Living a compassionate life

by Rachel Pawelski

Opinion Contributor

A few years ago, I read a conversation between the Brazilian theologist Leonardo Boff and the Dalai Lama that still resonates with me to this day. Following is a brief excerpt from Boff’s recollection of the conversation:

In a round table discussion about religion and freedom in which Dalai Lama and myself were participating at recess I maliciously, and also with interest, asked him, “Your holiness, what is the best religion?” …He answered, “The best religion is the one that gets you closest to God. It is the one that makes you a better person.” To get out of my embarrassment with such a wise answer, I asked: “What is it that makes me better?” He responded, “Whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more detached, more loving, more humanitarian, more responsible, more ethical… The religion that will do that for you is the best religion.”

I feel that my faith makes me a better person and that is truly important. Religion allows these desirable traits such as compassion, love and responsibility to extend across all man-made barriers and enables us to adopt a holistic approach to self-improvement as well as world improvement.

In a world where there is so much suffering, it is important that we take it upon ourselves to be the beacon of hope for all of those around us. As long as we are able, it is our duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and relieve those we can from suffering. As reaffirmed by Pope Francis’ recent discussion of Lent being a time of mercy more than sacrifice, I believe this is something we all may benefit from remembering. Once we are able to understand that our actions are based out of mercy, the focus is no longer on what we have been troubled to sacrifice, but more on how we have been able to better ourselves, as well as the lives of others, in the process.

We are able to vastly reduce the amount of suffering in this world by simply making a conscious effort not to support those contributing to it. To me, this not only includes refraining from supporting unjust organizations such as sweatshops, but also factory farms. This is why I have chosen for not only the Lenten season, but also everyday for the past ten years or so, to refrain from eating other animals. I feel it is truly important to extend our love, compassion and morals to all beings, not only to those within our own species. By doing this, I believe I am not only bettering myself, but also doing my part to better the world as a whole.

The plight faced by millions of animals daily on factory farms is one that is completely unnecessary. In these facilities, the animals used for food suffer horribly. Some starve to death before even making it to slaughter. Some are in such terrible condition that they are dragged there. Others are improperly stunned, resulting in being submerged into scalding hot water, still fully conscious. So far, we have not even touched on the plight of the human animals working at these facilities. Most commonly illegal immigrants, these employees work seemingly endless shifts for low pay and minimal breaks. If they are injured on the job, they do not have health coverage and usually receive little compensation from their employer.

During this period of lent and heightened focus on our religion in general, it is important to keep others in mind. To me it comes down to a fairly simple question: If we are able to better ourselves as well as extend our love, compassion, responsibility and ethics even further, then why wouldn’t we?

For more information on the cruelties of factory farms as well as tips for an easy transition to a meat-free diet, stop by the next Canisius Veg Club meeting or sign Canisius’ Meatless Monday pledge online at canisius.meatlessmondaypledge.com today!

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