Urban Sadhu Exploration November 2023
Oṃ sarveśām svastir bhavatu, sarveśām shāntir bhavatu, sarveśām pūrnam bhavatu, sarveśām maṅgalam bhavatu – From Atharva Veda
Meaning: Om. May auspiciousness be unto all. May peace be unto all. May fullness be unto all. May prosperity be unto all. – Interpretation, Austin Sanderson
A long time ago, before people lived on Kukna (Mother Earth), the Sun drew very near her. Soon plants began to wither and die, and streams started to dry up. All the animals living on Earth began to fear thirst, hunger, and death.
The animals held a council to decide how to move the Sun back high in the sky where it belonged. A volunteer was sought to accomplish this task. The opossum was the first animal to volunteer. He stood on his hind legs and tried push the Sun back into place, but the opossum quickly realized he was not tall enough.
Then the fox volunteered to move the Sun back into the sky. He thought he could jump high enough to reach the Sun, but he also quickly learned that he could not jump high enough.
The animals did not know what to do, and once more began to seek a volunteer among them.
At this time there was a beautiful bird who was widely respected and admired for his ability to soar high above all other birds as he carried messages to the Great Spirit in the heavens. The bird’s beauty and nobility were known throughout all of Kukna. He was next to volunteer to accomplish the task of putting the Sun back where it belonged.
And so he flew up and placed his head against the Sun, and began to flap his mighty wings to push the Sun back into the sky where it belonged. As he pushed, the Sun burned the feathers off his head, and charred his beautiful plumage. Even his flesh started to burn, and yet the bird pushed onward, soaring higher and higher into the sky, until the Sun was returned to where it belonged.
When the noble bird returned to the Earth, the other animals drew away from it in horror. Now it’s beautiful head was bald and featherless, its neck red from being burned by the Sun; it’s beautiful feathers were charred black, and it had lost all its bright vibrant colors. The other animals could not look on their hero, for he was now frightful looking.
This is why the turkey is a solitary animal. You will not see the turkey with any other living animal (only other wild turkeys) for they cannot look on him. But if you are fortunate enough to be gifted with a feather from this bird, you will see on the underside the beautiful colors the plumage once had, and where the Sun charred the feathers on top.
The Native American tribe of the Lenape regard the turkey highly, for he gave himself selflessly to ensure that all beings experienced happiness and freedom. In nature, turkeys have long been admired for their intelligence and inquisitive disposition. Driven by an unyielding sense of curiosity, they roam their native woodlands and grasslands (native to the Americas only) in search of food, shelter, and mates. Early in American history, Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the native wild turkey to be America’s national bird; he called them a “respectable bird” and “a bird of courage.” Many naturalists of the 18th century echoed Franklin’s sentiment.
Turkeys raised for human consumption (food) bear little resemblance to their wild ancestors. Today in industrial animal agriculture, turkeys do not experience their natural habitat. The industry has no regard for the animal’s instincts or general wellbeing. Industrial farming manipulates animals’ physical development to make them grow as fast as possible with the least expense. Domesticated turkeys are treated strictly as a commodity for profit. They are subjected to confinement and genetic engineering, forced into a series of sadistic mutilations to keep costs down and profits high.
The domesticated turkey’s life begins in the breeding facilities. Males and females are kept in crowded sheds where workers manually extract semen from the males and artificially inseminate the females in what is known as “animal husbandry.” These are some of the most abused birds in the system, as they must endure this crude practice of repeatedly being raped over a period of many years. When their breeding capabilities decline, their exhausted bodies end up in a variety of low-quality processed foods.
The young hatchlings are transported to larger facilities where they live the remaining portion of their brief lives. The average lifespan for a wild turkey is 10 years, but for domesticated turkeys it is 5 to 6 months. With thousands of individuals crammed into a single shed, they struggle to move past each other as they walk through an ever-increasing layer of excrement. Over time, their feet and breasts become ulcerated from the uric acid. The intense smell of ammonia combined with the sound of thousands of birds calling out simultaneously creates an extremely stressful environment. Overcrowded conditions also cause the turkeys to be unnaturally aggressive. Rather than having farmers make changes to the environment, painful alterations are made to the birds’ anatomy. To keep them from pecking at each other, half of the upper beak is cut off and the lower beak is blunted; no anesthetics are used. In the weeks after the painful “de-beaking,” the birds have to learn how to drink and eat with their deformed beak. In addition to “de-beaking,” the turkeys must endure other mutilations such as having a significant portion of each toe clipped off to keep the birds from “damaging” each other during the mating season (foodispower.org).
Over the past several decades, industrially farmed turkeys have been selectively bred to an extreme. They grow so fast and large that their bones and organs cannot keep up. Many of the turkeys die prematurely as their legs and hearts are strained to the point of failure.
When the turkeys arrive at the slaughterhouse, the crates are unloaded and stacked onto conveyer belts. One by one, the turkeys are removed from the crates and shackled by their feet. Hanging upside down, they struggle to free themselves as they are passed through an electric water bath designed to stun them before they are killed. In many industrialized animal factories, the killing lines move so quickly that many of the turkeys are not properly stunned. The next station consists of automated blades that cut their throat as they pass by, causing them to slowly bleed to death.
In the past, the turkey industry used to mainly market a single product consumed on holidays or special occasions. But over the past 30 years that has changed, and today the turkey industry produces more than 5.3 billion pounds of turkey products annually. Of the 270 million turkeys killed annually in the United States alone, the vast majority are raised in industrial animal factories. A single slaughterhouse is capable of killing 360 birds per minute, or 518,000 in a 24-hour period. In the U.S., an estimated 46 million turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving celebrations (eatturkey.org).
Thanksgiving is a time when we are thankful for our freedom, dignity, liberties, and the little things that bring us happiness. It is sadly ironic that the holiday culminates with a meal that represents subjugation, deprivation, and intense suffering. Domesticated turkeys are helpless to avoid their suffering. If we truly desire happiness and freedom, we must offer it to all beings. Ultimately, the personal choice to practice a vegan diet is a small way of helping to ensure happiness and freedom for all.
Austin Sanderson – Urban Sadhu