By Harold Brown
What if we in the animal movement applied the principles
and practices of Tai Chi to our activism? I have given a lot of thought
to the application of the philosophy, teaching and intent of Tai Chi
to our everyday interactions with people, institutions and perceived
To begin with, I have studied, practiced and taught Tai Chi for many years. I
came to the Chinese martial arts as part of my journey of healing. Because of
my past of poor choices, I was (and to a degree still am) so much damaged goods.
My spirit was scarred from years of viewing and treating nonhuman beings, and
to a lesser extent humans, as a means to an end. Once I committed myself to living
a compassionate and loving life, I threw myself into disciplines that potentially
offered paths to self-realization, and hopefully a modicum of peace.
For those who may not be acquainted with the practice of Tai Chi, the fundamental
idea is to not meet force with like force but rather to redirect your opponent’s
energy. In one Tai Chi classic, there is the story of a warrior who had heard
of a Tai Chi master who could not be defeated, so he sought him out. The warrior
challenged the master to prove his style of martial art was superior. The master
declined, saying Tai Chi is only for self-defense, it is not an art of combat.
The warrior’s ego and attachment to his life of fighting would not allow
him to walk away. Again he challenged the master, claiming he too was a master
of his particular style of martial art. Again the Tai Chi master declined saying, “I
am a pacifist. I do not seek conflict.” The warrior said, “Very well
then, defend yourself!” In the blink of an eye the warrior found himself
prostrate on the ground. He got up, eyed his opponent, and attacked again using
a different tactic. Again he found himself on the ground.
This continued for some time until the warrior became frustrated and realized
he could not touch, let alone hurt, the master. With only his ego bruised, he
went home conceding that the Tai Chi master was the superior warrior. Upon their
parting the master said, “My friend, you are indeed a great warrior of
many battles but your journey has only begun. The true battle is not without
but within, and there lies the ultimate battlefield. Look beyond the literal
of the five senses and master the self. The true warrior battles the monkey mind
and his attachments; there lies the field of infinite potential and peace.”
Tai Chi for Animals
So how does this story relate to animal activism? Tai Chi is not just a slow-motion
choreography or dance, but a moving meditation of intention. For the last 30-odd
years the animal movement has carried out campaigns revolving around militaristic
rhetoric, we are at “war” with the animal users, “fighting” for
animals, and so on. Direct action involving property damage and threats, protests
with placards saying “NO” to some form of cruelty, and haranguing
those who “don’t get it” express not only a message, but an
intent. And intent is energy. This is where we must pause and examine the consequences
of the intentional energy we project. With legislative actions attempting to
displace an existing law with another; campaigns that seek to coerce, shame and
guilt others into changing; arguing with another till both are exhausted and
doubly entrenched in their point of view… Are we attempting to meet force
My personal experience has taught me that by being centered, listening carefully,
being respectful and keeping a positive attitude, I can create an environment
that allows constructive dialogue. This is the first level of due diligence—being
a positive, creative force for peace and justice.
The second level of due diligence is to recognize there are entities operating
in the world that have an inordinate influence in every aspect of our lives.
These entities have mediated our perspectives of reality so that most people
are now consumers—not citizens. They include free market corporate agribusiness,
the purveyors of food to the world.
Recent events should be of concern to those of us who serve as a voice for the
voiceless. With the cloning of Holsteins, for example, industry is on course
to create “vegetable animals,” beasts which are “highly prolific
and oblivious to their physical and mental status.” Industry spokespeople
are testing the waters by claiming their animal husbandry practices are “animal
rights” and hiring PR firms to develop strategies to “manage activists.” The
dynamic within the animal industry is changing and I don’t think it is
for the better of farm animals or for animal advocates. This is not to sound
an alarm for a call to arms or to create an environment of anxiety and fear.
It is a time for mindful awareness, for objective observation…for due diligence.
The use of animals for any reason is morally indefensible. This moral argument
is the one area those who are invested in the exploitation of animals are scared
to engage. In Tai Chi the image is called “iron in silk”—the
exterior is soft and yielding with a core of strong determination. Our iron is
our moral resolve; our silk is yielding to the negative energy that the persons
and corporate non-persons direct at us; and redirecting that energy to our advantage.
In this case it would be to not get enmeshed in trivial matters of welfare compromises,
but to guide the conversation to the moral argument. The lesson of Tai Chi is
that this requires skill and patience. Being hasty and reacting rather than acting
can undo us.
Through peaceful ahimsa we can redirect energy and turn negatives into positives.
But we must also be aware that the exploitation of humans and other animals is
a condition embedded in the acquisition of wealth and power, not of speciesism,
prejudice or discrimination. I believe our best hope is to engage people with
compassion and loving kindness, to become the sort of people others want to be
with, to talk to. If we value the uniqueness of every person, no matter how different
we perceive them to be from “us,” we will never have a problem with “them.” In
that moment of valuing the other, mutual respect springs forth.
Due diligence cuts across boundaries to include the self, other people, other
animals, nonhuman entities and, in short, all that is. We must not be lured into
the trap of what might be or what was. We must discipline our activism to focus
on the present moment. To worry about the future and reconstructing the past
are both activities of imagination. If we spend most of our time dwelling on
these two, we are living in a world of illusion—and this is the trap. Clinically,
anyone who doesn’t live in the present moment is considered insane because
they are living in an illusion rather than reality. Let’s not live in insanity
but rather be mindfully aware of the forces and energy within us and around us.
We are co-creators of the universe, so let us not be influenced by externalities.
Let us create the positive and peaceful world we need…for the animals,
for the world, and for us.
Harold Brown is a humane educator and former dairy farmer.
© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.