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'Animal Matters' (March 2015):


"Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?

Gave thee life and bade thee feed? By the stream and o'er the mead

Gave thee clothing of delight , Softest clothing, woolly, bright

Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee, Little Lamb, I'll tell thee

He is called by thy name, For he calls himself a lamb

He is meek and he is mild, He became a little child

I a child and thou a lamb, We are called by thy name

Little Lamb, God bless thee, Little Lamb, God bless thee"

These words of William Blake, a mystical and visionary poet of the 18th century, call to mind the holiness, innocence, and joyful playfulness of little lambs in the fields in spring.... a magical sight that can't fail to move even the hardest of hearts and set one wondering on their eventual demise.

How cheaply human beings value these beautiful creatures as the following story shows so clearly. Once, when working in an organisation of the establishment (no names mentioned here), I was appalled to learn, from those who worked there as chefs, that frequently, the dead bodies of lambs were discarded and thrown down a chute if they were not the right shape. They had to be a certain shape in order to qualify to be cooked and served at the tables. The chefs, themselves, who came from countries where many people were hungry, found this hard to accept. I found it hard to accept too …to know that these sweet sentient beings had not only been slaughtered but slaughtered in vain.

One wonders what Mahatma Ghandi would have felt about that for he said "To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to the protection by man from the cruelty of man."

And by the way, sheep are not silly! Not at all! As they are prey animals and quite defenceless, they do get nervous and frightened and flock together... safety in numbers... who can blame them...however, they can also be very bold when they feel safe and dare I say it, rather cheeky. Their brains have been found to be remarkably similar to the brains of human beings and they can recognise up to 50 different sheep faces and remember those for several years. They respond differently to happy, angry or stressed facial expressions and unsurprisingly prefer calm and happy ones. Dr Keith Kendrick, a reknowned neuroscientist of the Barbraham Institute, Cambridge, explains further: "Sheep are able to recognise faces that differ by less than 5% so we thought perhaps they could recognise emotions which are much more subtle," "It turns out they can, both human, smiling versus angry; and sheep, stressed versus calm.”

They have been found to be much more intelligent than people have given them credit for and quite ingenious at escaping and getting out of awkward places, using both brains and muscle power to do this and even showing quite a degree of cunning on occasions. Lambs are the most playful of young creatures. If you wonder why we sometimes see lambs jumping vertically up into the air ... they are inviting other lambs to frolic and play.

In an article in The Times Online, “How was it for Ewe?”, we learn that research has revealed that sheep have love lives, “female sheep (ewes) fall in love with male sheep (rams), have best friends, and feel desolate when those close them die or are sent for slaughter.” Strong bonds exist between sheep and their children and they recognise each other by their bleats. Contrary to what most people think, ewes become distraught when their lambs are taken from them. When separated, both ewes and lambs will cry for days and their memories last for several years. Any keen observor will also notice that sheep clearly show each other affection in different ways. They have relationships and form attachments just as humans do.

So, apart from the fact that lambs are innocent, pure and lovely, why else is Jesus known as the Lamb of God and why do we associate lambs with Easter? Father Ogada from Nigeria explains this so well in “The Untold Story of Christmas” (abridged)

“There is another important message why Jesus was born amidst the animals.

Jesus also came to save the animals! He came to put an end to animal sacrifice (including slaughtering the animals for the gods of our stomachs). Jesus showed this in unmistakable terms. First, He was born among the animals! ….At the end of His earthly life, Jesus also identified with the animals. He offered his body and his blood, as the final animal offering for all people for all eternity. (Hebrew 9:12, 10:10, 10: 14) In ancient times, animals were the “scapegoats” for the sins of people and bore the brunt of the evil and ignorance of humankind. This was a common practice at the time of Jesus. (Ref. John 2: 13-22) Jesus did not approve of this custom."

“On the night of every Passover, the Jewish people celebrate the sacrificing of the paschal lamb in commemoration of their deliverance from the dominion of Pharaoh as slaves in Egypt. On this night millions of lambs are slaughtered (as each household is required to slay one lamb). At the last Passover night (the last supper) which Jesus ate with his disciples, Jesus began to talk about his own body and blood being shed and given up for the sins of the world. In a dramatic symbolic manner Jesus replaced the paschal lamb with the “bread” which He said was His body and the “wine” which He said was His Blood. “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). Within hours Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified. Jesus’ disciples understood this symbolic Divine act. There was a shift in consciousness. The old covenant whereby animals are killed for the atonement of sins gave way to the “new and Eternal Covenant in the blood of Jesus”. (Luke 22:20) Jesus had died at Passover in place of the sacrificial lamb. He became, literally, the Paschal Lamb, the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1: 29) ….”Christmas is incomplete without grasping the inner significance of this Divine act. We must be kind to the animals. We must stop killing the animals...”

We might also say the same of Eastertide because many Christians, especially in Catholic countries, where I am afraid to say animal welfare is a very low priority, feel it is a MUST to eat lamb at Easter. On March 26, 2013, an Animal Equality investigation revealed shocking torture over a whole year to lambs raised for their meat in Italy. “Every year, in Italy alone, during the Easter Holidays, over 4 million lambs, sheep and goats are slaughtered. This is due to the consumption of this meat being a tradition to celebrate the holidays. The extortionate number of lambs killed every year is horrifying and forms part of a cruel massacre. This figure is even greater if we consider sheep and goats, which are exploited equally during this period of the year. The overall number of slaughtered animals prior to Easter totals approximately 800.000.”

It would be too distressing to describe in detail the scenes which habitually took place in the slaughterhouses there, but suffice it to say, in a nutshell, that the undercover footage showed lambs being treated in horrifyingly inhumane ways before facing agonising and terrifying deaths. Handled with carelessness, callousness, violence and aggression, they were severely stressed, petrified and screaming in agony as they wounded themselves on the metal gratings or were trampled on by other terrified animals and more... John Sorenson, Professor of Sociology at Brock University, Canada, has this to say about the investigation:

“Even those who are not Christians can recognize that the Easter holiday is intended as a celebration of life and rebirth. Unfortunately, many choose to celebrate this holiday by consuming the flesh of animals and each year at this time millions of lambs, sheep and goats are killed to provide these grisly feasts. Animal Equality’s undercover video investigation of several farms and slaughterhouses in Italy reveal the brutality that underlies the Easter celebrations and the commercial use of animals. Animal Equality has once again performed a valuable service by raising the question of whether or not we will continue to endorse this taken-for granted brutality.”

Of course, such things do not happen only in Italy, but all over the world, in some places more so than others of course. Also during the Moslem celebration of Eid, it is mandatory to kill and eat a lamb. Once again, as at Easter, millions of lambs are slaughtered and eaten, doubtless enduring the same kind of brutal treatment in the process. Yet, we are told by one Brother Iniitate Zamir Elahi, UK, (www.Islam and Vegetarianism) that:

“Many Hadith scriptures from the life of Prophet Mohammed as well as other Muslim Saints convey a depth of compassion and kindness towards animals and suggest that the primary duty of all Muslims is to care for the well-being of animals. The Prophet also emphasized the importance and effects of a vegetable-based diet, even forbidding the use of animal skins:” and He said: “Do not allow your stomachs to become graveyards!”

... Also:

“A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.”

Lastly, let us consider the case of the 'Judas' Lamb. In this case, the trusting and friendly nature of the lamb has been exploited and used to innocently entice other lambs into the slaughterhouse. Certainly in the past, though not so commonly nowadays, 'Judas' animals, often goats, were trained to lead other animals to be slaughtered. A Judas Lamb is a lamb which has been adopted as a pet by slaughterhouse workers and then used to carry out this task for without the lure of this friendly face, the other lambs would simply linger outside, unwilling to enter, clearly conscious of the fate which awaits them there.

How cynically human beings exploit innocence and purity! How savagely and barbarically they celebrate the festivals of great souls and divine masters such as Jesus and Mohammed, never considering the suffering they inflict on the animal kingdom in doing so.

“It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we, in turn, will not practice elementary compassion toward our fellow creatures.” (Mahatma Ghandi)

Well, sorry people, what hope is there for us if Christians, who talk of Jesus as The Good Shepherd, treat their little brothers and sisters so callously?

(Article written by Mercini Sherratt for Vedanta Empire's charity incentive)

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