprisoned, terrified animals.
Our path to freedom lies in freeing these animals. Veganism is the spiritual and practical key to happiness and peace. It is the stark and liberating solution to the omnivore's dilemma, and to the unyielding conundrum bearing down on our culture as our relentless violence toward animals, people, and the Earth ripens before our eyes. As the lived expression of nonviolence, veganism is the path to heaven.
This beautiful Earth is a celebration of joy. As we understand and act in harmony with the universal teachings of compassion and nonviolence, we will discover that our Earth can be transformed into heaven. Each of us can be an angel in our heaven, here to love and serve the magnificent creation. Food is the key: our most essential, intimate, and significant connection with the larger order. The food of heaven is available now, and together we can create a new dream every day on this Earth. I invite all of us to vividly imagine our culture's vegan future in all its details, and to act to help create it. Sharing vegan recipes and spreading the word in our own unique ways, we are transforming our world. Imagining our culture as a vegan culture is imagining an utterly different culture, a beautiful world to which our future selves are ever beckoning us.