Martin LeFevre: How I Became a Vegetarian
How I Became a Vegetarian
Fifteen years ago I was living in Silicon Valley across the street from Apple Computer’s corporate headquarters. The Santa Clara Valley was once a small jewel of apricot and cherry orchards running up to the Santa Cruz Mountains, above south San Francisco Bay. Now, needless to say, it is a sprawling, megalopolis of high technology firms.
There is a small park across from Apple, adjacent to the large apartment complex where I lived. Though ducks, geese, and big orange carp filled its man-made waterways, the noise and congestion at the heart of Silicon Valley hardly made it conducive to meditation. So a few times a week I would ride the bike or take the car up into the hills, to walk and sit in the huge Steven’s Creek Park.
It was during this period in my life that meditation became much more consistent, and deepened beyond anything I could have imagined. The sittings in the hills began generating intensely meditative states.
Once, walking out in complete inner stillness, I stopped to take in the surroundings. Suddenly a number of small animals—birds and squirrels-- appeared all around one. They were within a foot or two; clearly they had no fear, and were drawn to one.
Heading toward the car, I asked whether I should be vegetarian. The next day, forgetting the experience, and the question, I went to lunch with a female companion. We both had our favorite—BBQ chicken tacos. That night I became very ill, but since she didn’t, I assumed it was the flu.
Three or four days of vomiting and diarrhea later, I began passing blood. Obviously, it was time to see a doctor. The physician’s assistant who saw me (in between a run, pardon the pun, to the bathroom) asked twice, “Have you been out of the country?”
No, I answered irritably the second time, why? “Because I think you have a bacteria found in chicken that’s rarely seen in this country. And you’re so dehydrated you should be on an IV in the hospital. Since you don’t have insurance, I’ll give you a strong antibiotic, but if you’re not holding down liquids by morning, you have to promise to check yourself in.”
The physician came in to confirm the diagnosis, and gave me ‘the look’ That night I saw Death standing and waiting for me, not in space but in time, two days away. Real or hallucination, I was dead certain that on my present course I would expire in two days. But the antibiotics worked, and when I went back for a follow-up a week later, I told the doctor about the experience. He verified it, and said that’s why he gave me ‘the look.’
A week after onset of the food poisoning, I went out for the first time alone, to walk amongst the living in the little park next door. It was lunchtime and there were lots of people around, as well as the usual feathered fowl residents.
On the way I asked: Did my getting sick have anything to do with that meditation, the experience with the animals, and the question about becoming a vegetarian? As I entered the park a small, elderly Chinese woman made a beeline for me from 50 meters away. Without so much as a nod when she reached me, she blurted out: “Are you a vegetarian?”
When I recovered from my incredulity, I said, ‘No, but I’m just recovering from being really sick after eating chicken, and am thinking about it.’ She pointed at the ducks and geese, and in a voice that boomed without a trace of violence, she shouted: “Don’t eat animals! Don’t eat animals!”
OK, OK, I get it, I thought. We talked for a little while, and she told me in broken English how she had fled communist China. Then, out of the blue, she said, “I’m the Buddha.” Seeing that I was thinking the obvious, she immediately said, “I’m not crazy.” What do you mean then, I asked. “That the Buddha spirit is within me,” she said. That really rang true.
One can become a vegetarian from the heart, or even the head. But the surest, if hardest way to learn is from the gut.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.