Recently new to Buddhism this year, I want to thank you for your Podcast #43 on The Foundations of Buddhism. I have a question regarding diet – If we should not intake mind-alternating beverages like caffeine and alcohol and we should refrain from eating animals and seafood that have been killed. How do you justify a plant base diet – were not plants once living and killed for our intake. Then what is a person to eat and drink? Thanking you in advance for your wisdom and guidance.
The prohibitions against caffeine, alcohol, and mind-altering substances are due to the harm they do to a Buddhist’s clarity of thought. we need to be present, mindful, and to avoid illusion and deception, while things that alter the mind hinder us in that ability. They make clear meditation difficult and have subtle effects on our daily lives. That’s true even with casual usage; the problems of addiction add another whole level to the problem. Some people may or may not agree with the prohibition, but I think most people understand the reasoning behind it.
Regular food, on the other hand, is more problematic. It’s not optional. We have to eat something, and for the most part, everything we eat used to be alive. The days of finding an animal that just happened to die and eating it are long gone for most of us. Almost all food animals today are raised by people for the sole purpose of being food. Clearly this is planned, and in many cases the animals suffer.
There is much debate on whether or not Buddhists should be vegetarians, and I don’t want to get into that again, because we have covered it numerous times in the past. The majority of Buddhists in the world are not vegetarians, but even if they were, vegetarian food was once alive as well.
Is killing a plant different from killing a person? According to Buddhism, yes. The main point to consider here is what makes humans and animals alike, yet different from plants? Animals have a property called sentience; animals feel pain and suffering. They are self aware, at least to some extent. As far as we can tell, plants are not self-aware and we cannot tell if they feel suffering. If plants do have some form of sentience, then they are much further down the chain than most other animals.
It’s a small point, but an important one. We have to eat something to survive, that’s just the way our world works. You can choose to be vegetarian or not, that’s up to you, but whatever you decide, just remember to be mindful that with every meal your take, someone or something died to give you that meal so that you might live another day. Thank them for giving up their life so that you might eat.