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.



konchog said...

Thank you so much for this wonderfully clear reasoning in support of dharma practitioners choosing a vegetarian diet. This is exactly, precisely why I stopped eating meat three years ago: the indirect, but obvious, involvement in the killing of other beings. I wish I'd done it sooner, but while living in Mongolia it was almost impossible, esp. when traveling outside of the city.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Konchog, welcome back!

Anonymous said...

Dear Friends,

if one quotes that eating means killing, that it does not make sence to practice Dhamma further, for one had not get the message at all.

I would recommend some serious practice as well as right livelihood.

There is a lot of danger in saṃghādisesa 13 in this case, as there would no reason for practice at all, if people could substain on some kind of using others to walk on in the circel birth, aging, sickness and death.

Not to speak that one would be easy populare amoung a general trend.

Just some recommentations, acts are just up or selves.

And I guess it would be no problem to delete those topics as well as this post and focus on real essencial, letting wellmeant but not so wise slips, behind.

Dr. Nick said...

Dear Ven Dhammika,

These are all good points but vegetarianism is nowhere near enough. There's MORE killing and cruelty involved in the dairy and egg industries. If one is serious about protecting animals from exploitation, veganism is the only way.

Lonlysky said...

thumb up Bhante :-)

reasonable said...

One question:

Why Gotama Buddha did not point out the implications of his 1st Precept (and other his other teachings) on meat eating?

(assuming that he had come across vegetarianism such as that taught by the Jains around his time, it would be even easier for him to have thought about the implications of his teachings on vegetarianism, and would then likely to have explicitly pointed out that the 1st Precept & his other teachings imply that one ought to stop eating meat)

If he had come across vegetarianism such as that taught by the Jains and yet he did not teach that his teachings implies vegetarianism, it might mean that Gotama Buddha did not think that his teaching necessarily implies vegetarianism.

LobsterBoy said...

I have been vegetarian for 18 years. My conversion was spontaneous and unexpected. While cooking beef in a pot, the stench suddenly overwhelmed me and I had the experience of feeling the suffering of the animal I was cooking. I had no knowledge of the Dharma, but the experience felt profound and deep.
It is clear that animals suffer terribly on their way to the dinner table. In our age specifically, slaughter is conducted on a wholesale level unseen in past history. In order to provide for enormous demand, killing is now industrialized on an unimaginable scale. No being should be reduced to a product for the enjoyment of others. Because of the methods being used to process these beings, cruelty is part and parcel of the trade. As a person devoted to kindness and compassion, how could I take a meal knowing that it was born of unimaginable pain and indignity?
If other means of satisfying my needs are available, and I truly see all beings as deserving of their happiness,their very lives, who am I to take these from them?

GiDo said...

First of all, the argument of Theravadins and Tibetans who say as long as they do not know of the killing and that it is done for their meals (donations), the meat could be consumed, is obviously sophistic and of lower moral. Because Buddhists laypeople in such countries are supposed to donate food and give what they have, it is logically clear that they also kill "for" the monks and they therefore would have to refuse any meat.

Anyway, the basic problem comes with the weight that is given to words. "Killing" for example. A veterinarian killing a suffering dog at the end of his life is killing it but acting out of empathy. Another point when we talk about suffering is that animals are obviously not equipped with the skandha that lead to the errors of suffering, as their mind is different. It is therefore not possible to make them suffer in the full sense dukha is defined, rather this suffering is projected on them. Their suffering is different as their rules of survival are (animals regularly kill each other) etc. Most animals that are killed for meals are only born for that reason, they would not exist otherwise. And one could still eat meat without any killing involved if he just waited until animals die by themselves. There is thus no logic stringency in the arguments of vegetarians.

This will be obvious when we look at the definition of living beings which include bacteria which we regularly (and consciously, if we went to school and now about their existence) kill. Here we detect the main error, building categories of living beings where the ones with eyes get most empathy and those which we do not see are neglected. This is another kind of illusion and therefore suffering, a suffering only known to mankind.

Anonymous said...

"it is logically clear that they also kill "for" the monks and they therefore would have to refuse any meat"

This is a fail argument Guido, but of causes is caused by wrong teachings as there is no such kind of making food for a monk wished by a monk.

It's often taught that it brings merits to feed a monk, whish is right as you have something to share, but wrong is your intention is caused by the desire to feed what you love or what brings you benefit.

So a monk who walk for alms in not a little involved in how the food becomes to be a food, but takes what is shareable.

The idea of vegetarian today is under monks is direct connected with their worng livelihood which comes from the desire to socialice with groups, to stay on the place of desire.

To get ride of this natural guilty feeling out of wrong livelihood and permanent violating the vinaya causes the seek for alternatives outside of the Vinaya. A spiral that also bound those of the same wrong view together.

There does not happen any different as it was happening in japan of elsewhere, where there was no more base for right livelihood for many but the desire to use the frame on Bhikkhu live out of different interests but not to strive for awakening.

What ever food you desire will cause killing, when you take what is left or shareable, freely given there is nearly no more part on it.

But even is suche a nearly persfect livelihood, the Buddha taught that food should be considered like the flesh of ones own son.
What ever is born again, does not only die it self, but causes others to be killed anyway. So even in the belly of your mother, you are your self responsible for what is caused by the desire and love of others to maintain you dear and near.

It's just a very sort cut and maybe very straight forward, but one should give it some time to think about it and as somebody once said:

Vegitarian or Meat, don't forget to watch your mind.

Appamada Friends!
Don't waste time in seeking for excusses. There are no for not practicing till the goal. Out of compassion for one self and all others as well.

Samvega is needed and Pasada will come up when you meet admirable friends.

Some good word in this reagrd:

Anonymous said...

To the rest of your arguments Guido, that is your way to excuse your ways and desire but they are also out of any logic not to speek of understanding.

"Modern sociologists have identified five basic strategies that people use to avoid accepting blame when they've caused harm, and it's noteworthy that the Pali teaching on moral responsibility serves to undercut all five. The strategies are:

* to deny responsibility,
* to deny that harm was actually done,
* to deny the worth of the victim, to attack the accuser,
* to claim that they were acting in the service of a higher cause

(those arguments are also present if a monk votes for vegetarianism)

The Pali responses to these strategies are:

(1) We are always responsible for our conscious choices.
(2) We should always put ourselves in the other person's place.
(3) All beings are worthy of respect.
(4) We should regard those who point out our faults as if they were pointing out treasure. (Monks, in fact, are required not to show disrespect to people who criticize them, even if they don't plan to abide by the criticism.) (5) There are no — repeat, no — higher purposes that excuse breaking the basic precepts of ethical behavior.

Check it out for your self, that is why apamada is very needed.

GiDo said...

I argument on the basis of the teaching of the skandha. As usual, I cannot follow Hanzze whom I know from other German forums. The point is that he is NOT arguing, but giving motherhood statements like "out of any logic" or "to excuse yourself" without proofing it.

A couple of examples, before I rather comment on Bhante's latest entry. I take full responsibility, I lived on a farm and am able to kill animals without remorse and hate and without (like Theravadins do) putting any blame on a butcher, even if he does it for me. I have heard a lot of strange arguments, not only derived from the Palicanon, like a meateater would stink and scare away animals. Actually, I experience the opposite.

Today I could stroke a fly (I know, not uncommon), take the scare out of a cat while feeding it the remains of my shrimps, and dogs like me more when I smell from meat out of my mouth. Last week I bought Japanese dry dog food in a supermarket but once again here in Thailand had to find out that the street dogs prefer the rest of human meals, including rice. Than I thought of giving it to a cat who seems to like me. The cat refused it too, until I took a bite myself. Then she started eating it and couldn't stop anymore.

In Zen Buddhism we do NOT deny the worth of living beings, indeed we do not even think we are more precious than an animal, as even a tree has the Buddha nature. That is how we place ourselves in the ecosystem. The Palicanon does not do that. The realm of animals is even something that people are made afraid of. What a pity.

There is also "no higher cause" in killing animals to eat them. It is a law of nature, the most simplest cause imaginable.

Anonymous said...

Dear Shravasti Dhammika, I am currently writing an enthographic study for my 'Study of Religion Class,' at school, and have chosen to investigate how the teachings of the Buddha, as contained in Buddhist sacred texts have influenced the human perception of other sentient beings and how this is linked in with the many vegetarians and animal right activists in today's modern society. I am required to gather sources via. interviews, correspondence etc. And was hoping that perhaps you would be able to contribute to my assignment by providing some personal insight etc. I understand that you have many other preoccupations, but if you are able to spare some time it would be greatly appreciated if you contacted me at

P.S. If anybody else who reads this comment feels they may be able to contribute, feel free to email me too.

Many Thanks, Lydia. :)