Throughout the ages, mankind and womankind, have lived with traditions.
Traditions have the power to bind people with a common purpose. Many traditions, however, are based around animals. Some traditions require slaughtering of animals or sacrifices, while others centre around eating meat, turkey, fish and sweet delicacies, or wearing animal skins or furs, or even using animals as entertainment. What would happen if we had to remove the animal aspect from traditions? Would people still rally around at times of celebration or would they all isolate?
Since in my life-time it is not likely that the use of animals in traditional “celebrations” will change, I can only assume that humankind would adapt. We have adapted through the ages but change can be hard. Remember when we suddenly had to dial an area code to make a local phone call? Now this is the norm and we could not imagine not having to do so. Of course, removing animals from ones traditions is going to be far harder than this, but the example illustrates that humans can and must adapt. What was once an obstacle, becomes an opportunity for change.
I am not a religious person. This does not mean that I am not a spiritual person and that I do not appreciate the positive foundations of many traditions which have a religious purpose, espousing values such as peace, respect, love and harmony. The irony is, however, that these very values are the ones, from the perspective of animal rights, that are violated by many well-intentioned traditions. Many celebrate life and if they concern mortality or death, they celebrate that figure-head’s life. How then can one reconcile the different treatment given to animals and non-human animals? Surely the unnecessary and cruel death of sentient beings can never justify or form part of a celebration of life?
For me, it is often everyday activities which have replaced the need for traditions. Going to Iyengar yoga classes is one of these traditions for me. Classes start with an invocation and generally close with a poem, reading or prayer, all of which are not based on a religious following. The depth of the words after a physical yoga class is powerful and they all have common threads: love, peace, adbundence, gratitude and respect. I share one of the prayers with you below, the origins of which are not known (thank you Eileen, my yoga guru and guide, for sending me a copy):
May there be joy and happiness for everyone
May the earth be ruled by righteous rulers and in a righteous way
May there be always welfare for animals and for people of wisdom
May the entire universe be love and peace
May the rains fall in proper times
May the earth bear healthy grains
May this land never know any agitation
May the people of wisdom be always fearless in thought, in words, in action
Lead me from the unreal to the real
From the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge
From the mortality of body to the immortality of the self
Salutations to the noblest of sages Patanjali
Salutations to our revered Guru
Aum Shanti Shanti Shanti
Aum Peace Peace Peace