I was cooking two chickens at work the other day, the fellow who usually does the cooking not being around, and I can't even begin to explain how horrible I found it looking at those poor plucked and beheaded creatures sitting on the baking tray in front of me with their legs tied together. Some readers may think my views are extreme (as I would theirs, in reverse), but to me they'd been murdered, those chickens, and they had just as much of a right to life as you or I. The method used to slaughter chickens for human consumption is ghastly too, adding sadism and torture into the mixture, until murder actually seems too tame a word to describe what happens to them. I can't refuse to do the cooking, though. That is part of my job. And I'm preparing food for people who are meat eaters, and are unable for various reasons to prepare meals for themselves.
I told the Muslim man I was on duty with how revolting I found the experience of preparing the chickens for dinner.
"I wonder what it does for my karma to be a part of this," I said (this bloke knows I'm a Buddhist, and we have had many stimulating conversations about the differences between our respective faiths).
"All Buddhists are vegetarian, aren't they?" he asked.
"No, but in countries wealthy enough not to have to rely on meat consumption for survival vegetarianism is advised," says I. "I'm afraid I might reincarnate as a chicken and be cooked by a fat hippie."
"Do you believe animals reincarnate because of karma?" he asked, seeming mildly surprised.
Well, yes. The Dalai Lama even says that all sentient beings were once your mother. So when you baste a chicken, you're effectively basting Mummy.
I find it really difficult to understand any philosophy that allows us, as human beings, the right to use and abuse other creatures just because (I presume) they aren't as intelligent as we are. By the same token, couldn't I murder half the people who'll be walking up and down Abington Street when I leave this cafe? take their carcasses home and cook them for dinner? After all, they won't have read Dante or Shakespeare or Baudelaire or Lao Tzu like I have.
Most of the people whose friendship I cherish are meat-eaters so I don't want to pursue that argument too far. But on a relatively objective level, seeing animals as ours to exploit and dispose of freely is a kind of fascism. Though a desperate man will do anything he has to, just like a hungry badger.