Comfortably nestled in the idyllic hill station of Kasauli, far away from the chaos of Covid 19, cyclones in Mumbai, earthquakes in Delhi, war in Ladakh with China and Locust attacks in Jaipur – I was enjoying life’s fineries and scenic views. But I was also watching the news and reading the occasional newspaper whenever I could get my hands on one and like many of you, this only made me realise how lucky I was. This realization of my good luck was further cemented by watching the miserable faces of those barefoot migrants and dying covid patients. So to abstain myself from the guilt and embarrassment caused by the imbalance of having so much when others around me had so little, I tried to redeem myself!
So the decision of feeding 50 cows, doing a Langar for some labourers working on a nearby construction site and buying new shoes for all my staff was taken. Plus, I had recently become a vegetarian. I had read somewhere that killing animals for the pleasure of tasty food was a price simply not worth paying. The karmic debts incurred were too high. Plus visions of screaming and tortured chickens had haunted me for far too long. So after 30 years of consuming animals I switched to eating only vegetables. Feeling smug about my great sacrifice, I thought I could now go back to enjoying all that I was clearly destined for.
Then one day, my Himachali cook went scourging in the forest to prepare a local delicacy of bamboo shoot sabzi which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was organic, locally sourced and seasonal – hence ticking all the right boxes! Besides, it was vegetarian and I did not have blood on my hands. I could enjoy it without incurring any karmic debts, or so I thought. The next day, I decided to follow the cook into the forest to watch him collect the bamboo shoots for my dinner. What I saw made me freeze with angst and despair. It was almost too much to digest.
The bamboo shoots were being sourced by cutting the top bits i.e. the heads of the bamboo plants. About 50-60 of them which were visible to me stood out like silently screaming headless chickens. I learnt that with their heads cut off, the plants would not grow back so in effect, these plants would eventually die. It was akin to a bloodbath scene of sheer horror – or a murder scene.
And as if this was not enough, a family of langoors appeared out of nowhere and joined my cook in breaking the bamboo plants. As a mother langoor broke the bamboo’s she first fed the baby wrapped around her belly before feeding herself. Upon seeing the langoor family also breaking away at the bamboo’s, my cook began to chop and break them faster so that he could get the lions share. He scared them away through aggressive gestures and throwing of a few stones. Scared of getting hit, they fled the scene and abandoned the bamboo grove. Then proud of what he had done, my cook slowly broke away all the remaining bamboo shoots. With a sense of great accomplishment we walked back home with our dinner in hand.
As I was strolling around my house after the sumptuous dinner, I was struck by a thought for which I will remain ever greatful. Maybe the chopping of bamboo shoots was as painful to the bamboo plants as the chopping of a goats leg was to a goat? Just because the plants did not yelp in pain did not mean they did not suffer. Not just had we destroyed the entire bamboo grove, but essentially we had also stolen a large chunk of the dinner which the poor langoors would otherwise have enjoyed. Would they or would they not find something else edible in the jungle for their dinner? Being humans we had usurped them with our greater size and skill. I justified this to myself with Adam Smith’s theory of Survival of the Fittest.
But what could I even do about all this? Stop eating vegetables and die of starvation? Not a very sensible idea, I thought. However, a few answers came from my Guru. What he told me was incredible – that each one of us consumes 35 truckloads of fruits and vegetables in our lifetimes! And what we could do was be cognisant and mindful of these facts – that we did indeed have a debt to Mother Nature for the food she provided us day in, day out. That we were not living as debt free & noble a life as we would like to imagine and that a karmic price for the vegetables would have to be paid. That simply being a vegetarian was not good enough if one wanted to die debt free! And just because we were paying our sabzi wala for the veggies we were buying, we were doing nothing back for the earth from where it all was extracted.
So how could I pay off my debts to Mother Nature and rid myself of the murder committed in my name each day?
Thereafter, my Guru also shared some practical tips on how to reduce or mitigate this huge debt. Let a piece of land you own remain uncultivated and grow wild. Take nothing from it and whatever fruits or vegetables grow on it, give them away to the needy. Water plants as often as you can and give manure to them – this is their sustenance. If you don’t own a piece of land, consider options like paying for a tube well at someone’s farm which will water plants or find a school or public garden and find ways to plant trees on their premises. Nowadays, several NGO’s enable one to pay for planting trees and even their maintenance with manure over the years. One could even plant saplings in ones balcony and gift them to others. So the options are many, all one needs is the intent to do it!
Small actions like this surely do go a long way in dying karmically richer – it all makes so much practical and logical sense to me now.