Thursday, July 3, 2008

Vegetarianism III

The Last Link In The Chain
Here is a quandary for you. We said before that a casual link can be discerned between eating meat and animals being killed. Nowadays there are many persons between these two points - the cutters, the meat packers, the distributors, etc. but in either its simplest or most complex form the three key participants are (1) the slaughter man, the one who actually draws the knife across the animals throat; (2) the middleman who sells the meat and (3) the customer, the person who buys and consumes the meat. Now it is obvious why the Buddha mentioned slaughter men, hunters, fishermen, etc. as those who do not practice Dhamma (S.II,256). It is perhaps less obvious but significant that he describes people who sell meat as failing to practice Right Livelihood (A.III,207). But interestingly, nowhere does the Buddha complete what seems to be the logical sequence by mentioning the third and last link in the chain, the buyer/eater. Why?
Here is another quandary for you. The Buddha said that his lay disciples should avoid making their living by five trades (vanijja); these being trade in weapons (sattha), in human beings (satta), in meat (mamsa), in alcohol (majja) and in poisons (visa, A.III.208). Although this seems clear enough, looking at it a little more carefully might be relevant to the question of meat eating. Why are these trades wrong, unwholesome or kammicly negative? Let’s have a look at arms dealing. While the blacksmith is forging steel to make a sword he is unlikely to have any evil intensions, he is probably preoccupied with forging his steel and he certainly does not kill anyone. The arms dealer who sells the sword does not kill anyone either. So why did the Buddha consider arms trading to be a negative means of livelihood? Obviously because weapons, like poisons make killing possible. The arms dealer is centrally situated in a chain that could lead to someone being killed even though he himself does not kill anyone. Now if we reverse this sequence and apply it to meat eating then surly the same conclusion would have to be drawn;
A, sword maker – B, arms dealer = C, purchaser and killing;
C – eating meat – B, meat seller = A, slaughter man and killing.
Why in both these cases has the Buddha left one of the key links out of the chains? I would be interested to receive your comments and thoughts on this matter.
Tomorrow I’m taking the kid gloves off, so stay tuned. No! Hold on! Now that I’m switching to vegetarianism and am trying to be consistent in the practice of harmlessness I don’t wear kid gloves anymore.


Robert said...

Somewhere someone told me that "trade in" whatever meant only being a middleman or something. I think the definition was something like earning one's living by causing something to be made, buying it, then selling it to someone. I'd have to look up that answer though... I believe it was posted by a monk on E-Sangha.

It is worth noting that weapon does not necessarily equal killing or even harm. People can be frightened off by the brandishing of a weapon, so weapon can mean protection without any harm ever being done. In fact this is reportedly what happens the vast majority of the time with defensive firearm uses in the US; either a criminal flees or is held at gunpoint until the cops arrive.

Weapons can also be used with the intent to incapacitate rather than kill. Technically I suppose that doesn't violate the 1st precept though it does violate the general idea of the precepts which is to refrain from harming other beings. Still, in a situation where someone is trying to kill someone else, it seems like it makes sense to wound the would-be killer, if necessary, to incapacitate them and prevent the murder.

I tend to see the five kinds of wrong livelihood as a general guide and not some fixed dogmatic set of rules. Wrong livelihood really means making your living by doing harm whether it's one of the five listed harmful livelihoods or not. Furthermore, if you happen to sell weapons only to the cops, for example, then you're helping them protect people. You'd be helping them harm people too, but it just wouldn't be the same as selling weapons to drug dealers or other criminals.

Finally, back to the original question, at least when it comes to meat I think the last link is left out because if the animal has already been killed, it makes some sense to make the best use of it's already foregone fate. In fact, perhaps the animal is earning some merit if people do eat it's meat. I know there's a Jataka tale where the Buddha sacrifices himself as a deer to a hunter to make merit. The hunter is getting bad kamma but perhaps the deer is getting good kamma if its meat in fact is dana.

So at least one monk has told me that it makes no sense not to eat meat placed in his bowl because he might as well make the animal's death worth something.

Now if the monk were to actually solicit meat saying "wow, that was great meat! I wish I could have that tomorrow!" then that would be different in my mind. He could say "please don't give me any more meat" but then I think that would violate the Theravada (anyway) Vinaya regarding being "picky" about food.

Anyway, I think there has to be a distinction made between doing something and actually profiting and making your living by doing something. If you have a chicken out front and you kill it for dinner, that is different than if you make your living profiting by killing chickens or having them killed.

yamizi said...

"The hunter is getting bad kamma but perhaps the deer is getting good kamma if its meat in fact is dana.
"<-- I think the deer will only genuinely have good kamma even if it was to be made into dana was that the deer volunteer to end its life. However, I think this is quite impossible as the deer's life would end prematurely (and by that I don't mean kammicly but as compare to its natural death) deliberately by a hunter. I doubt any good kamma would be made by the deer.

David said...

Any business in meat is not allowed. Given this, what if the whole world was Buddhist? Who would do the dirty work created by the demand for meat? The final link is inferred and a must given that business in meat is wrong livelihood. Simple purchasing of meat perpetuates that livelihood.

I know that it will not happen, but in this hypothetical, if everyone were Buddhist, who would do the killing so that some could eat meat and say they "didn't personally do the killing."

Ananda See said...

If whole world are Buddhist, it's just an ausumption ! But if the whole world are Buddhist, and all sincerely practice, then there will be no war, no killing...

moonpointer said...

Some hopefully interesting thoughts to share on sale of weapons and right livelihood in a review of Iron Man -

More monastics who live by almsfood should encourage the offering of vegetarian food. They might not be able to choose their (monastics') food - but they can urge the laity to choose their (laity's) own food - which is likely to become theirs too. This would be a more proactive way of spreading the vegetarian cause - instead of just sitting and taking whatever comes.

From observation, increasingly more almsfood monastics are receiving vegetarian food from laity. Sadhu!