Those of us on the spiritual path are called to live as one and love everyone. We value nonviolence and work to manifest a world of peace, free of exploitation and oppression. We envision a sustainable world, capable of feeding everyone. None of us would deliberately hurt an innocent person or animal. We want connection, love, and oneness.
That’s why I believe we are all vegans in process. Veganism, in its purest form, is a conscious way of living that recognizes the inherent right of all sentient beings to not be exploited.
Veganism is also a process of becoming. My process began in childhood and continues today as an evolving spiritual practice. As a young girl, I loved all creatures. I had a collection of animals: cats, dogs, turtles, rabbits, fish, mice, rats and guinea pigs. I could not understand killing for sport and agonized about the suffering of any animal. I even saved the caterpillars and worms I saw on the sidewalk from the impending doom of passersby. I felt a profound connection to all beings, knowing they were part of God’s Creation, each with its own purpose.
I also ate meat. I particularly loved my grandma’s turkey soup. I enjoyed marinated roast, fried chicken, corned beef and hamburgers. Dishes like leg of lamb – despite its obviously named body part – seemed normal. I gave no thought to where they came from. Like nearly everyone, I was indoctrinated into a system of eating animals.
We do as our culture does, with little reflection or consent. Throughout time, our favorite flavors become intricately entwined with traditions and memories. For example, partaking of my grandma’s turkey soup always seemed to invoke her spirit.
However, I neglected to think about the turkey.
The Process of Awakening
It took years for me to awaken to my own hypocrisy. How could I love my cat and dog and eat the flesh and wear the skins of a cow or pig? They all have intelligence and the same capacity for joy and suffering.
Awakening is rough and requires peeling back many layers. Doing the deep work and discovering behaviors that contradict our beliefs and values is part of the path to wholeness. We say we are love and want peace, but our plates are filled with violence. Do we ever pause and ask ourselves why?
Many of us were taught that God gave us animals for food. However, Genesis 1:29 says, “I give you every seed-bearing plant for food.” Many people were taught we need meat for protein, but getting protein directly from plants is easy. Many people were also told that eating animals is justified because we’ve always done it. However, when has history justified the continuation of something we’ve outgrown?
Our world has changed dramatically since our ancestors’ hunting-for-survival days. With healthy plant-based options now widespread, what once may have been a necessity is now a preference. Today, at least in the developed world, we can live well without harming other beings. So why don’t we?
When I was 15 years old, I woke up enough to declare myself a vegetarian. The year was 1973, and without role models or outside inspiration, I finally felt ready to take the important step toward living in alignment with my values. However, I was still a long way from being fully integrated.
When I found Unity, a refreshingly inclusive and positive Christian denomination in which I would later become an ordained minister, I was ecstatic to discover a place that taught universal love, oneness and peace. It was freeing to learn that we are fundamentally creative beings, gifted with divine powers and untethered by thoughts and beliefs from the past. In addition, Unity’s founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, were ethical vegetarians, concerned about the plight of animals. I was at home.
Spirit then guided me to the book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, by Matthew Scully. Dominion delivered a blunt, two-by-four of raw, painful awareness. It uncovered realities I simply had not known, including the large-scale cruelty (even under the best of circumstances) of factory farming and the methods involved in turning the bodies of living, sentient animals into meat, and using their reproductive systems to produce milk and eggs.
Previously, I hadn’t realized that young egg-laying hens and milk-producing cows were slaughtered when their production levels declined. I also hadn’t known that calves were taken from their mothers, denied the milk designed for them, and that male chicks of egg-laying hens were cruelly destroyed after hatching. I bore witness online to horrifying practices, seeing for myself the frightened and depressed faces of these innocent animals and how painfully de-sensitized the workers were to the value of life.
I was now wide awake.
With new knowledge comes the opportunity to choose differently. My next step was to transition to veganism. This was a big move because dairy and eggs had been staples of my diet for 40 years.
However, any habit can be changed when we put spiritual principles to work. Within us are the powers of release (the ability to let go of old thoughts, beliefs and habits), will (the ability to make new choices), and strength (the ability to stay the course). These powers help us to become better versions of ourselves. Soon I preferred my new choices instead of the old and not surprisingly, my health improved. I was now in closer alignment with who I said I was.
More awaited me. Throughout the years, I had simply outgrown my decades-old, quiet, personal-choice approach. Spirit called me higher, to be a voice for animals and awaken others to unity for all. At first, I resisted this calling like a headstrong child, because the social tide of normalized violence toward animals was enormous, a Goliath. However, Unity’s founders also faced this Goliath. The Unity Archives include mounds of their original, largely forgotten teachings that connect our relationship with animals to universal love, spiritual development, and world peace. The Fillmores were pioneers of social change and helped people awaken to love in a bigger way. In putting their beliefs into action, they established Kansas City’s first vegetarian restaurant, distributed healthy meat alternatives through the Unity Pure Food Company, and published Bibles bound in a leather alternative.
I, too, could be a voice for the voiceless. It was just ministry, after all. The same ministry I was already doing – teaching oneness, universal love, nonviolence and the Golden Rule – but widening the circle to include everyone, not just humans.
Eventually we will all be in the circle…until there is no circle. Only unity.
Rev. Carol Saunders, is an ordained Unity and interfaith minister, founder and host of The Spiritual Forum, a podcast ministry in Chicago, and Wolf and the Lamb online ministry dedicated to awakening the world one soul at a time to the Universal Truth that we are all One; and co-organizer of the upcoming Vegan Spirituality Forum and Retreat at Unity Village, 2020 Vision: A World That Works for All. To learn more, please visit thespiritualforum.org/retreat. Rev. Saunders is also author of the booklet The Forgotten Teachings of Charles Fillmore: How Our Relationship with Animals Connects to Universal Love, Ethical Living, Spiritual Development and World Peace. (Note: This article originally appeared in Unity Magazine, July/August 2020 issue.)