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Religion and Animals
The Animal Liberation Movement and Global
By Dr. Mira Foung
Like many seekers on the spiritual path, my journey is a
continuous quest for meaningfulness. From the sixties to the nineties, came a
succession of social reformations, including the anti-nuclear and feminist
movements, and finally the environmental and animal liberation movements. Slowly
we see the extension of justice and equality to include less privileged groups.
Living a spiritual life usually includes meditation, yoga practice and study of
scriptures. Aligned with the abundant availability of esoteric paths, there is
also a revival of ancient healing systems that focus on personal well-being.
There is a danger of turning the systems into ego-nurturing spiritual
materialism, fixated on healing the physical self rather than healing our mother
earth that is now endangered.
It is common among the spiritual seekers to hold a rigid attitude that spiritual
life and social activism are mutually exclusive. It is easy to be enveloped in
practices to achieve euphoric serenity, but somehow the path of the heart is
missing. A heart pulsing in kinship and unity with all living beings; the
capacity to care is the very sustenance of spirituality.
We have forgotten that before the popularization of ancient wisdom, forest
dwelling sages and seers knew that nature and all of its creations holds our
true cosmic identity. Their hearts were spellbound by the awesome forces of
nature and the animals wandered around them.
Unfortunately, today animals are still not allowed to enter places of worship.
The fallacy is deep in our consciousness, animals are shunned as inferior and
insignificant. As one species among billions on the planet, we humans are
unwilling to acknowledge the fact that all creatures are interconnected in the
spiritual evolution; this is the true meaning of holism.
In the effort for self-realization, one must honestly acknowledges the
tremendous injustice around us. The personal endeavor for spiritual awakening
should include direct social action such as Mahatma Gandhi illuminated through
his non-violent movement, for humans as well as other animals. He said: " I hold
that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man
from cruelty of man."
Facing the holocaust of the animal kingdom from human encroachment on the
natural world, the nineties can be rightly called the age of exploitation. An
age of embarrassment, culturally and spiritually. The crisis of the planet is
our own spiritual crisis. We have gone astray with a civilization of human
primacy which caused great suffering to billions of animals; in the factory
farms, laboratories, marine worlds, circuses and everywhere else.
The explosive development of transgenic science is the ultimate exploitation of
animals. Those gentle creatures that are labeled as farm animals are now being
further "pharmed" through genetic engineering, causing them to suffer from a
wide range of deformities. Genetically altered lab animals are also being
subjected to many invasive experiments. The awareness of these facts can perhaps
shock us into a painful reality that calls for urgent action. Buddha himself was
awakened by confronting the enormous suffering of the sentient beings. Such pain
gave rise to the whole Buddhist path for liberation.
What is spirituality? The best definition that I know of is found in the book
The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski. "Spirituality is the capacity to extend
one's own awareness to a larger universe". One of the spiritual experience I had
was when my dog Mitra was dying. I took him to his beloved Sangre de Cristo
Mountains and there, as his true home, I laid him down in the soft grass among
the Aspen trees. I saw the magic of death unfolded as his body became lighter
and lighter as if he allowed his corporeal existence to enter the magic of
transformation. He was ready to abandon the density of his animal form for the
final reunion with the great mystery.
As Homo sapiens, we are beginning to examine our own moral and spiritual
consistency. Animal liberation is human liberation. Every tree, every rock,
every animal should be an object of reverence, this was how our ancestors lived.
To guard the rights of nature and animals can serve as our own passage to
What is the spiritual practice of an activist? It begins with cultivation of
voluntary simplicity, freeing up time devoting to higher cause. Also, following
an ethical vegetarian diet, and living with a sense of humility as being part of
the earth selves, adopting the principle of non-harming. Our personal life style
should become a statement for what we believe. Such compassionate services are
not different from any religious precepts East or West.
The path of the Bodhisattva's great compassion is to hear the cries of all
living beings and come to their rescue. With the same intent, the animal
liberation movement wants to abolish any form of exploitation of animals by way
of political action and public education. Seeing the suffering of animals face
to face is a window into our conditioning that causes our own suffering. Our
destiny and our joy are deeply linked with their destiny and joy. This is
Mira Foung, born in Shanghai, China, is a doctor of oriental medicine (D.O.M.)
with a clinical practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico for over twenty years. Dr.
Foung also has a degree in philosophy with graduate studies in filmmaking. She
is a published poet, a painter and a writer on Eco- philosophy, spirituality,
environmental and animal protection issues (both in the US and in Taiwan). Her
writings are original, visionary and lyrical.
Her writings include four collections of mystical poetry - Island Poems I and
II, Desert Poems and The Approaching Snow as well as three collections of essays
and articles - The Authenticity of Existence, Voice for The Voiceless and My
Heart Blossoms As I Utter These Words. She regards herself as a cultural
innovator (for countering the global effects of commercialism and consumerism)
and a spokesperson for the animals and the Earth.
Along with her own academic studies in Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism, she has
also been inspired by many other spiritual teachings. These include the direct
path of J. Krishnamurti, which she studied while she lived in Ojai, California
for six years, the Vedantic meditation of Ramana Maharshi, the integral and
evolutionary yogic system of Sri Aurobindo, the writings of Thomas Merton and
Thoreau, the mystical and anarchistic writings of Simone Weil, the poetry of
Rilke, the ecstatic poems of Rumi and Hafiz, the deep ecology movement and most
importantly, Peter Singer, professor of bioethics, whose revolutionary ideas on
our collective conscience changed her life forever.
Dr. Foung is a natural healer, her practice aims at not only healing the
individual but also at healing the wounded Earth. The main message in all her
writings is restoring the wild wholeness in our fragmented life and to live
authentically. She also teaches meditation as tools to un-pollute our inner
environment for world peace and offers spiritual consolation based on
evolutionary principle with a transpersonal approach that incorporates Taoist
cosmology and Buddhism as well as the organic view of life based on the process
philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.