Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Meat Eating; Was The Buddha Inconsistent?

Here is a quandary to consider. We saw before that a causal link can be discerned between eating meat and animals being killed. Nowadays there are many persons between these two points - the slaughter man, the meat packers, the distributors, etc. but in either its simplest or its 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. The existence of these three depends on each other.
Now it is obvious why the Buddha mentioned slaughter men, hunters, deer stalkers, fishermen, executioners, etc. as those who do not practice Dhamma (Samyutta Nikaya II,256). It is also clear enough why he described people who sell meat as failing to practice Right Livelihood (Anguttara Nikaya III,208). But curiously, 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 is this? If killing an animal is wrong and if selling its meat is wrong, why isn’t buying and consuming its meat wrong too?
Here is another quandary. The Buddha said that his lay disciples should avoid making their living by five trades; these being trade in weapons (sattha), in human beings (satta), in meat (mamsa), in alcohol (majja) and in poisons (visa, Anguttara Nikaya III.208). Although this seems clear enough, looking at it a little more carefully might reveal something relevant to the question of meat eating. Why are these trades wrong, unwholesome or kammicly negative? Let’s have a look at arms.

While the blacksmith is forging steel to make a sword he is unlikely to have any evil intentions, 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. He’s just selling a commodity. So why did the Buddha consider arms manufacturing/trading to be a wrong means of livelihood? Obviously because weapons, like poisons make killing possible. Their main purpose, indeed their only purpose, is to kill. The arms dealer is centrally situated in a chain that could lead to someone being killed, even though he himself does not kill anyone. A, arms manufacturer - B, arms dealer - C, purchaser and killing. Now if we reverse this sequence and apply it to meat eating then surely the same conclusion would have to be drawn; C - eating meat - B, meat seller  - A, slaughter man and killing. Why in both these cases has the Buddha left out one or two of the key links in these chains?


Jeffrey Kotyk said...

I'm of the mind that while the Buddha did not forbid meat eating, he did not encourage it either.

Meat in India at the time was used as a medicine in some cases. Some regions might have depended on the consumption of flesh, too, given a lack of alternative food sources. The same goes for wearing animal skins and furs. While it is not right to kill an animal for its fur, you might be hard pressed to survive the cold of the Himalayas without furs, skins and wool.

MBenson said...

I am not a monk or expert of any kind in logic and argument. I just read the suttas (and sutras) and meditate on them. It doesn't seem that the Buddha was a dogmatic teacher and I don't get the sense that he appreciated clearly delineated, logical arguments. I am so appreciative of the Ganika sutta, which presents the Buddha with a perfect opportunity to be dogmatic, to go off on the pleasures of the flesh, to lay down some rules and laws, and instead he just says (paraphrasing): don't train in line with the afflicted....if you do you'll have a unskillful result. These aren't the words of someone who is going to definitively say whether people should eat meat or not. Pay attention to the results of eating meat...unavoidably, that will lead you away from the habit of doing so.

brahmavihara said...

So I am an omnivore, not a meat eater exclusively but one or two meals per week include some kind of fish, beef seafood etc. I dont eat pork or lamb or eggs etc etc. There are no meat eaters exclusively, just omnivores and vegetarians, Eskimos are perhaps the only exclusive meat eaters. Except for killing the odd insect here and there, again occassionally
and as a last resort thats my lot. Even if I stop my consumption of animal flesh from this day forth I am still unable to stop the consumption by others, so by that logic I am still distantly complicite in sentient beings deaths am I not? So following this logic I should I believe, spend all my efforts to achieve the total conversion of all other people (in my country at least) to vegetarianism. Now like all hypotheticals if I could wave my magic wand and make it thus, then we would be hypothetically left, with a sizeable number of employees and their families unemployed, possibly bankrupt etc etc. But wait! there's more! The nation of India is most able to boast the greatest number of vegetarians on earth they also have the most purposely disenfranchised people on earth the lowest class Dallits or untouchables.So much for unbounded compassion for all sentient beings. Complicated isn't it!The Buddha said that we could reach the end of suffering by following The Noble eightfold Path I cannot entirely dissconnect myself from this perpetual echo chamber of cause and effect save by acheiving Nirvana and so it can only come down to my intention. If I occassionally consume some animal with my vegetable and mineral I do not believe that I am defeated as a Buddhist.To think otherwise would be to start walking along the imponderable path of the all but most obvious effects of Karma and Vipaka.

paulmalone said...

Back then, as Jeffrey pointed out, people often probably didn't have a choice. If Buddha had been so dogmatic people might have starved to death or become seriously ill because of his words.

How about "bean-soupery" for an unskilled trade? For the life of me I can't find the page in the Visuddhimagga where this was mentioned, but I do recall reading it. What on earth could be wrong with bean soup? There's a riddle in there somewhere, I suspect. I like the sound it though, might have been a common expression at that time: "What kind of bean-soupery is this?"

Gui Do said...

The Buddha (Shakyamuni) did not know Inuit, for example. They depend on being hunters. His knowledge of the world was limited, we can forgive that and therefore can simply not follow him here.

The same goes for the killing of animals, providing the picture of a man putting a knife to the throat of an animal is a bit old fashioned. Nowadays animals can be killed without having the chance to understand what's going on, by stud guns. As I said, veterinarians even use "softer" methods when putting old or sick animals to sleep, much similar to what assisted dying does for humans.

Actually, if we believe that by taking the blame on the butcher and the meat dealer seriously there would be not meat eater at the end of that chain, what would have happened to the monks over the centuries? I have a guess. A lot of them would have suffered from malnutrition or died, being fed only by rice donations and vegetables, lacking perhaps iodine etc. That is why this blame is ethically shoddy.

The same goes for weapons. They are not only used for killing, as we have seen in times of Cold War, but also as a deterrent. The Pershings in Germany haven't killed anyone in the end. Weapons are also used to protect others, and sometimes it is the "good" or "weak" from the "bad" or "powerful". There is a lack of vision in the Palicanon's arguments here, or let us say it pretends that the world is already ideal (which it never was) and would not need the consumption of meat, weapons or alcohol.

Ah, let us not forget that alcohol was used as an anesthetic for a long time, how would people have suffered without those dealers? There is also a way to use those things wisely, as the Hmong in the mountains of Thailand and Burma did with opium which they only permitted for the sick and married men (who had sufficiently supported their families). Thus it did not become socially destructive. As I said before, the world turned out to be not as black as white as it was in the old scriptures of world religions.

j d said...

Nisargadatta Maharaj says "Vegetarianism is a worthy cause but not the most important"
I guess he's pointing to stilling the mind which overrides all other 'isms'

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Paul, you will find the term ‘bean-soupery’ on page 28 of Nyanamoli’s translation of the Visuddhimagga where the meaning of this idiom is also explained. Bean soup (muggasupa) was made our of mugga, what we know as mung beans.

paulmalone said...

Thanks, Bhante,

Checked it out--a metaphor for flattery, I see. I’m still learning the ropes when it comes to reading the book. Without those explanations (and even with them) it is a demanding read.

reasonable said...

Hi Paulmalone,

You commented that "Back then, as Jeffrey pointed out, people often probably didn't have a choice. If Buddha had been so dogmatic people might have starved to death or become seriously ill because of his words".

How do u explain how the Jains survived well since Gotama Buddha's days till today despite the fact that they had insisted on vegetarianism even in the days of Gotama Buddha? If the Jains had a choice, then surely the Buddha had a choice too, and the Buddha could have taught his followers to be vegetarians as apparently, from the Jains' case, vegetarianism was not an insurmountable obstacle to having willing followers.

Could it be the historical Buddha had a view about whether or not compassion MUST NECESSARILY imply vegetarianism that is different from some modern Buddhists (especially some Chinese monks) who insisted that compassion must necessarily imply vegetarianism?

reasonable said...

Dear Commenters,

Is it a realistic possibility that Gotama Buddha did not think that his teachings NECESSARILY imply vegetarianism?

In other words, could it be a realistic possibility that Gotama Buddha thought that meat-eating PER SE did not contradict his teachings on 1st Precept and compassion?

Walter said...

From the perspective of Theravada as far as I am able to to understand, there is a difference between eating meat and killing an animal. If we needed food and we went to a food outlet to get ourselves some food which might include meat, the meat would have come from an animal that was already dead. Whether we eat the meat or not, that animal had been killed. It is like as if finding a dead chicken (or some other animal) on the road and we took it home to cook for dinner.

We might say that if we abstain from eating meat, then we might save the lives of some animals as less animals would be killed eventually. This is certainly true but it still does not make the meat-eater guilty of killing as long as he does not slaughter animals (or direct someone to slaughter for him). In other words, if he saw dead meat in the market and he bought some, he is not guilty of breaking the precept of refraining from killing.

If we refrain from eating meat many of us might suffer from malnutrition as it requires certain knowledge to get a balanced diet as a vegetarian. This is especially true of pregnant mothers and growing children. We might say we can simply add milk or eggs to our diet. But that is not much different from taking meat since all those cows that produced the milk and the hens that laid the eggs will eventually be led to the slaughter-house when they become too old to produce milk or lay eggs. There are no "retirement villages" for them.

This world is far from being an utopia. Continuously spinning in samsara. Can we turn everyone to vegetarians? What about all the killing that goes on in the jungle among wild animals. Can we stop it from happening? Do we avoid vegetables that were grown with insecticides, or medicine that was tested on animals. Is it "right" to clear land to convert to farmlands where animals used to roam, depriving them of food. And so on, as we reason beyond being responsible for various indirect consequences. Willy nilly, we are always part of the chain.

Hence, for lay Buddhists especially, it is wise of the Buddha that he did not insist that they be vegetarians. There is really no end to what we need to do if we ponder about all the indirect consequences. What is important to bear in mind, I think, is the greed associated with food. We should watch ourselves whether we have become so attached to eating meat that we insist on having meat when there is none. Can we not be happy if we were served vegetarian. And don't forget that as vegetarians we can be greedy and attached too.

However, having said all that, I often "feel" better if I ate vegetarian, or a meal only with meat from some of the lower forms of animal life (eg fish).

Blogger said...

Its so simple
Meat eating=Killing of a sentient being=violation of 1st precept
I can't understand why people think we can eat meat provided this and that
conditions are satisfied(unless they are Bhikkus ).How could The Lord who is glorified as MahaKaruniko entertain killing
some animal for food?And what is this smaller and bigger animal concept?
Because an elephant is jumbo size we shouldn't eat it and if in the future
scientists clone midget elephants shall we start eating them?Just because animals
can't articulate as wonderfully as humans shall we murder them?Shall we kill a
blind and dumb human being and eat his flesh because he is not able to
express his pain with great deal of drama?And what about dead meat in the markets?Have animals started
committing suicide to feed poor human beings?I'm not aware about situation
in other countries but in India there are shelters for old animals,there are
laws prohibiting slaughter and there are millions of people who are
vegetarian, who are healthy and happy.
Those arguments that support meat eating arise from too much desire,too much
craving,"oh!Ah!what a wonderful,juicy and crunchy piece" but alas all false
views. If Ashoka could become a vegetarian certainly anyone can,its just a
matter of willpower and time.It took me about 4 years,so it isn't something
We're not Eskimos and we aren't interested about others,The Dhamma is about
'I','what am 'I' doing?'(even this 'I' identity-for the sake of
convention).And yes ,dear upasakas thinking otherwise is defeat, defeating The
Lord and The Dhamma .There are many other religions that say that their God
created animals for food and it is sanctioned by the scriptures to eat meat,please
go and seek refuge there.
P.S.:(I don't know how safe it is to eat an animal that was found dead!!)
Probably not everything said by The Lord was recorded or some sayings might have been lost or not written down by the Elders ,who might have assumed that the there will be followers of The Lord with the capacity to follow His path correctly from whatever stands preserved.

j d said...

For Walter, "A meal only with meat from some of the lower forms of animal life (eg fish)"
Is a fish really a lower form of life? Think about it!

reasonable said...

Dear Blogger,

You mentioned that "Meat eating=Killing of a sentient being=violation of 1st precept

If what you said is correct, then Gotama Buddha was wrong because base on the evidence that we have (i.e. not base on evidence that we do not have and not base on speculation), Gotama Buddha ate meat and he allowed his followers to eat meat. Unlike you, he did not think that eating meat is incompatible with the Dhamma.

You also said that "I can't understand why people think we can eat meat provided this and that
conditions are satisfied(unless they are Bhikkus )."

Gotama Buddha was the one who taught that one can eat meat provided this and that conditions are satisfied. So if your view is correct then Gotama Buddha's view was wrong.

yuri said...

Dear SD, I feel (maybe wrongly) that your way of picking up some "disputable" issues is inviting disputes and different opinions to keep your blog popular. Then arguments start, references to written sources, various authorities, clashes of opinions and generally exploiting mental constructing capabilities of human mind. Is this the way to really learn Dhamma? How silly these issues, like to eat meat or not, become when we progress on the Path. And the answers stop being opinions and points of view but become something like direct understanding, which is useless to debate with others. Arguments and debates are serious blocks on the Path, and Buddha explained it many times and in many sermons (take Sutta nipata, for example). Even this can be just my opinion... Hardly worth discussing! :)

MidPath said...

Dear Walter, please allow me to highlight your comments. I agree 100%

This world is far from being an utopia. Continuously spinning in samsara.

What is important to bear in mind, I think, is the greed associated with food.

yuri said...

A good answer to the question discussed is given by... Jesus! :) Well, not by Christ of the New Testament but the real (awakened) Jesus of Thomas' gospel. Jesus says to his disciples:
"When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you... For what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth - it is that which will defile you."

Blogger said...

Dear reasonable,

The Lord did eat meat,I'm not saying he didn't but we do know that he didn't kill those animals and cook it for himself nor did he tell someone to do so.He didn't ask his disciples or the laity to bring meat either.He merely accepted what was put in his begging bowl and that too because He was a 'Bhikku'(He wasn't the follower of Nigganta).For a monk there is no choice,he is bound to accept it unless those three conditions are not met.When did The Lord say that everyone can eat meat?Did He say that those three conditions apply to the householders?Obviously no.Well,I haven't read anywhere that The Lord allowed it.Kindly,quote that from The Sasana.

Dear Yuri,

The Venerable isn't trying to create an issue,rather he is giving us a chance to discuss about this issue.Just see how many contradicting views are being posted.I think it is good to discuss and resolve than to have doubts or to interpret The Dhamma as we please.I don't think we are hurting each other,opinions vary,it is very natural and we have to face the reality and come to a conclusion.


yuri said...

Dear Blogger, in fact it is me who is creating an issue! :) But exercising our thinking, as well as just reading or quoting scriptures is of not much help. Buddha did not write them and so there are certain inconsistencies in Tipitaka and other Buddhist documents. Very human! And as Buddha said we should not rely heavily on "sacred texts". That is rather more like scholars' business. Shravasti Dhammika in fact presents here a debatable issue sure to cause people to offer different views on the subject. From my own experience such public debates are mostly pointless and do not help deeper understanding of Dhamma - and then, those who eat meat will not change their habits just as those who do not. If that were a very serious issue Buddha certainly would have added such a precept concerning meat eating to the known ones.

Blogger said...

Dear Yuri,

Ok,Very well.

Faith is the seed, practice the rain...

-Kasi Bharadvaja Sutta

The Venerable wrote a book on this topic and it helped me to correct my views.The Venerable is trying to make things clear,by pointing out certain interesting things he observed.

Yes,we need not cling to The Tipitakas,but we need them.It is the gift of The Lord,and as long as we haven't reached the other shore this raft is essential.

You say that The Tipitakas might have been corrupted.But you want another explicit precept ,so assuming that The Bhagava did add it as the sixth precept would you accept it or reject it? You yourself are quoting from The Kalama Sutta,can you tell for sure that He gave that discourse?Even that Sutta is a part of the same Tipataka.

If The Dhamma could be understood by any person sitting silently under any tree then it would be amazing & we wouldn't have this discussion too.

Every Dhammic discussion is always fruitful,sometimes profound and sometimes the effect is invisible.

I'm not a scholar and there is no debate going on.The first precept is simple,very simple-"Abstain from taking life".I haven't heard of any method to obtain meat from a sentient being sans the killing process.

If any person was offended,please forgive. :)


Walter said...

Dear Blogger: Referring to my post you said, "I don't know how safe it is to eat an animal that was found dead!!" What I wrote was quite clearly an analogy. But even if it is taken literally, the chicken could have been killed by a passing vehicle, so it should be perfectly safe to eat if it was not dead for too long. You also said, "And what is this smaller and bigger animal concept?" If by that you are referring to my mentioning "lower forms of animal life", then I think we are talking about two different ideas. A "lower form of life" need not be smaller in size. Anyway, I don't deny that slaughtering such an animal is also breaking the precept.

Dear j d: I could be wrong. My impression is formed by the fact that I think I read about it somewhere long ago, and that fishes sort of even gobble up their young when they swim within their reach. Higher developed animals, like mammals, will take care of their young, at least normally.

Dear MidPath: I am happy that you agree with the two comments. Thank you.

yuri said...

Dear Blogger, thanks for "Faith is the seed, practice the rain...". But it may work with some and fail with others. Some people like me need no faith at all. "Ehipassiko" is more like IT! I do not care if Buddha did give the discourse to Kalama people or not - but this is what I fully accept, because it corresponds to my experience concerning faith and its traps. For a number of years I trodded on the path of a Christian believer.

As to precepts, Buddha gave a very clear precept concerning what not to drink. :) But no precept on what not to eat. In some suttas there are lists of "forbidden food" including eggs and seeds. I quietly disregard them. :) And if Buddha would have forbidden eating meat I'd do the same. When I had a kind of breakthrough in meditation I stopped eating meat and drinking alcoholic drinks. Mind you, not because they were forbidden but I simply did not want them anymore. Lost taste for them. Now I am a teetotaller but concerning food - in a few months I developed several health problems. Doctors told me that to change eating habits at my age was dangerous. I resumed eating meat and the problems were gone. I am not happy about eating meat but neither am I dejected because of the origine of such food. The world is not perfect and life eats life. We do not know what vegetables feel when they are picked, cooked and eaten. I can only say that eating meat is not a barrier on the path, but such debates possibly are! :)

Ariyakumara said...

According to Amagandha Sutta, Sutta Nipata, the Buddha didn't consider eating meat is the way to purification. According to this sutta, the Buddha and previous Buddha Kassapa is not a vegetarian....

Stevens Chen said...

Thanks Bhante for this wonderful article.
If someone, for example, working in a restaurant which sells alcohol, is s/he doing wrong livelihood? Probably no, because s/he is not the owner but only to do his/her duty at work. But maybe s/he shares the kamma of selling alcohol, encouraging people to take liquor, etc..

I also think about this, why meat eater not share the karma of killing since everyone is participating?

This one thing I also don't quite understand. Have you got the answer for this ongoing question? Thanks Bhante.