Awakening From Materialism: Vegans As Healers
Recent events highlight the injustice and violence of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and gross economic inequity, which cause tremendous suffering in our world, and even within many social justice movements, including the vegan movement. How can we get to the roots of these issues, and what role does the accepted materialism of our society play in this? How can each of us contribute most effectively to cultural healing?
To meaningfully address these questions, we are called first of all to break the great taboo and pull back the curtain of denial, and doing so, to clearly recognize that all of us are born into an industrialized herding culture that is organized at its core around reducing beings to things. Billions of other animals are seen and treated as mere commodities that have no other purpose than to be imprisoned, fed, impregnated, used, and killed by us through an obsolete and hauntingly unquestioned food system. We are trained from infancy by our culture’s relentless meal rituals not just to eat the flesh and secretions of these abused animals, but to eat and embody the attitudes of this herding culture as well.
Herderism And Materialism
It’s vital to make an effort to understand how and why these foods are harmful to us and others, and further, to understand how and why these attitudes are unhealthy and destructive as well—though our indoctrination to these foods and attitudes is most definitely profitable for the elites controlling the military-industrial-meat-medical-pharmaceutical-media-banking complex. Meals are the foundational indoctrinating ritual in every culture, and the pervasive violence of our society against animals used for food and other products not only destroys their freedom, peace, and well-being, but also harms and reduces ours as well, in ways that are typically invisible and unrecognized.
We are forced from infancy to adopt a set of mutually reinforcing mentalities in order to participate in this defining activity of our culture. These mentalities include disconnectedness, desensitization, denial, exclusivism, elitism, domination of the feminine, reduction and commodification of living beings, predatory competitiveness, gullibility, and materialism.
Being ritually compelled to adopt these attitudes and to live and function within a society that routinely imprisons, attacks, and consumes millions of animals daily wounds us all deeply on many levels. However, the wounding is hidden, and, like the violence, is mostly invisible because it is pervasive, all-encompassing, and normalized. Fortunately, each of us can make an effort to understand this, and we can each, with help from others, undertake a journey of healing, and free ourselves from both the behavior of eating, purchasing, and causing unnecessary abuse to others, and also from the underlying attitudes that cause this unnecessary suffering not just to other animals, but to each other and to ourselves.
The Two-Part Journey Of Healing
This journey of healing and awakening is the vegan journey, and it is in many ways the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to our world today. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that if we don’t, as a culture, take this healing journey to a more conscious and non-exploitive way of living, our industrialized violence will destroy the possibilities of a viable future for all of us.
It’s a two-part journey. The first part, freeing ourselves from the abusive behavior of purchasing and consuming animal-sourced foods, is relatively straightforward. The second part, freeing ourselves from the sticky web of interrelated attitudes injected into us by our herding culture, is more complex.
We have been herding animals now for about ten thousand years. It’s a practice that’s utterly obsolete, but it has insinuated its devastating tentacles not only into our planetary ecosystems and our culture, economy, and institutions, but also into our bodies, minds, feelings, and consciousness. Everything these tentacles touch, they damage, pervert, and destroy. Hamburgers, hot dogs, fish sticks, cheese, eggs, ham, tuna, chicken, yogurt, and ice cream are falsely portrayed as benevolent and required foods for us, when in fact they are completely malevolent and unnecessary. Animal agriculture and animal-sourced foods are destroying our health, our society, our ecosystems and other animals, and they also insidiously damage the landscape of our consciousness.
Being born into a herding culture, and into the exploitive structure of corporate capitalism that herderism has inevitably generated, injures us all from infancy. We all know in our bones that we are products of our communities and culture, and that the only reason any of us eats animal-sourced foods is because we are following orders that have been injected into us by our parents, families, and by every institution and tradition in our society. It is anything but a free choice.
With ten thousand years of practice in the attitudes required to herd animals, we have now unfortunately thoroughly incorporated the delusions of herderism into our worldview, to our detriment, and we have obediently passed these traditional delusions from generation to generation. In doing so, we have passed on herderism’s inexorably accompanying furies as well: war, slavery, exploitation of the feminine, the macho male role-model for boys, a wealthy elite class, racism and other forms of social injustice, poverty, disease, hunger, anxiety, competition, and disconnectedness from animals and from nature.
The sprawling and traumatizing delusion of herderism can be summed in one word: materialism. The defining educational practice of our culture is teaching us from infancy to harden our gaze, and to see certain beings as mere matter: as nothing more than physical objects, like sacks of cement. All of us, whatever our race, gender, orientation, or class happen to be, are ritually wounded by our cultural food program, compelled to mentally transform someones into somethings. We participate, buy, and eat cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, geese, fishes, and other animals by their material weight. Their value is determined by the mass of the flesh on their physical bodies, and by the secretions and offspring they can produce for their owners. For us, they are mere material objects to be consumed. Our culture’s food rituals numb us into believing this patent falsehood.
After practicing this extreme form of materialistic and ritualized delusion for ten thousand years, generation upon generation, meal upon meal, bite upon bite, we have drifted farther than any culture ever has from the basic wisdom of connecting with and respecting life—both our own and others. We have become a thoroughly materialistic culture in the deep sense that materialism is, philosophically, the attitude and way of seeing and acting that reduces everything to matter. Not only are other animals reduced to being mere physical objects that are born and die, but we are taught to see ourselves and each other, and all life, this way as well. This delusion of materialism pervades our unjust economic system, as well as our reductionist science, religion, and education, and all our institutions. It devastates not just animals and ecosystems, but also our inherent wisdom, compassion, and well-being.
Veganism is the struggle to free ourselves from this delusion of materialism, and to see beings as beings, rather than as objects to be used. This awakening from materialism is a challenging endeavor, liberating our awareness and thus liberating animals and all of us by helping us regain our ability to see beings as subjects rather than objects. Opening our hearts and unblinding our eyes, we respectfully release other animals to once again celebrate their lives in the natural world as they are intended, and as they did for millions of years before we began to steal their freedom, and imprison and commodify them. This awakening also helps liberate us from our cages as well: the persistent and unrecognized cages of injustice and delusion. We can respectfully release other people from indoctrinated mental categories based on race, gender, and so forth, and this helps free us from the delusions underlying injustice. As we open our minds and question our culture’s narrative of abuse, we take the journey to overhaul not just our outer behavior, but also our underlying attitudes, assumptions, and way of being.
Veganism is nothing to be proud of because it is not so much an accomplishment as it is an ongoing process of questioning, and of recognition, realization, remembering, and of returning home to the ever-present wisdom and grace that have been taken from us. When we see beings, we naturally see beings, not things—and relate to them as such, with respect. Veganism is no big deal, really; it’s our natural vision, increasingly liberated from the hijacking influence of our culture’s toxic herderism. Yet it is an ongoing endeavor of enormous consequence also, because vegan living is a liberating adventure of questioning the official narratives both externally as well as the aspects that we have internalized.
Deep Veganism: The Antidote To Herderism And Materialism
Now we get to the real issues we face as vegans, which are connected to the wounds that we have all endured by being born and raised in a herding culture of materialism that treats beings as things and indoctrinates all of us into this mind-set. What gives veganism its power is that it’s solidly practical and behavioral, and as praxis, it also has a theoretical and internal dimension as well. As concrete behavior, it’s an effort to minimize the violence toward animals flowing from our actions, so we eat, wear, and use no foods, products, or services that depend on human abuse of other animals, including human animals. Internally, vegan living is a journey of healing as we work our way out of the toxic brambles of materialism and reductionism, and recognize the beauty of other expressions of life, and regain our natural human yearning to protect and care for what we value and appreciate.
As our heart and mind both open, we begin to see that, while the outer expression of veganism in our patterns of consuming is certainly important and helpful, there is much more to veganism than boycotting industries and products. We begin to see that vegan living is rejecting the delusion of materialism that is often internalized in our unconscious assumptions, and that it calls us to realize that all life is a manifestation of consciousness that is, essentially, infinite, benevolent, joyful, and eternal.
What this means in practice is that we take the journey to deep veganism, questioning and transforming not only the materialism of our outer actions, but also the philosophical materialism that has been injected into our consciousness by the herderism of our culture. As vegans we move to a plant-based way of eating and living for ethical reasons, to promote justice, compassion, freedom, and health for animals, for hungry people, for workers, for ecosystems and wildlife, and for future generations of all beings. We do this mindfully, and while our organic, whole-food plant-based way of eating and living benefits our health and happiness, it also helps and uplifts everyone.
As our awareness continues to expand, we realize that the only person we can change and liberate is ourself, and that the way to be an effective vegan advocate is to strive to ever more deeply understand ourselves and to uproot the materialist and reductionist tendencies that still remain in our consciousness, that bind us in dualism, and that generate our tendency to blame, judge, exclude, and criticize others, and to see others as the problem.
Deep veganism is an ongoing process of maturing emotionally and existentially beyond the indoctrinated and materialist view of trying to change other people, and recognizing that this manipulative effort is a form of violence that is based in the materialist delusion that we are essentially a separate self, an object that was born and will die, and that others are as well. This delusion propels us try to maneuver other people into changing. It also pushes us to try to find ways to effectively market this vegan message to others as if veganism is a mere commodity that we are packaging for consumption. With deep veganism, we realize that efforts to manipulate others to change in a way that we want them to, and arguing with or criticizing or blaming them, run contrary to the spirit of inclusiveness and respect that is the essence of vegan living. We realize that we’ve been vegan in our outer appearance, but internally we’re still trapped in the shallows of the materialist herder delusion of separateness, exclusiveness, and manipulativeness. Veganism is a call from our true nature to radical questioning of virtually all of the assumptions of our cultural programming. It is a call from our future and more evolved awareness to remember that there is no way to spread veganism, which is love, kindness, and respect, other than embodying love, kindness and respect for all animals including human animals. The path is the goal.
With deep veganism, we become more effective in our advocacy because we begin to understand herderism and that through well-meaning but injured parents, relatives, and authorities, we’ve all been wounded. This helps us deepen our compassion for everyone. We see more clearly that forcing infants and children to eat the flesh and secretions of abused animals is a pervasive and culturally approved form of child abuse on several levels. First of all, it causes us as children tremendous physical suffering in the form of sore throats, earaches, obesity, diabetes, constipation, and many other conditions. But the abuse we endure runs to much deeper levels than this.
When as children we realize what hot dogs and bacon actually are, a cold darkness enters our chest. Our natural sense of kindness toward other animals is crushed under the weight of the overwhelmingly pervasive, inescapable, relentless, and hypnotically ignored cultural practice of heartless killing and eating, and we are thrown forever out of the garden of kindness, innocence, self-esteem, and harmony. What we refer to in The World Peace Diet as Sophia, the inner sacred feminine dimension of consciousness that naturally yearns to love and protect life, is stomped on and repressed by the harsh and inexorable violence of herderism. We know, and we eat this profoundly disturbing knowing every day, that there is no compassion or justice for other animals. The devastating effects of this daily reality—that we are ritually compelled by those we trust implicitly to both eat and cause violence with every meal—cannot be overstated.
Our entire culture is, in many ways, modeled on a farm where we, as newborn infants, are treated like calves on a dairy, as exploitable commodities in a heartless economic system. Like the calves we are not allowed to bond with our mothers properly. We have foods and pharmaceutical injections forced on us that are not in our interest but are advantageous to our exploiters, and we enter a system of intense social and economic competition where we are seen as objects, and are taught to see ourselves and other people in the same way, as competitors, as different, and as instruments to be manipulated and used. We are forced to eat foods of embedded terror, despair, and anxiety. Our natural sense of kinship with other animals (and ultimately with each other) is fractured as we dine on their misery.
Our capacity for sensitivity and intuition is repressed as we undergo the emotional numbing that herderism requires, and our sense of celebrating our lives in an essentially benevolent and loving atmosphere is compromised if not completely shattered. With deep veganism, we grow to understand how all of us have been psychologically wounded by being born into this herding culture’s violent and materialistic way of living, and through this understanding, we reawaken our compassion not just for animals but also for other wounded people. As this happens, our tendency toward prejudice, blame, criticism, and trying to change others dissolves into a deeper yearning to show them love and respect, and to help them take the journey of healing that we are in the process of taking. A new sense of respect informs our advocacy efforts, and while we are still keenly aware of the misery and abuse inflicted by animal agriculture and the actions of indoctrinated and wounded people, we are grateful for the opportunity that we have daily to learn more, grow, and contribute our unique gifts to bring healing to our world.
We can realize that, because we are all wounded by our culture’s herderism and pervasive materialistic assumptions, we can cultivate a sense of solidarity with other people and a sense of compassion and understanding for them, even though they may be acting in ways with which we disagree. We see that the perpetrators are also victims. Hurt people hurt others. We all need healing and healing comes from love. Disrespect cannot heal disrespect; only respect and love can heal. The most effective contribution I can make is the effort to heal my consciousness, so that I am ever more authentically living the truth of veganism, which is kindness and understanding for all beings, including other human beings and myself.
Effective Advocacy As Self Awareness And Self-Liberation
The movement to liberate animals is the movement to liberate ourselves. This is the liberation movement that goes to the essential root of all our many problems, injustices, and crises, which is herderism, the mentality of materialism. It requires us to question the old dualistic way we have engaged in social campaigns—that we are right and they are wrong—and to honor the deeper truth that we share similar wounds and in healing them in ourselves, we help others to heal them in themselves.
It seems that a vegan movement is developing that is based increasingly on this understanding. As we take responsibility for changing the one being we each can change, we create a new foundation for embodying vegan values of respect for all. As more of us question the official story of materialism and strive to embody deep veganism, we are creating an unstoppable movement that will positively transform our world. Undertaking the challenging inner work to more fully embody the presence of loving understanding, we will attract and motivate others to take the same journey.
What is this inner work? Essentially, it is the practice of cultivating mindfulness and inner listening. Just as we’ve been relentlessly programmed by our culture, we’re called to be relentless in our effort to free ourselves from this conditioning. A regular and unrelenting inner practice of meditative openness, and of questioning the inner stories, concepts, and ongoing internal dialogue can liberate consciousness to glimpse its true nature. Through cultivating receptive awareness and inner stillness, we can realize that our consciousness is essentially free, pure, and vast, like the clear and unencumbered sky. Through this, we can see more clearly the clouds of conditioned thought and habit as they appear, and that we are not these clouds; we are the space of awareness in which they arise and to which they return. We see that we are not things nor are others ever things. We can discover directly the deeper truth that we are all manifestations of eternal consciousness, and the blinding spell of materialism and herderism begins to dissolve. Our relationship with ourself, and with other expressions of life is transformed. The roots of speciesism, racism, and other delusions are recognized as the programming of herderism’s materialist delusion, and as they dissolve we naturally see with new eyes and new hearts.
Veganism is far more than working for the rights of other animals. It calls us to a complete social transformation through transforming our attitudes, assumptions, and relationships at the deepest level. It’s the adventure of a lifetime to awaken our awareness and ever more deeply live the truth of our interconnectedness with all life. We can transform ourselves, and this transforms our advocacy efforts so that, in Walt Whitman’s words, “I and mine do not convince by arguments. We convince by our presence.” It’s not so much what we say; it’s how we say it and how congruent we are in manifesting the message we are conveying.
As individuals and as a movement, as we increase our capacity to embody veganism as kindness and respect for other human animals, our movement will become itself the change we’d like to see in the world, dramatically increasing our effectiveness. We will plant seeds of positive change in others with every word, intonation, and gesture, and, awakened from the dualistic materialism of herderism, others will change without our trying to change them. The heart of the vegan movement is education, and authentic education is self-discovery that takes place in a context of trust and respect. As vegans, our main effort is to embody veganism, connect with our intuitive wisdom, and let that guide our actions and interactions. From this can flow a profusion of campaigns, films, restaurants, books, blogs, websites, products, sanctuaries, music, art, and grassroots educational efforts that all embody the vegan message. As we let go of being attached to the fruits of our actions, we free others and ourselves. Not trying to change others, but to respect and understand, we become the space of authentic change and instigate it by sharing our experience, example, and insights. Ironically, this is what helps create lasting and empowering change in others. It also frees us as advocates from burnout, anger, and despair.
As vegans, we are most effective in our advocacy as we recognize this and inspire others through respectfully sharing our stories and perspectives, and healing herderism’s materialism within our consciousness and within our way of communicating and relating. As love, joy, and gratitude increasingly inform our thoughts, words, and actions, we naturally plant seeds of veganism wherever we go. The vegan (r)evolution of kindness, inclusion, and healing calls us to take the ongoing inner steps to deepen our veganism. Through this effort, we will become the people who can co-create the fundamental social and personal transformation that our positive future is calling from us.
Buckminster Fuller emphasized that the way to a positive future is not through fighting against an abusive and inefficient system or situation. Rather, it is to build an alternative that reflects the harmony, freedom, and integrity that we envision, and that naturally renders the existing system obsolete. Veganism is not merely a critique of a violent and outmoded system; it is living an inner and outer alternative that is nutritious, delicious, sustainable, healing, liberating, and positively transformational on every level. Each of us can contribute to it with our unique abilities and insights, and help heal the foundation of our relationships with the Earth, with other animals, and with each other.
The vegan wave is building and is irresistible because it is our true nature calling. May our words and example instigate the benevolent revolution that liberates animals and all of us from the herding delusion of materialism, healing our hearts so that we discover our purpose and celebrate our lives as we are intended to on this bountiful and beautiful Earth.
Dr. Will Tuttle is an award-winning visionary speaker, educator, author, and musician. A former Zen monk with a Ph.D. from U.C., Berkeley, and a vegan since 1980, his writings, music, and presentations focus on compassion, creativity, intuition, and the intersectionality of social justice, animal liberation, and environmental, health, spiritual, and peace issues.