Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
WHY I DON'T EAT FACES
A Neuro-Ethical Argument for Vegetarianism
It is precisely when we have a choice that vegetarianism becomes a moral issue.
I was sixteen years old when I consciously decided to give up eating meat. I still vividly remember the night when I made the vow. I was lying in bed looking out my window at the stars wondering about the mystery of the universe and God. The only problem was that I couldn't fall asleep. I had eaten too much junk food; that is, too many cokes, too many "M & M's," and too many hamburgers. It was right then, after feeling stuffed, plastic, and just plain sick to my stomach, when I decided to transform my diet. I said to myself, "Dave, you have to stop eating like this--you are going to kill yourself!"
I had read enough books in Indian philosophy, particularly Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, to know that vegetarianism was highly praised as both a morally cleansing diet and a healthy one as well. I never really did like the taste of meat all that much. I often wonder if most of us do. What I liked were the condiments, spices, and bread, which surrounded the meat. Hamburgers tasted good to me because of the ketchup, the mustard, the bun, the relish, the onions, and the atmosphere where they were served (getting out of my mother's home cooked meals was always an occasion for festivity and joy). Hot dogs were the same: what made them good was the spice within the meat, the mustard on it, and the bun that encased it. In that context, almost anything tastes good. However, my switch to vegetarianism was mostly motivated because of health reasons. I thought it might improve my wind for basketball and surfing. It was only later that my main motivation would be based on moral reasons. At first I gave up eating meat entirely. However, during the first few months I often broke down and ate fish and eggs.
About four months after my diet change, though, my brother Joseph was instrumental in permanently solidifying my vegetarian diet. There was a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (now coyly known as KFC, most likely to hide the "fried" aspect) in the fridge. I couldn't resist; I especially liked the skins, where, coincidentally, most of the flavor of is, so I tore off a few pieces, leaving the main fleshy part intact. My brother came in later and saw what I had done to his chicken. I can still hear his words in my head, "Good vegetarian you are, eating the skins of dead chickens!" His words had a great effect on my mind. I vowed never to eat any kind of meat again. Since that awkward moment in the kitchen, I have never broken that vow.
Thus, after about six months I was a full-fledged lacto-vegetarian. I ate vegetables, fruits, nuts, breadstuffs, and the like, but I did not partake of any kind of meat or the things that contained meat by-products--a more difficult task at first than it might seem. The list of foods that contain some type of meat is amazing!
Now, more than two decades later [around 1995], I feel quite healthy and fit, though I still suffer from occasional junk food binges (just can't seem to give up Coca-Cola). But, the real motivation behind my switch to vegetarianism is no longer health but morals. There is simply no good reason to eat meat, especially given our access to fresh foods. It is my strong opinion that most people who eat meat really do not think about what they are doing; rather, our culture is such that we have a tendency to do things out of habit, circumstance or peer pressure. It's not quite "in" to consciously choose to be a very small minority, even though 1/4 of the "other"
THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM
A Neuro-evolutionary Argument for Vegetarianism
Concerning the arguments for vegetarianism, it is no doubt a very controversial topic in this country and one which has tremendous moral world is abstaining from flesh. But, I hold that if people are presented with the simple logic behind vegetarianism most--if not all--would abstain from eating meat.
As Paul Brunton so rightly said in his Notebooks: "If there is any single cause for which I would go up and down the land on a twentieth century crusade, it is that of the meatless diet. It may be a forlorn crusade, but all the same, it would be a heart-warming one.”
However, when the issue of suffering and pain is raised we should keep in mind one fundamental question: how do we as humans feel pain? Given a purely materialistic response (and connecting to the intriguing work of Patricia Churchland in her book, Neurophilosophy, and Francis Crick's The Astonishing Hypothesis) it is fairly obvious how we feel pain: we have a central nervous system that governs what our bodies will feel and how they will react. Indeed, we can modulate the amount of pain we feel by obstructing our nervous system; we do this by administering certain drugs that alter ourbiochemistry as well as manipulating how our brain interprets nerve impulses. In our day-to-day world we are quite familiar with this: laughing gas, aspirin, Prozac, ad infinitum. We also know that when our central nervous system shuts down (when our focus point for consciousness and attention lacks the necessary fuel to keep it either awake or aware), the possibility for pain can be tremendously lessened. All of us, to greater of lesser degrees, have experienced the wide variances of pain.
Thus as humans we have no overriding tendency to eat other human beings, primarily, I would think, because we can empathize with their pain. Nobody seriously justifies eating humans for taste (just can't help myself, Uncle Bobby just looked so delicious) because we know that it is not worth our palate to put somebody through that kind of pain.
No doubt there are many other reasons why we don't eat humans, but in most day-to-day interactions we just wouldn't tolerate it. Now when it comes to animals we have been brought up not to empathize as much with them, especially if we never see them get killed for our dinner. But in certain cases we have a resistance to eating animals, particularly if they show higher brain functions (dolphins and apes immediately come to mind). I would hazard to guess that most people don't want to eat "Flipper" for lunch. This "resistance" to eating humans and to eating certain highly evolved species (and I am using "highly" here to denote complexity at the level of neural nets), I would suggest, is very telling indeed.
I think it is a lead that we should follow up with more scrutiny. If it is true that those species with central nervous systems are much more likely to feel pain because of their sophisticated receptors and inter-neuronal communicative powers, then it would seem easy and wise to me that we should try to avoid eating them. I don't say this because they have a soul (I am told that when I dance that I surely don't have one), but because of their capacity to "feel" pain.
Hence, we don't eat humans because we know what it is like to be human. We don't eat apes or dolphins because we "think" or "feel" that they are more akin to us via their intelligence. But my argument is this: if it is not necessary to eat things with central nervous systems in order to survive (and I am not arguing about exceptional cases here, only those who have options), then why do we persist in eating faces? I venture to assume that most people would never eat a dog if they really knew about its sophisticated neural components and how it does in fact feel pain. Indeed, most of us wouldn't eat them for other cultural reasons. But I think we are not being genuinely honest to our own sense of pain and the like when we simply ignore the evolutionary complexity which underlies various animals (and, in turn, their respective nervous systems which modulate sensation) and say that we can eat anything since it is morally acceptable. I agree that vegetarianism is not a fact of nature. If it were then we wouldn't be having this relative choice discussion. For instance, we are not arguing about whether one should breathe oxygen or not.
It is precisely when we have a choice that vegetarianism becomes a moral issue. We may not have an option about the fact of eating and drinking, but we most certainly have a choice about what kinds of foods we are going to eat. My hunch is that if we examine how our bodies evolved we will be much more sympathetic to those things which have developed via natural selection and the like the ability to "feel" pain via their central nervous systems. Then we will be much more willing through our scientific understanding, not necessarily our spiritual understanding, to let these creatures alone. Thus the vegetarian argument can be posed in a purely materialistic perspective: Is it necessary to eat animals to survive? Or, is it possible to live a life eating things that do not have a brain and which, by extension, do not have the material complexity to centralize pain? I think the answer, again, is pretty simple: Yes.
Thus, the vegetarian argument does not necessarily need a spiritual injunction at all. Indeed, I find the purely materialistic perspective to be very persuasive since it grounds our discussion in what we know about our own neuro-anatomies and what we know about the physical transmission of pain and its more sophisticated cousin--suffering.
Hence, we must ask ourselves a very pertinent question. If I can live on this planet without causing severe pain to animals, then should I avoid eating such creatures? If you don't buy the argument (we are not talking about religion or spirituality here), then the question arises about a trans-human species.
Imagine, if you will, that there are beings in the universe who are more intelligent than ourselves. For argument's sake, let us say that these beings (we'll call them transhumans) have a superior intelligence over us that is roughly equivalent to our intelligence over cows. These transhumans one day decide to visit our planet earth in search of new food sources (one is reminded here of that famous Twilight Zone episode called "To Serve Man") and since humans are an especially tasty delicacy, they justify eating us because we have such a low level of consciousness we can't feel pain the way transhumans do. Besides, they muse that their Divinely inspired computer programming book says that they have dominion over all the galaxies. They decide to slaughter as many humans as are needed to fill their wants. Now ask yourself a question, don't these transhumans have as much a right in killing us for food as we do in killing cows? What logic can a meat-eater give to these transhumans so that he/ she could avoid being killed?
Let's complicate the scenario a bit, making it more realistic to our relationship with cows. Now, naturally, the question is how could we convince these transhumans not to eat us. To be sure, we can simply say it is the "law of nature" (whatever that may mean), but that's exactly what we wouldn't do in a real case scenario. We can only hope for something fairly extraordinary; we can only hope that these transhumans would have a sophisticated understanding of neurophysiology and how pain is felt by animals (we are also animals) with central nervous systems. Imagine also that these transhumans cannot understand our speech, our language, our cries. So, like our misguided human philosopher, Descartes (who thought that animals did not "suffer"), these transhumans believe that we are "stupid." Thus, instead of empathizing with our pain, these transhumans explain it away: "Oh, don't worry about their neurophysiology and how they writhe in pain; they have a low level of awareness so it really isn't wrong."
Therefore, I am not suggesting that we are meant to be vegetarians by some law or dictate of nature; we are, it seems to me, omnivores if we are anything (keep in mind that there are people who have eaten bicycles and other strange things). But precisely because we can eat almost anything makes the issue of vegetarianism all the more pertinent--it is a choice.
Should we make choices on the basis of our tongue? Or should we make choices based upon an evolving understanding of our own bodies and how such complex structures receive pain? If we opt for the former, we have no vision of anything beyond us or before us; if we opt for the latter, we can at least say that we are worthy of being called an intelligent species--animals who thought beyond their own self-interests.
THE HUMAN HEART
An Emotional Manifesto for Compassion
The argument is a simple one: if someone came over to your house and killed your wife or husband or mother or father or sister or brother or a close friend and then decided to eat them (for graphic detail let's say they wanted to put them on the barbecue), how would you feel? How would you react?
Now let's imagine if someone came over to your house and killed your favorite pet animal-- Bowser, the dog, or Won Ton, the cat--and put them in the microwave oven to eat. What is your reaction now? Okay, instead of killing another human being or an animal, if someone came over to your house and took an apple out of your backyard and ate it, how would you feel? If you jot down your reactions on a piece of paper, you will notice a clear and drastic disparity between each circumstance. Why? The answer is so self-evident to most people that the question of "why?" never arises.
Naturally, there is a qualitative difference between human life and animal life, and, in turn, animal life and plant life. But what does not arise in most people's mind is why? Why eat animals at all if there is absolutely no necessity to do so? Moreover, most humans, especially children raised on farms who adopt animals such as cows and horses as friends, find the idea of eating one's pet particularly abhorrent. ["You mean to tell me we are eating Spot for dinner because we ran out of hamburger meat?"] Yet, just because an animal does not have a "name" to it does not mean it is designed to be killed and eaten. The logic behind pets is convoluted and typical of an unthinking (one is tempted to say pre-rational) society. If the dog has a name don't eat it and if the cat is called "Fluffy" it has special privileges, but if the cow comes wrapped in a Big Mac Bun it is dinner.
Regardless of the overwhelming health and economic reasons in favor of vegetarianism, the single most important reason to abstain from eating meat is moral. Our emotional reactions provide us with a glimpse into how we should eat in a civilized society. You don't get terribly upset if Bob, the next-door neighbor, comes over and eats one of your bananas, but you would get sickened if he ate your dog for lunch. It is not simply an issue over human attachment--there is no overriding predisposition in humans to domesticate fruits as dear and warm companions ("Yes, it is true, carrots are man's best friend")—but the complexity principle underlying the evolution of life forms.
Higher forms of life, or those with sophisticated central nervous systems, should not be eaten, particularly when there is no compulsory need to do so. Nobody, except in rare cases, needs to resort to eating animal flesh to survive. But despite the abundance of primary proteins found in plant life, human beings (especially in the West and especially in the United States) persist in slaughtering millions and millions of animals (not to mention fish and other evolved life forms) for the sake of money and the palate. I personally find it both ironic and sad that as humans we can denounce the horrors of the Holocaust (one of the greatest crimes ever perpetuated by humans against humans) at countless conferences, while at the same time enjoy eating a steak while we discuss Auschwitz. The blinders are everywhere and we do not see past them. Yet, what about the economy, the inconvenience, the nectar burger at Bob's Big Boy? Transformation. It comes down to individuals simply transforming the way they look at animals and the way they look at food. Let me give you a few grotesque examples that may in themselves demonstrate how we blind ourselves to the facts.
1. There's a live cow outside your door right now. Go "french kiss" with him/her. That is, suck the juices off the cow's moist tongue. Do it for about ten minutes. Pretty sick, huh? Now most of my readers, if they are still with me on this, will find this to be a silly analogy. [Come on, Lane, nobody would go kiss a cow.] But, ask yourself, isn't it strange that we live in a society where it is considered normal to "eat" cow tongue for dinner? See if you can follow the logic of this one: "Sucking a living cow's tongue is grotesque, but eating a dead one is a delicacy."
2. Okay, you don't like cow's tongue and have never tried it. How about putting your knife and fork into the "meaty" side of the cow. That's right, go right up to the cow while it is still alive and stab out a chunk. Doesn't work? Why? The cow runs away every time. This brings up a classic adage that says a lot about what kinds of foods we should eat as humans: "In general, don't eat things which cannot be eaten raw; and don't eat things which run away from you."
3. Let's give the cow a rest for a moment. What about eating other creatures, like fish, birds, chicken, or your pet rodent? Now if you cannot eat a cow while it is alive (without risking innumerable diseases and indigestion from running with your meal), you are also going to have a tough time eating a turkey that's trotting away from your knife. Do you really want to kill these kinds of creatures for your lunch? ["Dinner time, sis, let's butcher Athena, the dog, she's been barking too much in the morning anyway."] The indisputable fact is that most of the meat we eat is disguised. It is no longer an animal who enjoyed life just like you and me (albeit nameless), but a covered-up, dressed-up, transfigured dead substance we call "tasty." We don't eat dead animals; we eat "steak," "ham," "tacos." The cow didn't have a name when she was alive, but she surely gets one when she is slaughtered: "Gee, that was an excellent filet mignon." This brings up another cardinal principle about eating: Don't eat things that once had a mother.
Unthinking, unemotional, and unattached.
Imagine that you were born an animal, not a human. Now try to explain to your captor that you do not desire to be eaten. What language can you use, since you don't possess any? What hand gestures can you invoke, since you don't have dexterity in your fingers? Feel trapped, feel caught, and feel helpless? That's the bottom line; everything else is just heartless justification.
To be sure, the emotional argument will be assailed, will be plundered, will be lost, but the animals we now eat so "reasonably" will be still living. If I were to be the meal of a would-be transhuman, I would only hope (no doubt, non- rationally) that it would have a sense of compassion for those creatures less than itself.
Emotional arguments lack force, some philosophers argue, since they do not rely on logic and reasoning. Moreover, emotional pleas often tend to confuse and impart human feelings upon creatures that lack them. This may or may not be true, but one thing is certain: even if one's sympathetic pleas do not hold up in the court of rationality more animals will be alive today who will not suffer under human hands if we listen carefully, even if blindly, to the dictates of the human heart.
The moral imperative behind vegetarianism is precisely this: To imagine the pain of an animal and then to ask yourself one straightforward question: Do I need to kill it in order to live? And, if you do not need to eat animals to live a good life, then ask yourself the following, and perhaps more pertinent, questions: Is slaughtering a cow, beheading a chicken, or hooking a fish necessary? Is my palate the driving force behind my ethical values? Do I really want to chew on a pig's butt?
Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. --Albert Einstein
A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. --Leo Tolstoy
1. Shortly before that time I remember the last piece of fish I ate. I was in La Jolla, surfing with my friends, when one of their parents asked us to go to the Chart House for dinner. The social pressure was such (at least in my own head) that I succumbed and ate some halibut. But this incident was a good lesson for me early on about the ins and outs of turning vegetarian. First, to be strict on the diet is simply not a matter of discipline, it is a matter of moral consistency. Second, peer pressure is no excuse for breaking a vow or succumbing to the whims of other people's wishes. Character is molded in such cases.
2. A strict vegetarian has to avoid mostly junk food products and fast- food chains. Donuts, cakes, some breads, most candy bars, rich ice cream, etc., have eggs; Mexican food, including simple dishes like rice, fast food French fries, and a large number of crackers and cookies have animal protein and fat. The difficulty for the vegetarian is not avoiding the products--it is learning how to read extremely small print and understanding that technical names often betray their real origins (e.g., Vitamin D3 is usually derived from fish liver oil).
3. The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, Volume Four (New York: Larson Publications, 1986), page 36. Brunton writes at length about the virtues of a vegetarian diet; some of his passages are gems of wisdom, especially in illustrating the cruelty of eating meat. As Brunton aptly points out: "A meatless diet has practical advantages to offer nearly everyone. But to idealists who are concerned with higher purposes it has even more to offer. On the moral issue alone it tends to lessen callousness to the sufferings of others, men or animals, and to increase what Schweitzer called "reverence for life." (Ibid., page 36).
4. I am purposely leaving out the word suffering, since it involves too many assumptions that may dilute the simplicity of this argument.
5. Please remember that we are talking about our current situation and not necessarily hypothetical instances of the past or future. This question is posed in the here and now to those who have access to a wide variety of foodstuffs.
6. I understand that there are mitigating circumstances where one would opt to eat flesh. But if such conditions are absent, as they are for most individuals, then why not opt to lessen inducing pain?
7. I am sure that this analogy will be heavily criticized by a number of readers as being a gross simplification. However, I don't think it is: we love to talk about non-violence, a nuclear free world, save the whales, New Age peace, and point the finger at all the horrors human beings have done in the name of country and religion. But right now, in our own lives, we could help prevent the slaughter of literally hundreds of animals by turning vegetarian. It is roughly estimated that a meat-eater takes in his body about 100 plus animals in his lifetime (give or take a few, depending on your appetite). Why not cut those figures in half or eliminate it altogether? The burden of proof is not on the vegetarian--it is on the meat-eater. What good, moral reasons are there to eat animals?
8.Talking about justification, when I was composing this article on the computer, I left a copy of it inadvertently in the computer room. Someone picked it up and read through it, making comments in the margins. I think his comments are interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is his following assertion: "You've got problems!" He goes on: The difference between man and animal is spiritual. God gave man a soul and the Bible makes a clear distinction between animal and man flesh. This does not mean that I disagree with vegetarianism; I just don't like your arguments. By the way, I'm a Christian, my father a game warden, and I love animals. As a matter of fact I enjoy the company of most animals over most people, but I put a great deal more value on human than animal life for many reasons. . . I cannot but worry about your frame of mind when you make these arguments." Needless to say, I think the nameless reader has misread the intention of the article. To value animal life is not to dishonor human life--quite the contrary. Rather, if we can learn to respect the lives of creatures who lack the resources of human beings, I think we will show all the more dignity to the human race. And, as humans, we may finally become worthy of the title: Homo sapiens. Vegetarianism is merely the means, not the end, in a long process towards moral living.
9. The tone of this article may turn off a number of readers. First, it may sound as if I have somehow cornered the market on truth. Second, it may wrongly suggest that vegetarianism is the sum-total of morality. To correct these possible misinterpretations, I should point out that man has a spectrum of moral possibilities: ranging from the extreme example of a Jain monk, who will sweep the street before he walks so as not to inadvertently kill any insects (and who will wear a face mask around his mouth so that he will be constantly reminded not to say anything which is not truthful and kind to his fellow human beings) to the fundamentalist zealot who is willing to kill and be killed in the name of his/her "God." Naturally, non-violence is an ideal we should all strive for--be it in the affairs of human relationship or of human to animal interaction. Where we draw the line (e.g., I won't eat meat, but I will eat fish; I won't eat fish, but I will eat eggs; I won't eat eggs, but I will take milk products; I won't take milk, but I will use soap and other animal related products; ad infinitum) is, of course, entirely a personal matter. But the direction or aim of that choice is not. As I once mentioned to my classes in Death and Dying, who would you rather meet down a dark alley: a peaceful, extremely non-violent Jain monk or a fundamentalist, extremist, militant Catholic from the Spanish Inquisition upset with your heretical views? Thus, we should at least be moving in the direction of non-violence, whether or not it is possible for us at this stage of the game to be a full fledged Gandhian. The first step on this road, I would argue, is to stop eating animals. The payoff is amazing: better health, better attitude, and more friends in the wild kingdom.
Not surprisingly, the only major objection I have with Crick's book, The Astonishing Hypothesis, is his section, albeit brief, on animal testing. Writes Crick,
"Even if new methods are devised, so that much better neuroanatomy can be done on humans, there are still many key experiments that can only be performed on animals. Most of these experiments produce little if any pain, but when they are over (in some cases they may last for months), it is usually necessary to sacrifice the animal, again quite painlessly. The animal rights movement is surely correct in insisting that animals be treated humanely, and as a result of their efforts animals in laboratories are now looked after somewhat better than they were in the past. But it is sentimental to idealize animals. The life of an animal in the wild, whether carnivore or herbivore, is often brutal and short compared to its life in captivity. Nor is it reasonable to claim that since both animals and humans are "part of Nature" that they should be entitled to exactly equal treatment. Does a gorilla really deserve a university education? It demeans our unique human capabilities to insist that animals should be treated precisely the same way as human beings. They should be certainly handled humanely, but it shows a distorted sense of values to put them on the same level as humans."
How many neurons does an animal need in order to have its life not terminated for scientific research?
Here Crick's reasoning is not only fallacious (granting a gorilla entrance rights to the University of California is one thing; killing him or her is quite another), but also ethnocentric to the extreme. If, as Crick argues, we are nothing more than sophisticated neural chemistry, then how many neurons does an animal need in order to have its life not terminated for scientific research? One hundred thousand? One million? Crick's argument is inane, especially when we consider that our DNA code is almost identical (99%) to that of chimpanzees. Sorry about that "cheetah," but you are one percent shy on the genetic test. Off to the death camps for you! Our use of the word laboratory, from the living perspective of the animal, is simply a euphemism for incarceration, occasional torture, and death. I would love to see how Crick would plead his case to a species (exo-biological in origin, presumably) which had a more developed brain than himself. He probably couldn't communicate to them, though, since they most likely would not understand his "primitive" cry. Poor human, not enough neurons--off to the "laboratory" for him.
Must it be stated so simply? Let's show compassion whenever and wherever we can. Crick's claim that animal activists have misplaced values because they don't want to eat animals or put them through a series of stressful tests illustrates just how blinded we are by our own species driven logic (or, drivel, depending upon your perspective). To persist, like Crick does here, in justifying the killing of animals seems so shortsighted and so egocentric, especially when we now have the options in our day to day lives to eat vegetarian food and be more healthy. And why not come up with new and innovative ways to test our drugs instead of resorting so quickly and so easily, as we do, with hapless animals that have literally no choice over the issue?
We don't first perform studies and tests on human beings because we think that it is unethical; then, why not show a bit more empathy with those animals which also have central nervous systems and which also have the capacity to feel pain? True it may cause a little inconvenience and it may cost more money, but wouldn't we want a transhuman species to show us the same kind of consideration? It is man's sympathy with all creatures that first makes him truly a man.
ADDENDUM: Increasing the Circle of Compassion
It is one of those illuminating coincidences that an older religious system, appealing to an outdated model of differential elements and their respective place in the cosmos, could prehend a more sophisticated scientific understanding of sentience in animals and human beings, which would ultimately provide more (not less) fodder for turning vegetarian. The two citations below illustrate how a pre-scientific intuition and observation can dovetail with a more quantified and precise rational measurement.
“A moral system based on continuous rather than categorical thinking gives us a biological and evolutionary foundation for the expansion of the moral sphere to include nonhuman animals, based on objective criteria of genetic relatedness, cognitive abilities, emotional capacities, moral development, and especially the capacity to feel pain and suffer. This is, in fact, what it means to be a sentient being, and for this reason I worded the first principle of this science-based moral system as the survival and flourishing of sentient beings. But which sentient beings, and which rights? Instead of thinking of animals in categorical terms of “us” and “them,” we can think in continuous terms from simple to complex, from less to more intelligent, from less to more aware and self-aware, and especially from less to more sentient.
“There are five such classes of substances. According to their classification, under class one, came all of those creatures in whom all five of these substances are active, that is, man. In the next class came those in which only four substances are active and one dormant, and that is quadrupeds. In them there is no sense of discrimination, because in them the Akash Tattwa is dormant. In the third class fell creatures in which only three substances are active, namely air, water, and fire. They are birds. They lack earth and Akash. The fourth class is made up of insects, in which only two substances are active, air and fire. Then comes the last class, the fifth, in which only one element or substance is active, that is, the vegetable world. In them, water is the only active element. Experts have proved that, in many vegetables, there is as much as ninety-five percent water. When the creatures of the other four classes are killed or injured, they cry out in pain, but not so the vegetables, though they have life. So the Sages concluded that the eating of vegetables was the least sinful, (the least burdened with karma). Although the eating of vegetables produced some karma, yet it was of a light nature, which could be easily worked off by spiritual exercises. They thus chose the course of least resistance, and so abstained from the killing of other forms of life.” SAWAN SINGH ON VEGETARIANISM (early 20th century)