A few more Tips for Indians preparing to live in the West – 9 Jul 15

After three weeks of writing about relationships of western women and Indian men, I believe this will be my last blog entry in this series. I had no idea when I started, that I would have so much to write about but I had a notion already that it is something that many people would like to read about. I know many people in the situations I have described and I am writing of course partly from my personal experience as well. Today I will finish this topic with my remaining thoughts that didn’t fit in anywhere until now.

One subject that can be an issue sometimes is vegetarianism. If you are a vegetarian, it can be difficult in some countries to go to a restaurant. The situation has massively improved for vegetarians in the past years but depending on the country and also the size of the town that you are in, you may only find that a tomato soup or a green salad are the only vegetarian options on the menu! A request for just some vegetables with rice can be met with incredulous and intolerant responses or offers to pick out the meat for you before.

And while there are Indian restaurants, you will not find one which really gives you the taste of India, the taste of your home! It is not necessarily their fault – it’s a restaurant after all and not your mum’s kitchen. They use imported ingredients which cannot taste as fresh as in India or local ones which will obviously taste different. On top of that, they are definitely too expensive to go there regularly. So my suggestion would be to learn cooking from your mum and then take some spices from India along to your new country – you will get as close as you can!

You will however also get to taste some local food and probably develop a taste for that as well. In some countries, it may surprise you how much bread people eat – daily and for example nothing else for breakfast! I have seen Indians watching with shock how a German breakfast could consist of different kinds of bread with jam, cheese or bread spread! If you get to eat German bread however, you will realize that it is definitely very tasty and might consider including it instead of making your roti yourself!

I hope I could give you a few thoughts and ideas. I wish everybody in an intercultural relationship all the best for whatever way you choose, whichever country you choose and whichever issues you face!

Oh, and one last thing for my Indian fellows in the west: if you are driving your car and get stopped by police, don’t try to bribe them… that will most certainly lead to the biggest trouble of your life!

The Hindu Hypocrisy of the holy Cow – 26 Jan 15

Not very long ago, we had quite an interesting conversation in the evening, when we were sitting around the fire with a few guests. We were talking about their experiences in India when one of them, a doctor from Germany, asked: ‘I have read about cows being holy in India but when walking in town, I saw many people wearing leather shoes, belts and bags. How does this fit together?

I actually had to reply her with one simple sentence: people are hypocrites. It is true, how else would you call that? How to explain such a thing to a traveler in India?

Hinduism tells that the cow is holy. That is correct. Nevertheless, you just have to go out on the road to see that there are cows that are in very bad conditions, walking homeless around town, eating every dirt that they can find, often including plastic and other waste products. They are haggard and ill. How does this work with the idea that they are holy?

Or are cows only holy as long as they give milk or can do your work? Because that’s what happens: milk cows are the ones who, when they cannot give birth anymore and thus don’t give milk anymore, are just left outside on the road to die.

Slaughtering cows is illegal in nearly all Indian states, except Kerala and West Bengal, but at the same time, the Indian leather industry is huge. It “has an annual turnover of more than five billion dollars and is responsible for 4% of the country’s total export earnings.” It just doesn’t fit together – cows must be slaughtered, too, in order to reach such figures for leather. And religious people wear and use it, too!

What do you think are the drum heads of the tablas and other instruments made of which are used in temples? I looked it up – goat or cow skin. Do you think every musician asks when buying his instrument? Do you think the temple priests check on that before those instruments enter the holiest area that they can imagine?

I doubt that very much.

I can also assure you that not every Hindu is vegetarian. Approximately 80 percent of the country’s population is Hindu. And only about 30 percent of India’s population is vegetarian. That makes a whole lot of Hindus who are not vegetarian. McDonalds may sell burgers made of chicken or lamb but do you think whenever these Hindus eat a little piece of meat mixed in a sandwich or other dish, they ask to confirm it isn’t cow?

No, they don’t.

And all of this makes me say they are hypocrites. You pretend to be loving cows, worship them and even drink their urine, believing it will give you some weird divine power – but then you have them slaughtered, eat them, wear their skin and drum on their skin in your sanctuary!

In the end, I always remain with the question: why the cows? Worship the cow and kick the dog. Save the cow and eat the pig. Why?

I am intolerant when it comes to Meat – and don’t feel guilty about it – 10 Dec 14

I already planned yesterday to tell you a bit more about my own experiences in various restaurants with special food requirements – and here you go!

I have been vegetarian my whole life long. In my hometown Vrindavan, you actually won’t find any restaurant that sells meat. It is a vegetarian town. I travelled a lot in my childhood but in India, and especially in the circles that I was moving in, being vegetarian is nothing unusual. On the contrary, the people that I was around considered being non-vegetarian an outrageous way of living.

Then I started travelling abroad. I knew before that I would be doing a lot of cooking for myself – I also used to do that when I was on journeys on my own. I got to know that there were no vegetarian restaurants available abroad. When I went to restaurants, it was Indian restaurants where I could clearly explain that I didn’t eat meat, nor onions nor garlic and they would understand.

And finally my Western friends started taking me to other restaurants and I learned to be very clear with everyone around what I would eat and what not and also how I could eat.

Most vegetarians in the west are used to being the minority and being the only ones to eat vegetarian food while everyone else eats meat around them. I was and am not used to this at all – and I have to tell people who go out for dinner with me that I cannot eat when there is meat on the table. I don’t have appetite, on the contrary, I even feel like I could get sick. For me, there is just too much connected with that piece of dead animal on your plate!

If you call this intolerant, I can accept that. I am, in this regard, fully intolerant – and I don’t feel guilty about it. If you believe you cannot eat vegetarian for one day when we are out together, I have to tell you that I will not eat with you at the same table. And next time I will completely avoid eating together with you. That’s just the only way that I can get down food into my stomach.

Now that doesn’t mean that I want everyone else around me to eat like I do at all times. I don’t want you to pretend being someone who you are not. Of course I would appreciate others to become vegetarian – which is a general attitude because I believe it would be good for everyone – but just because I tell the waiter that I don’t want onion or garlic in my sauce, you don’t need to do the same. I don’t mind my Western friends drinking a glass of wine in the evening either, when we are sitting together – even if I don’t ever touch alcohol. And in this way, I have had thousands of wonderful dinners.

What I mean to show is that even though you may have different habits than others, even though you can accept some things and others not, you should not feel bad about it. Know your limits and make them clear in a friendly and polite way. No need for bad feelings if everyone knows about it.

Should someone decide to pass a stupid comment – so be it, you don’t need to give them the pleasure of your company while having lunch or dinner!

Don’t feel guilty about being Vegetarian among Meat-eating Friends – 9 Dec 14

Yesterday I explained my dislike of 'meat substitutes' like tofu sausages etc. I mentioned that you shouldn't have feelings of regret and cravings once you have made your conscious decision to be vegetarian. I remain on this point and want to add that it is still true, even if you are sitting with friends in a restaurant and don't find any acceptable vegetarian options on the menu! Don't feel bad or even guilty about your choice of lifestyle!

Many vegetarians know this feeling: you go to a place to eat together with friends. You open the menu and the only thing that could be eatable for you would be a tomato salad. If you don't eat onions, like me, even that is not an option. There is no single dish without dead animal in there.

What to do? You can either take the tomato salad and plan for another snack to still your hunger once you come home or you can start asking the waiter for vegetarian options. Depending on the person in front of you and the flexibility of the restaurant kitchen, that can be a rather lengthy discussion. You will get incomprehensive glances and maybe even stupid remarks. In the meantime, you start feeling more and more uncomfortable, wondering whether your friends feel you are making a fuss and are getting impatient because you cannot just place a simple order.

The result: you feel guilty and bad. If your meal arrives and it turns out that they have only picked out the bacon from the sauce and you still see the rests, it gets worse. Should you complain, embarrassing your friends further? In the end, your evening is definitely not as pleasant as you hoped for.

I tell you something: you have to take some decisions. If you know that you will go for dinner, tell your friends that you need a place that has vegetarian options or you won't go. Nothing that they need to feel bad about and nothing that you have to feel bad about. If you want to do something together – and you friendship should be more important than the choice of restaurant – you can go to a place that has something to eat for you, too! After all, these days vegetarianism is not anymore such a strange thing! Restaurants should cater to this need as well – and if they don't, you should not bring them business and definitely not blame your own decisions.

Another option is to invite your friends to your home! Cook something together or simply invite them when you have cooked one of your favourite dishes. Show them that vegetarian food is tasty – maybe they will then agree on finding a good place with you that does have vegetarian meals!

I am lucky to live in the country that has the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world – which means that there are always vegetarian restaurants somewhere close-by available. I am faced with another issue sometimes: I don’t eat onions or garlic. But I have lots of experience in the food question – and I think I will write more about my personal experiences tomorrow.

Substituting Meat is a wrong Approach to Vegetarianism – 8 Dec 14

Recently I stumbled upon an article online that had a headline similar to this ‘The 10 best Substitutes for Meat’. As you could expect with such a title, the author described ten food items that you could use instead of meat. I hate this kind of articles. Wait, no, it is not the ’10 best…’ theme that I dislike. It is the subject of this article. The idea that going vegetarian could mean that you need to substitute meat!

I believe it is the wrong approach to vegetarianism. Why do you turn from meat-eater to vegetarian? There are so many possibilities: because you love animals and want to stop animal cruelty, because you are sensitive enough to know that it is wrong to raise a duck in order to eat it, because you have read and actually feel that your body is not made for it…

All of these reasons mean that you consciously decide that you don’t want to have meat on your plate anymore. So why do you act like you are missing it and need to replace it?

That’s the reason why I don’t like all those alternative products in shape of popular meat forms – tofu-sausages, seitan-bacon and vegetarian chicken or vegan turkey! Do you really want to imagine eating a turkey? Do you miss eating dead animals and regret your decision each time you have to say ‘without bacon’ while ordering breakfast?

I can just say it again: you have made a conscious decision!

It’s not like you have a meat-intolerance that deprives you of the joys of biting into the thigh flesh of a killed and cooked pig! If you have lactose-intolerance and have to give up on yoghurt or substitute it with soy products, I understand that you sometimes look at a yoghurt made of milk and think how easy life could be if you could eat it like everybody else.

If you have such feelings about your vegetarian diet, you are on the wrong path. You won’t succeed keeping a diet while feeling guilty about it and longing to eat something else!

You don’t need substitutes. Make normal, regular vegetarian dishes. Eat tofu and seitan and whatever you like – but buy it in its normal form without the label of some kind of animal on it! Take care to eat a balanced diet without thinking you are lacking anything by not eating meat – eating a proper vegetarian diet is healthier than eating meat!

Be confident about your decision and stop searching for substitutes!

The Conflict in between Shamanism and Yoga – 8 Jun 14

I told you about the conflict that a gay friend of mine had because his guru didn’t accept his sexuality. This was not his only inner conflict – he had one more which he shared with several others of my friends: he was attracted to shamanism, in a similar way as he was attracted to yoga. But yogis are vegetarians – shamans absolutely not! That is an interesting contradiction which I reflected upon a lot in 2006.

A friend of mine who was in this situation explained the whole dilemma to me because I was not exactly aware of what shamanism all included. One thing I had heard however was that they ate a lot of meat. I had even heard rumours that they sacrificed animals – and had found this to be a very cruel practice by someone who claimed to be spiritual!

A friend told me that it was true, people interested in shamanism were not usually or normally vegetarians, even if this did not mean that they killed their rabbits or guinea pigs for worshipping god. Oh well, so they did not cause cruel animal suffering on their own but were still responsible for some of it by eating meat themselves!

My friend said that this exactly was the problem! He felt attracted to the rituals, the philosophy of a spirit in everyone and every being and even stones, plants or the wind. At the same time however he followed not only yogic philosophy as well but also yogic nutrition! He was a strict vegetarian and had recently even started a vegan diet – long before it was so much in fashion as today.

How could you say that there is a spirit in everything and then eat meat? Dead animal? He told me the most common answer of his shamanic friends: we thank the animal before we eat it for sacrificing his life and becoming our food.

No, that did NOT make it okay for him to eat meat. He did NOT feel that saying ‘thank you’ made the animal suffer any less.

I felt his conflict and told him just to stay with his vegetarian and vegan diet. Why do you have to follow such paths if you don’t feel it is right for you? You like the rituals? Fine, find your own rituals and include them in your life. You want to talk to wind and rain, to sun and moon? Fine, do it with your own words.

Just be yourself. Accept and respect your sensitivity and listen to your body, mind and heart. Then there won’t be any such conflicts!

User Guide for Swami Balendu, Chapter Two: Meat, Alcohol and Cigarettes – 27 Oct 13

Last week I told you how my friend was joking around about having to write a guide on how to deal with me. We had much fun talking about the little differences in between my lifestyle and the normal western one but when I thought about it seriously, there were of course some things which people were not sure about before they really met me and got to know my attitude, ideas and way of living.

It didn’t matter for example how many years I had spent in the west, I had not – and still haven’t – swayed from being a convinced vegetarian. I believed and still believe that it is the best for your body if you don’t eat meat and I also thought and think that it is the natural food for humans. It is not necessary to kill animals for us to survive and I feel it is cruel of humans to slaughter all different kinds of animals for meat, not to mention the horrible circumstances they are being kept in, the environmental consequences and how many hungry people we could feed with the food that is used for those animals.

I grew up in a vegetarian town and also with my later work, I was always surrounded by vegetarians. In these circumstances I actually had a very bad opinion of meat-eaters when I was younger. I thought them to be cruel and I actually didn’t think that any good person could be eating meat. This changed when I came to the west.

After a short time I realized that this was a difference of culture and growing up and that there were a whole lot of lovely people who were meat-eaters! Once thing could not change however: I still cannot eat at the same table where meat is being eaten. I feel physically unwell when someone eats meat in front of me. I cannot eat my normal food – I just don’t have any appetite when there is this dead flesh lying in front of me! I cannot stand the smell either, it makes me feel sick! I have several times eaten after someone or at a different table just to be able to eat my food in peace. Mostly however the other party values our common meal more and we eat something vegetarian together – after all, mostly I cook a delicious and wholesome Indian meal that doesn’t give room for missing anything!

I tell about my eating habits when anybody asks or I am at a place that is new for me where people don’t know me yet. After hearing this, many people assume that I would not like to sit at a table with them when they drink alcohol. That however is a different story! I would obviously not like watching anybody get drunk – and I have very rarely actually met someone I knew in a state of real drunkenness. If someone has a glass of wine or a beer with dinner or afterwards, when we are sitting together, I really don’t mind. I have never tried alcohol in my life and I have no intention of ever doing so but I realize that you don’t get drunk from one glass and that you are most probably not addicted to it either! It doesn’t make me think you are an alcoholic and while I won’t join you or serve alcohol to you in my home, I will enjoy an evening at your home also if you decide to open a bottle of champagne.

In order to complete this topic, there should be another aspect mentioned: what about smoking? Well, I would not like to sit in a room where the smoke is hanging under the ceiling and where my clothes will smell horrible once I come out. I would prefer not to stand next to you when you are smoking because when you blow the smoke in my direction, it irritates my nose. But no, while I think it is bad for your health and you should quit smoking, I don’t think you are a bad person. You have an addiction, that’s all.

So these were the main aspects – but apart from that I was and am quite easy to be with!

6 Answers to a Meat-Eater saying ‘Plants are alive and feel Pain, too!’ – 27 Jul 12

Everybody who has been reading my diary for some time and those who have been looking around the different topics I have been writing about, knows that I am a vegetarian, my family is vegetarian and our whole town is vegetarian. You may also have read or heard me advocating vegetarianism which I will definitely always keep on doing. One of the counter-arguments of meat-eaters often seems so silly to me that I don’t have words to answer: “But why do you kill plants? They are also alive and feel pain!” I decided to gather together all my thoughts and write them down here. In future, whenever this question makes me speechless, I have a blog post to refer the person to.

So here are my answers for you:

  1. Don’t you think you are just being defensive because you know how much suffering your meat-eating causes?
  2. Most of the times, when you eat a vegetable, it does not mean you kill the whole plant! If you pick a tomato off its bush, it will just regrow! Cut your spinach, eat it and let it grow again. Did you ever try that with a chicken wing? No, it does not regrow!
  3. Maybe you argue now that it hurts the tomato plant each time that I pick a tomato off it, just as it would hurt me if someone pulled off a bunch of hair from my head. If you really want to use this kind of comparison, just think of all the hair that is falling off your head every day – picking a ripe tomato is much more like that, easy, painless and it is anyway due to fall off.
  4. Why, really why do you think plants feel pain? Did it scream when you pulled it? Did it run away? I don’t think so! You cannot say that about those millions of pigs, cows, goats, sheep and chicken that are killed every day. There are lots of documentaries that show the fear of those animals when they know they are going to be killed – I have never seen such a thing in plants. Have you?
  5. If we just assume that you actually ‘kill’ plants like wheat when you harvest them, let’s just count how many of them got killed for my food and how many you indirectly killed for eating your meat. How many plants did that poor cow eat before it was slaughtered and ended up on your plate? And how many not re-growing plants do I eat every day? I think you are the one who kills more of them!
  6. If you really think that plants feel pain and if you are really concerned about this, shouldn’t you especially have the morals not to kill animals? And if you really believe this, you should only eat fruit and vegetables that have fallen off their trees and bushes – then you would not hurt any of them.

So you see, that argument did not actually turn out to be anti-vegetarian at all but rather anti-meat-eating! I hope this will help some more vegetarians who are not willing to discuss this topic with anybody who makes such a stupid counter-argument. I will definitely save this link and use it as my standard answer as of now.

A Variety of Experiences in New Zealand – 15 Apr 12

With my lectures and individual sessions at my first station in New Zealand in 2003, I got to know a lot of people from nearby towns and villages, too. There were some yoga teachers among them who invited me to their yoga studios to give lectures and healing sessions in their towns, too. So it was good that I had not fixed further program and had kept some time open for staying and travelling in the area. I had had this kind of experiences in India my whole life long. I had travelled much and often without fixing the time when I would come back and so I trusted that there would be enough program to fill my time in New Zealand, too.

I cannot tell you to how many places I have been in the days and weeks that followed. There were so many different people so that I sometimes changed the place every day. Someone came to a program, said they would love to have me at their place, too, and I said okay, let’s go! They took me along right away or one of the next days. I was just free and open to accept whatever would come.

I made lots of experiences in that time with a lot of people. Once a woman picked me up and took me to her town. It was a drive of two hours. Having arrived there, we parked the car, got out and I was astonished when I saw her simply walking into the house – without a key, she just opened the door. So she had been out of her house for more than four hours to pick me up and she had not locked her door! I was amazed that in this country there was obviously so little crime and so many honest people that it was not necessary to lock your door. She was not afraid of anybody robbing her house and stealing her things!

I remember that I also gave a lecture to the theosophical society of a town. I think it was the man who had invited me to that lecture with whom I had a funny misunderstanding. I stayed with him maybe for a few days and at the first meal together I asked him whether he was vegetarian. He answered ‘No, I like my meat!’. I was very surprised and actually a bit shocked at first thinking ‘What? This man eats his own body?’ When I realized what he actually meant, that he simply liked meat, I had to laugh. My English, although it was getting better every day, made me think he ate himself!

What I do remember very exactly from all my travel in the country during those weeks is that wherever I went, to any town, village or city of which I don’t even remember the names now, there was wonderful and amazing nature. I was fascinated by the amazing landscape and the creation of this world. I can say for sure that New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places of this world.

If you eat Meat do not claim that you love Animals – 28 Jun 11

Yesterday I wrote about Mark Zuckerberg and his idea to eat only meat of animals that he killed himself. I mentioned that in my opinion one possible reason for this idea was the history of the meat that you can usually buy at the supermarket or even at the local butchers.

Apart from the fact that it is medically better for you to have a balanced vegetarian nutrition than eating meat, there are reasons for being vegetarian that have more to do with the way that animals are kept nowadays.

Let me describe you the ideal way that any meat-eater would hope that his meat comes to his plate. There is a young calf, born to a happy mother-cow in a big farm in the mountain area. It grows up, drinking milk from the mother, being brought up by its mother but also the loving farmer. Each day, the farmer brings the calf and its family to the meadows where it can eat fresh grass and herbs. It grows and gets stronger and stronger. One day, the butcher comes to the farm and without any pain or fear to this animal, kills it, ideally even praying for it and thanking God and nature for the life he takes. He brings the meat to the market where it is sold as freshly as possible and without any further treatment.

This however, my dear friends, is not the reality. It is only an illusion and not the history of the meat on your plate. It may have been, many years ago, when the towns were smaller and when there was less demand for meat. The lifestyle of cows even was similar in my childhood, when we and several neighbours had cows and a person who took care of them. He picked them up at our home in the morning and brought them to the forest or on meadows. In the afternoon or evening he brought them back and we milked them.

These days however calves are being born in the hundreds on big livestock farms that have thousands of pieces of cattle. The calves are separated from their mothers right after birth and grow fast and fat with hormone injections given daily or weekly. Milk cows additionally get injections for a bigger milk production. They have a space of maybe three square meters where they can hardly lie down and where it is impossible for them to turn around. They see the open sky maybe once in their lives – on the way to the butcher’s house. The selected cows are brought there, beaten to the right way, their shrieks and cries of fear and pain are ignored. They are slaughtered in the most brutal ways, often without care whether they are quickly dead or if they die slowly and with much pain. Their meat is taken, stuffed full of chemicals to make it look fresher, better and to preserve it longer and sometimes it is mixed with waste to increase the amount. Then it travels long ways on lorries to get it to supermarkets where it may lie around several weeks until you finally buy and eat it.

Do you really think this is good? Do you really want to eat this meat?

It is not only cows! Chicken are sitting on top of each other in tiny cages, their beaks cut off, their feet and wings crippled, just laying eggs and, when of no use anymore, killed for being eaten. Pigs are produced en masse, stuffed with hormones and chemicals to make them fat and then killed in similar ways. The list goes on with all other animals that are kept in mass stock and merely for being eaten.

You eat all their pain, their misery, the cruelty, their fear, the hormones, chemicals, preservatives and their death along with their meat.

This is happening all over the world. Even in India, where Hinduism once protected cows from this fate, this is what is now in many places reality. Cows were considered holy but then there was a business, a demand for their meat and with it the idea to put them in a cage and produce more and more and more. The religious feelings all vanished and what is left in the end is the cruelty of humans who ignore nature, animals and everything around them in a greed for more wealth.

Don’t support this greed. Don’t support their cruelty. Live a vegetarian life. If you eat eggs and drink milk, take care from where it comes. Don’t eat meat. It is not good for you and not good for the world.