Jump to content

Vegetarianism and Buddhism


Recommended Posts

In England I'd been a strict vegetarian for my life, since my early 20s and for a while was an animal rights activist. I drifted into the Dhamma about the same time, partly because in my western mindset it seemed at the time that the dhamma was very 'rational' and promoted vegetarianism. I see now that I was being typically selective in my understanding of the path.

When back in the UK I maintain a vegetarian diet - because I have full control over what I buy and cook. In Buddhist countries in Asia I compromise; i try to follow the spirit behind the Buddha's prescriptions to his monks.

The Vinaya (rules for monks) does indeed teach that they must not directly kill, and they must refuse meat if they know the animal was killed expressly to feed them. However if the meat is already cooked and is to be eaten anyway and it is offered to them they must accept.

There are two reasons behind this. One is the concept of non-attachment. To have a craving for the taste of meat is an attachment of course, but to be repulsed by or dislike meat is similarly an attachment. Food is to be taken like medicine - it is for the health of the body in order to ensure the mind is undisturbed - nothing more. Of couse you may well have met individual monks who have a clear craving for meat - don't be misled into thinking the robes automatically confer a higher spirituality; they are at various stages along the path too.

The second reason is to do with 'dana' or generosity. The main way in which lay people can work towards enlightenment is to gain merit for a favourable rebirth, and a major way of gaining merit is to give food as well as clothing and other necessities to a monk. If the monk refuses the offering he effectively denies the donor a chance to earn merit (this by the way is also why monks don't smile and say thank you when given food - the reward would be instant and no merit would be gained!).

I'm not a monk but I extend this logic to the concept of hospitality. If I am invited to a meal and the host gives me, with sincere heart meat to eat, if i refuse I deny him/her merit, so I accept. I haven't conquered the non-attachment to the taste of meat or thoughts of the poor animal that gave its life against my will, but i'm working on it!

I do admit to personally struggling with the lack of interest in 'secondary effects' in tradtional Buddhist logic. By this I mean by eating meat you are indirectly responsible for the suffering of a sentient being. It is a philosophy developed in certain Chinese forms of Mahayana Buddhism and i think exists in certain schools of thought in Vietnam, but as far as i know traditional forms of Buddhism in Thailand don't go down this road and I have no intention of 'preaching' to Thai Buddhists about the error of their ways from a western perspective.

This has been another way-too-long lesson in response to some earlier questions about what Buddhism appears to teach about this subject. My apologies for failing to be concise.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 306
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Questioner: Is it not the case that the one who eats meat bears the responsibility for the killing?

Monk: Of course not. The one who eats meat a.) intends to eat, and b.) may or may not intend to eat meat. Meat is, as a matter of fact, what is being eaten. But nowhere in the mental states of our reverend gourmand is there an intention to kill.

Have a Happy…

DeDanan

Questioner: Is it the case that one who wants his bosses job and pays an assassin to 'remove' him bears the responsibility for the killing?

Monk (using same logic): Of course not. The one that gets his bosses job a.) Intends to get promoted, and B.) may or may not intend to get his bosses job (whatever this is supposed to mean). A promotion, as a matter of fact, is what is being gained. But nowhere in the mental states of our 'employee' is the intention to kill. -- He did not do the killing, and his goal was promotion, not necessarily the death of his boss.

An absurd extrapolation I know, but to say that you are not party to the 'how' because your only interest is the 'what' seems like a cop out to me.

I also do not buy the above - denying of merit because it was given excuse. If a human hand was given in merit, would it be accepted? To imbibe human flesh is against the Sangha rules, so it would not be eaten.

I think the real reason is simple. Non attachment and personal path to enlightenment. Food is fuel, if it affects you personally when you eat meat, then don't do it. Food should not disturb your 'right thinking' or 'right mental state'. If it will, then avoid it. Everyone of us has our own path, our own middle way. For me I can not eat higher lifer forms (mammals, birds, even Octopuses - squid OK though).

This is part of my own moral reasoning, and I do not expect anyone else to understand or agree. I eat fish, shellfish and some other aquatic animals (squid, jellyfish, crab etc). If I feel the animal is intelligent or sentient to some arbitrary level (I can not describe the level, I just know it), I will not eat it. This allows me to keep peace with myself. I have no attachment to meat or any other food. I wear leather as (for some unknown reason I, myself can not fathom) this does not affect my conscience. I shoot (high powered air-rifle) occasionally as a sport - I have my own rifle - but only shoot targets. I can live with myself this way.

If a monk can eat meat, without affecting his inner self or conscience, then this is right for him. If he eats meat thinking it is wrong, just because he craves it, then this will affect his mental state. If he eats meat to help another with their merit, but it affects his inner self, then this too will affect his mental state.

We each have our own moral code. We naturally discern right from wrong at the black and white level (Helping is good, murdering is bad); but we also set our own complicated system of discerning the grey areas too. We come up with our own answers, and our own path by which aim to follow. This path leads to enlightenment (our own personal path of light). :o

Link to post
Share on other sites
If a monk can eat meat, without affecting his inner self or conscience, then this is right for him. If he eats meat thinking it is wrong, just because he craves it, then this will affect his mental state. If he eats meat to help another with their merit, but it affects his inner self, then this too will affect his mental state.

So does that mean he can choose to eat meat pr choose not to eat meat (aside from those proscribed by the Vinaya)? A monk following that line of behaviour will have violated the precept.

One is inclined to ask for a definition of "inner self", a concept I've not seen in the Sutta, the Vinaya or the Abhidhamma. The latter describes many different aspects of what we normally think of as personality but nothing about inner (or outer) self.

Meat is rupa and the way a monk or anyone else perceives it is nama. When nama and rupa come together (whether the meat, in this case, is eaten, seen, heard, smelled, touched, etc) the resulting citta (mind moment -- your mental state?) is either kusala (skilful, wholesome) or akusala (unskilful, unwholesome) depending not on the act but on the intent. This is what is meant by the explication on intent.

Link to post
Share on other sites
So does that mean he can choose to eat meat pr choose not to eat meat (aside from those proscribed by the Vinaya)? A monk following that line of behaviour will have violated the precept.
The monk doesn't choose at all. A lot of westerners have said to me 'i quite fancy the lidea of becoming a monk, but I don't agree with following a list of rules'. But this is precisely why the Vinaya is so important - it frees the monk from the tyrany of having to make decisions about mundane, samsaric issue.

Quite simply, the monks eats whatever has been put into his bowl, without preference. In a Buddhist culture the laity will know what food is permissible and not permissible to give to a monk, so in normal circumstances the onus is on the lay persons to give appropriate food in appropriate amounts.

Meat is rupa and the way a monk or anyone else perceives it is nama. When nama and rupa come together (whether the meat, in this case, is eaten, seen, heard, smelled, touched, etc) the resulting citta (mind moment -- your mental state?) is either kusala (skilful, wholesome) or akusala (unskilful, unwholesome) depending not on the act but on the intent. This is what is meant by the explication on intent.

Yes, this is exactly right. the intent should be to eat the food without attachment, be it desire for taste or dislike. Like I said above, this is the mentality I try to adopt as a lay buddhist.

Link to post
Share on other sites
So does that mean he can choose to eat meat pr choose not to eat meat (aside from those proscribed by the Vinaya)? A monk following that line of behaviour will have violated the precept.

The monk doesn't choose at all. A lot of westerners have said to me 'i quite fancy the lidea of becoming a monk, but I don't agree with following a list of rules'. But this is precisely why the Vinaya is so important - it frees the monk from the tyrany of having to make decisions about mundane, samsaric issue.

Quite simply, the monks eats whatever has been put into his bowl, without preference. In a Buddhist culture the laity will know what food is permissible and not permissible to give to a monk, so in normal circumstances the onus is on the lay persons to give appropriate food in appropriate amounts.

Meat is rupa and the way a monk or anyone else perceives it is nama. When nama and rupa come together (whether the meat, in this case, is eaten, seen, heard, smelled, touched, etc) the resulting citta (mind moment -- your mental state?) is either kusala (skilful, wholesome) or akusala (unskilful, unwholesome) depending not on the act but on the intent. This is what is meant by the explication on intent.
Yes, this is exactly right. the intent should be to eat the food without attachment, be it desire for taste or dislike. Like I said above, this is the mentality I try to adopt as a lay buddhist.

Yes. My comments were addressing Wolf5370's idea that a monk might choose what to eat based on trying to achieve or maintain a particular mental state. As was established earlier in this thread, for a monk to choose what he eats is a violation of the Vinaya. Trying to maintain a particular mental state (what Wolf called his 'moral reasoning') is also wrong view.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Isn't the main difference between the forest tradition (brown robes) and city monks? (bright orange robes).

When I stayed in a forest temple there was loads of completely amazing vegetarian (jay/vegan) food that was quite possibly among the best food I have had in Thailand ever. However the abbot was also quite picky about what was allowed and what not. He'd comment on 'junk food' (ahaan khaya) like crisps and candy, but would then still pass it on to the Nehn's who were very happy with it.. :o But no eating solid foods after midday noon. The breakfasts though had to be seen to be believed. Completely stunning in quantity and variety.

Cheers,

Chanchao

Link to post
Share on other sites

As for smoking and drinking, these are most definitely 'baap' (bad, a sin). Of course some monks do smoke. Keep in mind many monks are only monks for a couple of weeks, if that. Difficult habit to give up, though it would be admirable if they did.

There's enough deptications and murals around that show that all intoxicating substances are bad. That smoking is relatively new (is it?) makes no difference, Buddha is quite clear on substances that numb the mind or senses, or anything else that we crave or desire.

I'll post some pics of murals that make it clear that these things apparently lead straight to hêll. :-)) Stay tuned..

Oh and then there's the series of posters I think we all know that show dogs drinking, smoking, throwing up, riding big bikes with girl dogs to Pattaya, gambling, etc, etc. I'd really like to get the complete set of those. (Does anyone know?)

Cheers,

Chanchao

Link to post
Share on other sites

Done. Picture I was talking about is this one:

http://srv.fotopages.com/?o=1619114&t=2 Note the smoking and liquore in the 'hęll' part on the bottom right.

Part of this series: http://sukstalker.fotopages.com/?entry=152777

Wild huh! I totally dig these murals, very different in style and color from what you usually see. They're at Wat Doi Saket, Doi Saket District, 15kms or so from Chiang Mai.

Cheers,

Chanchao

Link to post
Share on other sites
Isn't the main difference between the forest tradition (brown robes) and city monks? (bright orange robes).

When I stayed in a forest temple there was loads of completely amazing vegetarian (jay/vegan) food that was quite possibly among the best food I have had in Thailand ever.  However the abbot was also quite picky about what was allowed and what not.  He'd comment on 'junk food' (ahaan khaya) like crisps and candy, but would then still pass it on to the Nehn's who were very happy with it.. :o  But no eating solid foods after midday noon.  The breakfasts though had to be seen to be believed.  Completely stunning in quantity and variety.

Cheers,

Chanchao

The colour of the robes is at the discretion of the individual temple and/or the folks who sponsor the robes, it has nothing to do with city vs country, although the minority Thammayut sect does seem to prefer the darker robes, and they have many forest wats in Isan.

Smoking is not covered by the Vinaya, ie the monastic rules (the reason being tobacco didn't exist in Asia when the rules were devised), and is therefore not forbidden per se. This has been covered somewhere else in the Buddhism branch - if you do a search for 'smoking' you can read some comments about this.

The Vinaya also clearly states that a monk may not choose the kind of food he eats, that he must eat whatever diet is provided for him by lay donors.

Chanchao which wat were you visiting where they had veg food? I'm guessing Wat Pa Nanachat in Beung Wai, Ubon. As covered elsewhere in this thread, there are a few wats in Thailand where the abbot has asked the local community not to bother offering meat. The abbot himself, being bound by the Vinaya, cannot choose what diet to eat or to proscribe for his charges, but there are ways to 'hint' to the lay donors. Whether this hinting is itself is a violation of the rule against monks making requests for food (or anything else) is a grey area.

Both monastic sects in Thailand forgo eating after mid day. As for the quantity and variety of food available, it varies drastically from place to place. At some rural temples the monks collect barely enough to survive (I visited one such forest wat near Pai recently), at others they dine very well. No matter how much food they're offered, however, the Vinaya clearly states how much may be eaten (basically one third of the stomach occupied with food, one third with water, one third empty; obviously measuring this accurately is an issue but they say it becomes more or less discernible with practice). So technically speaking bhikkhus won't be eating more just because more is available (up to the proscribed limit of course). And whatever the variety may be, again they're not to choose. Food is scene as medicine for the monks, not a gastronomic experience!

Of course for laypeople staying at a wat, there are no such restrictions other than not eating after mid-day.

Link to post
Share on other sites

> Chanchao which wat were you visiting where they had veg food?

> I'm guessing Wat Pa Nanachat in Beung Wai, Ubon.

Actually no, it was a temple pretty much exactly in between Prachuap and Chumpon, off the main #4 highway. I forgot the name though. The abbot (phra ajarn) did seem to have most of his base in Isarn, we took many trips up Isarn, to Nakhon Panom and Nong Khai for example. Ubon too I guess, given that the people who introduced me to this monk/temple were from Ubon. Met them through Shanti Lodge guesthouse in Bangkok about 10 years ago.

> Both monastic sects in Thailand forgo eating after mid day.

Ah.. but then that's where Vitamilk and honey come in. If it's fluid enough to be considered a drink then it's okay I think.

Cheers,

Chanchao

Link to post
Share on other sites
Ah.. but then that's where Vitamilk and honey come in. If it's fluid enough to be considered a drink then it's okay I think.

Yep, yoghurt as well, and even hard candy (which although solid is considered primarily liquid allegedly because it starts out as a liquid and only gets hard when cooled) according to many. When I've stayed at various wats around the country as a layperson on retreat, I survived on coffee and condensed milk in the afternoons.

A reference to the specific rules concerning food, including not just the contents in the bowl but the way they should be consumed, can be found here:

monastic code / eating

Chanchao with your interest in eating, it's fitting that your first foray into the Buddhism branch of this forum should be this thread! Welcome.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Isn't the main difference between the forest tradition (brown robes) and city monks? (bright orange robes).

Don't know about that. When I was in the temple, a city temple, the robes were all colours, ochre, brown, burgundy and dayglo orange. It depended entirely on the offerings from the laiety.

Where I was concerned; being somewhat large, I could not wear any standard Thai robes and keep my dignity intact. I had to wear ochre coloured Burmese robes, which just fit and allowed me to be seated in safety.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...

I don't mean to critisize just looking for some understanding.

I had a student come to me. We somehow got onto the topic of killing mosquitoes. She said no you can't do that, a good buddhist shouldn't kill. I quickly pointed out that her mother was a butcher and she wasn't a vegetarian. She just laughed at the obvious hypocrisy.

I guess what I'm asking is how do Monks and buddhists justify eating meat when they preach they don't like to kill. (Maybe preach is too strong a word)

I was a healthy and extremely active vegetarian beforeI came to LOS. I know it's not a nutritional thing. I am now a meat eater because it's just so difficult not to be here (I may be a hypocrite as well, but I would probably turn vego when back in Aus again).

What is your take on it?

Edited by awarrumbungle
Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't mean to critisize just looking for some understanding.

I had a student come to me.  We somehow got onto the topic of killing mosquitoes.  She said no you can't do that, a good buddhist shouldn't kill. I quickly pointed out that her mother was a butcher and she wasn't a vegetarian. She just laughed at the obvious hypocrisy. 

I guess what I'm asking is how do Monks and buddhists justify eating meat when they preach they don't like to kill. (Maybe preach is too strong a word)

I was a healthy and extremely active vegetarian beforeI came to LOS. I know it's not a nutritional thing.  I am now a meat eater because it's just so difficult not to be here (I may be a hypocrite as well, but I would probably turn vego when back in Aus again).

What is your take on it?

I've been a vegetarian for 8 years now and I always take issue with the idea that vegetarianism is inextricably linked with animal rights, especially for Buddhists. All production of any food involve massive amounts of killing. People who are interested in animals, as in vertibrates, rights can convince themselves that a vegetarian diet is more free of cruelty. Buddhists who are interested in reducing the amount of killing and suffering to ALL sentient beings are fooling themselves if they think vegetarianism involves less death than omnivorous diets. Anyone who knows how plantation farming is done for something like tea will know the amount of pesticides used is staggering. These kill thousands of animals not to mention the literally infinite number of non-vertibrates. Whether anyone thinks this is wrong, right or indifferent is up to them but this is part of the karma of a vegetarians diet. One of the five precepts is abstaintion from killing so the Buddhist position is clear on this. Death is part of life and it is necessary for us to survive whether we like it or not. I think the hypocrisy lies on the part of vegetarians who think they have a karma free diet.

Link to post
Share on other sites

robitusson makes some excellent points. If you search for 'vegetarian' in this Buddhism forum, you'll find one or two lengthy threads on this topic, which comes up every so often.

One other thing to point out, in the case of monks, is that they have taken vows to accept whatever sort of food is offered to them, ie they can't choose (there are a few exceptions to this, as noted in the Vinaya).

Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't mean to critisize just looking for some understanding.

I had a student come to me.  We somehow got onto the topic of killing mosquitoes.  She said no you can't do that, a good buddhist shouldn't kill. I quickly pointed out that her mother was a butcher and she wasn't a vegetarian. She just laughed at the obvious hypocrisy. 

I guess what I'm asking is how do Monks and buddhists justify eating meat when they preach they don't like to kill. (Maybe preach is too strong a word)

The first precept is to refrain from killing living creatures, and what's important is the intention to kill. Since eating meat wasn't forbidden by the Buddha and isn't the same as killing, it isn't a problem for Thais. One can be a "good Buddhist" and eat meat. The Buddha ate meat.

Unlike Western vegetarians, Thais don't speculate about the number of animals that wouldn't be killed if they didn't eat meat. If someone else (like a butcher) kills animals so everyone can eat, that's their problem and their bad karma. That's why originally all the slaughterhouses in Thailand were run by (supposedly) non-Buddhist Chinese, not Thais.

I don't see any hypocrisy in this. Theravadin Buddhists aren't required to be vegetarian and this girl wasn't claiming that her mother was a "good Buddhist" anyway.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ok fairs fair. No matter what side you take there seems to be some sort of contradiction.

Pandit so is this right: If a monk does break the rule of 'choice' it's ok if it's because he chooses the vegetarian option. But you don't have to be vego if you don't want. Correct?

Robitusson - I agree completely with what you said. But surely you could argue that good intentions count for a lot and any attempt to reduce the cruelty, suffering or the amount of deaths is better than not. Surely a vego causes a little less suffering? It's got to be better for the environment at least. All those cows taking up a lot of space and farting methane... :o

I'm going through a phase where I try not to blame or critisize so much. So I choose to leave the 'consequence of your actions' argument alone and change myself first. Because that's what really counts

Edited by awarrumbungle
Link to post
Share on other sites

Devadatta was jealous of his cousin and wanted to be in charge of the Sangha - the Buddha refused. Dirty Dave tried three times to kill the Buddha. He hired archers - they ordained! He pushed a rock off a cliff to crush him - it split into harmless pieces! He sent a drunk elephant charging at him - it was subdued by loving kindness. Unable to kill the Buddha he tried political means attempting to create a split in the order over details of the rules (vinaya). Early on he had enlisted the help of Prince Ajatasattu (who eventually went on to kill his own father). The story tells of Devadatta finally repenting but being swallowed by the earth on his way to ask the Buddha for forgiveness.

:o

'Dirty Dave' :D

Link to post
Share on other sites
Ok fairs fair. No matter what side you take there seems to be some sort of contradiction.

Pandit so is this right: If a monk does break the rule of 'choice' it's ok if it's because he chooses the vegetarian option.  But you don't have to be vego if you don't want.  Correct?

Robitusson - I agree completely with what you said.  But surely you could argue that good intentions count for a lot and any attempt to reduce the cruelty, suffering or the amount of deaths is better than not.  Surely a vego causes a little less suffering? It's got to be better for the environment  at least.  All those cows taking up a lot of space and farting methane...  :o

I'm going through a phase where I try not to blame or critisize so much.  So I choose to leave the 'consequence of your actions' argument alone and change myself first. Because that's what really counts

Nice one. :D Fart jokes are always funny!! I think that the vegetarian diet and lifestyle is the civilized choice for a multitude of reasons. I do think it is less cruel to animals who may be directly involved in industrial farming. But the problem is, it isn't the cruelty free option that it's claimed to be. Also in terms of following examples I understand Lord Buddha died from eating rancid pork (?). While old Adolf was a vegetarian to the best of my knowledge. Not that necessarily means anything but it's worth noting.

Link to post
Share on other sites
So what's the difference between Thervada Budhism and say the one in Tibet where they don't eat meat?  Do they still have this jealous Devadatta guy?

Traditionally Tibetan Buddhists, including monks and lamas, are carnivores. Given how difficult it was - and still is - to cultivate vegetables on the relatively barren and dry Tibetan Plateau, Tibetans would have been flirting with starvation constantly without the sheep and yak meat that forms the centre of their traditional diet (along with tsampa/barley).

I've read there are only three vegetarian temples in all of Tibet, and they're only able to support their vegie diet by importing food.

In Thailand, where fruit and vegetables are abundant, there are a handful of monasteries that are mostly vegetarian. The way it is usually arranged - or so I've been told at two such monasteries - is that the abbot advises merit-makers they don't need to offer meat to the monks, that they're welcome to save money by offering only rice and vegetables. He doesn't specifically request that the monks receive only vegie alms-food, he just plants the idea in lay followers' heads. Meat still ends up in alms-bowls in these wats on occasion, and if the monks follow the vinaya correctly, they can't choose to avoid eating it.

I imagine there's a grey area, since they're supposed to stop eating before they're full, so it wouldn't be difficult to reach that point before you reached the meat. However if the intent in stopping was to avoid the meat, the vinaya would have been violated, I believe.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

Maybe I am wrong but I have always took away from Buddism a sense of nothing is wrong or right. There are cause and effect relationships with everything. So, it's not wrong to kill, but if that is something you do than you will have a debt to pay. An exmaple was that the Samurai believed that they would come back to this life as Samurai to pay for their misdeeds in the service of their lord. Of course how that debt is paid is another debate

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree somewhat with thaibebop in that in a universal framework of Buddhism no acts are wrong or right - activities are value-neutral. So the act of killing is value-neutral, what determines the good or bad of the action is the reason (i.e. kill for food- OK; kill to hang the animals head on your wall – bad). However, I believe that in Theravada Buddhism there is what is referred to as “the Five Precepts” which are killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and consumption of intoxicants. These five precepts are kind of like a code of conduct (or the five commandments if you will) for the lay Theravada Buddhist.

In Buddhism just as in Christianity, and most other religions are full of hypocrisy. I mean lying (to save face) and consumption of intoxicants are practically Olympic sports in Thailand. Nobody’s perfect right?

More specifically in regard to killing there appears to be a certain acceptance of the need to kill to live – humans require sustenance. As many have stated there is no specific requirement to be a vegetarian, and even Buddha himself was a meat-eater. As sabaijai points out in areas of Tibet it is practically impossible for them to survive without eating meat. I have heard of areas of Tibet where the herders will stuff the nose/mouth of the yak/sheep with cloth or mud, and then leave the animal to die. When they return to their “surprise” the animal is dead, and therefore they consume the animal without “killing” the animal. I know, I know they did kill the animal, but how where they suppose to know cutting off ways for the animal to breath would result in its’ death? In some areas of Tibet, as well as Cambodia they also employee Muslims to butcher the animals. And in some locations I have heard they only allow young boys to slaughter the animals, as they are young enough to be able to endure the “bad karma” they will build up from the slaughter.

In regard to your students comment I think the real point there is the reason behind the act. You would be killing that mosquito not out of some fundamental desire to eat, but simply to rid yourself of what you view as a pest. Not quite killing for pleasure, but a far cry from killing for survival. So the problem is not the action of killing but the why you killed.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...