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It seems as if the eating of animal flesh is a flashpoint between the Buddha’s message and the desire of many Buddhists, even many ordained Buddhists, to eat the flesh of animals.

But the Buddha was clear that to eat meat is to abandon his teaching about compassion, to ensure a continued attraction to the lower realms of being for oneself, and to block the possibility of becoming enlightened, leaving ultimate freedom forever out of reach. Could this be the answer to why so few buddhists reach enlightenment nowadays?

The reason for practicing dhyana and seeking to attain Samadhi is to escape from the suffering of life, but in seeking to escape from suffering ourselves, why should we inflict it upon others? Unless you can so control your minds that even the thought of brutal unkindness and killing is abhorrent, you will never be able to escape from the bondage of the world’s life. No matter how keen you may be mentally, no matter how much you may be able to practice dhyana, no matter to how high a degree of Samadhi you may attain, unless you have wholly annihilated all tendency to unkindness toward others, you will ultimately fall into the realms of existence where the evil ghosts dwell. You of this great assembly ought to appreciate that those human beings who might become enlightened and attain Samadhi, because of eating meat, can only hope to attain the rank of a great Raksha and until the end of their enjoyment of it, must sink into the never ceasing round of deaths and rebirths.⁠¹

Many buddhists seem to be playing fast and loose with the Buddha’s instructions to ordained sangha, who were dependent upon the charity of householders for their daily meal, specifying when it would carry no karmic danger for them to eat proffered alms consisting of animal flesh. His instructions were directed at a particular context which is rarely found in the modern world, and certainly not in Western countries where the tradition of begging for alms never existed and modern ordained sangha shop for their food.

The Buddha said, “Son of my lineage, my teaching is not like that of the naked ascetics. I, the Tathagata, established rules of discipline in relation to specific individuals. Consequently, with a certain purpose in mind, I did give permission to eat meat regarded as suitable for consumption after it has been subjected to threefold examination. In other contexts, I have proscribed ten kinds of meat. And yet again, with someone else in mind, I have declared that it is improper to consume meat of any kind, even of animals that have died of natural causes. But I have affirmed, O Kashyapa, that henceforth, all those who are close to me should abstain from meat.²

Applying the exceptions given in the Buddha’s threefold contextual allowance for eating meat, given only to ordained sangha who were begging for their food thousands of years ago, to purchasing meat from the frozen food aisle in modern day supermarkets is, in my heart, the height of sophistry — using clever and false arguments to cover for one’s failings, and by so doing, leading others astray.

After my Parinirvana in the last kalpa these different kinds of ghosts will be encountered everywhere deceiving people and teaching them that they can eat meat and still attain enlightenment. But how can any faithful follower of the Lord Tathagata kill sentient life and eat the flesh?⁠³
The root tantra of Kalachakra says: Wicked people, hard to train, kill harmless beasts as sacrifice to gods and for their ancestors, to gain protection, profit, and fulfil their aims. To buy the meat, to wish to eat it, is indeed an evil act.

Eating meat is inconsistent with Buddha’s clear call for compassion for all sentient beings. Why else would he have gone to the trouble to delineate the cases where it wouldn’t cause a problem in the limited contexts existing during the time, and within the traditions, when he was teaching in the world. Obviously, he was making exceptions to his general prohibition against eating animal flesh.

For innumerable reasons, Mahamati, the Bodhisattva, whose nature is compassion, is not to eat any animal flesh. I will explain the reasons: Mahamati, in the long course of transmigration, all sentient beings have been our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, and we have felt many different kinds and degrees of kinship with each and every one of them. These sentient beings have been beasts, domestic animals, birds, and humans in different lifetimes and have often been related to us in some way. This being the case, how can the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva who desires to respect all sentient beings as he or she would respect himself or herself and who is committed to devotedly practising the Dharma eat the flesh of any sentient being whose nature is the same as himself or herself? Even, Mahamati, the Rakashasa, when they listened to a discourse on the highest essence of the Dharma by the Tathagata, were inspired to protect Buddhism. Through this they had awakened to the feeling of compassion, became sensitive to the sorrows of sentient beings, and therefore chose to refrain from eating animal flesh. How much more should human beings who love the Dharma do the same! Thus, Mahamati, whenever and wherever there is evolution among sentient beings, let people cherish the thought of kinship with them, and holding the thorough intention of treating them as if they were our only child, and therefore refrain from eating their flesh. So much more should Bodhisattvas, who are committed to being compassionate towards all sentient beings, and whose inner nature is compassion itself, choose to refrain from eating animal flesh. For a Bodhisattva to keep good integrity with the Dharma, he or she should not make any exceptions to the eating of animal flesh. He or she is not to eat the flesh of dogs, donkeys, buffaloes, horses, bulls, humans, or any other sentient being whether or not such flesh in generally eaten by some humans in some culture or society. Nor should a Bodhisattva eat flesh sold by others for monetary profit.”⁴
Pure and earnest bhikshus, if they are true and sincere, will never wear clothing made of silk, nor wear boots made of leather because it involves the taking of life. Neither will they indulge in eating milk or cheese because thereby they are depriving the young animals of that which rightly belongs to them. It is only such true and sincere bhikshus who have repaid their karmic debts of previous lives, who will attain true emancipation, and who will no more be bound to wander to this triple world. To wear anything, or partake of anything for self-comfort, deceiving one’s self as to the suffering it causes others or other sentient life, is to set up an affinity with that lower life which will draw them toward it. So all bhikshus must be very careful to live in all sincerity, refraining from even the appearance of unkindness to other life. It is such true hearted bhikshus who will attain a true emancipation. Even in one’s speech and especially in one’s teaching, one must practice kindness for no teaching that is unkind can be the true teaching of Buddha. Unkindness is the murderer of the life of Wisdom.⁠⁵

Using the argument that it is ok to eat animal flesh so long as you have no direct involvement in the killing of the animal — in today’s context — is a fainthearted attempt to escape one’s weakness in following the Dharma, and culpability in providing a market for such murdered flesh. Without a willing buyer, there would be no killing. This is simple economics. It doesn’t matter who puts the words in the Buddha’s mouth, he never said that you, today, could eat meat without suffering the consequences of your culpability for the suffering of those animals.

Whoever, having laid aside violence in respect of all beings, moving or still, does not kill or cause to kill, him I call a brahman.⁶

Modern practices of killing animals are much worse than those in the past. Animals must stand by the hundreds in concentration camps, euphemistically called ‘feed lots’, for days, in the stench of death of their fellows, listening to the cries of horror at their fate, until their own time comes, some so sick and unable to walk, they must be bulldozed to the killing sheds.

And should we overlook the damage that is done to the Earth in order to raise the billions and billions of animals slaughtered for their flesh each year? Science is clear that the majority of the destructive gases filling our atmosphere, causing the Earth to heat up to a point where little life will remain, is due directly to our fashionable diet of dead flesh. So too is the mass destruction of wildlife habitat that is the necessary condition for global pandemics to emerge.

Eating flesh is incoherent with being Buddhist. The behavior most in tune with the Buddha’s message of compassion towards all sentient beings, and the end of suffering that was his heartfelt intent for all beings, is to never eat the flesh of animals.

As a Buddhist, one should also adhere to the doctrine of causes and conditions, and realize that eating the flesh of animals creates the possibility for a profitable demand for animal flesh in those of weak mind who are unconcerned about profiting from the suffering of others for their own benefit. By eating animal flesh, you may feel that you are not directly responsible for the animal’s death, but by creating the condition for someone of weak mind and strongly selfish desires to cause harm to others, you are responsible for leading them astray. You may try to abdicate your responsibility to protect the weak and voiceless, but you cannot escape responsibility for the actions of others that harm animals to provide you with meat. It is your actions that lead them, through their weakness, to the hell realms.

Poem of Animals on Eating Meat
By
Tulku Pema Wangyal
Now for a tasty bit of meat, you think, Cooked with fragrant spices…
But for us that means terror and unbearable agony
As you wrench the dear life from our dear bodies
In an inferno of flames.
Think about it for a moment: in reality,
you are cooking us alive.
You are utterly terrified of the war with Iraq
You are scared it’s going to be a Third World War
It’s true, it’s very frightening —
But we are tormented always by even greater fear.
Alas! Wise humans, listen to us for a moment:
If really you are ravaged by famine and starvation
And tortured by poverty, without even a stitch of clothing, Then —
though to us our lives are as precious as yours are to you —
We gladly offer you our bodies and our lives.
But if not, through kindness and love, grant us just this:
The freedom to live in peace
In places free from unceasing fear.
May the thought of peace effortlessly take birth
In the minds of all living creatures
Below, upon and above the Earth
So that the dawn of peace breaks forth.
May all viciousness and aggression be pacified
And vanish of their own accord.
Since all creatures without exception, great or small,
Want only to be happy and not to suffer,
May they have compassion and kindness, the source of happiness.
May they be free from aggression and cruelty, the source of suffering.
Sincerely yours,
Lobster, Snail, Frog, Sheep, Cow…. and Pema Wangyal
ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
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Footnotes:

¹ Surangama Sutra: Importance of Keeping the Precepts

² Mahaparinirvana Sutra: Abstaining From Eating Meat and Fish, Even Died by Natural Causes

³ Surangama Sutra, Ibid

⁴ A Re-translation of the Eighth Chapter of the Lankavatara Sutra and Commentary, By William Bagley, 2006

⁵ Surangama Sutra, Ibid

⁶ Sutta-Nipata III.9:629

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