Sample from the Winter 2006 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with PETA founder, Ingrid E. Newkirk

A common tenet of all spiritual traditions is the development of compassion. Yet we often miss opportunities to express that compassion in ways that can make a difference. In this interview, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) President Ingrid Newkirk discusses practical ways in which compassion can be expressed through the simple choices we make every day.

Integral Yoga Magazine: From its inception, PETA has promoted the vegan lifestyle. You just had a star-studded celebration for PETA’s 25th anniversary in September 2005. How did you become inspired to found PETA?

Ingrid Newkirk: I was thinking, “Here I am, a person who was always drawn to and passionate about animals, and I had slowly learned to stop doing things that were aggressive toward them. Wouldn’t it be nice if I just formed a small group in the Washington-Maryland area where we could talk about all the ways we can help animals? And we could find places to buy vegan foods, and non-harming toiletries and we could draw people together in the metropolitan Washington area. It was a local effort and it just grew and grew! Now we have 800,000 members and we have five other countries with affiliate offices.

IYM: Do you think we’ve reached critical mass with vegetarianism?

IN: It hasn’t reached critical mass, but we’re going down the right track. I remember the days when people would feel comfortable snickering at you if you were vegetarian and admitting it could make you feel as if you were odd. Today people will say, “I am almost a vegetarian” or “I’ve just become vegan.” Martha Stewart’s daughter and Oliver North’s daughter are vegetarians–it’s everywhere, from the most likely to the most unlikely. It’s an absolute sea change! Today you can go to any supermarket and soy milk, tofu and so on. Everyone knows about heart disease and you don’t have to be sick to know vegetarianism will keep your arteries clear. Dean Ornish’s work has been so wonderfully helpful. People have to pay attention because he’s been so meticulous in his research, showing that vegetarian diet can prevent and reverse heart disease.

IYM: You grew up in India, around people of different faiths. Do you feel support from the various spiritual traditions for your work?

IN: This teacher came to my English girls’ school in India and we were very snobbish and cheeky. But, he told us about the trees, mountains, and birds and how the birds don’t have to reap or sow. He told us how they are so clever to know that the world has provided for them, and we just have to leave them alone. It was the Christian message in a different form, and I was so moved. The founders of all the great religions included respect for animals and our environment. Kindness and compassion are virtues found in all the faiths. Mohammad would admonish followers if they threw a rock at a bird. All the religions teach us to look out for those who are at our mercy–that we should offer a helping hand. The idea is to get out of yourself. But, like many things in religion, people forget the basic tenets. I have a saying from Rabindranath Tagore on my wall that really sums up my feelings:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.

IYM: Sri Gurudev always said that in all of nature, it’s only human beings who are self-centered and selfish. We have much to learn from the animals.

IN: Yes, one main lesson is that we should take only for “our need not our greed.” Animals take only what they need; we don’t. If you look at the orchestra of life, you look at one tree and 40 animals share that one tree. They use it for shelter, food; they raise their young in and around it. Animals never despoil a stream or forest, no matter how many millions share it. But we come in and cut down their homeland. So, yes, we do have a lot to learn from them…

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2006 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.