Dare to love (a response)February 7, 2012
Dare to love life
This text started as a comment to the post of a fellow blogger about the hundreds of thousands of seal pups, that are drowning in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this season because the pack ice on which harp seal moms give birth has been too thin to provide the shelter the pups need to survive. This is the post: http://bethechange2012.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/dare-to-love/
The text has grown too big now to post it as comment but it is nevertheless a comment and should be read after and in context with the mentioned post. The post, which is thoughtful and well written, contained the sentence “It’s one thing to kill animals for food. Human beings are carnivores, after all.” This statement was disputed by another commenter and I start the text building on this other comment.
We are omnivores indeed but for some people it may be not so easy to change their diet from one day to the other. My first wife converted me into a vegetarian already 30 years ago but I always liked to drink milk and eat lot of cheese. I try to overcome my dairy product addicting now since 10 years, making slow progress. I’m not completely vegan yet, but at least I have reduced my intake of animal protein to about 200 gram cheese per week. Milk is replaced by herbal tee. My doctor tells me that a slight but persistent iron deficiency and an occasional tiredness is caused by my vegetarian diet but I can cope with such mild symptoms.
My son Alexander never did eat meat and changed to a vegan diet with 18. He takes dietary supplements (which are industrially produced and therefore don’t exactly match my dietary ideals). A vegan diet can cause deficiencies of vitamin B12, iron, choline, and calcium. Until now I don’t need supplements, but I really long for B12 producing sunlight especially in these dark and dreary days!
Mark Hawthorne Striking at the Roots
Carol J. Adams Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook
Carol J. Adams Pornography of Meat
Lisa Kemmerer Sister Species
Juliet Gellatley The Silent Ark
Juliet Gellatley Born To Be Wild
Unfortunately until now I was not able to persuade my cats to eat vegetarian food. Lack of taurine would not be a problem, because they eat enough of their natural diet from the adjacent forest. Vegan cat food is only available as dry food and it is expensive and heavily processed. I try to mix it with their other food (which is organic of course but nevertheless meat) but when I mix in more than 20 percent my cat friends tell me clearly and unmistakably their displeasure.
The cats and I are as close as individuals of different species can get. Three cats are just around me, sleeping/resting in various positions. The other two I would find in the sitting room on the couches there. In winter they are indoor cats, in summer outdoor cats.
This is the first year that most of them want to continue with our walks in the forest even on the coldest winter days and recently they even told me that we have to make two walks a day, one in the morning after I wake up, one in the evening before I go to bed. I hardly have any time left to play music or write blog posts.
How did they let me know that they want to make two walks? They simply wait in the hall and when I come they look at me with a certain expression of anticipation and demand and then they look at the entrance door. They make sure that I don’t overlook them and miss their message!
My cats are lovely and I would not know what to do without them, but they are brutal killers. They catch mice, voles, moles, squirrels, all kinds of birds, even frogs and lizards. They slaughter their pray mercilessly in the best of cases and in the worst they play with their hapless victims till the poor animals die from exhaustion or from inflicted wounds.
Shall I abandon my cats? Lock the cat flap? Throw them out or bring them to an animal shelter? Feral cats are not getting old, after maybe three to four year they die from various epidemic diseases. My cats would not likely find new homes because there are only few neighbors around and all of the neighbors have already enough pets.
My 14 years old cat lady Sumo would not survive for long. She still fetches mice, but not many, she prefers the ready made food from cans. No, I could not put Sumo out into the cold, I could never do this!
Life is suffering (the Four Noble Truth of Buddhism).
Sometimes it comes to my mind that most creatures in this world don’t have the luxury of palliative care. Most creatures die painfully from sicknesses, are eaten alive by predators, or starve to death. Even the ones who enjoy a long and healthy life eventually get old and weak and are caught and eaten or killed by diseases. For most creatures life ends in terrible and unimaginable pain.
Most creatures suffer and humans suffer as well. Many human lives end in terrible pain, on battlefields, in torture chambers, in disaster areas. Many people die abandoned and forgotten by their fellow humans.
Could this also be the end of my own life?
I would of course prefer to pass away without pain (who would not?), but this outcome is not guaranteed. I could be crushed in an accident, slowly dying from internal bleeding. Or I could die in a fire. I would most likely suffocate from smoke then, but what if the wind disperses the smoke, letting me breath long enough to smell my burning flesh and feel the pain when my skin is peeling off?
I could drown, drowning would at least not take too long.
Or I could be kidnapped by a gang of sadistic hunters during one of my walks with the cats (the adjective “sadistic” in this content is redundant, hunters are sadistic by definition, because only sadists can enjoy to shoot and kill the beautiful creatures of the forest).
The cats would not be able to defend me and I would indeed rather like them to safe their own skin by running away and hiding in the underbrush.
The gang of hunter could take me to a secret place in the wilderness, a hut or a barn, slowly torturing me to death there. They could beat me and water board me for a start and then they could pull out my fingernails and burn holes into my skin with a gas powered soldering iron. They could peel off my skin in small stripes and drill holes into my body with a battery drilling machine. They could cut off my arms and legs in small pieces with a chain saw till I finally would pass away in agony.
Though kidnappings and bestial murders are commonplace in war zones they are fortunately not yet common in my part off the world and the risk to die in this way is low. It is much more likely that I will die of cancer caused by the steadily increasing environmental contamination.
I’m prepared for that, I envisioned this possibility often enough and made plans and even once wrote a little prayer about it. This was at a time when I was not sure if I should consider myself an agnostic or an atheist. Today, as I have realized that I’m an average, unremarkable atheist, I would not write a prayer or at least I would not call it a prayer – I would not even call it a Buddhist chant or mantra.
Anyway, here it is:
The Final Prayer
I don’t want to commit suicide
Life still is too interesting
I don’t want to miss the rare days of joy
That could be still in my cards
I don’t want to miss the rare moments of bliss
That still could come my way
Death is the final solution of all problems
No heaven or hell, just nothing
This life with all it’s suffering and pain
Wouldn’t “just nothing” be better?
But I don’t compare anything to nothing
Just going on as I’m programmed by evolution
I’m sitting on the terrace
The plants in the garden are growing
In the first days of spring
My lovely cats are sitting around
My wife, the love of my life
Is whispering sweet words of comfort
Into my ear
Life is much too short
To achieve anything meaningful
In anyway: what is the definition of “meaningful”?
To alleviate the suffering and pain
Of me and my fellow animals
Is that meaningful?
Life is much too short
To achieve anything lasting
In anyway: nothing will last
And the humans will be extinct
There will be no heaven or hell, just nothing
Just nothing, silence, empty space
I’m sitting on the terrace
In the mild morning sun
I’m praying my daily prayer:
“Please doctor, don’t let me suffer
Please give me enough morphine
To spend the remaining days of my life
When Lizzy, the cat love of my life, was about to die, I spent a whole day and a whole night with her, sitting beside her, talking with her, caressing her. She loved it and she constantly purred. Lizzy was an 18 year old cat with only three legs, who had experienced her fair share of pain and suffering in her life.
In the last night of her life I slept not more than two or three hours and I was completely exhausted afterwards but I felt elated and calm. I had helped a little cat die peacefully.
Maybe I will get the chance one day to do this service for a human being as well. Whatever my legacy will be, this then would undoubtedly be one of the biggest achievements of my life.
The Four Noble Truths
1. Life means suffering.
To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self” which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.
There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming”, because these do not have a final object. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.