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Taoism and Vegetarianism

Past and present, Taoism which enjoys a long history of nearly 4,000 years, is one of
the immemorial religion and philosophical schools in China and worldwide. In
Taoism doctrine, there is no personal god, and the closest thing being the Tao, which
is a supreme force and underlies changes through the passage of time. The Tao, in the
broadest sense, is the way the universe functions, the path taken by natural events. As
a religion adhering to the teaching of Lao Tzu and the philosophical system developed
by Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, Taoism advocates a simple honest life and
noninterference with the course of natural events. The principle of inaction has great
importance, because attempt to right injustices does not agree with the ideal that good
and evil are complementary forces, which are part of the flow of change.

Generally speaking, Taoists refer to the ones who inherit the thoughts of Saga Lao
Tzu aiming at realization of Tao. In Lao Tzu’s philosophy, Tao here refers to the
origin of the universe. Tao creates everything including living beings and other
creatures. “To be one with Tao” was the ideal way of lifestyle. Those who seek path
of Tao are to become free of personal desires, and become attuned to the flow of
As Buddha said, “To be like one is the only way to know Buddhahood.” Lao Tzu
believed that “to be one with Tao” was the best way to realize it.

It is believed that the principle of vegetarianism was first introduced to Chinese

together with other Buddhist precepts about two thousand years ago. In fact, several
hundred years before that, vegetarianism had been acceded in Chinese culture and
even written in literatures. Not only Lao Tzu, but Confucius as well made great
emphasis on the vegetarian issue. Along with Sakyamuni Buddha, those three
philosophies all pointed to one direction, that is, vegetarianism is the precondition to
reach Sainthood and enlightenment.

A story between Lao Tzu and Confucius, written in the Taoist masterpiece entitled
“Zhuang Zi”, is able to give proof to the vegetarianism advocated in both religion.
Confucius was also one of the renowned saga and philosophers in the ancient China.
One day, Confucius came to visit Lao Tzu and ask his thoughts about the supremacy
of “Tao”. Lao Tzu said, “You must first avoid eating flesh meals and follow some
precepts. Then empty your mind and pure your heart. However, Tao is unspeakable; I
will try to tell you a general outline afterwards.”

“Tao Te Ching” was the only sutra written by Lao Tzu himself, probably written in the
mid-3d cent. B.C. It is one of the most influential scripts in Chinese literature. The
basic idea presented in the book was that “Tao” was the origin of the universe and
created all living beings. So one must worship all lives in the universe and show
respect to everything else created by nature. Only in this way, one is able to reach the
conscious level to fully and richly realize “Tao”, while at the same time to become a
celestial being through spiritual practice.

In Taoism, worship here means that one must respect all the other life forms as well as
humans being. The basic principle of this philosophical thought is that every sentient
being is equal in rights to live and die according to the nature’s calling. This should
not be interfered by outer force. For example, killing inflicted upon weaker being by
strong ones is a typical interference against the nature. In the “Tao Te Ching”, it is
written that, “If you delighted in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself.” Instead, one
should treat all the creatures with love and compassion. This is a way to practice “to
be one with Tao”.

Zhang Dao Ling founded religious Taoism (also called Taoism of Five Bushels of
Rice) in the second century A.D while Lao Tzu was stilled worshiped as the forefather
of Taoism. During the period, the idea of the “Tao” combined with other theories such
as “Yin” and “Yang” which became the bases for the philosophical school of Taoism.

Actually, “Yin” and “Yang” theory had existed for several hundred years before Lao
Tzu’s and Confucius’ philosophies came into being. “Yin” referred to feminine aspect.
“Yang” referred to masculine aspect. In the theory of “Yin” and “Yang”, it also
indicated that one should not adopt flesh diet, as eating flesh would break the balance
of “Yin” and “Yang” in one’s body. By flesh eating, “Yin” element would overrule the
body and later become the main cause of the all illness in human being.

Not only the ancient theory of Yin Yang revealed the association between illness and
flesh diet, scientists in modern times also have ascertain the insensible and unhealthy
choice of eating animal and ensuing result of a variety of illness. Just give a few
scientific findings here. According to the account in the Encyclopedia Britannica:
“The toxin in animal body, including the urea and other poisonous excrements, can be
permeated into human blood and human organs” Thus, beyond any doubt, when
people devour animal meat, they inevitably consume certain kinds of toxins directly
from the animals.

On the other hand, when in face with slaughter, the survival instinct will drive the
animals to struggle and resist the cruel killing in vain. In this way, once people
consume animal meat, the endocrine is bound to hyper-function, holding up huge
amount of hormone in the flesh, which will result in poisoning the human tissues and
organs in the end.

Supreme Master Ching Hai also elaborates similar the situation when she taught us to
refrain from taking life of other sentient being and choose noble way of living:

Whenever we eat meat, it is unavoidable that some of the hatred, anger and
frustration in the animal's heart caused when it departed, will be imprinted upon our
consciousness, and then we will feel uneasy inside. Therefore, when we sleep at night
we have nightmares, when animals see us they are frightened of us and run away. And
when we are sick, it is difficult to heal ourselves because of all this hatred, this angry
atmosphere which hangs around the meat that we eat

Try to be as much as possible a vegetarian, it will help you. Even to be a vegetarian

in a polluted area will help you be more immune, you must know that. Vegetarian
people are less sick than the meat-eating people. It gives you protection, your mind
will be calmer, and you will be thinking less. This is the good thing about a vegetarian
diet. It is not only for its mercy quality. We forget that by not taking other lives, our
life will also not be at stake. It is the law of karma, of cause and effect. If we forgive
others, others will forgive us;

It is nice to have dinner without thinking that someone else had to suffer for it. This is
the main reason for a vegetarian diet. You chose your own way of life, and chose less
suffering for us, as well as for others.

.Although in the beginning of Taoism, Taoists did not completely avoid flesh eating and only
followed their own dieting habits, nevertheless, when Zhang Lu, who was the grandson of the
founder of the Taoism religion, finally take the charge of the practitioners’ group, he managed to
build up a simple and strict precept system, which included the concept of adopting vegetarian diet
and avoiding alcoholic drinking.

Due to the increase of priests’ and believers’ population, a better management system
was urgently required afterwards. Therefore, Taoists started to compile more precepts
in the Taoism practice. After evolving several hundred years, the number of precepts
increased to three hundred. However, no matter how many precepts were concerned,
worshiping all lives and sentient beings in the universe always stands as the one of the
basic principles and has never been de-emphasized in the long history of Taoism.. .

A few examples of the Taoism precept of vegetarian diet and non-killing way of life
go as follows:

Example one: in the book entitled “Lao Tzu one hundred and eight commandments”
commandment were inscrolled as below:

♦ The 4th commandment: Do not kill or harm any lives

♦ The 79th commandment: Do not go fishing or hunting

♦ The 95th commandment: Do not dig out any lives from underground in winter

♦ The 97th commandment: Do not break nests and eggs.

Example two: in the book of “ Zhong Ji three hundred commandments” recorded that
do not eat flesh or drink blood from any living beings.

Being a vegetarian is not only the basic precept for any Taoism practitioners, but also
is closely related to “Tao” realization. In other words, being vegetarian was very
necessary to reach the spiritual level to fully realize “Tao”. “It is a waste of time to
talk about Tao if one do not avoid eating flesh and follow precepts”, said Zuo Xian
Tzu, a famous Taoist master.

In this respect, Supreme Master Ching Hai also gave her opinion on the relationship
of vegetarianism and enlightenment by saying,

“to be completely enlightened, and to keep the state of happiness all the time, we
should grant happiness to all beings as well, in a complete way, give them no fear,
have no threatening atmosphere around you. This is a more complete enlightenment.”

Later, due to the different understanding of Saga Lao Tzu’s philosophy, Taoism
separated into many sects. Some still obeyed the tradition, others not. The similar
situation ever happened in Buddhism and Hinduism as well. The division also
affected the succession of the principle of vegetarianism.

In the twelfth century, Taoism gradually divided in two main sects: Chuan-Chen
Taoism and Cheng-I Taoism. The priests of Chuan-Chen Taoism renounced their
families and lived together in temples. They were vegetarian and practiced diligently
in order to achieve fully realization in “Tao”. Many priests of Cheng-I Taoism,
however, lived with their families and did not avoid meat eating, and their ideal was
to help others attain good fortune and avoid the bad. After several centuries, these two
sects have separated into four main sects, which were located in eastern, southern,
northern and western parts of China nowadays. Among them, only northern sect still
inherited well the old-time tradition.

From today’s show “Taoism and Vegetarianism”, we have noticed that adopting a
vegetarian diet had a strong religious background since ancient times. However, the
transform of religion itself has cumbered the inheritance of this principle. People
forgot that adopting a vegetarian diet was not only the precept of religions, but also
the law of universe as advocated in Taoism.

To conclude, the inherent significance of vegetarianism is the profound compassion

and respect for and unconditional love towards all the living beings in the universe.
As Supreme Master Ching Hai once expounded,

“The vegetarian diet is only to propagate more loving kindness which already exists
in us. It is to polish it more, to bring it to its full extent, to all beings, including our
younger brothers and sisters, to sow our love, and also to polish our compassion……
Refraining oneself from killing also means not eating animal flesh because although
we do not kill it ourselves, others have to kill so we can eat it. This is indirect killing.

The most important thing is that the violence in your heart must be terminated, you
know what I mean? Some people, they don't kill actually with their hands but they kill
with their thoughts. That is more important than even the act of killing. So what we
try to minimize is the violence in our heart, the tendency to want to destroy other

Wise Men Talking Series: Lao Zi Says. Publisher: Sinolingua, Beijing, China.