Dharma Voices for Animals

by Bob Isaacson, President of Dharma Voices for Animals, Colombo, May 5, 2014

An excellent and informative article, ”Inland Fisheries and Buddhism,” published on the Buddhist Channel on April 12, 2014, discourages Buddhist participation in raising animals for food at Sri Lanka’s inland fisheries, fishing, and eating animal flesh.  A letter written in reply by NS entitled “Buddha allowed consumption of meat as long as it is not for lust” appeared on the Buddhist Channel website on April 20, 2014, and takes the position that the Buddha approved the raising of fish for food, fishing, and eating fish.

Discussion of Buddhist ethics concerning the eating of animal flesh and the raising of animals for human consumption is a good thing, but, when as here, the Buddha’s specific teachings are inaccurately cited, a response is required.

First, contrary to NS’ assertion that “the 1st precept is mainly for humans,” the Buddha in that precept made no distinction between killing humans and killing non-human animals. The killing of either is prohibited.  The Buddha taught, unlike the teachings in the other major religions, that all sentient beings, those who feel pain, be included in our circle of compassion.  Because fishing results in the killing of a sentient being, it is contrary to the First Precept. 

Second, the Buddha was equally clear in prohibiting the raising of any animal for slaughter.  He defined wise (right) livelihood:

“A lay follower should not engage in five types of business.   Which five?  Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.”  Anguttara Nikaya (AN 5.177)

Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American monk, trained in Sri Lanka, and a recognized Buddhist scholar, explains the scope of this sutta:

“The Buddha mentions five specific kinds of livelihood which bring harm to others and are therefore to be avoided: dealing in weapons, in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), in meat production and butchery, in poisons, and in intoxicants (AN 5:177)”http://buddhasadvice.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/right-livelihood-1/  Thus, the Buddha explicitly prohibited the raising of animals for slaughter in all forms which would include inland fisheries.

NS next blames malnutrition on a vegetarian diet:  “… considering the great levels of malnutrition in Sri Lanka and India due to vegetarianism.”  The opposite is true.  Malnutrition and hunger are linked to the world’s addiction to meat and meat products.  “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change,” a recent United Nations report concluded. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jun/02/un-report-meat-free-diet   Climate change would most certainly have a devastating effect on an island nation such as Sri Lanka.  See also:  http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/ 

We offer this response not in judgment of others, many of whom are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances.  Instead we offer this because the precious teachings of the Buddha deserve to be honored by all Buddhists by accurately recounting what the Buddha said and what he did not say.

Finally, in the Dhammapada, the Buddha taught us that, “All beings tremble before danger, life is dear to all. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill.”  Embracing this teaching has led countless Buddhists throughout the world to stop eating animals.

Dharma Voices for Animals is a Buddhist, non-profit organization based in the U.S. which encourages Buddhists around the world to look carefully at the suffering of animals which we might be supporting.  http://dharmavoicesforanimals.org   Our members, including many monastics and lay Dharma teachers, are from all over the world.  We have a particularly large following in Sri Lanka.

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