GANDHI: THE SANCTITY OF LIFE AND THE ETHICS OF DIET
Report by Judith Wilkins
On Saturday 30th January, The Gandhi Foundation held their annual multifaith celebration at Kingsley Hall in association with The Animal Interfaith Alliance. Mark Hoda, Chair of The Gandhi Foundation & Rev. Feargus O’Connor, Chair of The Animal Interfaith Alliance, introduced the event.
Before introducing the speakers, Graham Davey of The Gandhi Foundation provided an outline of Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence, his vegetarianism and frustrated veganism, and his positive compassion for all living creatures. As a Hindu, influenced by Jains, Gandhi had respect for all living things; all touched by the Divine, all equals with human beings in God’s eyes. Gandhi was outspoken against vivisection and Rev O’Connor suggested that the two organisations could join in support of the Dr Hadwen Trust and their work replacing animal experiments.
Ketan Varia (Jain) of The Animal Interfaith Alliance spoke of ensoulled nature and the need to limit our diet to plant life – most urgently today but based historically on the Jain belief that the greater number of senses an organism possesses, the greater our responsibility to shield it from unnecessary suffering – and the need to educate without coercion on these matters.
Rev. Nagase (Buddhist) of Battersea Peace Pagoda spoke of the Buddha’s compassion for all beings. He mentioned serious environmental concerns over Japan’s nuclear industry and weapons in general, before chanting a prayer that helped bring the proceedings to a place of profound contemplation.
Rev. Martin Henig (Christian Anglican) observed that the Christian tradition has always drawn heavily on the Old Testament, referring the audience to Psalm 104 and its strong vision of animals’ importance to the God of compassion and love.
Sheikh Rashad Ali (Muslim) seconded the importance of non-coercion. He spoke of the Islamic tradition’s deep concern with matters of welfare, quoting the Hadith and stating that the creation taken as a whole is in fact ‘the family of God’, each creature spiritually connected. From his perspective, adequate legal protection is what animals most sorely lack today.
Jewish vegan campaigner, Jonathan Fitter, finished with a powerful 2012 text provided by The Jewish Vegetarian Society, demonstrating the Torah’s mandate of veganism. He went on to say that 5% of Israel’s population are now vegan and that even Israel’s military are observing meat-free Mondays.
The event was well attended and delicious vegan food was served in the Three Bees Cafe. Attenders also enjoyed a tour of Gandhi’s cell, which he occupied when in London in the 1930s.
Member of The Jewish Vegetarian Society, Quaker Concern for Animals and The Animal Interfaith Alliance
For further information on The Gandhi Foundation go to http://www.gandhifoundation.org
Gandhi – The Sanctity of Life and the Ethics of Diet
By Graham Davey – The Gandhi Foundation
Today is the 68th anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Following the release of Richard Attenborough’s film, The Gandhi Foundation was started in 1983 with the aim of spreading knowledge of his life and work and their relevance for today. Gandhi is best known for his commitment to social justice, harmony between religious communities and nonviolence, but animal welfare was also a fundamental principle throughout his life and I aim to show how he practised it and the basis for his thinking. Agriculture and animal husbandry have suffered enormous changes in the years since Gandhi’s death and I shall outline some of the reasons why I believe there is even greater need now to follow his example.
As a boy, Gandhi befriended animals and was influenced by his mother who was a devout Hindu and sympathetic to Jains. On leaving for England in 1888 he promised her he would continue to abstain from eating meat and this led him to become an active member of The London Vegetarian Society. His first public speech was on animal cruelty and he wrote articles defending vegetarianism while in London and, later, in South Africa. In the two ashrams he set up in South Africa he and other members wrestled with the problems of dealing with snakes and scorpions while maintaining the principle of ahimsa, nonviolence.
Soon after his return to India in 1915 he witnessed and was appalled by the mass slaughter of sheep at the temple of Kali in Calcutta. In 1917 he remained very weak after ending a fast and was persuaded that his vow of abstinence from animal products applied to cow’s milk but not to goat’s. On taking goat’s milk, he soon recovered his strength but he bitterly regretted it and many years later described it as ‘the tragedy of my life’. As a Hindu, Gandhi revered the cow, seeing it as a symbol for the entire non-human world. He regarded cow-protection as a means of purifying Hinduism.
The principles on which Gandhi based his vegetarianism went well beyond refusing to kill animals. He believed that all living creatures are infused with the divine and that there is consequently a spiritual unity between humans and all other species. There is therefore a need to cherish and respect all life forms.
As a Hindu, he believed in the law of karma that teaches that all our actions have consequences for good or ill. The principle of reincarnation requires us to care for all other life forms because they form, with humans, the complete web of life. It follows that any act against another life form has ethical repercussions.
Finally, for Gandhi, nonviolence was much more than the negation of violence. He expanded the concept into positive, outgoing compassion and concern for all that lives. The Golden Rule that we should treat others as we would wish them to treat us, he applied to all animals. He accepted that some violence is inevitable, even with a vegan diet, but it could be minimised by following his ashram rule of control of the palate i.e. eating, not for pleasure, but for survival. This is a rule we are mostly happy to ignore at the Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering.
The present situation in agriculture is very different from what Gandhi was familiar with and I believe he would be deeply saddened by the current treatment of animals. There is, firstly, the cruelty involved in so-called sports. Bull-fighting in Spain and using migrating birds for target practice in some Southern European countries are fortunately not practised in this country but, on the other hand, forty million pheasants and partridges are mass-produced in Britain each year to satisfy a primitive urge some people have to kill. Cruelty in horse-racing is rarely publicised but over 400 horses are raced to death in Britain each year and several thousands more healthy thoroughbreds are killed for meat after being retired from racing rather than being allowed to live their normal life-span.
Gandhi was a forthright opponent of vivisection. He would have challenged its relevance for the promotion of human health and promoted other ways of investigating ailments that do not cause animal suffering. I believe he would have condemned experimenting on animals for the sake of testing cosmetics together with some other forms of research.
It is in the area of agriculture that the biggest changes have taken place during the last 68 years. Meat production has been industrialised with creatures treated as no more than units of production. With better transport facilities and no prospect of significant increase in demand, competition for market share has forced many traditional farmers out of business and factory farming has taken over.
Visually, the most obvious change is the transfer of animals from fields into large buildings. These carry high fixed costs so profits come from dense packing and fast breeding. Chickens are slaughtered after 42 days, half the time it would have taken in Gandhi’s time. Annual throughput in the UK is 800 million meat chickens, 9 million pigs, 2.6 million cattle and many more uncounted animals that are sick, injured or unwanted.
The accelerated growth of chickens causes heart, lung and joint problems. Immediate access to food means that chickens have nothing to do for most of their time so resort to feather-pecking and, in extreme cases, cannibalism. To counteract this they are subject to beak-trimming which is painful and denies them the ability to forage in a natural way. Pigs may also be densely packed and their fast growth rate causes similar health problems. The tendency of frustrated animals to fight is tackled by docking the tails of pigs, trimming their teeth and castration, not necessarily with anaesthetic.
Sheep are generally less subject to the rigours of factory farming but European subsidies account for some 40% of a hill farmer’s income so profits come from holding the maximum number of animals and providing the minimum care. Hormone treatment is used to force ewes to produce triplets and sometimes three ‘crops’ in two years. In the 1990s 22 million lambs were born annually in Britain of which some 4 million died within the first few days. The lactating ‘childless’ ewes are needed to feed the third lamb of triplets because the ewe has only two teats and there may be cruelty involved in forcing the foster ewe to accept a lamb that is not her own. As with pigs, docking of tails and castration are often done without anaesthetic.
The pressure to deliver meat and dairy products with profit but at a competitive price causes ill-health and suffering. Whereas a cow in its natural surroundings would produce about 1,000 litres of milk a year, the modern dairy cow produces from 6,000 to 12,000 litres and spends almost her entire life pregnant or lactating until she is butchered because she is no longer profitable.
The health problems resulting from driving animals to produce meat and milk far beyond their natural limit has been met by the widespread use of antibiotics for prevention of disease rather than cure. In the UK, 45% of all antibiotics used are administered to animals and, while this is better than the 80% in the USA, it is four times as much as is used for animals in Denmark. Scientists are becoming increasingly aware that the overuse of antibiotics is tending to develop strains of bacteria which may attack humans and for which we will have no cure.
A form of cruelty that has attracted public attention in recent years is the large-scale transport of live animals. The principle of free movement of goods within the EU means that animals are often subjected to long distance travel by road and water which is a frightening experience for them in any circumstances. When the transport arrangements fail, provision for the animals will be expensive if not impossible and they suffer all the more. Over 3 million animals are exported alive out of the EU every year for slaughter, fattening or breeding and distances of up to 2,500 miles have been noted e.g. from Ireland to Kazakhstan. The animals have no protection from EU legislation once they are outside Europe.
Other species used for food also suffer. It is estimated that there are over 300 million rabbits farmed in Europe for their meat and they have no welfare laws to protect them from cruelty. The fishing industry is criticised for over-fishing and its failure to avoid killing unwanted species. Farmed fish could be stunned before slaughter but often are not because of the cost.
Since Gandhi’s time legislation has been introduced to stop the worst excesses but rules are difficult to enforce. Many farming practices are carried out in isolation and there are huge numbers of animals involved. Legislation for animal welfare is often opposed by the powerful agricultural lobby and weakened in its passage through Parliament. A Conservative government is particularly susceptible to pressure from farmers but all MPs are hesitant to support legislation which may increase the price of meat.
Those who advocate a meat-free diet point to the dangers of eating too much red and processed meat and claim a link with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The issue can also be related to the problem of feeding a growing world population, this being not so much the increasing number of human beings on the planet as the changing life-styles of billions of people who aspire to a western diet and increase their consumption of meat. The use of fertile land then becomes much more inefficient because the area needed to provide forage for meat and dairy produce is 8 to 10 times the area of crops which would give humans a satisfactory diet if eaten directly. At present about a third of all cereal production goes to industrial livestock and it is estimated that this amount could feed 3 billion people. Food production is increasingly affected by climate change and scientists point to the harmful emission of methane associated with the meat industry.
I believe Gandhi would look on the present situation with sadness but also with hope, emphasising the progress that has been made in providing for animal welfare and working steadily to persuade legislators to pass appropriate laws and to strengthen the enforcement of existing ones. He was rarely, if ever, judgmental and his attitude to those who know the facts about the meat and dairy industries and continue to consume both would be to invite them to reconsider the principles by which they try to live and to make sure that they can reconcile these with their daily food.
Speech to Gandhi Interfaith Peace Service
By Rev. Feargus O’Connor (Unitarian) – Chair Animal Interfaith Alliance
It is indeed an honour to represent The Animal Interfaith Alliance and The World Congress of Faiths at this interfaith service honouring Mahatma Gandhi and his life mission of nonviolence to all living beings.
The World Congress of Faiths unites people of goodwill of all religious beliefs in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect to struggle together to create a peaceful world where all the great religions live in harmony and work for the common good. The Animal Interfaith Alliance is dedicated to extending our love and compassion to all fellow living creatures and living in peace with them. That mission is truly in the spirit of Gandhi himself and we honour him for all he did for that universal ethic of ahimsa.
In that Gandhian spirit I wish to honour today not only Gandhi himself but also Dr Albert Schweitzer, whose ethic of Reverence for Life prompts us to love and respect all our fellow creatures to ‘recompense them for the great misery that [human beings] inflict upon them’. In his Nobel Peace Prize address Schweitzer asserted that ‘compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can attain its full breadth and depth only if it embraces all living creatures’. So he proclaimed the moral necessity of a ‘boundless ethics’ of universal compassion.
‘Until we extend the circle of our compassion to all living beings we shall not ourselves find peace.’
If it is true, as William Blake declared, that ‘all that lives is holy’ what nobler act can there be than saving lives?’
Violence against any fellow creature is surely a violation of that ethic of ahimsa inspiring us to act for the welfare and happiness of all? Because all of us here passionately believe that in our innermost hearts how appropriate it is for us to participate in this service honouring Gandhi’s ethic of ahimsa and extending it to all fellow beings.
I hope this augurs well for our future cooperation in working for what some have called that Peaceable Kingdom envisioned by the Prophet Isaiah:
‘The wolf lives with the lamb.
The panther lies down with the kid.
Calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends.
Their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole.
Into the viper’s lair the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm, on all my holy mountain.’
I end with a concrete proposal on which I hope The Gandhi Foundation and The Animal Interfaith Alliance might cooperate to honour the Gandhian ethic of ahimsa and save human and animal lives.
‘Vivisection is the blackest of all the black crimes that [humankind] is at present committing against God and His fair creation. It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practise elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures’
‘I abhor vivisection with my whole soul’, he declared, and he deplored ‘scientific discoveries stained with innocent blood’.
To honour Gandhi’s ethic of universal compassion I am therefore proposing that The Gandhi Foundation might consider joining The Animal Interfaith Alliance in taking action to live that ethic by launching a special appeal for The Universal Kinship Fund of The Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research. I hope we shall do this together to witness to Gandhi’s values in the world by doing what he would most have wanted: save human and non-human lives.
Gandhi Interfaith Peace Gathering – 30th January 2016
By Rev. Prof. Martin Henig (Anglican) – Animal Interfaith Alliance
Christianity draws directly of Jewish precedent, unsurprisingly as it shares the Hebrew Bible and Jesus of Nazareth was, after all, a Jew! The Bible is a collection of writings of varied origin and compiled over more than a millennium, so it is not surprising that they are not consistent, although it is generally agreed that God created everything including all life on earth. In the first chapter of Genesis he makes humans last but gives them stewardship over other creatures, and in a separate account in the second chapter of Genesis he makes the animals after the Adam (the first man) and Adam names them, thus in a way obtaining power over them. In these accounts humans are regarded as superior to other creatures, as they are in most texts, but we might note the remarkable Psalm 104, perhaps of Egyptian origin, or the Song of the Three (the Benedicite) for a less speciesist approach: the task of all creation is simply to praise God. Initially, in Genesis 1 and 2, all creatures are provided with a vegetarian diet. Only after the Fall and after Noah’s flood is the eating of other animals by human beings sanctioned.
From the time of Noah we hear of sacrifices of domestic animals to God, and such sacrifices were virtually the raison d’être of the Temple until its destruction in AD 70. After his birth Jesus’ parents, in thanksgiving, sacrificed two pigeons there. Thereafter, Christians came to believe that Jesus’ death on the Cross was a once for all sacrifice.
However, by and large, vegetarianism was never a majority option for Christians, and when it was practiced (by some eremitical and monastic communities) it was largely for ascetic reasons. However, there have always been Christians throughout the ages, who have been compassionate towards their fellow creatures, amongst them St Basil the Great, St Brigid, St Cuthbert, St Francis of Assisi of course, St Martin de Porres and St Philip Neri.
Christians were in the forefront of the fight against vivisection in the 19th century, amongst them the Blessed John Henry Newman, in a sermon delivered in the University Church at Oxford on Good Friday 1842 (when he was still an Anglican), where he compared the suffering of a vivisected dog to that of the crucified Christ.
For Christians (and Jews) the return to The Golden Age prophesied by Isaiah (11, 6-8) when all creation will again be vegetarian has to be the ideal. Christians might also cite St Paul (Romans 8:18-23) on the redemption of all creation. For many Christians (amongst them myself) and many Jews it is indefensible to kill or cause pain to any living creature. I am proud to endorse with my whole heart and soul Mahatma Gandhi’s practice of Ahimsa.
The Sanctity of Diet and the Ethics of Life
By Ketan Varia (Jain) – Animal Interfaith Alliance
First of all, it’s a pleasure to be here in distinguished company and at this wonderful hall. I have been a member of The Gandhi Foundation for a few years, if you discount my lapsed membership in between!
Our Jain scripture, Achranga Sutra as preached by the omniscient Mahavir over 2600 years ago states:
‘The Arhats and Bhagavats of the past, present, and future, all say thus, speak thus, declare thus, explain thus: all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. (1)’
This defines the Jain connection with nature, animals, diet and ethics of life in a very direct way.
Jains believe that all of nature is alive and has a soul, including plants and animals. Jains choose to minimize violence, but fully understand it cannot be eradicated. It is clear that the most pain to life increases with the number of senses. Therefore, Jains work on the principle of minimizing and in particular needless violence by limiting their diet to one-sensed plant life.
Gandhi ji was a Vaishnavite or Hindu by birth. However, his meeting the modern day Jain philosopher and saint, Shrimad Rajchandra he accepted the two most important disciplines of Jainism: Ahimsa and Satya ~ non-violence and truth. He based his fight for freedom of India on these two principles.
Gandhi, words in his writing, is very strong about animal rights. In fact, as many of you will know, he experimented with being vegan and wrote several times on the need to have food that is without animal products, although in practice he remained vegetarian.
It is self-evident that the food we need for survival can now be completely cruelty free.
Today the consumption of meat is avoidable. The information we have on nutrition and a balanced diet, can be achieved without killing a single animal.
Imagine a life without this needless violence? In the US 60 billion animals are killed each year, with each person consuming 15,000 animals. In the UK the figure is at almost a billion animals per annum. From the well of documents and reports I have read from well regarded bodies such as the WWF and the UN, the water footprint of large livestock is seven times to plants for equivalent nutrition. Land use is between 15-70 times on the same basis. 15% of all irrigated water is used for livestock.
The problem is a cultural one, as many people have been raised on a diet of meat, and life without meat seems unacceptable, just as for me life without a cup of tea in the morning would be difficult! We need to understand, and even accept, this reality if we are to make a change, as it can only come from meaningful dialogue and education, not coercion. Indeed, within the Jain community in the UK, even though vegetarianism is fully accepted, veganism is not, as many Jains are not aware or have even accepted the connection between milk products and violence.
So what to do?
In my opinion we have to take a practical approach and not take the moral high ground. There are many actions we can take. Gandhi said, ‘be the change you want to see’. Letting others know about the ethical reasons for being vegetarian or vegan, and creating awareness, is important, as it plant seeds (excuse the pun), which may take a generation or two, to blossom but could be significant nevertheless.
We need to think of alternatives on this path. There is now research into laboratory generated meat, plenty of ‘mock meat’ alternatives, and the current focus on health. There are organisations that are asking people to avoid certain types of meat from endangered species. The results of these activities are, of course, small drops in the ocean to the total population of animals killed. However, all big change events, such as the ending of slavery and women’s rights, came about with time and overcoming many hurdles. We need constancy of purpose, to achieve the goal of society that is based only on a plant based diet.
Whatever we do, we must remain kind and compassionate to our fellow meat eaters. Jains believe that they are binding inauspicious karmas which will bring pain to them in future. Jainism believes that coercion is form of violence itself. Education is the key and allowing debate is powerful.
 Acàràïga Såtra: Book I, Lecture 4, Lesson 1, Aphorism 1. English translation by Herman Jacobi.
One thought on “The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2016”
Thanks to all who organised, addressed and participated in this interesting and important event.
And thanks to you, Judith, for the report.