When I wrote to Toronto Zen Centre to see if there were any vegans there interested in taking part in my interview series with Buddhist vegans, Sangeeta responded with enthusiasm to participate. Sangeeta is a fellow photographer (visit her site here), has been a part of the Toronto Zen Centre for the past 4 years and has been vegan for 23 years! I was happy to have the opportunity to field my introductory set of questions to her and to include her voice in what I hope to be a mosaic of interviews with Buddhist vegans all around the world.
Thank You for your time Sangeeta!
Annika: Coming to terms with my own ignorance about the meat and dairy industry and the suffering of the animals in it was traumatic but necessary . Gaining more knowledge was a liberation, as was renouncing those products and committing to a vegan lifestyle. How did the view of suffering affect your decision to become a vegan?
Sangeeta: I was 16 when I decided to become vegan. Once I learned about the cruelty in egg and dairy production there wasn’t even a second thought in my mind. The way I had looked at it was, if I wouldn’t treat an animal this way, then how could I pay someone else to do my dirty work? I didn’t want even a penny of my money to support violence. I became vegan 23 years ago and never looked back. It’s a privilege that I can be an example of a healthy happy person existing on no animal products. People are often shocked to know that I’ve been vegan for 23 years, and sometimes that in itself says more than words. It is possible to live a diet which reduces suffering, and be healthy as well. It’s a win win!
Annika: There can be a strong correlation between practice, belief and action for Buddhists who are involved in various issues of justice, acting as agents of change and seeking, in various ways to change hearts and minds. What are your thoughts on mindful advocacy and the relationship between dharma and activism as a vegan (i.e. animal rescue work, sanctuary work, production of media that informs and educates, kitchen activism)?
Sangeeta: My practice leads me to serve others…the path naturally unfolds itself away from self aggrandizement to making a difference for our community and the world as a whole. If we are indeed all one, then how we treat an animal, is going to affect the web of life. As we are called to awaken our boddhisattvic nature of compassion, we are called to live the change we wish to see in the world. As the saying goes, “If not me then who? If not now, then when? This is it! This is the moment to live in way that serves all beings.
Mindful advocacy is something that the world is in need of. Even for a noble cause, ego can take over and it can easily become a self-serving activity. From ego (i.e. I am right you are wrong attitudes) comes anger, fear, etc. etc. To be an advocate with equanimity takes a lot of awareness and mountains of compassion. From this place, I think we can naturally inspire others. No one is inspired to make any changes from a place of being wronged…whole-hearted acceptance of others is the key to mindful advocacy.
Annika: Many North American Buddhist Centers were traditionally vegetarian but with the rise of interest in veganism and popularity of plant based diets, more Buddhists are becoming vegans. How do you feel Buddhist centers can play a role in expanding awareness of the compassion inherent in veganism and also practical skills to incorporate in one’s life to ease the path to veganism?
Sangeeta: I would love to see Buddhist centers offer veg cooking classes. There are many ways to promote a compassionate lifestyle without telling people what to do. Offering the community classes which teach people how to add more plant based foods to ones diet is of great service. We live in a time that many people don’t know how to make healthy foods let alone foods which make a difference to the planet.
I also think that Buddhist teachers teaching the precepts can emphasize the important of Not Killing in ones life and educating the sangha in a kind way about the impact their food choices have on other beings. If our teachers don’t speak up, it’s like taking away a beautiful opportunity to teach the sangha members how they can serve the world, and can practically participate in the liberation of all living being.
Annika: What is the relationship of veganism and Buddhism in your life? Were you Buddhist before you were vegan (or vice versa)?
Sangeeta: I became vegan well before I was aware of Buddhism. Though after becoming vegan, I got more and more interested in Buddhism and it’s teaching. For me the two went hand in hand. Today, my Buddhist practice helps me to go deeper to my commitment to liberate all living being. It goes beyond diet, and into who I am being in the world, how my words are impacting others, how my actions are affecting those around me. It takes the principle of Ahimsa (dynamic non-harmlessness) into all areas of life- word, thought and deed. I’m beyond grateful to my teacher and my sangha for being living examples of how I can expand compassion into all areas of life.
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This interview is part of an ongoing project I began in late Summer 2016 to explore the connections between Buddhism & veganism for contemporary practitioners, I began reaching out to several Buddhist centers across North America to see if they had vegans in their community who would be interested to take part in the interview series aspect of this project. For more on this project visit this link.