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The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights Paperback – June 1, 2004
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About the Author
Norm Phelps was the spiritual outreach director of The Fund for Animals, as well as a founding member of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV) and a contributing writer for Satya. His goal was for faith communities of all traditions to include animals within the scope of their compassionate ministries. Norm Phelps's books include The Dominion of Love, The Great Compassion and The Longest Struggle. Norm passed away in the end of 2014.
Top customer reviews
As a lay practitioner of Buddhism, I found this to be one of the most personally relevant books on Buddhism that I've encountered, and I've encountered a bunch. It's rejuvenated my practice. Mr. Phelps' insights and perspectives have actually given me something "to do" with my Buddhism--a proactive way to practice compassion, i.e. by being vegan.
I've been vegetarian, but it didn't really help my mental state. This book brought me out of a selfish perspective, one of meditation and reflection, and into a more comprehensive perspective. It's not about our suffering. It's about their suffering. (This might be a direct quote from the book.) This perspective seems to be exactly what I needed and my "practice" now feels much more relevant. I seem less concerned about my own state of comfort, which once made facing animal abuse head-on difficult for me. I simply was unable to dwell upon it for long without feeling utter despair, but I find that being proactive is a subtle but important coping technique. Don't waste time worrying. Find peace through action. I have difficulty comprehending how any of us can ever have absolute peace when so much suffering is occurring, but the only hope would seem to be in actively seeking to eliminate as much of it as we can. All Buddhists should take a long hard look at animal suffering and this book is the place to start.
Compassion author Norm Phelps leaves no stone - or excuse - unturned. His book takes us through moving and horrific descriptions of the treatment of animals in factory farms, and the biological foundations of pain and pleasure - evidence of pain perception, including fish and amphibians - and on to the inseparable link between vegetarianism and compassion. He compares the compassion of Buddhism as it stands against other religions and philosophies and offers concise descriptions of compassion, loving-kindness, and the Five Precepts. Phelps dives deeply into the confusion over the transcribing and translation of the Buddha's words and thoroughly discusses the over-rated "three-fold rule" of meat eating. The author has a strong grasp of Buddhist theology and history, and he relates all this information, which is sometimes quite upsetting, with a sense of wit. He thoroughly and convincingly tears apart all the ridiculous arguments held by Buddhists that are attached to flesh foods, like the attachments to vegetarianism (how can one be attached to compassion?), "the Buddha ate meat, so why can't I?" (a claim that has now been widely discredited by historians), and other cloaks behind which meat-eating Buddhists hide.
Compassion's complete dismemberment of all the myths and arguments regarding vegetarianism in Buddhism can only be ignored by the blindest of practitioners. The simple truths contained in these pages can not be discounted, even by the teachers Phelps takes to task for their disparaging remarks on vegetarianism and compassion.
Above all there are two resounding, important ideals that emanate from this work. The first is the ideal of ultimate truth, for which all Buddhists strive, vs. relative truth, in which we all reside. Not only has this been a stumbling block for Buddhists through the ages, but it has provided an excuse for people to defend their bad behaviors. The shallow understanding of Emptiness that says "there is no animal being eaten or person eating the animal" as a loophole to eat animals is as ludicrous as saying "there is no rape victim and no rapist" as a defense for rape.
The second ideal is that "It's not about us; it's about the animals." This statement is not only true in the context of vegetarianism, but in Buddhism as a whole. We do not help the homeless for ourselves, we do not save animals for ourselves, we do not volunteer and give money to charities for ourselves. We are offering service for those who are served. It is the Bodhisattva ideal.
The Great Compassion is thoroughly researched and extremely well-written and despite the descriptions of factory farms and my disappointment over seeing so many Buddhist teachers and students disparaging our precious scriptures with their anti-compassion remarks, it is, in fact, a pleasure to read. This book gives me renewed hope that western Buddhism will evolve into a religion of compassion, foresight and beauty that Buddhism has always been destined to become.