A village near Hat Yai: Going to see the cows with M and we meet the first one. I ask M about pulling on the rope tied through it’s nose and if she thinks that would be painful? M tells me it’s like pulling your hand and she pulls me along by holding on to my finger: ‘Like this Toong-Ting’ – laughing, Toong-Ting as a reluctant cow… I can hear the voice of (her auntie) Pa K, who lives here, a down-to-earth farming person; and I guess M must have asked Pa K the same question and she’d shown her, as M shows me now. I’m also aware that M sees me a bit like a grown-up child, because I’m a foreigner and have such naïve views about things. For us Westerners, the simplicity of rural life is attractive, but we’re not able to see it in the long term, or accept the hard work that’s necessary to be able to live like that. Also having to accept basic truths like killing animals for food and all that… yes, well, I don’t discuss this with M. We just go on through all the wet ground towards the other cows in the distance.
There was another time I came here to visit the cows, and met the little cow with the bamboo bell around its neck: clacka-clacka sound when it’s eating grass – strange grass-eating rhythms. We stop and look at it, and it looks at us. Such a miniature creature, it looks like a calf, and comes towards me with cautious movements, swinging head in motion with the way it walks. It raises it’s head and points a snuffling, sniffing wet snout in my direction; bits of grass and green stained mouth. Large snorts. Then it extends a long tongue and sticks it in it’s nostril (how do they do that?), comes a bit closer and there’s quite a bit of sniffing of the air around me. This cute little cow is curious about me due to a certain familiar milky smell coming through the pores of my skin? It’s not smelling the others who are with me like this… Thais don’t drink much milk so I’m thinking, hmmm, here’s proof that the Western body releases a noticeable odour of milk. I know this little cow has never been near to a Western person before in its life. The recognition of this milky smell, a familiarity: I am an upright, standing-on-it’s-hind-legs member of the species – a cow person? A bit disturbing… I’m conscious, all of a sudden, that humans are carnivores and there’s this unpleasant conceit about being at the top of the food chain that’s bothering me right now.
Later, reflecting on this while eating a breakfast of grains, nuts, fruit and cow’s milk – jaws move in a slightly circular motion, down up, down, up, down, grind, grind, and swallow. I’m an animal too. I consume the environment, whether it’s other animals, fish, vegetables, eggs, milk and – we are the cow’s babies! I notice cutting up vegetables is a bit of a sacrifice too; every time I start to cook food there is the opportunity for this kind of contemplation. Vegetables and fruit may not have the obvious characteristics of sentient beings but we may eat their reproductive organs along with everything else and that’s kinda weird…
There’s a couple of lines of text somewhere in an essay by Tan Ajahn Buddhadassa, that I cannot find at the moment; it’s about consciousness of all the things we eat, bits of animals, poultry and fish and how all their ghosts will come back to haunt us in the end. Pretty scary, nowhere to run, everything we are: mental, physiological, flesh, blood, and bones is a composite of what we have eaten, internalized. And it extends back through the generations to the beginning of time. The cellular substance of what we are is a genetic composite of all kinds of animal fats and enzymes and there’s just no getting away from it.
Contemplating the eating of meat helps me to see the true extent of my delusion driven by a voracious appetite for all consumables. Things I feel drawn to consume surround me – non-food items; ideas, concepts, ‘mind’ hungers for mind object. Consciousness is clouded over by habitual ‘mind’. Remove habitual ‘mind’ and there may be something like a deluge of reality comes in and with it comes a satisfactory understanding of the mystery that people eat animals.
When Acharn Mun was at the end of his life, weak and lying in a village in NE Thailand, a very large number of his followers began to assemble. He asked the bhikkhus to take him away from the village because the villagers would have to kill many animals to feed those people. They took him to a nearby town where there were market places and various kinds of prepared food could be easily obtained. Shortly after that Ajahn Mun passed away.
‘From the day of my ordination I have never thought of harming (animals), let alone killing them. I have always extended my loving-kindness to them, never neglecting to share with them all the fruits of my merit. It would be ironic if my death were to be the cause of their deaths (‘The Venerable Phra Acharn Mun Bhuridatta Thera, Meditation Master’, page 201 – 202).
Sections originally posted in loving-kindness to animals 1 and re-posted here.