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The Controversy of Meat Eating & Vegetarianism in Buddhism

Majjhima Nikaya 55.5 (Jivaka Sutta). The Buddha :"Jivaka, I say that there are three instances in which meat should not be eaten: when it is seen, heard or suspected that the living being has been slaughtered for oneself. I say that there are three instances in which meat may be eaten : when it is not seen, not heard, and not suspected that the living being has been slaughtered for oneself. Some bhikkus live in dependance upon a certain village. He eats the almsfood without being tied to it, infatuated with it and committed to it, seeing the danger in it and understand the escape from it."

The Buddha was once accused by the Jain monks of eating meat from animal which was specially slaughtered for him. The Buddha denied it and explained that meat can be eaten, if it fulfilled these three condition : when it is not seen, not heard and not suspected that the animal has been slaughtered for oneself. This is the so called threefold rule of meat eating. If one of this condition is not fulfilled. Then the first precept : killing of living beings has been committed. There is always a controversy towards meat eating among Buddhists from different traditions. It is always connected with compassion. Actually the main message of the Buddha was that he tried to teach his Sangha (monks & nuns disciples) to not giving unnecessary burden / inconvenience to the lay people who are offering them the alms food and most importantly the Sangha should not be ATTACHED and INFATUATED with the food or the worldly things. So that the Sangha can continue to practice the Dhamma with less obstruction. With the flourished Sangha, the Sasana/Dispensation of the Buddha will last longer and benefit all beings. This showed the greatness of the Buddha's wisdom. The main message of this Sutta is not showing that the Buddha has less compassion towards animals, but he was aware that prohibition would make it difficult for the Sangha or laypeople in certain cultures to survive as Buddhists in the future. For example, for an Eskimo in North Pole region the only food available might be meat or fish. So it will be difficult for them to practice Buddhism. None of them will be able to accept Buddhism if they are already prejudged & doomed to be the first precept breaker (killing). On such matters, Buddha left the choice up to the individual to decide.

If monks/nuns go on alms round and the lay people put meat in their bowls. Then they say, "Sorry, I'm vegan. No meat please." It will give the impression to the devotees that they are choosy & showing no gratitude rather than compassionate. Historically , there was already an attempt to lay down a rule for the Sangha to be strict vegetarian. This rule was promoted by

Devadatta, the monk who was the cousin of the Buddha, the monk who betrayed the Buddha by trying to split the Sangha and tried to kill the Buddha. Devadatta was like Judas Iskariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ according to bible. Devadatta requested five rules to the Buddha to be put in the Vinaya which monks & nuns should follow them strictly, namely : Sangha (monks & nuns) had to stay in the forest for their entire life, Sangha should not accept the invitation to meal, but had to completely rely on begging for food, Sangha should wear only robes from discarded rags and not allowed to accept robes offered by lay people, Sangha should dwell under the trees only and not under the roof (temple dwelling not allowed), Sangha should abstain completely from fish & meat (strictly be vegetarian). The Buddha's reply was that those who felt so inclined could follow these rules - except that of sleeping under a tree during the rainy season - but he refused to make the rules obligatory, because the rules were too radical and did not reflect the principle of the Middle Way.

Nowadays Sangha has been established in Africa. If the Sangha only want to eat veggies, will it cause difficulties for the devotees there ? Africa itself has a poor soil condition & climate which is not conducive for agriculture . The Buddha did not specifically teach about food in the Sutta. His main teaching about food is that the monks, nuns & devotees have to eat in moderation,....to eat less. Especially to monks/nuns, he advised them to eat once meal a day or no meal after mid day. So as a Buddhist we should not be too obsessive about whether to eat meat or veggies, but we have to EAT IN MODERATION, in balance.....the Middle Way according to the condition and always mindful of the three conditions for meat eating above. Eating veggies alone does not mean killing of living beings can be totally avoided. The opening of forest to become farmland alone has caused many beings to be killed. The use of insecticides to eliminate the insects, worms & parasite of the plants is also a form of killing. If your MIND feel more comfortable and peaceful to be vegetarian. Then you should continue to be vegetarian. But every time your mind got agitated & anxious just because of the difficulties to get the vegetarian food in your areas. Then you should stop to be vegetarian or eat meat in balance. The forerunner is always your MIND. If your mind is agitated. There is no use of talking about compassion to this or that beings. I ever saw people get agitated just because they cannot get the vegetarian food or their favorite roast duck store is close down which cause inconvenience & agitation to the people around them. I ever asked two of my buddhist friends who are obsessed & deluded with vegetarian & meat eating. I asked one, " What is your personal reason to be vegan ?" He answered :" It's about Enlightenment or at least the heavenly plane rebirth destination if we are vegan." I asked the other friend who is a radical meat eater on different occasion :"Why are you so repulsive against veggies. Even only a small green leaf in you plate. You will throw them away. I notice most of the time you eat steak." He answered :"Veggies have terrible taste in my

mouth. I never know what kind of insecticides the farmer has sprayed on them. Anyway, it's my eating habit since my childhood. I never like veggies." Both of them are not really wrong in certain way, but their statements are certainly lack of wisdom and excuses only.

The Buddha taught us that Enlightenment is about the Purification of the Mind, Letting Go & Dispassion, never about food. In christian bible, Jesus also ever said :"It is not what comes into your mouth that desecrate you, but what comes out from it, the evil words. Your tongue is your sword." We should not be either too attached & obsessive to eat meat with the excuse as long as the three conditions are fulfilled, we are not responsible for the death of the animals. The issue here is not about whether we are involved in the killing process of not, but more about severe issue, namely attachment to meat that leads to the extreme eating behaviour. Eating too much meat will definitely destructive to our health. But however careful one may be in the matter of diet, whether vegetarian/vegan or meat eating, there is no way to keep one's body going in a material sense that does not cause harm to some other organism. The interdependence between organisms ensures that the survival of any one species - even the human species - must involve the destruction of other forms of life.

Sometimes we see certain people promoting vegetarian like religion. It is as if the new religion which called "Vegetarianism" or "Veganism" has been arisen. They are still using Buddhism as a flag, but their teachings have nothing to do with Buddhism anymore. They keep promoting that their so called "master", an ordained nun, who later got married, get involved in glamorous lifestyle, doing fashion, dancing & art, has been enlightened through a divine transfer in Himalaya by an enlightened ascetic. Will it be too naive or rather than ignorance, if they think enlightenment can be transferred from one person to another person, just like the transfer of inner energy always shown in Hong Kong kungfu flick. So their devotees can get enlightened, only with divine transfer from the master & be vegetarian. They keep promoting that all smart people in the history like Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, etc & lots of famous Hollywood stars are mostly vegetarians. But they forgot that Hitler who has killed about 6 millions Jews in Europe and total 17 millions people in the world during WW 2 Holocaust, was a vegetarian, too....:-)....smart with deluded mind. They also keep blaming that meat eating is the main causal of the global warming. It's actually not completely wrong, but it is a narrow-minded way of judging at issue. The main cause of the global warming is actually the obsessive consumerism behaviour of human. Excessive consuming/exploitation of natural resources, goods, services and every aspect of worldly things. If human consume less, cut down their greed, the global warming will certainly be avoided.

So, as a Buddhist with right understanding, we have to be mindful that consuming of food, either vegetarian/vegan or meat, is not the essence of the Buddha's teaching, but EATING LESS....EATING IN MODERATION.....DISPASSION & LETTING GO, are what the Buddha has taught and both will never be a controversy. It is up to the comfort of your mind to decide to eat meat or veggies. If you feel that as vegan, you are more compassionate, can meditate better, easier to practice lovingkindness etc. You should continue to be vegan then. But if you feel that as vegan. Your mind feel more agitated, you cause people around you agitated due to the inconveniences, etc. You should stop it or eat less and eat meat in balance/moderation. But if you think that only with vegetarian/vegan alone, you can get enlightenment or go to heaven and you make obsessive propaganda about this. Then you are deluded with that wrong view. If your mind feel ease, void of the intention of killing, no remorse, etc of eating meat which fulfilled the three conditions mentioned by the Buddha above. You can continue to do so. But if you feel that with eating meat, you have more obstacles to practice, to meditate, experience more sloth & torpor, feeling unease etc. Then you should stop it or eat less and eat veggies in balance.

Even though there are different views on meat eating from all the Buddhist traditions (Theravada, Mahayana & Vajrayana). The three-fold rule of meat eating (not seen, not heard, not suspected) that the Buddha taught has a considerable value and this rule was on the fore front made for his monks & nuns disciples at that time. So that they can practice in ease, especially in deep meditation or Jhanas, without having too much thought or worry whether the food they consume involved the killing of beings or not. It is more of a practical way. This threefold rule of meat eating can be of course adopted to lay people. As lay people we have to remember that as long as our mind do not feel that we have the intention of killing or causing harm to other beings, we can eat the meat. So if you have the like of eating at live seafood restaurant, always pointing to those live crabs or fish in the aquarium. "I want this one please, looks yummy to be steamed or fried with sweet & sour sauce." Then you have to stop this habit, because you are directly involved in the killing of those beings.

The Buddha was concerned with devising a practical rule that will reconcile the dilemma involved in living in samsara and allowing other life forms too to exist. The fact that the threefold rule is not ideal is not a reflection that Buddha was not compassionate, but of the existential fact that samsâra-faring must involve harm to others. The Buddha's final solution to this is

perhaps the only way in which this problem could be satisfactorily solved. This solution is to chart a course to get out of the phenomenal existence, namely chart a path to Nibbâna......_/\_....May all beings be well & happy. May they be free from suffering. May the Wisdom of the Dhamma always be with us like the never departing shadow.....