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Belief & Practice of Burmese Buddhists on Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism/ Veganism

Theravada Practice in Myanmar


Myanmar (Burma) is widely known as a Theravada Buddhist country. Approximately 89% of its
population is Buddhist and it is entirely impossible to separate Burmese culture, philosophy, and lifestyle from
Buddhism. The role of Sangha organization in Myanmar is highly important and active in all walks of life. In
many areas such as social-welfare, health care, education, teaching Buddhism and Vipassana practice,
monks are approached and asked to be de facto leaders of the society.
Devotees follow teachings of respective venerable monks (in Burmese: Sayadaw) and truly believe in
Karma. Dana (Charity), Sila (Observance of the Precepts) and Bhavana (Samatha/ Vipasana and other
meditation practices) are the three things all Buddhists are to do daily. Their ultimate goal is to break the circle
of rebirth and to attain Nirvana as early as possible; it is not necessary to attain Bodhisattvahood first.
Do Good. Shun Evil and Purify the Mind is the motto of every Burmese Buddhist.
Animal welfare
Burmese Buddhists strongly believe that animals are born in animal lives due to their previous
accumulated Karma accordingly. Though People do not hesitate to feed stray animals, there are always cases
of neglecting the suffering of poor animals. Let the Karma alone manage its own affair, quote people often.
For example, poultry, pigs followed by stray dogs and cats are most neglected and vulnerable animals
across the country. Animal lovers tend to protect especially dogs and cats. Some Buddhist associations
establish shelters for cows, goats and sheep which are bought directly from animal slaughter houses on the
eves of religious significant days.
Burmese Vegetarianism & Veganism
In Burmese way of vegetarianism, one is to avoid eating animal products which can only be obtained
beyond the existence of ones life meats, fishes, eggs, broth and stock. But dairy products are allowed to
consume.
Veganism is still an alien practice in Myanmar.
Past situation of Vegetarianism
There were well known vegetarian/ vegan individuals and associations in the past. Some of the
notable ones are mentioned below.
U Lokanatha (1897-1966), an Italian Buddhist monk in Myanmar Theravada Buddhism, was a
staunch vegetarian and always preached kindness on animals and taught people to avoid consuming animal
products. Reportedly he did not succeed in pursuing his cause.

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The late Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw (1904-1982), one of the most learned Sayadaws in Myanmar
and internationally well-known Vipassana master, was a vegetarian, but very few people knew him as a
vegetarian, for he did not preach or did not promote vegetarianism among his devotees.
Sayadaw U Ottamasara (1911-1995) was highly admired and respected for his selfless missionary in
undeveloped western hill region of Myanmar. He was considered to be the pioneer Burmese vegan monk
whose main teaching was Metta (unconditional loving kindness and compassion). Many of his devotees
became vegetarians.
During pre World War II era, there was an association called Jivavajjeti Meat Abstaining Association
in Yangon, Myanmar. Its archives or records were hardly available to be retrieved in these day.
Present situation & Future potential
Many Theravada Buddhist sects practise vegetarianism in different styles and purposes. Some do it in
order to abide the rules and regulations of their sects. Some do it within certain periods of time. Some
monasteries and retreat camps allow only vegetarianism in their premises.
People have strongly been accepting following eight facts which may make certain negative impacts
on Vegetarianism.
1. Neither Vegetarians are saints nor meat-eaters are sinners; what important is the ones good
deed.
2. One who eats meat may have a good heart; and one who does not eat meat may still commit evil
Karmas.
3. The Lord Buddha did not choose alms he was offered and his last meal was a kind of pork curry.
4. The Lord Buddha did not make the compulsory rules on his disciples to live as vegetarians.
5. Monks and nuns have to eat whatever is given to them, which may include meat.
6. Being a strict vegetarian/ vegan is considered following the extreme path which is off the course
from the Lord Buddhas teaching of the middle path.
7. The Lord Buddha only taught that meat should not be eaten under three circumstances: when it is
seen or heard or suspected (that a living being has been purposely slaughtered for the eater);
Apart from those three circumstances, eating meat depends upon ones own will.
8. Vegetarianism is a form of Hindu and Jain philosophical infiltration into Theravada Buddhism.
Vegetarians are even often accused of being followers of Devadatta, a cousin and brother-in-law of
the Lord Gautama Buddha, who is said to have parted from the Lord Buddha. Although Devadatta urged the
Lord Buddha to impose five austerities, in which one of the requests was to completely abstain flesh and fish,
on the Sangha, the Lord Buddha refused to make them obligatory.
In this digital era, Myanmar also follows the age of information and technology. In social networks,
many people criticize and condemn brutalities on animals. On the other hand, some people still hold the
strong view of eliminating stray animals in every possible ways as preventive measures, though they may be

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cruel, in order to control animal-to-human-transmitted diseases such as dog rabies. There always have been
online debates between animal lovers and people who demand for the greater good whenever town
municipals conduct operations to eliminate stray animals.
Social networks have a great influence on Burmese people in these days. Educating people on
animal welfare via social networks has a brighter potential comparing to field activities on spreading
vegetarianism and veganism, which might face small challenges because of above listed eight facts accepted
by majority Buddhists.
Authors experiences
The author has been a vegan for almost three years. He directly converted from being a meat eater to
being a vegan when he learnt cruelties on animals in social networks. It has been tough to convince the
people why all animals should be treated equally and that it is necessary to go for vegetarian/ vegan ways in
order to stop all the violence on animals.
Conclusion
Myanmar Buddhists mainly focus on doing good deeds and they have a free will to consume animal
products under acceptable circumstances. One must be patient enough to overcome the hindrances caused
by above listed eight facts in spreading vegetarianism and veganism in Myanmar. Though it may seem to be
difficult, it is still possible. The author himself is a very conservative type of Theravada Buddhist, but he
became a vegan for good.
About the author
Aung Myat Thu (amt156@gmail.com)
Born in Myanmar, in December 1989.
Graduated in Aerospace Manufacturing Engineering from Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore.
Worked 4 years in Singapore in the Addictive Manufacturing Technology and other Manufacturing sectors.
Directly converted to being a Vegan on 27 Nov 2012 after witnessing cruelties on animals in social networks.
Currently living with family and studying German Language in Yangon, Myanmar.

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