Q: What does it mean to be a spiritual person?
SHARON: All living beings are spiritual beings because all of life breathes. Breath is an indication that spirit is present. The words for spirit in the ancient languages of Aramaic (ruha) and Hebrew (ruach) also mean “breath.” Even in English, breath is defined as “the vital spirit, which animates living beings.” Our breath is connected to the air that every being breathes. By breathing consciously, we acknowledge our communion with all of life. There are atoms of air in your lungs that were once in the lungs of everyone who has ever lived. In essence, we are breathing (inspiring) one another. To be alive is to be breathing. To live and breathe with an exclusive focus on one’s small self, disconnected from the whole, is the definition of egotism. The enemy of the spirit is the selfish ego, which thinks that happiness can be gained through causing unhappiness and disharmony to others. In many ancient languages, the word for enemy means “one who falls out of rhythm; one who is not working in harmony with the larger group.”
Freedom from this disharmony can begin by letting go of the breath as “my” breath. As we let go, we enter into the shared life force, into a sense of harmony that connects us all: the breath, the Holy Spirit. If you want to know if someone is a “spiritual being” ask yourself, “Is he or she breathing?” If the answer is yes, then you know that you are in the presence of a spiritual being.
Q: Can you eat meat and still be a spiritual person?
SHARON: All breathing beings are spiritual; this includes everyone who breathes, whether they are animals or humans, carnivores or vegetarians.
Q: Are all meat-eaters bad people, all vegans good people, and all animals innocent victims?
SHARON: No. Everyone is caught in the web of his or her own actions and is bound by past karmas (actions). Good and bad are relative terms. Every action takes one to the next place. One’s knowledge of karma should not be used to judge others. You should ask yourself: Do I like where I am going, or do I want to change my direction? Through yoga practice you can change the course of your life by purifying your karma. But to do that you must have an idea of where you’ve been and where you want to go. Patanjali tells us that if we practice aparigraha, (greedlessness) we will begin to understand not only where we have come from but where we are going and how our karmas have contributed to where we are now.
Q: If the law of karma is true, then shouldn’t we accept the fact that animals are suffering because of their karmas?
SHARON: It is true that every being is enjoying life or suffering as a direct result of his or her own past actions. The animals in the factory farms may have been meat-eating human beings in a previous birth; we don’t know, and it is not our place to judge. Nonetheless, their suffering provides us with an opportunity to step in and alleviate suffering where we see it. By choosing to be kind instead of cruel, we can break the karmic chain of reacting to violence with more violence, contributing to a more peaceful future for everyone. Knowing the truth about the hell-realms that animals have to endure, it would be wise of us to do our best now not to plant the karmic seeds that would cause us to be reborn as an animal in one of those hell realms. What we do to others will come back to us. Sometimes this is referred to as “enlightened self-interest.” But however you see it, choosing to be kind rather than to be cruel benefits everyone.
Q: Shouldn’t we as spiritual practitioners try to live a more simple life and just eat normal food and not be picky? Veganism seems so elitist and complicated!
SHARON: It is a testament to the effectiveness of advertising campaigns funded by the animal-user industries that a diet that is bad for us and harmful to the planet is thought of as “normal” and a diet that promotes health, happiness, and well-being is thought of as alternative, abnormal, or faddish. In fact, these days it is relatively easy to find vegetarian options in many restaurants and supermarkets, though you may have to ask. Moreover, the fact is that it is much more complicated to confine, raise, feed, slaughter, process, package, and market an animal for food than it is to grow plants. Dealing with the health problems that inevitably arise with a diet of meat and dairy products: diabetes, cancer heart disease etc, can prove to be very complicated.