To Meat or Not to Meat?
I was recently reading “The Accidental Buddhist” and read that the Dalai Lama eats meat. That bleew me away. Can you cover eating meat? Thanks for your great podcast.
We’ve discussed this topic several times in the past, but it just keeps coming back. This question seems be especially confusing to newcomers to Buddhism. It’s good that it keeps coming up, because it’s one of the most common misconceptions about Buddhists. Many beginners and outsiders see Buddhists as super-pacifists who would rather suffer greatly than step on a bug; I think the media has a lot to do with this.
It’s really a complex situation, and there is plenty of debate on the topic, and has been for thousands of years.
Yes to Vegetarianism:
The first precept states that you cannot kill or take life. This is the primary argument FOR vegetarianism. That being said, everything you eat was alive at some point, even plants. Where do you draw the line between living things you can eat and those that you cannot? Most people, would say it depends on whether the animal was sentient or not. How do you define sentient? That’s a major can of philosophical worms, and whole libraries have been written on the subject, Buddhist and otherwise. Is a dog or cow self-aware? Do they have “souls” in the Buddhist sense? The ideas of samsara (the cycle of rebirth) would seem to say they do. Is it right to eat a being that could be the reborn version of a family member?
No to Vegetarianism:
Everything dies, death is a part of the cycle of life. One animal dies in order that others may live. Animals kill other animals all the time, does that make them evil or damage their karma? No, that’s just the order of nature. You cannot keep from killing in life; you could kill hundreds of insects just by driving a car down the street. Killing is unavoidable, the only thing you can do is be aware of this and mindful of your killing, and try not to kill where it can be reasonably avoided. Many stories say that Buddha himself ate meat, and encouraged monks to eat what they were given.
Confusion and Debate:
Many people say that prohibitions against eating meat was added long after the Buddha by monasteries who wanted to make life more stringent and ascetic for their monks. Others say the prohibition was there all along and removed by monks who liked to eat meat. I don’t know of any definitive answer to this, it’s just something that has been continually debated.
Bottom Line: The majority of Buddhists are NOT vegetarians. Whether this is right or wrong is up to you to decide, and there is no absolute official answer on the subject.
Are Buddhists Vegetarians? http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/59
The First Precept: http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/37
Buddhist Dog Food: http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/141