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Archive for September, 2010

Foie gras is considered a delicacy by many Western cultures, memories of special occasions past usually are highlighted with platters of foie gras. Most people who do consume this delicacy do not realize how this “fine” food is made, I feel safe to say that it is probably the most inhumane dish on the planet. It may seem harmless when we pick up the jar or can at our specialty grocer, or when we are spreading it on little pieces of toast, but the life that the goose or duck, that is the source of this food, is a life that I would not even wish on my greatest enemy.

Most people would say “isn’t foie gras just another form of pate?”, it is actually the swollen, diseased liver of ducks and geese who are force-fed just up until the point of death before being slaughtered. The birds suffer during and after the force-feeding as their health rapidly degrades when this practice is started. In a few weeks the birds livers will grow to be ten times their normal size, and the birds can hardly walk, stand, or even breathe. This technique of force-feeding originates in Egypt when people noticed how the geese would gorge themselves before they went on migration. When the Egyptians, and later the Romans, considered these fat-laden pre-migration gorged organs to be better tasting, they decided to start the process artificially and exaggerated to their captive geese. From then on, the practice of force-feeding, became the standard of this industry.

Most foie gras is now made in France, 75% of the world’s production is made there, there are also a couple of foie gras “factories” in Quebec. This dish is most linked to French culture now, but it is still considered a “treat” for many. About 24 million ducks and half a million geese are slaughtered annually for their diseased livers. 500 000 ducks are killed annually in Canada for foie gras production, about the same also suffer this fate in the USA.

Geese and ducks are confined to tiny cages where they are not able to move or even open their wings or anything that would be considered “natural” behaviour. These cages have a hole in the front so they can be mechanically force-fed and are unable to escape during the process. The feeder grabs the goose and plunges a metal pipe down its throat, it then pumps a huge amount of corn and oil mixture into their gullet within a few seconds, this mixture is usually equivalent to one-third of the bird’s weight. They are also denied access to water for them to be able to participate in instinctual behaviour, their plumage then becomes encrusted with filth and most will develop what the farmers call “wet neck” which is when their unpreened neck feathers curl up and become covered with dirt and oil.

Of course, they are not spared from the fate that their factory farm brothers and sisters, they are debeaked to avoid that they peck each other. They are debeaked shortly after birth, their beaks get sliced off, without anesthesia, cutting through tissue rich in nerve endings. They are then forced to live life with chronic pain, and having trouble eating or preening themselves.

What can we do to stop this? Many American cities have actually banned this disgusting practice and food, this was done thanks to pressure for the people. Look at the menu from your favourite restaurant; if there is foie gras on the menu, ask to see the manager and ask him/her to take it off the menu, you can even say that you will no longer be frequenting the establishment until it is done. You can also stage little protests outside the restaurant, giving literature on foie gras to the customers going in, remember that outside is public property and that this is a very effective way to convince an owner to re-consider the menu.

All the photos that are posted in this article come from Elevages Perigord which is in St-Louis -de-Gonzague Quebec, at about 45 minutes from Montreal. This is one of the biggest foie gras producers in North America, they must be shutdown. Write to them, let them know how you feel about their livelihood… Be a voice for those who suffer such horrible lives, the animals need our help. Remember, anyone that can do this for a living are also living a horrible life, to witness and create such violence is not good for any human being… Let your opinion be known by those around you, and visit www.nofoiegras.org to learn more.

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Seems like it is time for me to write, things are going well. Had a really quiet week which gave me a lot of time to think and really get to question what I want to do and what I am willing to let in from my practice. I have been thinking about doing a year-long practice, something that will help me see progress and help me connect with myself in a more concrete way. It is easier to see our progress if we give ourselves a time to work out whatever it is that we are searching or trying to accomplish. This week I have been realizing that I am not getting any younger (I am sure that there are some of you out there telling yourself that yes, I am old), I am not saying that I should just be packing it all up in terms of goals or accomplishments because I have passed the acceptable age. All our lives we will be giving ourselves goals to help grow and feel more at peace with what we are and becoming. Meditation practice has helped me realize that it is not about reaching a finish line, but to continue on the path while remaining as present as we can in every moment and experience that we have. Year-long practices are good for just that, to give ourselves a specific time to really get into what we are trying to work out, and in the end give us better tools or a greater understanding of ourselves so we can live life more fully (not be afraid to get out of our comfort zone and embrace the life that we do have).

Today I was invited to join a facebook group by my friend TMG from Full Contact Enlightenment, it is called Montreal Happiness Group, it will be a group that will meet monthly in 2011. She describes it as:

THE HAPPINESS PROJECT is Gretchen Rubin’s memoir about the year she spent test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study she could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah.

I’m looking to get together with folks who want to meet monthly to work from Gretchen’s book and see if we can complete a year of living mindfully, getting $h!# done and being a bit more kind to both others and ourselves.

I find that this will be a great group for me, for a while know I have been wanting to make changes in my life, to further my projects and just get shit done. Of course, like most people, I am really good at starting these ideas and projects, but not so much at completing them and seeing them through. It is so easy for us to simply get back into auto-pilot and let life take over and us letting go of the steering wheel and getting swept up, I find that this group will help me keep my hands firmly on the steering wheel and let me experience life on a much deeper level. Something that I have been striving to do for what seems like most of my life. I find that what will help keep me on track will be the fact that there will be meetings with a group of people, just like meditation and the sangha, the support of others undertaking the same project as you has an immense influence and helps us feel supported during the exercise. To feel like we are part of a community and not walking through life alone and isolated.

The sangha was originally in reference to the community of buddhist monks and nuns, in the West however, we use it in a more generalized sense. In the West, it is used to name any Buddhist community. Some find this to be problematic in a theological sense, because a community of Buddhists does not amount to a triple gem (I will explain this in a later post) where others could take refuge, these people would agree that the terms parisa or gana would be better to describe a community of Buddhist practitioners. Parisa means “following” and refers to the four groups of the Buddha’s followers: monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Gana is a sanskrit terms which means ” flock, troop, multitude, tribe, class”. However, most people accept that we use the term sangha when describing Buddhist communities in the West, I find myself to be in this group. I have no problems with using the term and don’t think that we should get too boggled down in terminology which might take away from our practice and sense of community. I find that this will help me in staying on track and am quite excited about starting. Going to get the book soon and see what this next year will bring for me depending on which goals and resolutions I set for myself.

I have also been getting closer with some people who I know and am really enjoying it! It is so important to surround ourselves with good people who give us support when we need it and that we are able to extend the helping hand when the shoe is on the other foot. Like the old saying goes “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give”, truly words to live by for me, and everyday I try to be as generous and kind as I possibly can with others and especially myself. The sangha teaches us how to be supportive and generous to others that are around us, this bond is important in all aspects of our lives. They will be the ones that will encourage me to live life and try to help in any way so I can be the most present for everyone that I encounter in my daily life (and we all know how hard that is!). I am always trying to live life the most that I can everyday, like Oscar Wilde said “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

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Things are going well, I had a visitor this week, I met her during my meditation instructor and group facilitator training in LA in 2008. It was really nice to be able to hang out with an old friend and talk about the dharma. I find that this visit has helped me learn a lot about myself and also my relationship to the teachings and how I should be presenting them to others. Honest exchanges are what make this practice so amazing, I find that the more I practice this path, the more I am learning about myself. Spirituality is seen as the practice to learn more about ourselves, but is Buddhism spirituality? This is a debate that I find is really worth exploring. I have always made a point of not telling people that I am a Buddhist, I find that it is greatly misunderstood in our Western society. In other words, I do not find that Buddhism is a religion or spirituality (I know that many of you may find this confusing, especially seeing as how we get all our books about Buddhism in the spirituality section, but if we really look at the teachings we can see that this may not be the case…). Let me explain, this is something that I have been explaining to a lot of people who are new to Buddhist practice, Brad Warner in his new book goes with the same argument, so I will use some help from him to help elucidate this argument.

Most people see Buddhism as a religion, it is easy to see that, as most writings on religion will always clump Buddhism in the big ones. The buddha, however, told his followers to let go of religion, seeing as if we are to achieve enlightenment we must let go of all dogmas. Religion gives us rules and beliefs to follow, hence we are tied to narrow views that tell us what is right and what is wrong. If we are to go beyond narrow views we must let go of all beliefs and question all experience that we have, with this unflinching question we are able to find truth in this life and world. In many ways, Buddhism is realism, as opposed to the two major trends of the history of Western philosophy which are idealism and materialism. Brad’s argument, which I could not of been said any better in his new book, is short and to the point of what I and others are trying to get at. Spirituality, in most intellectual circles, is seen as a kind of idealism “It takes the view that the spiritual world, the world of ideas, imagination, and mental formations, is the true reality.” This brings to mind the common notion in religious circles that we are souls trapped in bodies, but this is not at all a Buddhist concept. Materialism, instead of seeing material matter as nonexistent, sees it as primary. “Materialists, on the other hand, see matter as primary and spirit either as nonexistent or, at least, as negligible.” Buddhism believes that neither materialism nor idealism is correct: “We are not immaterial spirits trapped in material bodies, nor are we mere permutations of essentially dead matter who only imagine we have a spiritual side.” I am sure, if you have dabbled in Buddhism before, that you have heard the famous line out of the Heart Sutta “Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form.” “Rather, the experiential, internal, subjective, spiritual side of our day-to-day existence and the hard, external, objective, material world we inhabit are manifestations of one underlying reality that is neither spirit nor matter.” I find that this can help one understand what one could mean by Buddhism being realism.

Our meditation practice is to help us navigate our life in the eternal now, it is not meant to hold us back or narrow our view of reality. This week has been really great for me to examine my relationship to the teachings of the Buddha and my practice in general. I guess the best conclusion that I got out of all of this is the realization that instead of trying to define myself with labels and ideas I should really be examining my practice and how it relates to my life. I am always reminded of the famous quote that we are not suppose to see what our practice can give us, but more what are we able to let in from our meditation practice. I think that I have rambled enough, I hope that this will open a debate within yourselves about why we do what we do, and exactly how are we going to approach our spiritual practice. Get in there and wrestle with these ideas to help have the most profound and honest practice possible. Thanks for reading!

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Hello everyone! I have a guest post on the blog Full Contact Enlightenment, it is a book review of Brad Warner’s new book Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between. Also make sure to check out Tanya’s blog, it is an amazing read and she is one cool person that takes on the dharma with openness, kindness, and one great sense of humour! I will be posting her review of this book on this blog once I get it! So stayed tuned!

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So the last couple of weeks have been interesting, still doing my best to live a simple life. I have been luckily distracted by Brad Warner’s new book to help fill the time, expect a review on my friend Tanya’s blog Full Contact Enlightenment soon! The book deals with sex and Buddhism, it has been a really great read and I find that Brad is really starting to come into his own with great teachings mixed with his own voice shinning through. What has effected me the most though, besides having sex on the brain all the time, is the question of equanimity and how important is it to my practice. This all came up during my last visit at the penitentiary where I guide meditations with the inmates, I received some very sad news (one of the inmates there has been institutionalized and it was told to me that he had gotten pretty heavy into his drug habit, to the point of accumulating about 10 000$ in drug-related debt) and for the first time I felt like I saw true suffering in the eyes of one of the inmates. This image is permanently sketched in my brain now, it really made me question my faith and if I was actually doing any good to these people by coming to meditate with them. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and felt really defeated by the hopelessness of it all. After receiving a lot of comforting words from my friends (Thanks guys! You rock!), I decided that it was time that I reflect on exactly why I was doing this and how was I to cope with similar news in the future. I remembered the teaching of equanimity, a part of the Brahma Viharas, and how this would probably be the most useful for me in this situation. For those of you unfamiliar let me explain the teaching of equanimity:

Equanimity is the fourth of the Brahma Viharas, these are also known and the immeasurables, it is based on the Metta sutta that the Buddha gave to monks when they feared that the spirits in the forest were hateful towards them. The four immeasurables has the power to cause the practitioner to be re-born into a Brahma realm, they are also seen as powerful antidotes to negative mental states (non-virtues) such as avarice, anger and pride.. The meditator is instructed to radiate out to all beings in all directions the mental states of: 1) loving-kindness or benevolence, 2) compassion, 3) sympathetic joy, and, 4) equanimity.The practice of equanimity is often described as: neither a thought nor an emotion, it is rather the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience. It is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.”

I have decided to continue doing what I am doing in the prisons, this is important work I find and it is necessary. My friend Rachel said: “Prisons hold some of the darkest aspects of human suffering and can be very difficult environments to be in. But I also think about those with great enthusiasm at the insights and relief they are able to find through the dharma. Those that come out the other side with great healing and transformation because someone shared the dharma with them. And at the end of the day – when they’re about to hit the streets again after being incarcerated – they need the dharma and their meditation practice to help keep them grounded.” I find that this is completely right, I will just be more careful with my attachments to the inmates and try to be as present as I possibly can each time that I am there… I have also started reciting an equanimity line every morning when I wake up: “May I offer love to myself and others knowing I cannot change the course of life, suffering, and death.” and it is helping me a lot (thanks again Rachel!).

I have also decided to inform myself on different programs that I could tell the inmates about, like AA meetings and other substance abuse programs that are available in the prison, as to be more present and helpful when I am there. I have also decided to go to a couple of Alanon meetings and even AA meetings to try to be more prepared when someone shares with me there struggle with addiction (I know that I will never be fully equipped to help seeing as how I am not an addict and thus is it hard for me to be able to relate with them 100%, but I will do my best to be there for them). Thanks Steve for suggesting this approach, I find that it will totally help me! I think that this is enough for this week, I will keep everyone up to date with what will happen. I have been offered to do a second group at the prison, I am taking some time to reflect on my motivation still and make sure that I can be truly of service while I am there! This is something that I will not take lightly, and I want to make sure that I will be doing it for the right reasons! More to follow…

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