Sojin is a Tibetan word and means ‘to give life’. This is the name we gave our small animal liberation organization which came into existence under the guidance of Adzom Rinpoche. One of our main goals as a sangha based network is to raise funds so that we can help purchase animals that are destined for slaughter. As a part of this effort we hope to have enough funds to make a sizeable donation each year to Jetsuma and Rinpoche’s great annual liberation of yaks and other animals from certain death. Inseparable from this is our target of bringing awareness to the plight of animals in the world.
From a very young age I’ve really had a great love of animals. I would bring home all kinds of wounded creatures and try to nurse them back to health. Perhaps this is why Rinpoche seems to have targeted me to lead this organization. I don’t know. When he last taught in Houston he asked me several times to oversee Sojin. But it wasn’t my idea originally. Brooke Kemmerer initiated the coming together of this group and got several of us committed to participating and then brought the group before Rinpoche. I felt it was a worthy venture so I joined in. After our first meeting with Rinpoche he asked that I make sure Sojin becomes a reality. I probably was not aware of the importance he placed on this effort, so at his first request I answered, “Maybe.”! He asked me a second time during Semtri and I responded, “I’ll think about it.” Finally, on his last day of teachings he stood up and before leaving the hall in front of everyone looked me straight in the eye and insisted, “You do this!” At that moment I really understood the importance of this organization and have been working on it ever since.
Over the last few years I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into making this organization a reality. Rinpoche was very clear that he wanted this organization to help rescue animals destined to be slaughtered, and secondly, that our sangha not eat meat. He told me personally that these two aspects are equally important and that if we aren’t immediately able to rescue animals at least we should absolutely refrain from eating them.
Since our little Sojin group came together in 2009 we have liberated thousands of small animals including crickets, worms, fish, crabs and shrimp. Rinpoche suggested we free as many animals as possible and that little animals are easy and important to free. Crickets can be purchased from pet stores and freed into fields. It is easy to purchase worms from tackle stores and place them in healthy soil. On our website we discuss humane ways of freeing native species back into safe and harmless environments. This is important because it keeps us from inadvertently causing harm in our efforts to free animals. Rinpoche also talked about his wish for students to see slaughter houses and for us to really educate ourselves about the cruelty involved in eating store-bought meat.
Right now as part of Sojin one of the most important things we can do is to refrain from eating animal life. Rinpoche has repeatedly begged his Western students to take this practice very seriously. He has discussed at great length, that in terms of feelings, the only difference between animal life and human life is that humans have a more articulate language to express their experience. But other than this, in terms of the feelings themselves, we all share the same experience of cold, heat, thirst, loneliness, sadness, depression, fear and longing. Mother animals mourn for their babies when they are taken from them and babies get overwhelmed and scared when separated from their mothers, just as humans do.
The importance of not eating animals goes one step further when we take into account the intense cruelty that is practiced in factory farming. When I did research on slaughter houses, I found that these practices are beyond barbaric. These animals not only live in cages too small to move, but they are kicked, spit on, yelled at, physically tortured and emotionally abused their whole life long before they are ruthlessly slaughtered. This is sadly the reality inside many slaughter houses throughout the world. China is now passing off dolphin meat, dog meat and cat meat as beef. The world’s consumption and demand for meat is so intense that giant factory farms thousands of miles away are churning out hundreds of thousands of animals lives every day. By eating meat we directly help turn this wheel of suffering, and by not eating meat we step off that wheel.
Often facts about vegetarianism are skewed by the “food table” we learn in school. A great movie to watch that breaks down the myth of the “food table” is Forks over Knives. This film gives proof of the negative effects of having too much meat and dairy in our diet. (Did you know a gorilla can grow big and strong from just eating greens. And that broccoli bite for bite has more protein than beef!) Of course for us as humans, being a vegetarian includes many more options than just greens and broccoli. If done properly, being a vegetarian can give you more than enough energy and increase the length of your life—and the lives of our four legged brothers and sisters, as the Dalai Lama would say! This is obviously good for everyone!
On the Sojin website I have the “Three Paths to Vegetarianism.” I guess this is my Gelukpa upbringing coming out! So the first path is gradual and gentle, reading the letter of a fellow sangha member, in this case our dear Nina Shilling, as she describes a practical way to transition from being a carnivore to a very healthy vegetarian. The second path is more forceful, watching Forks over Knives, an incredibly educational movie about the disastrous effects industry meat and dairy has on our health. The last path is like the instant path, for the brave and not easily swayed, a link to a slaughter house video showing the horrific abuse animals endure living in such places. (These kinds of videos keep getting banned from YouTube so they are not easy to find. We try to provide a link when we can but often these links get discontinued and don’t work.) Click here for one such video. These are the exact tools I used to become a vegetarian.
Lastly, and most inspiring, once we refrain from eating our fellow travelers there are many things we can do to uplift them. Lama Zopa Rinpoche, with whom I grew up, has so many easy practices that help animals. The FPMT website has a wealth of resources for practices that benefit animals. On the Sojin site, www.sojin.org, are several links to these practices that can easily be done to help animals and the planet. One of my favorites is this one HERE. So I encourage you to check out the different tools and suggestions on Sojin’s website!
Soon the Sojin site will have a donate button on the website’s “how to practice Sojin” page that is linked to our non-profit bank account. These funds will be allocated towards life release projects. In the near future we also will be offering hoodies and t-shirts that will not only help raise money for this project but also communicate a beautiful message to help advocate for animal life. We are in the process of designing these products and hope to have them available soon at our website. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to send a donation by check or money order to Sojin at 683 5th St., Lake Oswego, Oregon 97034!
Director of Sojin