I know you’ve been over the Buddhist diet a million times but I have always been perplexed about the justification of not adhering to a vegetarian diet by the many Buddhist lay people in Asia. I personally am not a vegetarian but I hate unanswered questions.
Anyway, I happened to notice that the Wikipedia version (terribly reliable source, I know) of the Five Precepts words the first precept as: “To refrain from taking life (non-violence towards sentient life forms)”. Is that “sentient” part of the phrase why many Buddhists eat meat? I have been struggling with this precept, and deciding whether or not to consider myself a Buddhist, because I believe that eating meat sparingly is natural and so is killing to eat, no matter what sort of organism you are. I also think all vertebrates are sentient and I love animals. I believe in practicing subsistence hunting/fishing/gathering and I think that it is probably less karmicly-damaging than eating a cow or a chicken from a factory farm. I am also willing to accept the consequences of my actions in regard to what I eat and how it gets on my plate.
Another reason I struggle with the First Precept is because I believe in self defense and the right to bear arms. I would not hesitate to defend myself, my family, or the people I work with. However, if I want to adhere to the Five Precepts should I shoot to disable (this goes against what I have been taught, which is shoot to kill because a.)it requires less skill b.)the person you shot could sue you even though they were in the wrong when you shot them)? It is doubtful that I will ever have to use lethal or sublethal force to defend myself or others so should I stop worrying about it and be prepared to accept the consequences of my actions on a Buddhist level (as well as the personal and social consequences I have already chosen to accept by using firearms)?
To start with the last part of your question first, it’s generally considered acceptable to defend yourself and others when necessary, at least when lives are at stake; killing over property would not be justifiable, at least not in my opinion.
As far as eating meat is concerned, that bit on sentience has always been hotly debated. Did Buddha really say that, and even if he really did, exactly what is sentience? Which creatures have it and which don’t?
Historically, monks would not kill animals for meat. They generally raise food in gardens in their monasteries as well as take in donations from the local laypeople. Certain orders were forbidden from anything other than begging for food. If they were given meat, they would accept it and eat it without reservation. According to the old stories, Buddha himself accepted this situation, but again, that is debatable.
I’m not going to judge one way or the other. I eat meat, but I think I’d feel better about myself if I didn’t. It’s one of those things I’ve been thinking about doing for more than a decade. I don’t cook, and eat way too much junk food, so it is going to be difficult for me to switch. But I will… someday. I really cannot justify it for myself other than basing it solely on convenience, and that’s obviously not the right answer.
I’m going to leave this one up to the readers to comment and answer. Are you a vegetarian? If not, how do you justify that?