Would you knowingly harm, injure, or kill another being? Most likely not — what an outrageous question. Yet the very thing arose when I was standing at the counter in a French chacuterie, waiting to buy some goat’s milk cheese made in Quebec. And there, in the display case, where several bins with freshly made sausages, also some duck confit, and various smoked bits of meat. “Times like this,” I mused to the counterperson, “I’d be willing to become a carnivore.”
What is it, I wondered later. How serious am I about the precept of doing no harm, of saving all sentient beings? I realize this isn’t so much about whether carrots have feelings or potatoes had mothers but about the length I’m prepared to go in keeping a vow. Do I love you, for instance, when all’s well — and stop loving you when the passion has died and you’re merely another human? Do I extend my heart of compassion to someone dying at hospice and then side-step the weird creature standing at the street corner asking for change to buy a cup of coffee?
How do we practice loving kindness in all its manifestations and still retain a sense of personal boundaries. How much of myself do I give before my heart feels empty and I become resentful? Does it really matter — in the great scheme of things — whether I eat a sausage once in a while, or every day, or never ever? What matters, I believe, is intention: the resolve to meet each situation with as much openness and determination I can muster; to do my utmost to be honest and caring in all circumstances — and to cut myself some slack when an obstacle throws me off-track. And to reflect on what happened and resolve to try again, without regrets or self-blame.