A Reader recently wrote:
I have what is probably a really dumb question,
I am attempting to follow a vegetarian lifestyle. I also share my home with three cats and two dogs and one foster cat. I am a big animal activist. But, doesn’t the purchase of pet food, which is made out of animal bi-products, going against the Right Action Precept? What, in general, are the Zen belief on pet ownership (for lack of better terms)?
And my response:
Dumb question? No way! This is actually very interesting, and nowhere near as simple as it may sound. I couldn’t find anything in writing on the subject, so all that follows is just my logical stream of thought on this. I could well be wrong or taken the wrong line of reasoning. I’m going to guess that others will chime in on this topic on the blog.
We have discussed vegetarianism here in the past, (http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/59 and the comments beneath it). Different groups have differing opinions on the topic. I think everyone agrees that in theory vegetarianism is best, but most groups do not require it, not even for monks. That’s not really your question, but I wanted to remind people about that discussion if they want to refer to it.
Now, your dogs and cats are meat-eaters, so feeding them requires some other animal to be killed. My understanding of your question is whether or not buying ‚Äúmeat‚Äù for your pets is a bad thing.
Many Buddhists believe people with negative karma are reborn as dogs. Dogs are not intelligent enough to raise their karma on their own, so they essentially have to remain dogs until their negative karma has worn off. Eventually, they will get another chance to become human again and can work on reaching Nirvana. I think the important idea to get from that is that karma doesn’t work the same way for animals as it does for people because they are not able to affect their own karma, at least not to any great extent.
Some animals, such as cats and dogs, are carnivores by nature. They cannot survive on a vegetarian diet. They eat meat because they have to; it’s the way of things. There is no negative connotation or bad karma involved when a cat kills a mouse. It’s just in the nature of the animal. If you were not in the picture, and the animal lived out in the wild on its own, it would kill and eat meat on its own, oblivious to karma, Buddhism, or any of the high ideals that humans have.
It is true that by buying dog food, you are paying someone to kill animals; this taken alone is a bad thing. However, if the pet food makers did not kill the animals, your animals would do it themselves. Either way a food animal dies. This seems to me to be a ‚Äúzero balance‚Äù situation, and the net karma is unchanged.
Therefore, I am going to say pet food is probably a ‚Äúkarma neutral‚Äù situation.
Also keep in mind that by treating your pets well, you are increasing your own karma, and the positive psychological effects of pet ownership probably affects your own karma as well. Pet ownership overall is a good thing for a Buddhist.
I can see where this could be argued several other ways, so this is definitely not the only way to view this subject.