Saturday, 5 March 2016


Reverence for Life and Vegetarianism

Although the Buddha in his first precept speaks of "abstinence from destroying life", it is often argued that this does not imply refraining from eating meat. We will look at what the Buddha and Buddhist teachers say in this regard.
It should be borne in mind that meat-eating was not common during the Buddha's time in the part of India where the Buddha lived and preached. Indeed, vegetarianism has long been a tradition in India, and it still prevails there to a great extent. Naturally, therefore, it was considered taboo for a respectable householder to offer meat to a holy man, and much more so for the holy man knowingly to eat it.
This is reflected in the following dialogue between the Buddha and a nobleman named Jivaka Komarabhachcha, who asks:

This is what I have heard, revered sir: that they kill living creatures on purpose for the recluse Gautama, and that the recluse Gautama knowingly makes use of the meat of the killed living creatures on purpose and specially provided for him. Those who speak thus, revered sir, are they telling the truth or are they accusing you falsely for doing so?

The Buddha answers:

Those who speak thus, Jivaka, they are accusing me of what is not true, of what is not fact. ...
Jivaka, he who kills a living creature on purpose for a Tathagata or a Tathagata's disciple stores up much demerit in five ways: When he speaks thus: 'Go and fetch such and such a living creature' - in this first way he stores up much demerit. While this living creature is being fetched it experiences pain and distress because of the feeling of suffocation in its throat - in this second way he stores up much demerit. When he speaks thus: 'Go and kill that living creature' - in this third way he stores up much demerit. While this living creature is being killed it experiences pain and distress - in this fourth way he stores up much demerit. If he serves that forbidden food to a Tathagata or a Tathagata's disciple, which is not allowable, in this fifth way he stores up much demerit. He who, Jivaka, kills a living creature on purpose for a Tathagata or a Tathagata's disciple stores up much demerit in these five ways.

The Buddha explains three things. First, we are morally responsible for an action that is intentional or volitional. He says that when one has intentionally [sanchetanikam] done a deed by body, speech and mind, he will, according to his deed, experience pleasure, pain, or neither pain nor pleasure.
Second, the Buddha leaves no room for a person endowed with the capacity of volition or intention to remain morally blameless if meat is knowingly eaten. Third, not only the person who kills a living creature, but also the person who causes the killing by creating the need for the supply of meat, is responsible for the act of killing.
The following statements by the Buddha provoke us to consider this issue deeply:
All fear punishment; all tremble at death.
Likening others to oneself,
One should neither kill nor cause to kill.
He who, seeking his own happiness,
Inflicts pain on other beings,
Who [like his own self] are desirous of happiness,
Does not obtain happiness after death.

In another book of the Pali Canon, the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha says:

Monks, one possessed of three things is put into purgatory according to his deserts. What three? One who is a destroyer of life, another who encourages another to do the same, and a third who approves thereof.

The Buddha then enumerates the forbidden means of livelihood:

These five trades are forbidden as unrighteous means of livelihood: The trade of (1) selling of arms, (2) selling animals or human beings, (3) selling flesh or meal, 4) selling intoxicating drinks, and (5) selling poison.

The Buddha reminds people to reflect on the consequences of killing living creatures:

A noble disciple reflects thus: 'I am leading the holy life to get rid of and be free from those fetters which are caused by killing living creatures. If I were to kill living creatures again, my own conscience would bite me; the wise, also, after proper scrutiny would reproach me; and as a result of killing living creatures, at the disintegration of my body, after my death, a terrible destiny would await me. This killing of living creatures is indeed a fetter. This is indeed a hindrance .... But for one who refrains from killing living creatures, there would be no such destructive and oppressive cankers.

The Buddha reminds a group of brahmins:

Like unto a mother, a father, a brother and other relatives, cows are our best friends from which medicines are produced. They give food and they give strength; they likewise give a good complexion and happiness; knowing all this to be so, they [the brahmins of old times] did not kill cows.

In chapter three of the Sutta Nipata, the Buddha explains that what makes somebody a true brahmin is determined by action (not by birth). In this context the Buddha explains that a brahmin does not only refrain from killing, but also refrains from causing others to kill, saying:

Whoever, having laid aside violence in respect for all beings, those that tremble and those who are still and strong, who does not kill or cause to kill, him I call a [true] brahmin.

Some people still justify meat-eating by saying that the Buddha knowingly ate pork (sukara mamsa) at his last meal. In support of their view, they say that Chunda served pork to the Buddha on his express wish. But according to the account, when Chunda invited the Buddha and his accompanying monks to his house, he had a wide variety of excellent food prepared, including delicious milk-rice, sukara maddava. The Buddha asked Chunda to serve him only the sukara maddava.
The interpretation that the Buddha's last meal consisted of pork hinges on the words 'sukara maddava' and 'sukara mamsa'. The former means a delicious soft food especially prepared for vigour and strength and made from tasty rice and a large quantity of milk. 'Sukara maddava', however, is sometimes mistakenly taken as a synonym for 'sukara mamsa', which is pork.
We find repeated references to holy men, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, being served milk-rice and other sweet dishes, but nowhere is there record of meat being served to them in that part of India where the Buddha took his last meal. Thus this portrayal of the Buddha as a non-vegetarian is unfounded. We have seen that the Buddha clearly forbade householders to deliberately serve meat to monks, and monks to knowingly eat meat. Would the Buddha, who had prescribed non-violence as the first precept of morality, then ask to be served animal flesh?
Eating of meat is denounced in the famous Mahayana text, the Lankavatara Sutra. The Buddha explains his views to the Bodhisattva Mahamati. A few excerpts follow:

The Blessed One said this to him: For innumerable reasons, Mahamati, the Bodhisattva, whose nature is compassion, is not to eat any meat; I will explain them.
Mahamati, in this long course or transmigration here, there is not one living being that, having assumed the form or a living being has not been your mother, or father, or brother, or sister, or son, or daughter ... and when acquiring another form of life may live as a beast, as a domestic animal, as a bird, or as a womb-born, or as something standing in some relationship to you; (this being so) how can the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, who desires to approach all living beings as if they were himself and to practise the Buddha-truths, eat the flesh of any living being that is of the same nature as himself? .. Even in exceptional cases, it is not (compassionate) of a Bodhisattva of good standing to eat meat.... The food of the wise, Mahamati, is what is eaten by the Rishis [ancient sages]; it does not consist of meat and blood. Therefore, Mahamati, let the Bodhisattva refrain from eating meal....
Now, Mahamati, the food I have permitted (my disciples to take) is gratifying to all wise people but is avoided by the unwise; it is productive or many merits; it keeps away many evils; and it has been prescribed by the ancient Rishis. It comprises rice, barley, wheat, kidney beans, beans, lentils, etc., clarified butter, oil, honey, molasses, treacle, sugar cane, coarse sugar, etc.., food prepared with these is proper food. Mahamati, there may be some irrational people in the future who will differentiate themselves and establish new rules of moral discipline, and who, under the influence of the habit-energy belonging to the carnivorous races, will greedily desire the taste (of meat): it is not for these people that the above food is prescribed. Mahamati, this is the food I urge for the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas.
Again, Mahamati, there may be some unwilling people in the future time who ... being under the influence of the thirst for [meat-] taste, ... will string together in various ways some sophistic arguments to defend meat-eating .... But, Mahamati, nowhere in the sutras is meat permitted as something enjoyable, nor is it referred to as proper among the foods prescribed.
Further, a tenfold prohibition is given as regards the flesh of animals found dead by themselves. But in the present sutra all (meat-eating) in any form, in any manner, and in any place, is unconditionally and once for all prohibited for all. Thus, Mahamati, meat-eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit, I will not permit. Meat-eating, I tell you, Mahamati, is not proper for homeless monks. There may be some, Mahamati, who would say that meat was eaten by the Tathagata thinking this would slander him. Such ignorant people as these, Mahamati, will follow the evil course of their own karma-hindrance, and will fall into such regions where long nights are passed without profit and without happiness ....
(Meat-eating) is forbidden by me everywhere and all the time for those who are abiding in compassion; (he who eats meat) will be born in the same place as the lion, tiger, wolf, etc.
Therefore, do not eat meat, because it hinders the truth of emancipation; not to eat meat - this is the mark of the wise.

Following these extracts from both Pali and Sanskrit texts, we conclude with quotations from Tibetan Buddhist masters on the subject of meat-eating. Patrul Rinpoche says:

Taking life means doing anything intentionally to end the life of another being, whether human, animal or any other living creature .... Some of us, thinking only of the specific act of killing with our own hands, might imagine that we are innocent of ever taking life ....
So all of us humans, in fact, spend our entire time taking life, like ogres. Indeed - considering how we slaughter our cattle to enjoy their flesh and blood when they have spent their whole lives serving us and feeding us with their milk as if they are our mothers - we are worse than any ogre.

Similarly, Pabongka Rinpoche says:

In Tibet, I believe ordained people are making others slaughter cattle for them, claiming, 'They are our serfs'. But the slaughterer and the person who made him do it, each commits the sin of taking a life .... We may think that we do not acquire the sin of actually killing a living being, but we do, because it is also a great sin to make others kill for us.
Showing that the Great Compassion is the Root of the Mahayana Path ... you must contemplate the way the sheep dies .... Its eyes are full of tears and it stares into the butcher's face.

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama declares:

Of all the various species of animals on the planet, human beings are the biggest troublemakers. That is clear. I imagine that if there were no longer any humans on the planet, the planet itself would be safer! Certainly millions of fish, chicken and other small animals might enjoy some sort of genuine liberation!

The principle of non-violence or non-injury, which is central to Buddhist ethics, necessitates strict adherence to the vow of abstaining from meat and flesh in any shape or form.

SOURCE: “Buddhism - Path to Nirvana” @

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