‘Cause when I look at them, even the ones that aren’t soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo cute, something in me says, aw, you’re sentient.
There’s a lot of wisdom in “awwww.”
That basic reaction of compassion tells us something spiritually-vital—compassion for animals isn’t just for animals’ sake—it’s for our sake. Excerpt re this connection from a Buddhist pov:
Last year, the Dorje Dradul told me that when he was young he always began his tonglen in the same way. He would think about a puppy he had seen when he was eight years old. This puppy was stoned to death by people who were laughing and jeering as they killed it. It was whimpering and dying. And when he did his practice, it was so straightforward. All he had to do was to think of that dog, and his heart would start to be activated instantly. There was nothing complicated about it. He would have done anything to breathe in the suffering of that animal and to breathe out relief. So the idea is to start with something like that, something that activates your heart. That is why, traditionally, it is said to start with your mother.
Gradually, having started the practice this way, you could extend it out to people who are somewhat “neutral.” These may be people whom you also love; but, when you think of their faces, rage or some other kind of confusion occurs. At that point, you are actually doing tonglen for them and for yourself and for the space in between you if you know what I mean. And then, gradually, the practice moves out to include people whom you actually hate, people you consider to be your enemies or to have actually harmed you. This expansion actually evolves by doing the practice. You cannot fake these things. Therefore, you start with the things that are close to your heart.
And so you think of a puppy, for instance, being stoned and dying in pain, and you breathe that in. Then it is no longer just a puppy. It is your connection with the realization that there are puppies and people suffering unjustly like that all over the world. So you immediately extend the practice out and breathe in the suffering of all the people who are suffering like that animal.
Pull the thread of animal rights…and we find it interdependently tied to social causes, civil rights, meditation and spiritual practice, faith in God, family…everything worth anything. And that sucks, you see: ’cause then we can never eat bacon, no more—in the same way that we can’t kick a puppy or wear shoes made by child labor. We walk a new path, one that’s not about perfection—everything we buy or wear or eat is tied to suffering—but because we want to do our best, and enjoy this short, wonderful life to the utmost.