As you prepare for Thanksgiving, please consider this teaching from Lama Shabkar, a Tibetan yogini known for his spontaneous songs. Though it was originally written from the perspective of a sheep, we’ve changed it around to reflect the coming holiday. For some Thanksgiving vegetarian recipe ideas, see below.
One day as I went to refresh myself
In the middle of a meadow,
Many turkeys came from all sides
And gathered around me.
Among them, an old turkey spoke:
“Old monk, neither virtuous nor sinful,
I have something to tell you.”
“All right,” I said. “Come on, tell me.”
He went on: “I have a great favor to request
Of the meritorious lamas
Who come gathering alms in summer and autumn.
“The very moment a short-necked, shiny, chubby man
Arrives at our village door, leading packhorses carrying a lama’s red bundles,
He takes a villager with him and comes right toward us turkeys.
“The ‘protection cord’ the lama is going to give out
Is for us a noose—
It gets tied around the patrons’ necks—
And soon, by our necks, we ourselves are caught.
“The fate of all the turkeys
Is thus in the hands of visiting lamas.
In this life, in the bardo, and in the next life
There is no other object of hope than the guru.
So, at the time of hope, don’t betray us,
Take pity on us!
“You should let us live out this life,
Or take us to the higher realms in the next one.
Otherwise, this life is suffering, and so is the next.
We are just being slaughtered and slaughtered one lifetime after another.
Don’t let your wisdom, compassion, and power be so weak!
“Going on to the next life,
We will call aloud to the lamas
with fierce lamentations,
‘Lamas, think of us! Lamas, think of us!’
“Some patrons come, take off their hats,
And say to you lamas:
‘Please, come to our houses.’
When they invite you,
Don’t pretend you don’t know
That your patrons are about to kill us turkeys.
Rather, come after having said a few kind words on our behalf.
Otherwise, the time of a lama’s arrival
Means the time for our death.
“So, don’t pretend you don’t know what’s happening,
But come to visit after saying, kindly:
‘Don’t slaughter your turkeys; set them free.’
“When some lamas enter someone’s house
And seat themselves comfortably upon the throne,
We are being slaughtered right outside the door—
Don’t pretend you don’t know what’s going on!
When there is nothing on earth
You lamas don’t know,
How can you not know about this?
A turkey is thrown down to the ground.
All the neighbors around can hear
The turkey squawking while being smothered.
Yet people say:
‘Turkeys are the hallmark of Thanksgiving,’
And they just recite, ‘Om mani padme hum!’
“We pray to you from the bottom of our hearts
That, at that moment, you may say something to reprieve us.
When we are gagged and being smothered,
If we could but draw a single breath,
It would be the greatest goodness on earth.
“We have such terrible karma!
When autumn comes, the season for slaughtering turkeys,
The fate of the old mother turkeys is the worst of all.
If, at that time the compassion
Of even the lamas, which is said to be great, declines,
What will happen to the compassion of those who have so little to begin with?
When the red lamas come,
For the sake of meat and blood,
They cut our red jugulars,
And, red, the sun rises.”
In answer to this I said:
These bodies in which you’ve taken birth
Will have to be left behind, sooner or later.
“If one were to pile up all the flesh and bone
Of all the bodies you’ve once had and left,
They would make a heap higher than Mount Meru;
There would be as many as all the particles of dust on the entire earth.
“Not even one of these bodies was used to sustain the life of a master—
Every one of those lives was wasted.
By relinquishing this body to sustain a lama’s life,
You have accomplished something worthwhile.
Is it not noble to give up one’s body for the Dharma?”
As I said that, the turkeys exclaimed in one voice:
“Oh, no! He is one of those lamas!”
And terrified, they all ran away.
As they went off, I added:
“Anyway, I shall take your message to a few lamas.
But when I do so, some of them
May curse or try to kill me!”
May all alms-seekers who hear this song
Never accept the meat of animals
That have been killed especially for them.
Thus I have pointed out some of the defects of some of the prosperous lamas who go around gathering alms in summer and autumn.
If you choose to eat meat this Thanksgiving, please do it with gratitude and compassion! Here’s a short meal gatha from the Zen Mountains and Rivers Order that you can recite before eating:
We receive this food in gratitude
From all beings who helped to bring it to our table,
And vow to respond in turn to those in need
With wisdom and compassion.
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions
1 large butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
7 cups milk
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1. Roast the butternut squash. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Place in roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Place in oven and cook until soft all the way through, about 1 hour. Set aside until cool. When cooled, remove skin and place in food processor. Purée until smooth.
2. Make cheese sauce. Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour. Stir to make a roux and cook 3 minutes, stirring the entire time. Add 3 cups milk and stir until thickened. Add the rest of the milk and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add shredded cheese and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper.
3. To assemble the dish: Place cooked elbow macaroni in bowl. Pour half of the cheese sauce over and add puréed, roasted butternut squash. Fold together. If it seems too dry, add the rest of the cheese sauce. Place in an ovenproof dish and heat for 15 minutes at 325 degrees.
Roasted Eggplant and Chickpeas
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice, pulsed to a coarse purée
1 teaspoon mild honey (more to taste)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, to taste
Salt to taste
1 large or 2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
3 cups cooked chickpeas (2 cans, drained and rinsed, or, 1 1/2 cups dried – about 3/4 pound
4 ounces feta, crumbled (3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Greek or Turkish
1. Make the tomato sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy skillet or wide saucepan over medium heat, and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until it smells fragrant, about 30 seconds, and add the tomatoes, honey, salt to taste and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat until the tomatoes have cooked down and the sauce is fragrant, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush the boil with olive oil. Place the eggplant slices on the baking sheet, salt lightly and brush with olive oil. Place in the oven and bake 20 minutes, or until eggplant is lightly browned and soft all the way through. Remove from the heat. Fold the aluminum foil over and crimp the edges together so that the eggplant steams as it cools. Do this in batches if you need more than one baking sheet. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.
3. Oil a 2-quart baking dish or gratin. Place the chickpeas in the baking dish and stir in 1 cup of the tomato sauce. Layer the eggplant over the chickpeas and top with the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle the feta over the top and drizzle on any remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with the oregano and cover tightly with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes, until the dish is bubbling.
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