On our vegan social network, VeganTalk, there seems to be more and more discussion and crossover between the subjects of veganism and spirituality. In fact, one of our members started a group called “Vegan Spirituality.” Based on the discussions in that group, it is clear that some vegans see a strong link between a vegan lifestyle and spirituality, particularly in relation to the Eastern concept of “Non-Harm” or in Sanskrit, “Ahimsa.” As a central tenet in the religions of Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism, Ahimsa refers to the avoidance of harming any living being, even unknowingly, as an expression of compassion, and to avoid karmic repercussions in this and future lives. I would offer that the Christian ethic “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a statement of the same.
Veganism has as it’s core ethical value the abstinence of harm to animals, and this practice certainly falls within the broader conceptual framework of Ahimsa. It is a more specific and limited idea in that the focus is on animals primarily, but many vegans would argue that as we become aware of our connection to animals and avoid participating in harm to them, we also broaden our connection to all living beings and the Earth as a whole. Veganism does seem to have a broad reach in the individual psyche as well as the collective psyche, which is manifested by equal concern for the environment, animals and human beings. The key is connection. As we connect with animals through our sense of their pain and maltreatment, we experience true empathy. We can see ourselves through them. We can imagine what it would be like to be in their place. We have compassion for them. As we change our habits and practices to stop participating in perpetrating their pain and maltreatment, we open ourselves up to a broader compassion for not only animals, but for ourselves, for the Earth, and for all living beings. The sense of connectedness creates wholeness in us, and wholeness is at the heart of spirituality.
The other aspect of this connectedness is an increasing awareness of continuity within time. Past, present and future are brought into focus in such a way that actions in the present take on awareness and consciousness of their connection to the past and consequences for the future. As we perpetrate harm to animals (and to others) in the present, we set in motion harm to ourselves both individually and collectively in the future. Wholeness encompasses time and beyond, and every action is seen within that whole.
I am defining spirituality here not in terms of a Godhead, but more a practice of Oneness, Wholeness and Connectedness. It is not so much a religion or religious practice, but a psychology that goes beyond human separateness and fragmentation. As we move toward wholeness, we are seeing everything as part of something more. We begin to really feel our interdependence and our actions must follow and support us all. Veganism is a part of this quest, and as such, it does have a strong spiritual element.