Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I'll take the eggplant...

Last Saturday my family and I attended a Communion party. We eat vegetarian and so we ordered the eggplant parmesan. When the food arrived, my wife discovered that the waiter had made a mistake and served us chicken parm by accident.

We told the waiter, he apologized, and took our plates, promising to return soon with the vegetarian dish.

But I felt terrible. I don't know if it's my Zen practice or not, but it felt like I had killed a chicken. Since my wife had cut the meat in half, the waiter would most likely dump it in the trash. My chicken was untouched, so I hope someone in the kitchen ate it.

Before the waiter grabbed the plate, I was considering asking him to make sure someone ate the chicken. Even when I ate meat, it always bothered me when people let meat go to waste. If an animal died for your consumption, the least you can do is eat all of it. Wasting meat feels so...I don't know, selfish.

And so, even though I had ordered the eggplant, I felt like I had killed that chicken. When I said to another guest at the table that I felt bad, she said, "Why? It wasn't your fault."

"Because they're probably going to throw it out," I said. My wife nodded, so I knew she agreed.

The guest rolled her eyes, as if to say, "Isn't that what animals are there for--for us to eat them?"

Ahh, no. 

But that's how most people feel, like the world was created for humans. It's our little playground and animals are our toys.

That's not cool. It's part of the very crisis that is threatening our nation, our entire planet for that matter. Greed, selfishness, and more greed.

The first Bodhisattva's Vow is to save all sentient beings. Now I'm not trying to persuade anyone to change their eating habits, but this experience taught me that we need to accept responsibility for all of our actions--our thoughts, words, and deeds.

John Daido Loori calls it owning the whole catastrophe. And that's how I felt at the communion party, like I owned that chicken's death.

Even if I didn't eat it or even order the bird's slaughter, I had contributed in some imperceptible way. I may not eat meat, but if I buy milk from a farm that also raises beef cows, then aren't I endorsing the meat industry too? Is it that very different from eating the meat myself?

If everything is connected, as Buddhism teaches us, then I am responsible for that chicken's death, the homeless children in Thailand, China's occupation of Tibet, a star blazing on the other side of the universe.

We all are. For the entire wonder and catastrophe in the universe is no different than our true selves. It may sound strange, but I thank that chicken for revealing to me how connected we all are.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: neatlysliced.

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