Yvan Beck: The "Buddha nature" of the animal

- through Sophie Solere

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A veterinarian in Brussels, Yvan Beck has been mobilizing for the animal cause and the protection of the environment for forty years. Through his multifaceted commitments, he urges us to become aware of the interdependence that connects humans, animals and living things, particularly through the Belgian NGO Planète-Vie, which he has chaired since 1995, but also his documentaries. , as LoveMEATender who explores the issues of meat production, from cultural to economic, from political to ethical, and his books – This is not a dolphin: manifesto for legal recognition of the living world, preface by Matthieu Ricard. Since 1992, Yvan Beck has been following the teachings of the great masters of Tibetan Buddhism.

What could a Buddhist relationship to animals mean concretely?

With his animal, a Buddhist is invited to have a relationship of respect and love, a relationship of being to be and not of domination. Buddhism teaches us that human beings, animals and all of the living world share the same fundamental nature. Streams of consciousness are not separate from each other. An ant, a panther or a human being goes from life to life, from experience to experience, from reincarnation to reincarnation, towards the accomplishment of this goal: to find the nature of Buddha. The animal is therefore an extension of what we are. In the Buddhist vision, the characteristics attributed to man are diminishing: consciousness, intelligence, the use of tools, culture and the link to death are found everywhere in the living world, obviously varying degrees of expression. The natural sciences show that an incalculable number of species, even aquatic ones, carry intelligence and wisdom: fish, chickens, cetaceans such as dolphins, bird societies, in particular crows, which are incredibly organized.

Unfortunately, even for part of my profession, the link to the animal is often experienced as that of man to a "thing". If in the law, animals are called “sentient beings”, they nevertheless remain prisoners of this category which is “furniture”.

Does your spirituality influence your profession as a veterinarian?

In my medical office, a room has long been dedicated to my meditative practices. The place is therefore imbued with a certain spiritual atmosphere. I've been in this business for about XNUMX years, and I think people appreciate the calm, loving, and peaceful environment we provide for their pets in our care space. Some masters are sometimes surprised by the behavior of their animal. Animals perceive subtle energies, beyond the body, as the aura of people. They feel if the therapist is centered in an intention of openness and love. When I approach an animal, before starting, I formulate mentally and tactilely the possibility of entering into contact with it. Sometimes, especially in osteopathy, it happens that an animal is refractory. So, I suggest to the owners that we reschedule an appointment another day, because today, the animal refuses contact.

All animals face pain. How aware are they of this?

Samsara is a vast ocean of suffering, we all experience it. Like human beings, animals try to escape ill-being and suffering by trying to establish the conditions for their well-being and happiness – when they live in freedom! But a cow, a breeding pig or a hen in a battery has no other solution than to be crushed by what is imposed on them, like a prisoner in a jail. Animals “raised” in intensive agriculture are aware of their suffering and the death that awaits them with the slaughterhouse.

“Animals perceive subtle energies, beyond the body, as the aura of people. They feel if the therapist is centered in an intention of openness and love. »

I will take the case of dolphins, which I know well. In this species, many cases of "suicides" have been observed. By a voluntary act, the animal stops breathing! These mammals are endowed with astonishing cognitive and psychic abilities, and when they find themselves captive, in an environment tragically unsuited to their needs, they suffer from depression. First, the stress of capture, the break with their family and their lifelong companions, and then the impossibility of traveling long distances, the chemically treated water which attacks them, the obligation to perform during the dressage and shows… All this generates deep suffering and nameless traumas which sometimes lead them to die voluntarily or to inflict injuries on themselves.

How do you approach the question of euthanasia?

The act of euthanasia, which comes up regularly in my profession, has long posed a problem for me. Then, about twenty years ago, I went on a phowa retreat, under the guidance of a Tibetan master. Phowa, which is passed down through a line of masters in Vajrayana Buddhism, is a practice of ejection or transference of consciousness at the time of death. Buddhism urges humans to enter death with full consciousness, so that at the moment of transference into the bardos (those states of existence between death and rebirth) they can be fully conscious. The same is true for animals. The ideal is not to intervene and to let the natural process of death take place. On the other hand, if there is consciousness and intelligence in the animal world, the levels are lower than in the human being. Being able to transcend suffering in the hope of arriving at another state is not part of the baggage of the animal world. In these cases, an act of euthanasia can be posed as an act of love. My patients know that I don't easily offer euthanasia… From the moment I accept, the animal is going through great suffering.

Your support concerns the animal at the end of its life, but also the masters at the time of this delicate and trying event...

Yes. At the time of separation, I invite owners to see their emotion of sadness, their grief, as a positive sign of shared happiness, rather than sinking into the pain of separation. In a civilization where we have taken death out of our lives, the death of the animal often sends the owner back to his own death. However, life and death are two facets of the same reality.

How does Buddhism conceive of a human being's attachment to animals?

Attachment is a deeply human feeling, linked to fears and desires – which are the basis of the chaotic functioning of our incarnation. But we can love our loved ones or our animals without being attached. The goal of spiritual practice is to reach that level of unconditional love where we are free from attachment. So don't confuse love with love. With the people who come to consult me, if I feel an openness, a listening ear, I try to strengthen the bond of love they have with their animal. And sometimes to ensure that this bond of love extends to all that is, by not separating things, but, on the contrary, by placing them in a universal interdependence.

Buddhism is a doctrine of non-violence, and in this spirit, proposes a vegetarian diet. How old is this food choice for you?

About twenty years ago, within the Planète-Vie association, I was in charge of files dealing with intensive farming. I was deeply shocked by these practices and stopped eating meat. It was a real liberation. Today, when I see meat, I see a sentient being.

The message of the Dalai Lama is clear: he invites us to make our arrangements and to choose, if our health permits, a plant-based diet. During a congress held in 1967 on vegetarianism, he declared: “I see no reason at all why animals should be slaughtered to serve a human diet when there are so many substitutes (…) Life is as expensive for a mute creature than for a man. For Buddhism, taking a life is contrary to its ethic which is based on three precepts: do no evil, practice good and work for the good of all beings. Not taking the life of an animal for food is also a way of doing the least amount of negative actions, which would result in fruits of negativity. Moreover, we now know that meat consumption has an enormous ecological cost: depletion of natural resources, pollution, global warming... In 2050, we will be 9 billion people, and to feed ourselves with meat, it will take 36 billion farm animals.

The Mahayana teaches us to awaken our compassion. When do we know if our compassion is real?

When the day we see someone throwing a stone at a dog, we feel the same openness of heart for the dog as for the one who threw the stone!

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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