Recently I had the joy of reporting on the Dalai Lama as he visited the West Coast. I attended a news conference where he sat with his trademark smile and laugh, riffing answers to reporters’ questions. To see him one might never know the great hardships of his life. As he smiles and points at each reporter many in the room did not know that he was ripped from the very loving arms of his mother at the age of four and sent to a monastery for study and instruction. He talks about his mom with a wistful look and credits her for making him rich in compassion. He describes how she worked while carrying him on her shoulders all day, feeding him his meals gently and singing him to sleep.
The Dalai Lama also speaks only of love and care when he talks about the monks who brought him up to become “His Holiness” and does not often describe how at the age of twelve he was rushed out of Tibet in darkness as the Chinese invaded his country and killed those same men, the monks who taught him humor and wisdom.
And so today, as an old man, he admonishes anyone who will listen to abandon tradition, to avoid trusting religion and to cultivate compassion. He told us this is the ultimate way to protect the environment–simply to love it and be compassionate in all of our ways–large and small.
It’s important to seek the truth and only truth, rather than clinging to old traditions and beliefs which have failed to evolve over time, the master said as he sat in his crimson robes on an ornately carved chair looking every bit like the tradition which brought him there. He said he is a Marxist and if you can get past the gracefulness of his smile and laughter you will hear that he is revolutionary in his thinking. The Dalai Lama is the last of his kind. He has eliminated the institution–which has continued unbroken since the 14th century–saying it is time for Tibetans to elect their next leader. He is forcing an end to his own tradition which he says he has done “joyfully.” He has become the bridge between what was and what is. Who better to do it?
While the Dalai Lama travels the world urging an end to tradition, I sit after an arduous work weekend looking at my chicken kids. I ponder how they have no traditions, since they were whisked away to be sold as soon as they hatched. When a newborn chick emerges from her shell, which most often happens in a man-made incubator, she is exposed to unnatural light for a short time and then grabbed by her tiny neck and sent down a chute to total darkness into a box where she and several other baby chicks will be shipped to a store. From there, if she survives (and many do not), she will be placed in a large tub with dozens of other chickens for sale. If she is bought she will most likely be raised for egg production or meat. She will not know a mother and she will not have any concept of tradition or the love of a family–because yes, chickens in their natural way of life do form families and traditions. She is a baby chick and she will grow into an adult chicken and then she will be slaughtered.
I too have lost any traditions I might have had. I grew up on a very small family farm, and we raised animals for meat. I have virtually no memories of the chickens in our coop. They were meant to be dinner so I did not bond with them. Now as an adult on a plant based diet, I bond with every animal I meet who is willing to bond with me. I am not too interested in buying things or making a lot of money (which is good since I’m not making much money anyway) and I suppose many of the things I prioritize might make me a socialist. I’m way out of my tradition and I enjoy it.
I dropped the ways of my ancestors because of the reality around me. Factory farms are huge contributors of greenhouse gases; they also disproportionately use up our water, and cause downstream water pollution. Our tradition of eating meat is bumping into our current reality, which is threatening our own existence.
You may not agree that tradition, no matter how dear to us, must be examined before it is continued. You may also not agree that meat consumption is the problem, and you may not be interested in the fact that the way we raise and slaughter animals is cruel, but I think the combination some of this might creep into your thinking and choices.
The scientists at NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) recently announced our CO2 levels are at a peak point, the highest in three million years. That is reality. I doubt any of us would want to sit idly in the face of our planet drying up and dying. It is beyond tragedy to imagine our beautiful Earth no longer in existence.
Rosie and the chicken gang are doing their part. They are practicing bug hunting and worm gathering, engaged on a daily routine of scratching and tilling the soil. They are without tradition and so am I, yet we happily enjoy the reality of our lives together. They are compassionate and loving creatures teaching me better than any master. No matter where or how you are born, there is always time for love, and as the Dalai Lama and the chickens attest–that is the ultimate reality which will save us every time.
More Chicken Dreams: The Sacrament
Photo: Andreas Nilsson/Martin de Thura