There is a part of me that feels a little sheepish talking about people that I look up to or am inspired by.  This self-consciousness is probably an artifact of my upbringing; my Dad grew up in the shadow of the Depression and WWII, and our home life was more driven by results than by feelings. Despite my hesitation in saying so, there are a handful of people that consistently inspire me to move out of my comfort zone and think big. One of my inspirations is the humanitarian-monk, Matthieu Ricard.

The Shechen clinic helps the poorest of Nepal’s poor.

 I first spent time with Matthieu at his home base in Kathmandu, Nepal. Over a whirlwind couple of days, Matthieu guided our small group around his various humanitarian projects. We saw just a few of the clinics, schools and hospices that are run by his organization, Karuna-Shechen… and this handful of facilities benefitted a few thousand people each day. Knowing that there were dozens of these programs scattered all around Nepal, India and Tibet blew my mind! On any given day, Matthieu’s activities touch the lives of tens of thousands of people. The scale and scope of his commitment to benefitting beings is humbling and inspiring, and to this day, whenever I feel overwhelmed by life or my various commitments, I recall the good in the world that flows in the wake of Matthieu’s maroon robes. Almost immediately upon recalling the visage of Matthieu, I’m inspired to carry on.

I respect how the Shechen clinics employ local/traditional medicine
alongside Western modalities.

In addition to the daily inspiration to benefit others, I am also deeply moved by Matthieu’s recently published book, A Plea for the Animals. While I was inching toward veganism prior to reading this book, A Plea for the Animals was just the push that I needed to take the plunge into a 100% plant-powered diet.

During Matthieu’s recent visit to Madison, we had a chance to talk about his book and how it influenced my decision to change my diet. Almost immediately, Matthieu focused on the idea of mismatch; most of us like, if not love, some animals… while we then eat other animals. How did our feelings about animals become so utterly mismatched?

The Bamboo Schools provide education to the poorest of the poor,
with a particular focus on education girls (almost unheard of in this region!)

I recalled working on a couple farms over the years, and ending up becoming friends with many different animals. Of course, I was fond of hanging out with the barnyard cats, though I also enjoyed throwing sticks for the farm dog. After a few months on the farms, I also came to know and appreciate the personalities of the individual goats, pigs and cows. I came to believe that all the barnyard animals had likes, dislikes and personalities – though I chose to open my heart more to some animals than others.

Matthieu and I talked about this mismatch, and how it consumes a lot of energy. We also talked about a common rationale for this mismatch – well, it’s always been done this way. To this assertion, Matthieu animatedly pointed out that human sacrifices and slavery, to name a couple odious examples, were also common practices in human history. And that humans have mercifully moved away from many cruel practices that were once commonplace. Matthieu then asked – can there be a better time to move away from raising baby animal in order to eat them?

The kids start the day with an aspiration to
be of benefit to others.

The day after our conversation, Matthieu presented a beautiful overview of his 50+ years in the Himalayas. Toward the end of a long and inspiring day, a participant asked Matthieu about animals and food. Matthieu’s reply was like the unleashing of a force of nature! Despite a long and tiring day, Matthieu’s passion for benefiting beings – all beings, shone forth. Matthieu invited us to live steeped in the aspiration to consider the welfare of all beings… and if not now, then when?

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