Thursday, October 25, 2012

Buddhist Arguments For Vegetarianism

So the next question is this – could vegetarianism be implied from or be more consistent with the Buddha’s teachings in general?

The cardinal virtue of Buddhism is respect for life. This is embodied in the first Precept; not to harm living beings. I use the word ‘harm’ rather than ‘kill’ because on many occasions the Buddha mentioned that we should not just abstain  from killing  but also from cruelty and violence. For example, he said that someone is unrighteous (adhamma) in body if they “kill living beings, are murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence and are without mercy.” (Majjhima Nikaya I,286). It is clear that   killing  is  against the first Precept but so is pulling a cat’s tail, flogging a horse or punching someone in the face, although these actions would be less grave than killing. So this is the first point – (1) Both cruelty to and killing living beings is against the first Precept.
That true adherence to the Precept goes beyond the individual’s direct physical involvement in harming or killing is clear from the Buddha’s instructions that someone who takes the Dhamma seriously should “not kill, encourage (samadapati) others to kill, approve of (samamunno hoti) killing, or speak in praise of (vannam bhasati) killing” (Anguttara Nikaya V,306). Here the Buddha says that one should take into account even the indirect and distant implications of one’s actions and speech. So this is the second point – (2) Trying to  influence and encourage  others not to harm or kill living beings and being kind to them oneself would be consistent with the first Precept.
As is often pointed out, the Precepts have two dimensions, firstly to stop doing wrong (varitta) and then to actually do good (caritta, Majjhima Nikaya III,46). In the case of the first Precept its varitta aspect would be avoiding harming and killing while its caritta aspect would be doing what one could to nurture, protect and promote life. This is expressed in the Buddha’s full explanation of the Precept when he said; “Avoiding the taking of life, he dwells refraining from taking life. Putting aside the stick and the sword he lives with care, kindness and compassion for living beings.” (Digha Nikaya I,4).
Again and again throughout his teachings the Buddha asked us to empathize with others, to feel for others. “Put yourself in the place of others and neither kill nor cause killing.” (Dhammapada 129. “Think, ‘As am I so are others. As are others so am I’ and neither kill nor cause killing.” (Sutta Nipata 705). This then is the third point – (3) Feeling and acting with kindness and compassion towards living beings is an integral part of the first Precept.
The Buddha’s teachings of respect for life can be clearly seen in several of his other teachings as well, Right Livelihood (samma ajiva) being but one example of this. The Buddha gave as examples of wrong means of livelihood the selling (and/or manufacturing?) of weapons, human beings, flesh (mamsa vanijja), alcohol and poisons (Anguttara Nikaya III, 208). Although  he did not specifically mention it, it is easy to see that the reason why these livelihoods are unethical is because they involve at some level harming or killing living things. So this is the fourth point – (4) Not harming or killing living beings and being kind to them, is an integral part of the whole Dhamma, not just the first Precept.
Another of the Buddha’s important teachings is that things do not come into existence randomly or through the will of a divine being but through a specific cause or web of causes. The most well-known example of this is where the Buddha describes the conditions that give rise to suffering (Digha Nikaya II,55). However, there are other examples of dependent arising – the sequence of causes that give rise to enlightenment (Samyutta Nikaya I,29-32) and to social conflict (Sutta Nipata 862-77), etc.
Using this same principle, we can clarify issues related to meat eating. Farmers do not raise cows or chickens for fun; they do it because they can make a living by selling them to the abattoirs. Likewise abattoirs don’t slaughter animals for fun, they do it to make a profit. They sell their meat to the processors, who sell it to the local supermarkets or butchers who in turn sell it to the consumers. Any reasonable person would agree that there is a  clear trajectory, a discernible causal link between the farmer or the abattoir and the consumer. It may be a distant link but it is there. Put in its simplest terms, people would not slaughter animals if other people did not purchase meat. So this is the fifth point – (5) Eating meat is causally related to the harming or killing of living beings and thus is connected to some degree to breaking the first Precept.
Now let us consider the implications of these five points. Avoiding the complexities of the modern food processing and production industries for the time being, let us look at the simple version of it as it would have existed at the time of the Buddha and how it may still exist in some developing countries and perhaps even in some rural areas in the West.
Let’s say that during the Buddha’s time some monks were invited to the house of a devout family for a meal and that they were served, amongst other things, meat. In accordance with the Buddha’s instructions in the Jivaka Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya II,369) they ate the meat because they had not seen, heard or even suspected that their hosts had gone to someone and specifically asked them to slaughter an animal so that it could be fed to the monks. While eating their meal these monks would have had no bloody intentions, no murderous anger, no perverse fascination in seeing a creature have its throat cut. It is likely that they gave no thought whatsoever to where the meat came from or what was involved in procuring it. From the narrowest, most literal, strictly direct interpretation of it, the first Precept would not have been broken.
But this narrow perspective raises, at least in my mind, quite a few troubling questions:
(A) Firstly, as we have seen above, all the evidence shows the Buddha wanted the Precept to be interpreted in a broad manner and to have all its implications taken into account.
(B) If the monks did not directly break their rules, maybe the lay people broke the first Precept in that they “encouraged others to kill, approved of killing or spoke in praise of killing” when they purchased the meat.
(C) Maybe the monks should have given some thought to the implications and consequences of their actions. Did not the Buddha say; “Before doing something, while doing it and after having done it one should reflect, ‘Will this action lead to my own or others’ detriment?’ ” (Majjhima Nikaya I,416).
(D) Although they may not have seen, heard or suspected that an animal was killed specifically for them, the monks must have been aware that it was killed for people who eat meat, and that in eating meat they would fall into this category.
(E) Even if their role in the death of a creature is only distant and indirect, genuine metta would urge one not to be involved in killing even to that extent. The Buddha said;  “Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, like this one should develop an unbounded mind towards all beings and love to all the world. One should develop an unbounded mind, above, below and across, without obstruction…” (Sutta Nipata 149-50). He also said we should think like this;  “I have love for footless creatures. I have love for the two-footed. I have love for the four-footed and I have love for many-footed creatures.” (Anguttara Nikaya II,72). Saying “It wasn’t killed specifically for me and while I ate it my mind was filled with love” does not sound like the deep, kindly and pervasive love the Buddha asked us to develop.  It sounds more like a love restricted by rather narrow concerns.
(F) In a very important discourse in the Anguttara Nikaya the Buddha praised  those who care about others as much as they care about themselves. He said; “There are these four types of people found in the world. What four? He who is concerned with neither his own good nor the good of others, he who is concerned with the good of others but not his own, he who is concerned with his own good but not the good of others and he who is concerned with both his own good and the good of others. Of  these four he who is concerned with his own good and the good of others is the chief, the best, the topmost, the highest, the supreme.” (Anguttara Nikaya .II,94). And a little further along the Buddha asked  the question;  “And how is one concerned with both his own good and the good of others?” In part of the answer to this question he said; “He does not kill or encourage others to kill.” (Anguttara Nikaya .II,99). We saw before that there is a casual link between killing animals and purchasing their meat. Quite simply, slaughter houses would not slaughter animals and butchers and supermarkets would not stock meat if people did not buy it. Therefore, when we purchase meat or even eat it when it is served to us, we are encouraging killing, and thus not acting out of concern for others, as the Buddha asked us to do.
The conclusions of all this seems to me to be compelling - that intelligent, mature Dhamma practice would require vegetarianism, or at least reducing one's meat consumption. 
The Next post will explore Dhamma and meat eating further.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Vegetarianism In Ancient India

Vegetarianism is the practice of having a meat-free diet. There are different types of vegetarianism, e.g. lacto-vegetarians will eat dairy products but not eggs, and vegans will eat no products derived from animals. The first evidence for any type of vegetarianism comes from ancient Greece and India. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras (570-495 BCE) advocated vegetarianism and at around the same time in India, Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, was also advocating vegetarianism. Despite popular perceptions to the contrary, the Buddha, a younger contemporary of Mahavira, was not a vegetarian and did not explicitly insist on its practice in any of his teachings.

Many arguments are used to support vegetarianism – the health argument (a meat diet causes various diseases), the biological argument (humans are not naturally carnivorous), the economic argument (animal husbandry is an inefficient form of food production), and the humane argument (eating meat requires killing animals which is cruel). Some of these arguments are rather weak, others less so. But from the point of view of Buddhist ethics the only one of these arguments that has to be considered is the last one. Does the Pali Tipitaka, the earliest record of the Buddha’s teachings, contain anything suggesting that Buddhists should be vegetarian? 

There is no place in either the Sutta, the Vinaya or the Abhidhamma Pitakas  where the Buddha says his disciples, monastic or lay, should avoid eating meat. Supporters of Buddhist vegetarianism like Philip Kapleau Roshi (To Cherish All Life, 1986) have claimed that the Buddha did teach vegetarianism but that all references to it were deleted from the sacred scriptures by meat-loving monks in later centuries. There is no evidence whatsoever of this having been done and this argument can be dismissed out of hand.

There are several places in the scriptures where the Buddha is described as having eaten meat. Anguttara Nikaya III,49 mentions that the Buddha was once served sukara mamsa with jujube fruit. This term can be translated with certainty as sukara = pig or boar, mamsa = meat or flesh. In another place it distinctly says that a man sent his servant to the market to buy meat so it could be prepared and served to the Buddha (Anguttara Nikaya IV,187). Yet another text mentions in passing that a group of people “boiled porridge and rice, made soup and minced meat” (mamsani kottenti) while preparing a feast for the Buddha and his monks (Vinaya I, 239). Once some men slaughtered a cow, cooked it and then one of them gave “the best cuts of the cooked meat” (mamse pakke varamamsani) to a nun who subsequently offered it to the Buddha (Vinaya III,208). These and other references to the Buddha eating meat are incidental and only mentioned as an aside. 
One of the criticisms the Jains directed towards the Buddha was that he ate meat. “Many Jains went through the town, through the main roads and side streets, the alleys and the lanes, waving their arms and shouting, ‘General   Siha has this very day slaughtered a large creature to feed it to the monk Gotama and he is going to eat it knowing that it was slaughtered specifically for him.’ ” (Anguttara Nikaya IV,187). In this incident the Jains were trying to discredit or embarrass the Buddha for eating meat, which suggests that there was a feeling in India at the time that monks at least should be vegetarian. But this idea could have only been in its infancy because the Buddha became widely respected despite the Jain criticism of him on this issue. And he was not the only one. We read of a particular ascetic who was highly esteemed by the people of Vesali despite having taken a vow to consume only meat and alcohol (Digha Nikaya III,9).

One of several Jain objections to eating meat and the Brahmanical idea that it was acceptable to eat certain types of meat, was that it make one unclean, not just physically unclean but ritually or spiritually unclean too. Such ideas are very widespread even today and many religions teach that certain foods have an impurity apart from any actual dirt or bacteria they may contain. Since its very beginning Buddhism has rejected the idea of ritual impurity, maintaining that it is immoral thought, speech and actions that make one impure. The Amagandha Sutta says; “Being rough, devoid of kindness, back-biting, careless of friends, heartless, arrogant, mean, sharing with no one, this is impure food, not the eating of meat. To be immoral, refuse to repay one’s debts, betray others, cheat in business and create divisions amongst people, this is impure food, not the eating of meat. To kill living beings, steal, harm others, be immoral, cruel, hard and disrespectful, this is impure food, not the eating of meat.” (Sutta Nipata 244-6). 

There are several places in the Vinaya, the rules for Buddhist monks and nuns, where eating meat is mentioned or implied, for example where it says particular types of meat such as lion, snake and hyena, should not be consumed, implying that other types can be (Vinaya I,218-8). It also recommends meat broth as a medicine (Vinaya I,206). In the section on medicine in the Vinaya it says that monks are allowed to take the oil, fat and tallow of fish, crocodiles, pigs, bears and other animals for medicinal reasons (Vinaya I,200). Monks were even allowed to eat raw meat and drink blood (Vin.I,202-3), which apparently was believed to cure possession by   evil spirits. 
However, it would seem that the first evidence of a move by Buddhist towards vegetarianism also comes from the Vinaya. Most scholars agree that much of the Vinaya dates from some time after the Buddha so some of the things it says may not necessarily reflect what was believed or done during his time. In the Vinaya, Devadatta is said to have demanded that vegetarianism be made compulsory for monks and nuns. “For as long as life lasts, let them not eat fish or meat (maccha mamsam). Whoever does so would be stained by a fault.” (Vinaya II,197). The Buddha is depicted as refusing to make this a rule. Devadatta is always portrayed in Buddhist literature as a villain. This story suggests that within perhaps a century of the Buddha’s passing some monks were advocating   vegetarianism although the Sangha as a whole was against it being made compulsory.  The Vinaya also mentions what were called maghatadisva, certain days of the month when animals were not slaughtered and meat was not available in the markets (Vinaya I,217). The Jataka likewise mentions maghatadisva and adds that they would be announced by the beat of a drum (Jataka IV,115). Were these non-killing days a result of a general unease about killing animals, or due to the influence of Buddhism, or of Jainism? We don’t know.  

After this the next evidence of a Buddhist move towards vegetarianism comes from the edicts of the great Buddhist emperor Asoka Maurya. In an edict issued in 257 BCE he said; “Formerly, in the kitchen of the king, hundreds of thousands of animals were killed every day to make curry. But with the writing of this Dhamma edict only three creatures, two peacocks and a deer, are killed and the deer not always. And in time, not even these three creatures will be killed.” This edict seems to reflect well the early Buddhist attitude to vegetarianism – it is a good thing, so we cut down our consumption of meat and in time we’ll get around to phasing it out. Later, in 243 BCE, Asoka issued another edict banning the slaughter, branding and castrating of domestic animals on certain days of each month. In this same edict he also announced a ban on the hunting of certain wild animals and the setting up of forest reserves where no hunting was to be allowed. After this we get no evidence of Buddhist vegetarianism for several centuries.

A Jain work, the Suyagada (2nd century CE), has this interesting though spurious critique of  the Buddhist idea that only intentional actions (cetana) create kamma and therefore unintentionally eating meat, even human flesh, would be acceptable. “If a savage puts a man on a spit and roasts him, mistaking him for something else, he would not be guilty of murder. In fact, the meat would be fit for the Buddha to feast on.” (Suy.2,6,27). This critique implies that at this time Buddhists were eating meat.

It is commonly assumed that early Buddhism did not teach vegetarianism while Mahayana did. However, this is a perception that needs to be examined more closely. Of the hundreds of Mahayana sutras only a  handful discuss vegetarianism, the main ones being the Hastikaksya Sutra, Mahamega  Sutra, Angulimaliya Sutra, Nirvana Sutra, the Brahmajala Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra. It is not easy to date any of these sutras but all of them were probably composed after the 2nd century CE with parts being added in later centuries. Of these sutras the one that most strongly advocates vegetarianism is the Lankavatara Sutra. It offers a series of arguments in favor of vegetarianism, some of them sound, others rather puerile, for example, that you will emit a bad odor if you eat meat. However, the vehemence with which these arguments are presented suggests that many Buddhists at that time were not vegetarian.  It is only necessary to argue vigorously against something when there are those who disagree with or oppose it. It is also interesting to point out that while the Nirvana Sutra condemns meat eating it also says that one is justified in killing people in order to protect monastic property, a weird contradiction of the type still found in the thinking of some strong proponents of vegetarianism.

When the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang (602–664) was in India he made careful and extensive notes on the beliefs and practices of Indian Buddhists but makes no mention of them being vegetarian. He noted that people ate meat and that the most important thing was not whether one was vegetarian or not but what kind of meat one ate. Those who ate beef or animals  considered impure (dogs, monkeys, pigs, donkeys) were  treated as outcasts. About a century after Hsuan Tsang another Chinese monk, I-Tsing, stayed in India for several decades and wrote a detailed account of Indian Buddhist monastic rules and regulations. He too made no mention of vegetarianism. The literature of Tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism, dating from the 7th century CE, often advocates a meat diet. Tantric practitioners even offered meat to the various deities they worshipped. Both Hindu and Buddhist tantras even taught what was called the Five Ms (pancamakara), rituals that could include consuming alcohol, eating meat, fish, parched grain and having sex.  

It is clear from all this that some Indian Buddhists were vegetarian while others, probably the majority, were not. During the 10th century Jains were still attacking Buddhists for eating meat.  In his Darsanasara, written around this time, Devasena launched  a  scathing attack on Buddhists monks  for considering anything placed in their begging bowls to be pure, even meat (Prakrit Sahitya Ka Itihas p.319). Two hundred years later another Jain writer, Hemacandra, denounced Buddhist monks as gluttons incapable of  genuine austerity because they made no distinction between lawful and unlawful food. By ‘unlawful food’ he meant meat. 
What about Indian society in general? The evidence shows that from its very beginning Jainism was strongly vegetarian and has been so ever since. There is no evidence that Brahmanism, the main religion during the Buddha’s time, taught vegetarianism. Vedic sacrifices in which animals were slaughtered were still being practiced and are frequently mentioned in the Tipitaka (e.g. Anguttara Nikaya I,66; II,42; IV,41; etc). It records one particular sacrifice conducted by a brahman named Uggatasarira during which “five hundred bulls, five hundred steers and numerous heifers, goats and rams were brought to the sacrificial post for slaughter” (A.IV,41). The meat of sacrificed animals was eaten by the officiating priests afterward.   

 The Arthasastra (3rd–2nd century BCE) says that that the government should appoint a superintendent of slaughterhouses, probably to make sure they were efficiently run (As.II,26-7). It also recommends that anyone killing a calf, bull or milch cow be fined 50 panas, not because this was considered cruel but because it was economically undesirable (As.II,26-11).  

The Manusmrti, the most authoritative Hindu law book (2nd century  BCE – 2nd  century CE), mentions that meat is a suitable offering for the ancestors, that the sacred scriptures should not be recited immediately after eating  meat, and that during times of  hardship it is even acceptable to eat dog meat, usually thought of as exceptionally impure. One whole section of the Manusmrti (5,27-57) lays down the rules concerning the procuring, preparing and consuming of fish and flesh. The justification for meat-eating is summed up in these words; “The eater is not defiled by eating living beings suitable for eating, even if he eats them day after day. For the Creator himself made both the eater and the living beings to eat.”(5,30).  

The Kama Sutra (3rd cent CE?) points out that alcohol and dog meat increase a man’s virility but then adds, somewhat halfheartedly, that a circumspect man would nonetheless take neither because they are impure. It also gives recipes for aphrodisiacs, many of them including animal flesh and organs. So once again we have an ambiguous attitude towards consuming meat.

Both  the two great Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata  often refer to eating meat as normal and uncontroversial, as indeed it was. In his detailed study of everyday life as depicted in the Ramayana Ananda Guruge writes; “The Aryans of ancient India were not altogether vegetarians. Their diet was a mixed one; they ate fish as was offered to Bharata and his party by Guha. Meat too was consumed quite widely. Not only did Rama say that animals are killed by men for their flesh but he also killed many animals – deer, wild boar, antelope, etc., - for food during his sojourn in the forest. Meat was eaten with relish and a verse which describes a meal of Rama and Sita states;  ‘He sat on a rock tempting Sita with meat (saying) this is pure, this is tasty and this is well cooked by fire.’ In Bharadvaja’s hermitage Bharata’s army was supplied with venison, mutton, pork and flesh of the peacock and the snipe.  Likewise, Kumbhakarna consumed large quantities of venison, beef and pork and drank blood. Although the Vanaras are generally depicted as vegetarians, the Brahmans were actually not. The concept that ‘a purely vegetarian diet is an indication of spiritual progress and an advanced culture’ is a later development in India. Even ascetic Brahmans were not strict vegetarians. Although their usual fare consisted of vegetables, they did not abstain from meat-eating as a principle of either religious or social significance. In fact, Agastya is represented as eating rams and he says, ‘I am able to eat comfortably even one whole ram at a Sraddha ceremony.’ There seems to have been no ban on meat-eating by Brahmans even at the time of Bhavabhuti for his Uttararamacarita depicts Vasistha as eating a tawny calf. Further, Valin’s statement specifically mentions the animals whose flesh could be eaten by Brahmans.” (The Society of the Ramayana, 1960, p.147-8).

In the chapter on food the Sushruta Samhita (1st–4th century CE) recommends all kinds of fish, bird and animal flesh  thereby showing that meat eating was  acceptable  during that period. This and a great deal of other evidence shows that like Buddhists, Hindus were primarily meat eaters, although there was always  some  in favor of  vegetarianism. After the Gupta period Hindu text like some of the Puranas and the literature of the Bhagavatas start teaching abstaining from meat. It was probably only after the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries that vegetarianism started to become widespread in India. The reasons for this may have been developments in theology and philosophy, changing economic conditions, or the desire of Indians to distinguish themselves from Muslims invaders. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What Am I?

You reveal yourself by the friends you seek,      
By the manner in which you speak, 
By how you use your leisure time,   
By the use you make of dollar and dime. 
You reveal yourself by the things you wear,       
By the spirit in which your burdens you bear,    
By the type of things at which you laugh, 
By the records you play on your phonograph.
You reveal yourself by the way you walk,
By the things of which you like to talk,     
By the manner in which endure defeat,      
By so simple a thing as how you eat.        
By the books you choose from the library shelf, 
By these things and more, you reveal yourself.

Starting next week I will serialize my book on vegetarianism and Buddhism.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Death Of A King

Norodom Sihanouk, former king of Cambodia died today (15th Oct). Often described as ‘mercurial’ he would also have to be called a survivor, having emerged in one piece from his country’s turbulent history, abdicating twice, and living long enough to be almost the last of Asia’s post-independent leaders. Here are some pictures of him taken by Howard Sochurek in the early 50s.