Buddhism and Vegetarianism do not mix

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One of the most common myths about Buddhism says that Buddhists must be vegetarian. Those people, who believe so, usually mix up Buddhism with other religions that appeared on the territory of India – Hinduism or Jainism. Buddha has never urged anyone to refuse from eating meat. If you are in India, it will not be hard for you to do it, if you need to.

The number of vegetarians in present-day India is a lot larger than it was during the times of Buddha. The Hindu even ate beef; the only kind of meat that they considered impure was dog meat. They condemned the consumption of such expensive and rare animal species as horses and elephants. Buddha introduced only three bans as far as meat consumption was concerned. Eating meat was not allowable:

1) if a monk saw that the animal was being slaughtered to feed the monk.

2) if he was told that it was so.

3) if the monk was suspicious about it.

There are a dozen of other rules that ban Buddhist monks from eating certain kinds of meat. However, it goes about exotic sorts of meat, the consumption of which could be described as atrocious or even cannibalistic: the meat of human beings, horses, elephants, dogs, snakes and predatory animals such as Lions, Bears, Tigers, etc. This is because most of the monks lived in jungles those days and  those animals can feel the smell coming from the people who eat those animals. Hence, those people get attacked by predatory animals.

As you have probably noticed, the bans embrace only the monks. Buddha was not willing to think of any strict rules for laypeople. He only urged them to stick to the Middle Way. He only condemned the profession of a butcher. There was another nuance. According to traditions, Buddhist monks would take meals from laypeople. That is why Buddha did not consider it appropriate to point out what laypeople should eat. Moreover, if a layperson gave a monk a piece of meat, the monk would have to eat it not to offend the giver.

Violation of the first precept involves five factors.

  1. There is a living being.
  2. There is the perception that the being is a living being
  3. There is the volition thought (Intention) of killing.
  4. The killing is carried out.
  5. The being dies.

Intention is the Karma. It does not matter what you are doing with a dead body. Many vegetarians come up with the logic that “They are killing living beings because you are eating them”. If the logic is correct, it is very wrong to eat vegetables than eating meat. There are whole lot of living beings are killed to grow vegetables, digging in the soil, use of chemicals, etc. But why you are not responsible for those killings? Because you have no intention to kill any living being. The farmer can grow vegetables digging in the soil, but if he have no intention to kill living beings, then there is nothing wrong doing it. But if he use chemicals with the intention to kill insects, definitely it is bad karma. It is very vital here to understand how the Karma works. But if you really feel that eating meat encourages killing and feel guilty, it is better to stop eating meat without making it trouble your mind.

A story about Buddha vegetarianism can be found in Amaganda-Sutta. Lord Buddha here explains that your eating preferences does not make you good or bad, but there are other things make you good or bad. A secluded person, a vegetarian, came to Buddha and asked him if he ate “amaganda.” The word “amaganda” literally means the “smell of flesh” and many ascetics perceived the word as “meat.” What is meat if it is not flesh? Buddha asked him what amaganda was. “It’s meat,” the ascetic said. Buddha responded: “to kill, to beat, to cut, to tie, to steal, to lie, to deceive and to mountebank – all this, but not sarcophagi, is called “amaganda.” (please read some part of the Amaganda Sutta at the bottom of this page)

Buddha said that when people commit atrocities, when they are rude to others, when they don’t feel compassion – this is called the abominable smell of flesh. Eating preferences have nothing to do with it. Buddha attached much more importance to spiritual pureness, the purity of thoughts and actions, rather than to food.

Buddha Shakyamuni also urged Monks to be careful with herbal food too: herbs, like animals, are living organisms, he taught.  That is why Buddhist monks do not pull up plants by the roots, nor do they ask anyone else to do it. Destroying any forms of life, whether it is vegetable or animal life, is justifiable only for living – not to die. However there are no restrictions for lay people.

Meat is available for everyone and everywhere so total abstinence from meat is not going to change anything. If vegetarians believe that they save living creatures, then people would have to stop eating vegetables too – When  people grow vegetables and fruit, they kill many insects. There are many microorganisms in water, so drinking water also kills living creatures.

“If you think that if you stop doing something not to harm living creatures, you would have to stop doing everything. You would have to stop speaking too, because if you don’t say anything then your words are not going to hurt anyone. No matter what you do, someone would suffer from your actions,”.  Likewise there are many things in this world unavoidable. The best thing is to make sure that your intentions are clear and compassionate to all the living beings. If you try to think through wrong paths, you may end up in a great mess.

Unfortunately, we have not reached the level of development when we don’t harm anyone. We should try not to cause anyone harm deliberately instead. Modern Buddhist teachers say that one should wish a deceased animal a good reincarnation before eating its meat. No matter what you eat, you survive owing to the kindness of various creatures: those who reared your food and those who died so that you could satiate yourself with its flesh. After all dead body is not a creature. It is only a physical form. What you are doing with the dead body will not mean anything. That is why we bury or Cremate the dead bodies. Otherwise we would have kept them at home thinking that it is bad thing to bury or cremate the dead one. If you remain thankful to those who help you live and stay alive, it will reduce the negative karma.

 

Our Compassion should be toward the living beings. Not for dead bodies.

 

THE BUDDHA SAID:

“Taking life, beating, cutting, binding, stealing, lying, fraud, deceit, pretense of knowledge, adultery. This is uncleanliness and not the eating of animal flesh.

“When one is rough, harsh speaking, backbiting, treacherous, without compassion, haughty, ungenerous, and do not give anything to anybody. This is uncleanliness and not the eating of animal flesh.

“Anger, pride, obstinacy, antagonism, hypocrisy, envy, ostentation, pride of opinion, interacting with the unrighteous. This is uncleanliness not the eating of animal flesh.

“When one is of bad morals, refuses to pay their debts, are slanderers, deceitful in their dealings, pretenders, when the vilest of people commit foul deeds. This is uncleanliness not the eating of animal flesh.

“When a person attacks living beings either because of greed or hostility and are always bent upon evil, they go to darkness after death and fall head long into a hell realm. This is uncleanliness not the eating of animal flesh.

– Taken from the “Amagandha Sutta”

“Jivaka I have declared that one should not make use of meat if it has been seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk. I allow the monks that is “quite pure” in these three respects: if it has not been seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose with you in mind.”

– Taken from the “Jivaka Sutta”


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The Message of Gauthama Buddha to All Intelligent Beings.