by Shen Shi'an. The Buddhist Channel, Sept 14, 2016
All beings fear danger, life is dear to all. When a person considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill. – The Buddha (Dhammapada, 129)
Singapore -- ‘Animals And The Buddha’ is a documentary by ‘Dharma Voices For Animals‘, that features interviews with well known Buddhist teachers of various traditions, including Bhikkhu Bodhi and Bhante Gunaratana (Bhante G) of the Theravada tradition, Venerable Tenzin Palmo and Venerable Matthieu Ricard of the Vajrayana tradition and more from the Mahayana tradition.
Together, they share the unified message of the great value of going vegetarian, or even better still, vegan (which avoids all animal co-products, by-products and forced ‘services’ too), so as to be more rounded in compassion. It is heartening indeed to hear even Theravada monastics praise, embrace and promote the kinder diet. Although some still seek random alms food that they cannot choose, this is less and less the case these days. For instance, there are regular food donors or even monastery cooks. all of whom can be taught to prepare and share food free from violence and bloodshed.
Bhikkhu Bodhi gave this simple example to explain how the individual consumer’s purchases sustain demand for murder – ‘… if somebody goes into a market, say on a Tuesday, and orders a piece of chicken at the sales counter, somebody [there] will click some kind of calculator, which will determine on Tuesday, that a piece of chicken was sold, which will send out a message for next Tuesday, that we have to meet the same quantity of chickens to satisfy our customer base. Even though you order the chicken on Tuesday, you are not responsible for the death of the chicken that is providing that meal on [that] Tuesday, but in an indirect way, you can be sending a signal that next Tuesday, a chicken should be killed to provide food for the customers…’ Note that even if one buys animal products in a more ‘random’ manner, in terms of place and time, one’s ongoing purchases still contributes to the overall demand for killing. Every buy is a functioning vote for more murders.
He also said the following – ‘It has always been my preference to be vegetarian since I became a Buddhist. Compassion has always been defined very simply with the same fixed expression… It is the quality of the heart…. of a good person [that] trembles with the suffering of others, and it is the wish to alleviate the suffering of others. So, it would seem to me, sort of intuitively, that if one has this deep quality of compassion, that one doesn’t want others to suffer, and one knows that either ordering meat or consuming meat is going to, through some chain of causation [cause and effect], bring about even the cruel upbringing, [imprisonment, exploitation] and slaughter of animals, that out of compassion, one would adopt vegetarianism. So that is why it seems to me that if one takes up the ethical principles of Buddhism, in my own reflection, and tries to be strictly consistent with them, it would seem to entail an obligation to observe vegetarianism, at least in countries where one has an option [which is largely every nation these days, due to ease of food transport, even for highlands like Tibet].’
Bhante G too explained his food choice – ‘In early days of my life, I was not a vegetarian. I ate all kinds of meat. Later on, purely because of my conscience, I thought it would be much better if I become a vegetarian. I have seen animals being slaughtered. I have seen animals raised for meat in farms. I have seen animals suffering, and therefore I felt a little guilty of eating meat. When people as me to talk on the Dharma, I talk on Metta [loving-kindness] meditation, and also I teach it. When people ask questions about meat-eating, this appears to me not compatible [with loving-kindness].’ Well said!
After all, true loving-kindness is supposed to expand to embrace all sentient beings in an immeasurable way. It would be spiritual hypocrisy to some extent, to keep wishing all beings to be well and happy, while heartily devouring some of them. How about not eating them at all… or at least less of them? It is not a matter of all or nothing when it comes to going veg(etari)an or not… although every sentient being’s life is all that matters when facing the knife.