On a blessed afternoon in August 2009 in Bangalore, a *Peas v/s Pills seminar had introduced us to an audio CD entitled, “Living in Harmony With All Life”. Later we got the book, The World Peace Diet on which the CD is based and read it from cover to cover several times; in retrospect, this was an exercise that helped our veganism find zestful expression. After more than two years of the beginning of this beautiful new journey, on a whim, we wrote to Dr. Will Tuttle, the creator of The World Peace Diet—a No.1 Amazon best-seller of March, 2010—and the owner of the exceptionally soothing voice we had heard in the CD. We were thrilled to receive an instant response. Dr. Tuttle consented to a discussion revolving around The World Peace Diet for all of us here in India!
Dr. Will Tuttle needs no introduction, because if we attempt at introducing him, no words will be enough. It is Dr. Tuttle’s gift of thoughts and ideas, contained in his writings, music, and speech that help express the forgotten ideals dwelling in the deepest recesses of all human hearts, which define him. It is how people change their lives for a truly beautiful present and future with his facilitation that define him. He is an institution that we have come to deeply revere. From His Holiness, The Dalai Lama who has acknowledged the wisdom in The World Peace Diet (you will find the kitchen of the monastery of His residence now vegetarian) (source), to other Tibetan monasteries who have similarly converted their kitchens, to individual selves such as many like us, the book has appealed to the higher good residing in every human being. Hailed as “one of the most important books of the 21st century”, The World Peace Diet has begun a peaceful revolution in the minds of many! Sure enough, if there was a parallel to the Nobel Prize in the ‘Kingdom of Light, Love, and Compassion’ that would include the fascinating Animal Kingdom, The World Peace Diet would receive the undisputed crown.
In this discussion with Dr. Tuttle, we learn about the beginnings of The World Peace Diet, the moral basis of other movements in the world to stream into including the rights of animals, the spiritual approach to veganism, and the substance that comprises the innate intelligence of humans. The discussion ends with an intuitive message from Dr. Tuttle for all of India. Dr. Tuttle reminds us of the nobility of our land, in the collective conscience of which is buried the highest ideals of reverence for all Life. Each section in this discussion in the form of a Q&A is a wholesome commentary by itself; so you will find each section labeled accordingly. Happy reading, dear Readers.
In Conversation With Dr. Will Tuttle
|Dr. Will Tuttle at the Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, CA (www.farmsanctuary.org) – a sanctuary for animals rescued from factory farms and slaughterhouses|
On the birthing of The World Peace Diet…
Vegan India!: Dr. Tuttle, your book, The World Peace Diet is a unique modern-day discourse on the universal Law of Karma, perhaps the mother of all laws, that calls urgent attention towards understanding the interconnectedness between every single life-form on Earth, every cultural predicament that we humans face. This universal law of Karma is not alien to our culture – the popular proverb, “as we sow, so we shall we reap” has translations and variations in perhaps all languages. With Newton’s law, “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”, we find an acknowledgement even in “scientific” terms. However, when it comes to making food choices, our ability to make connections in line with this universal law simply freezes. We deny that food has any power at all. Your book answers the question – what gives food such power and why this power is unrecognized today. It helps connect the array of problems that beset us—such as “chronic war, terrorism, genocide, starvation, the proliferation of disease, environmental degradation, species extinction, animal abuse, consumerism, drug addiction, alienation, stress, racism, oppression of women, child abuse, corporate exploitation, materialism, poverty, injustice, and social malaise” (pg. xiv-xv)—to the lifestyle choices we make as an individual, community, nation, and world citizen. You have also cautioned that by “refusing to make this essential connection, we condemn others and ourselves to enormous suffering.” Please tell us of that moment which inspired you to write The World Peace Diet when all the connections became clear and how long did it take to complete writing the book?
Dr. Tuttle: Yes, even though I never use the word, karma in the manuscript of The World Peace Diet, you are correct that the book is essentially an in-depth discourse on the karmic repercussions of our food choices. For some reason, I was strongly attracted to eastern religions and cultures from my youth, and in my early twenties an intense yearning for spiritual awakening propelled me into a life of meditation, wandering, and scriptural study. This led pretty quickly to questioning the official stories I had been raised to believe, including the necessity of eating animal flesh to be healthy. I became a vegetarian in 1975 at the age of 22 at a Zen-inspired spiritual community called The Farm in Tennessee, and that opened the doorway to a deeper understanding of the spiritual and karmic effects of my actions. I read ravenously the teachings and life stories of many of the sages from India, such as Ramana Maharshi, Shankara, Patanjali, Yogananda, Vivekenanda, Muktananda, Prabhupada, Nisirgadatta, Krishnamurti, Nagarjuna, and practiced yoga and meditation, and studied Zen and Vajrayana Buddhism, as well as Jainism, Sikhism, Sufism, Taoism, esoteric Christianity, and other traditions. I lived in both Vajrayana (Tibetan) and Zen Buddhist meditation centers, and in 1980 I became a vegan because of grasping the bigger picture of animal suffering not just for meat, but also for dairy products, eggs, clothing, entertainment, research, and so forth.
All the connections between our food choices and our broad range of problems that are elucidated in The World Peace Diet grew gradually in my consciousness over a period of many years, like a garden that takes time and a lot of tending and inputs. The main inputs were the ancient spiritual teachings from Asia, as well as regular meditation practice to free the mind from conditioning, plus many years in academia studying, writing, and teaching literature, drama, philosophy, history, comparative religion, sociology, anthropology, mythology, education, peace studies, and the arts. I feel that many insights emerged through the interplay of this broad range of intellectual study, and also through my regular practice of piano music composition and improvisation as well: music can be an activity that integrates and harmonizes the rational and intuitive capacities of the mind, like meditation, and in retrospect I can see this was an important foundation for the work of writing The World Peace Diet.
After many years of practicing vegan living and studying it in depth, and contemplating the powerful effects of our food choices, I began to see the “big picture” of The World Peace Diet in my consciousness as a vast mandala of interconnections that influences and is influenced by virtually every aspect of our personal and collective lives, as well as the lives of nonhuman animals and the Earth. I began saying to my spouse Madeleine, as I described my vision to her, that there is so much more to veganism than most people realize, and that someone would certainly be writing a book about it soon, and that it would be great to read that book when it was published. I could see clearly that the three main generally-recognized reasons for going vegan—boycotting cruelty to animals, alleviating environmental destruction, and improving health—while hugely important, are just part of the story. There’s actually much more to it—the psychological, spiritual, cultural, and historical dimensions—that were virtually invisible and not discussed or understood.
So I kept telling Madeleine how I would enjoy reading the book that I was sure someone would be writing soon, and as the years went by, and it never appeared, I began to realize that I was being called to write the book myself. After several starts, I got an introductory chapter overview written, and got an agreement with Lantern Books in New York to publish it, and from that point, it took about five years of full-time work to create The World Peace Diet. The creative process of writing and editing the manuscript was helpful in further refining the ideas, and helped me to discover more connections as well.
On other movements in the world and connecting the dots…
Vegan India!: Dr. Tuttle, the tag line of your book is, “Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony.” This is a powerful tagline. However, since many of us construe spirituality as a “wishy-washy” term with “elusive” concepts, we tend not to pay attention. Nevertheless, when we begin to read the book, we cannot help but marvel at the dexterity with which you have combined core concepts from the fields of Psychology, Sociology, Economics, Anthropology, History, Science, Gender, Politics, Medicine, Ethics, Ecology, Human Rights, Music and so on to present such a remarkable commentary that helps “see” the connections our culture has never taught us to see. As you have rightly pointed out, we are manipulated by vested interests whose profits depend on our inability to make meaningful connections. Our urge to empathize with and protect the vulnerable is repressed by our “herding culture.” You have construed a completely different reality that actually takes us closest to realizing Who We Really Are. Dr. Tuttle, if all the pro peace, justice, equality, rights, and freedom movements in the world were to accept this reality and were to join hands, do you think the “critical mass” would be attained to elevate the Earth of human and animal suffering, alienation, and exploitation? Please elaborate.
Dr. Tuttle: This is an intriguing question, and the implicit question in it is: Why do the millions of people actively working for peace, justice, equality, rights, sustainability, and freedom in our world continue to pay for and eat the flesh and secretions of enslaved animals when it is clearly antithetical to their values and goals? How is such an obvious contradiction not recognized, and why do so many have such a difficult time actually bringing their lives into alignment with their values? I devote several chapters to responding to this question in The World Peace Diet and it seems to me that while there is some progress being made, it must accelerate quickly if we are to survive and successfully transform our culture.
As I discuss in The World Peace Diet, the problems we create are based on the underlying mentality of reductionism, disconnectedness, elitism, and exclusivism required by our most powerful connection with our culture and with Nature and each other: eating. It is absurd to think we can make significant progress in our quest for universal peace, justice, equality, and sustainability while enslaving and killing animals routinely for food. When we look deeply and carefully into these matters, we see that there are two levels at work simultaneously, both of which are consciously and subconsciously suppressed in our awareness and in public conversation and in the media. The first level is that eating animal foods is the primary driving force behind the actual problems that we have – culturally, economically, ecologically, and in virtually every dimension of our shared life. The second level is the inner mentality required to get us to regularly purchase and ingest animal foods.
For the first level, because it takes enormous amounts of land, water, petroleum, pesticides, and fertilizer to grow grain for confined animals, and to graze them (10-30 times more than eating plant foods directly), animal agriculture is the main contributor to environmental devastation, global climate disruption, rainforest destruction, topsoil loss, water pollution and shortage, over-fishing, ocean acidification and dead zones, species extinction, habitat loss, and loss of genetic diversity, as well as human hunger, starvation, and malnutrition. As Thich Nhat Hanh has written, “Every day forty thousand children die for lack of food. We who overeat in the West, who are feeding grain to animals to make meat, are eating the flesh of these children.” These inequities contribute to war and political and cultural tension. In addition, it’s well-recognized now that eating animal-based foods is the main force behind the physical diseases that are pandemic in industrialized countries: diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, strokes, liver and kidney disease, obesity, and autoimmune disease. I discuss in The World Peace Diet how eating animal foods contributes to psychological disease (anxiety, depression, insomnia, and drug addiction are rampant in the animals confined in factory farms and in the people consuming these animals), as well as spiritual, moral, economic, and cultural disease and discord.
The second level, which is the more hidden inner level, is that eating animal foods requires us to adopt precisely the mental and emotional disconnections that reduce our capacity to deal effectively with the problems we’re creating. We’re all born into a culture that conditions us not just to witness the eating of animal flesh and secretions, but to participate in it ourselves from infancy. This suppresses our natural wisdom, compassion, creativity, joy, self-confidence, and sense of being part of a benevolent and beautiful universe. We learn to compete, and to stay shallow in our quest for truth, because we’re unable usually to question the violence we cause and eat with our daily meals, and we become easily manipulated and controlled like the animals we are abusing by proxy every day. We inevitably become obsessed with consuming, which serves the corporations well, and gullible, which serves governments and the ruling elite well.
To create the critical mass necessary for the peace, justice, equality, freedom, and sustainability movements to be effective, we are called to realize that our routine mistreatment of nonhuman animals for food is the defining and driving inner and outer obstacle to progress, and that by radically including animals in our loving and compassionate embrace, we create the actual foundation for success in all the liberation movements, which are all interconnected. Oppressing animals, raping them, stealing and killing their babies, stealing their milk and their lives and their purposes – this all sows the seeds of our own oppression. It also suppresses the inner feminine wisdom residing in all of us (I call this Sophia in The World Peace Diet), and so what we really need to see—and I think we are seeing it—is the resurrection of Sophia in the world today. Sophia, our innate feminine wisdom, is the passionate loving protection of the vulnerable and innocent and is the core of veganism and of the ancient teaching of ahimsa: that nonviolence is the path to joy and liberation for all. We live on a beautiful, abundant planet, and there is nothing stopping us from living healthy, peaceful, celebratory lives, except the habitual practice of enslaving animals for food and the mentality this practice requires of us.
On the spiritual approach to veganism…
Vegan India!: Dr. Tuttle, The World Peace Diet also provides a framework to get into the minds of the entire gamut of human “perpetrators” from the transnational corporations who dominate over and are responsible for the suffering and killing of millions of innocent animals for profit to the person who procures, cooks, and eats animal suffering. Such groups of humans are themselves victims of violence – abused and wounded. It seems that their way to keep the control is by making “victims” of the enslaved animals. In doing so, not only do they hurt the animals but they hurt themselves as well. While this is a very reasonable explanation, at times it becomes very difficult to admit we “understand” this vicious cycle because “understanding” at one level does make us less judgmental and bring about “sympathy” for the perpetrators, something that we want to deny ourselves. This is perhaps where the overarching spiritual approach to veganism could help us in our quest to rid the world of suffering, in a peaceful manner. Could you please elaborate and highlight the basic tenets of the spiritual approach to veganism that can help all of us (“the attentive and articulate bystanders”) spread the essence of a peaceful revolution without being judgmental, yet by acting as the true conscience of the perpetrators, to heal their wounds without feeling outraged?
Dr. Tuttle: Excellent question – it follows from the prior one. A spiritual approach is essential because we are called to go to a higher level to solve our problems. Violence, in the form of judgment and blame, only breeds further hostility and misunderstanding. The spirit of veganism is making an effort to evolve to become an embodiment of universal loving compassion for all – attaining a consciousness of radical inclusion that includes not just those close to us, but all animals and humans, including those who we may not like, such as, for example, hunters, greedy bankers and chemical company executives, and so forth. We cannot force others to change; we can only change and awaken our own consciousness, and to the degree we authentically do this, we will be more effective in being “articulate bystanders” and helping others to evolve in their behavior and understanding.
Meditation is important I believe, because when we quiet our minds and directly experience the truth that we are, we discover that we are, essentially, eternal consciousness, and that our true nature is freedom, joy, and tender compassion. We begin to peel away the layers of cultural conditioning. We reconnect with our authentic feelings and with our inner intuitive wisdom. We question and see through the official stories of our culture, and how they imprison us in lies and delusions. We open to higher understanding and we begin, as Gandhi so poignantly encouraged us, to be the change we wish to see in the world. With this new and higher perspective, rather than blaming and judging others for buying hamburgers, for example, we understand with compassion that they are obediently following a conditioned program that has been powerfully injected into their minds from infancy. It is not their fault that they are eating meat and dairy; they haven’t yet been able to break free of the cultural program and to see that it has been imposed on them, and that it is absolutely not in their best interests, or in the best interests of animals, the Earth, future generations, or any of us, except, perhaps for a tiny handful of wealthy war and drug profiteers.
So a spiritual unfoldment is essential. Veganism and ahimsa are essentially spiritual practices, and they lead onward and upward to ever-higher realizations and awakenings. We can strive to live and exemplify the vegan ideal, and this helps others to do the same.
On the innate intelligence of humans...
Vegan India!: Dr. Tuttle, we understand that we were not born with sensibilities to exploit others. We are socialized into it. In that sense there are no “enemies”, it is simply a quest to realize who we really are. For those of us who have been blessed with this consciousness, it becomes a moral responsibility to help others with a positive approach come closer to whom they really are – a part of that “eternal benevolent consciousness”. Please help summarize for the benefit of our readers what in your opinion comprises the innate intelligence of humans that responds to the call of its highest, true self?
Dr. Tuttle: Yes, this positive approach is essential. Vegan living is a solid foundation for joy in our lives! And the innate intelligence that responds to the call is the inner feminine wisdom I referred to earlier as Sophia. Sophia is the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom and represents the capacity within all of us to awaken compassion and transform self-centered delusion into healing insight and joyful living. Another name for Sophia is Mahakaruna—“great compassion” in Sanskrit—this is the natural functioning of our true nature, free from the delusion of self-preoccupation that is ritually injected into all of us by our cultural upbringing, and especially by the socially-mandated practices of routinely eating foods derived from imprisoned animals.
It’s important to remember that when we consider nonhuman animals, we know in our bones that these beings, like us, yearn to fulfill their purposes and to avoid pain and confinement, and to live freely, as they did for millions of years before we began to interfere with them and imprison them. We are all called to realize that the very attitude of owning another being is an act of himsa, or violence, and that it is a stealing of a being’s sovereignty for our own ends. We know for ourselves that to be imprisoned is a terrible punishment. It is what we do to condemned criminals. Our sovereignty is precious and is essential for our happiness and fulfillment. Raised in a culture of oppression, though, we are taught that other beings exist for our purposes, and it is of no consequence to own them as property. This is what we did here in the American South for hundreds of years to people from Africa, for example, and what we still do to animals for food.
So if we “own” cows and treat them kindly and use their milk, we are committing violence and cruelty at the fundamental level of stealing their sovereignty. We make them dependent on us for food and protection. We reduce them in countless ways. They are not able to fulfill their inherent drives to live as part of a free-living community of bovines roaming the land and looking after themselves and relating with each other and the rest of Nature in an open, unencumbered way that would provide for them a sense of joy, freedom, and fulfillment that we can barely imagine with all our preconceptions about cows. The fact is that owning cows for milk is utterly unnecessary today. Cows’ milk is a source of no nutrients that we cannot get from plant-based sources, and is the source of a variety of substances that are essentially toxic to us as human beings, such as casein, IGF-1 growth hormone, estrogen, and other hormones, as well as saturated fat, cholesterol, and concentrated environmental toxins, all of which are linked with cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart-disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, and autoimmune diseases. And besides the existential cruelty inherent in all dairy foods is the added and inescapable cruelty in all operations, even small family-owned ones.
I have a friend from India who traveled the country and interviewed small family cow owners and he learned that he could ask two questions that would always reveal the cruelty to cows required by milk products. One question was, “What do you do with the male calves that are born?” The typical answer was, “We sell them.” The vast majority end up being sold and slaughtered for meat (either veal or beef). In some cases, they may be first castrated and used as oxen to work in fields, after which they are sold. The second question was, “What do you do with the female cows after their milk production declines?” Again, the cow owners would get uncomfortable and say, “We sell them.” Meat again. Or perhaps they let them go to wander the countryside, where they often starve slowly.
Our religions often provide justification for cultural practices that are harmful, and part of spiritual awakening is evolving to the point that we can question traditions and official stories that are no longer appropriate. The beauty in all of this is that if we all switched to a plant-based diet of organic foods, we would need a small fraction of the land we are now using for agriculture, and vast areas could be returned to wilderness and habitat for animals, and so there would be plenty of room for bovines to roam freely again throughout central Asia as they did for millions of years, and for chickens to live again in the jungles of southeast Asia, and all the animals to celebrate their lives free from human oppression. New relationships with free-living, powerful, and respected animals could be mutually enriching in ways that we cannot imagine from our current impoverished and shallow relationships with animals whom we treat generally as either property or pests.
Each one of us can be a force for freedom, joy, healing, and compassion. As we rely less on the narratives and dictates of an essentially exploitive culture, and learn through meditation to rely more on our inner intuitive wisdom and compassion, we can help our culture evolve to a higher level. This is, I think, the greatest gift we can give to our loved ones, our world, and ourselves. As Krishnamurti said, “It is not a good idea to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” Although we all want to fit in with our society, at a certain point we awaken and realize that we have a higher purpose than just fitting in and suppressing our inner light of compassion and joy. This is when the spiritual path begins, and we begin to become a true human being.
A message for India…
Vegan India!: Dr. Tuttle, in the last chapter of your book, “Living the Revolution” you have said something very beautiful about the fact that “each one of us has a piece of the puzzle to contribute, and our overall success (to transform our inheritor dominator mentality by liberating those we have enslaved for food) depends on each of us discovering our talents and passion and persistently contributing them”. In the Indian context, vegans in India come from almost every walk of life and many are doing brilliant outreach work in ways they are gifted in and most comfortable with. Definitely, many have started to “live the revolution” and are plugging in myriad ways to educate others. Dr. Tuttle, if you had to share a message with the vegans, vegan aspirants, and everybody else in India, what would it be?
Dr. Tuttle: My basic message to Indians is one of gratitude and encouragement. My own veganism is really a product of the ancient Indian spiritual teachings that came through the centuries to me in the West as Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu teachings and inspired countless people who inspired me, such as Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King, Gaskin (the founder of The Farm), and going further back, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plotinus, and many others who were also inspired by the sages of India. Your land is the world’s greatest living repository of the spiritual wisdom that can heal and transform our world today. Both the vegetarian and the vegan movements in the West and worldwide can easily be traced back to India. You carry the light and are the keepers of the flame of ahimsa and spiritual liberation. I have nothing but enormous respect and gratitude for your shining example for thousands of years, and up to the present day.
I would encourage you not to be seduced by the mechanistic immaturity of the West, and especially not to adopt the cruel food practices of the West. I would encourage you to remember your glorious heritage of compassion and cooperation, to remember Asoka and other enlightened examples of kindness for all, and to strive to live the teaching of ahimsa and continue to make India the light of sanity and harmony in the world.
Thank you Dr. Tuttle. We are grateful to be able to host this wonderful discussion with you here on this space.
How to procure your copy of The World Peace Diet: For those of you who wish to procure a copy of The World Peace Diet, it helps to know that you can purchase via Flipkart. You can also purchase a signed copy of the book from The World Peace Diet website by clicking this link. And, for those who would like it, you can borrow the book from the SHARAN library that delivers books on loan anywhere in India. For more information about how the SHARAN library operates, you can click this link.
*Peas v/s Pills: Life-transforming seminar\workshop\talk conducted by SHARAN that has facilitated the efforts of many people in India to lead holistic, healthy lives: physically and psychologically, by reconnecting to Nature. For more information, you can click this link.
For more interviews featured in this blog, you can click this link.