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In the wake of the outpouring of support for the people of Haiti after the recent devastation there, best selling author Jeremy Rifkin writes: “Today, distributed information and communication technologies are bringing together the entire human race in an extended family. Is it so difficult, then, to imagine a leap to biosphere consciousness and the extension of empathy to our species as a whole and to the other creatures that cohabit this planet with us?”

In fact, that is exactly what is happening in affluent societies like America, where more and more people are changing their diets in response to information about where their food comes from. While not everyone is ready to switch to a vegetarian diet overnight, anyone who learns the truth about factory farmed animals can’t help but be affected. From a Buddhist worldview, the more we learn to appreciate the interconnected nature of all “sentient” (feeling) beings, the more inclined we are to lessen their pain.

The world today has become so cruel. Humans eat almost all animals, both domestic and wild. In Montana, 50,000 animals are killed every year just for their pelts. The ocean’s inhabitants are even called seafood, while in reality they are sentient beings like us. All of them experience the same pain and suffering as we would if we were brutally slaughtered. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who himself consumes a small portion of meat every month on advice from his doctors, has noted that “people think of animals as if they were vegetables, and that is not right. We have to change the way people think about animals.“

Even here in Montana, you have the “Mad Cowboy” Howard Lyman, a fourth generation cattle rancher who no longer eats animal products (“veganism”) and crusades against factory farming around the world. Mr. Lyman says that he feels he is “part of a movement that is not so much political as it is a march of the human heart.” Coming from someone who spent 40 years raising cows, chickens, pigs and turkeys, we all should consider the wisdom of Mr. Lyman’s change of heart. In fact, our selfish over-consumption of meat is not just a health issue, it threatens the very planet we all inhabit.

Meat production is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s planes, trains, and automobiles combined! Over half the planet’s land (59 percent) is dedicated to either grazing livestock or growing the feed for livestock, which is why rainforests are being disappearing. The amount of grains required to produce the average American’s meat intake would feed five starving Africans. This is a lot to think about!

I began the Universal Compassion Movement with the blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama after completing a five-year meditative retreat in the mountains of India. UCM is focused on global concerns, such as promoting world peace, interfaith harmony, protecting our mother earth, and helping destitute children obtain an education. However, eating is something we all do. Even if people can become vegetarians for one day a week, they can relieve so much suffering. This is up to you.

As Buddha said, all sentient beings want to live in peace, free from suffering. The main way we relate to our mother is through our mouth. Mindful diets can create peace and harmony.

Venerable Geshe Thupten Phelgye, a Tibetan monk, is a member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile of  the Dalai Lama and is founder of the Universal Compassion Movement. He will be teaching in Missoula and near Arlee next week.

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