By Dr. Will Tuttle
What is compassion? An inherent potential within us all, compassion isn’t merely a warm-hearted feeling of empathy for the suffering of others. It is also the determined, sustained, and practical resolve to do whatever is possible to relieve their suffering. For this reason, compassion is often referred to as the highest form of love, rousing us to action on behalf of others, and flowing out of our felt sense of interconnectedness. What a blessed miracle compassion is—though it’s often unrecognized by our culture’s materialistic orientation to health and economics.
I’ve come to realize that the natural development of compassion in children is short-circuited, unfortunately, by forcing them to participate in meat-based meals. The subtext of these meals is one of systematically excluding certain animals from the sphere of our compassion and moral concern. In our daily food rituals, beings are systematically reduced to things. Participating in these rituals instills in all of us the mentality of exclusion, reductionism, and disconnectedness that is the antithesis of compassion. Pervasive and largely unconscious, I believe this is the hidden root of disease. Our routine and unnecessary violence toward billions of animals for food is the unrecognized disaster churning relentlessly at the core of our culture, causing much of the physical, social, psychological, and environmental illness we see in our world.
Compassion brings healing, because whenever we wake up from this acculturated consensus trance that sees beings merely as things to be used, we become more alive, more aware, and more filled with what the ancients called Sophia: the wisdom of intuiting the interconnectedness that underlies the apparent outward separateness. As Sophia awakens in us, bringing wisdom, compassion, and healing, we naturally become more conscious about our food habits, and as we eat more living, plant-based foods, and less of the inherently cruel animal-based foods, we experience healing, both physically and on the deeper causal levels of our being. As we begin to care more deeply about the Earth, animals, other people, and ourselves, we evolve spiritually to an awareness that there is much more to life than our cultural programming has revealed.
We might find people saying to us, “Hey, you can eat how you like, but don’t tell me what to eat!” We realize how ironic this is. The only reason any of us in our culture eats animal-based foods is because we’re dutifully following orders dictated since infancy by every institution in our culture: family, media, religion, government, education, and business. I don’t remember my parents telling me that I could freely choose whether to eat the first little blobs of meat they presented to me, or that they explained to me that they were the flesh of pigs and turkeys who had been confined their entire lives and killed in terror and pain. I don’t remember my school teachers helping me to understand that fish are highly intelligent, social creatures with the same pain receptors we have, and I don’t remember my minister pontificating about the suffering of dairy cows, whose babies are serially stolen from them so we can steal their milk, or the TV informing me of the nightmarish conditions endured by chickens on egg-production facilities. I was never given a choice and was forced into complicity, completely oblivious to the repercussions of my actions. Without awareness, how could I ever practice compassion?
The exquisite beauty and potential of our brief adventure on this Earth is that we can grow, evolve, and awaken to greater capacities of love and wisdom. We can become a force for spreading freedom, peace, and healing. With any inner healing, there will be outer healing, and with any healing, there will be change. With any meaningful change, there will be risk. We may find ourselves possibly losing relationships because we no longer eat the same way, and because we no longer respond predictably to the pervasive social conditioning.
We find, though, that we are connected to a deeper source of joy and inner peace, and new friendships can emerge. As we bring our lives into alignment with the truth we have discovered, and the compassion that has grown in our heart, we realize that the rewards are worth far more than what we risked. At a deep level, our self-esteem returns. Newfound joyfulness blossoms in our heart and we sense it directly: awareness, compassion, healing—these three are inseparable sisters. Cultivating one cultivates the others. We are all connected, and the more deeply we are aware of this and strive to live it, the more healing we experience, and the more we bless others. Cultivating compassion is an essential and often unrecognized key to wellness. It’s never too late to begin practicing it! As we bless others, we are blessed.
Dr. Will Tuttle, pianist, composer, educator, and author, presents lectures, workshops, and concerts throughout North America. Author of the acclaimed best-seller, The World Peace Diet, he is a recipient of the Courage of Conscience Award, and is the co-founder of Circle of Compassion ministry. A vegan since 1980, he is a Dharma Master in the Zen tradition, and has created eight CD albums of uplifting original piano music. For further information, please see his book The World Peace Diet. A self-paced online study of these issues is now available, as is training to facilitate World Peace Diet study groups: www.worldpeacemastery.com.