I am thinking about converting into Buddhism. To me it just feels right. Although after listening to your introduction about the 5 Precepts, I find it hard to follow the 1st and the 5th.
I have been to Iraq and fortunately I wasn’t put in a position to take another person’s life. I don’t think that I could live with myself, although many others didn’t have a choice… Since then I don’t feel comfortable harming a life, great or small. My problem lies in my being a vegetarian. My wife has hard enough of a time getting me to eat my vegetables now. I know that the mass suffering and the mass murder is very wrong, and I also know that by choosing to eat meat that I condone the chaos. At the same time right now I can’t imagine being a vegetarian.
For the 5th Precept, I do drink an occasional beer and have a coffee almost daily, but neither excessively. I usually find myself the designated driver. My question is, can I call myself a Buddhist when I have problems with the fundamental elements if Buddhism? Perhaps later in my life I will correct these problems, but for now I am at a loss for what to do.
I appreciate what you are doing, and look forward to your thoughts about the matter.
The short answer is that Buddha didn’t say anything about being a vegetarian. Actually, according to legend, he died from eating spoiled pork. Then again, back in those days, they didn’t have factory-farms, and animals lived a much more “natural” life than they do now.
Here are what I consider the important factors to consider when deciding about vegetarianism:
The food chain and the chain of life are intertwined. No matter what you eat, something dies. There’s no way to avoid that. When judging what kinds of things we eat, it usually boils down to how “sentient” the creature is.
We don’t eat other people. Yes, it’s illegal, but it’s primarily because we can empathize with other people. We recognize that they are sentient and intelligent, and they react just like we would in most circumstances. We wouldn’t want to be eaten, so we don’t eat others of our own kind.
Chickens, cows, pigs, and other food animals are less intelligent than humans, and are generally eaten by most people. On the other hand, how many Americans would eat a dog or cat? Dogs and cats are, in our society, often seen as part of the household, part of the family, and possibly even as surrogate children in some cases. We would never eat one, yet in other countries, where cats and dogs are held in less regard, they often become meals. Are American dogs more evolved or more sentient than in other parts of the world? Of course not– it’s just a matter of perception.
Plants are (we must assume) less intelligent than animals, but they are undoubtedly alive– and we eat them all the time. We have to eat something and plants are the fursthest thing down the list that is edible.
A huge number of people in Asia identify as Buddhist… Do you suppose they are all vegetarians? Definitely not! Still, keep in mind, many monks and very devout Buddhists choose to be vegetarians, mostly due to the reasons you have mentioned. It seems that the more thought and focus you put into the subject, the more likely you are to choose vegetarianism. Again, that’s a choice, but it’s not a choice that most Buddhists make.
Personally, I’ve always thought that being a vegetarian would be the best thing for me, but I fully admit, I don’t have that kind of willpower. I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone for being in the same situation. Do I feel guilty for eating cheeseburgers? Yes, but feeling guilt is a post for another time.
Thanks a lot for the email!
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A reader wrote in:
It’s said in Buddhism that the way to happiness is not to escape or avoid pain, but to just “stay.” I recently decided to leave my job because I felt I was being treated poorly, and also because every day each task I was given felt insurmountable because I so badly did not want to do it. I was a receptionist who began to dread answering the phone or making copies of documents. I felt so unhappy doing the work I was doing because its purpose was not important to me.
I left it to pursue a career working with children because that is a path I feel passion for, something that was lacking for me in my last job. But, according to Buddhism, should I have stayed? Is it OK to escape something when you know that what you’re “escaping” to is going to be more meaningful to you? I guess this is something I’ve always struggled with in Buddhism. If I’m supposed to stay present, how do I progress, plan for the future or make significant changes in my life?
Thank you for any insight you can offer.
It’s said in Buddhism that the way to happiness is not to escape or avoid pain, but to just “stay.”
Where does it say that in Buddhism? Taoism is very passive; almost too passive in my opinion, but that’s not the same thing as Buddhism. Nowhere does Buddhism say “Stay in a bad place.” or “Keep up the suffering.” Quite the opposite. Buddhism is all about relieving suffering, both for others, and yourself.
If moving to a new job will reduce your suffering overall, then of course you should do it. You’ll need to consider all the factors: Will changing jobs create a financial hardship? Do you need the old job for benefits? Will the new job have a terrible commute? There are more things to consider than just “I don’t want to do this anymore” when weighing in the suffering of your old job. Perhaps it would cause less suffering to stick with the old one, maybe moving would be better.
If the money, commute, etc. is not a factor, and the only thing that matters is what you do, then yes, I’d change. Working with children has a lot of advantages, both to you and the children.
Buddhism does state that you should be “in the now.” And one of the “catchphrases” of Buddhism is even “Be here. Now.” And it means what it says. Don’t dwell on the future to the detriment of the present. Don’t reflect on the past to the point where it spoils your day. It’s fine to think about the future and the past, just don’t dwell on it. Don’t get caught up in the “what ifs” and “maybe somedays,” deal with the now.
Everyone makes plans. Everyone thinks to the future. Maybe in theory you shouldn’t have to do it, but in practice, you do, at least a little. I know people who have every step of their career planned out all the way into retirement. Those people are happy with that plan, so who am I to argue? As long as they don’t stick to the plan when their needs or abilities change, what’s the harm in it? If the plan becomes a chore, if the plan becomes a burden, then it’s time to change plans. The plan itself is not a bad thing.
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Buddha Tech Support
A Reader writes:
Do Buddhist monks work on an individual case-by-case basis with lay Buddhists who seek advise on a specific problem in their lives and then offer a diagnosis and prescription in, of course, Buddhist terms? Or are the 4 noble truths, 8 fold path, 5 precepts, etc., always to be generically self-prescribed? I suppose this question arises from vestiges of Catholic confession, the psychoanalytic model, and just a plain old desire for commiseration.
It depends. Monks and monasteries vary a lot depending on denomination, leadership, community involvement, etc. Some don't interact much with the lay community, while others are a central part of it.
I suspect very few monks would turn down a request for help if it were made.
Keeping that in mind, you mention Catholicism. Catholic priests undergo MANY years of training in working with the community. They take courses in counseling, psychology, social work, etc. They are heavily educated in these areas. Many high-ranking Buddhists, on the other hand, have very little formal education. What I'm saying is that most Buddhists would be willing to help you, but they are sometimes limited in their real-world applications of Buddhism outside the monastery.
I'd like to hear about others' experiences with this. Anyone have any really good stories of Buddhist Helps? About bad stories/disasters?
Another answer to your question is that I seem to do it all the time; what can I help you with?