When the First Percept deals in not destroying a life
“If a person does not harm any living being and does not kill or cause others to kill- that person is a true spiritual practitioner.”-The Dhammapada
The Katina or Cheevara month is approaching. The most meritorious act (kusalakamma), Buddhists believe is the offering of Katina cheevara (robe) to monks who practise this age-old tradition of rain retreat or Vassana, though it has little relevance today considering the highly unpredictable weather patterns. It is the usual practice to offer non-vegetarian meals to the Sangha, during and at the end of Vassana on Katina pooja, as usually done at any alms giving, unless specifically requested by the Sangha for vegetarian food. Dishes prepared from the meat of innocent animals slaughtered for human consumption, only result in more destruction of life.
The Buddha unconditionally discouraged consumption of flesh, when he said, “The eating of meat suffocates the seed of sympathy and feeling for others.”-The Mahaparinirvana Sutta.
Can one practise mettabhavana, meditation on kindness for all living beings, while consuming the flesh of animals that are brutally and violently killed? Be mindful of this contradiction. In Jivaka Sutta, the Enlightened One spoke against the habit of eating the flesh of an animal that was “seen, heard or suspected” of having been n killed (Majjhima Nikaya 55) for satisfy the taste buds of monks. This statement was subsequently misinterpreted to say, ‘seen, heard or suspected’ of being killed especially for the particular individual; for you or me, and therefore consuming what was killed in general for all meat eaters does not fall into this category. Doesn’t it sound silly and childish? The First Precept cautions us to refrain from intentionally harming or causing the destruction of a living creature. Even while we offer alms at our temple or at home and follow up with metta meditation wishing “may all beings be well and happy”, at some nearby place,encouraged by our action, animals are being slaughtered by butchers for our consumption..
A lay upasaka or a monk practising ‘maithree bhavana’, ( meditation on compassion ) after partaking food that included flesh of animals killed for consumption, is in severe contradiction. The meat eaters (including those who claim, ‘I only eat fish, not meat’ thinking that the so-called ‘marine resources’ are only vegetables). They are responsible for the trade of fishing, hunting and butchering; where the killers are only serving the demand created by flesh eaters who contribute to the heinous crime of causing violent deaths to harmless animals.
It is shocking and disgusting to witness Buddhists offering The Buddha, the great compassionate leader a meal on a dish ‘decorated’ with the flesh of animals killed for consumption. We grab from religions only what makes us happy, and reject the rest as impractical. The founders of all religions; Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad, and Mahavira, were all vegetarians. Followers of Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian sect, are vegetarians; they know that hurting or disrespecting life of any of God’s creations, will keep the Almighty away from them.
The Lankavatara sutta in Mahayana texts strongly advocates vegetarianism. It clearly sees the link between meat-eating and the agony and misery of animals. The sutta says, “Those who practise loving-kindness must give up eating flesh; they should consider all sensitive beings as their own kith and kin. It is untrue that consuming meat is permissible when the animal was not slaughtered by himself, when he did not order anybody to kill it and when it is not particularly meant for his consumption.” The Buddha in fact went to the extent of predicting the future through the Dhamma when he declared, “…there may be interpreters, who under the influence of the greed for meat, will string together numerous arguments justifying the eating of meat through subtle and illogical presentations. But, eating flesh in any manner, in any form and in any place is absolutely prohibited”
The Brahmajala Sutta too forbids meat-eating. Chinese Bikkhus refrain from eating meat based food as told in the Brahmajala Sutta. The Brahmaviharas of loving-kindness and compassion to all sentient beings is discussed in the Jivaka Sutta. There is an overwhelming wealth of urgings to be ashamed of this irregularity when considering Buddhist texts that prescribe the value of compassion and kindness to all living creatures. A basic tenet of Buddhist philosophy is the banning of the destruction of life that creates a strong argument in support of vegetarianism.
As spoken by the Buddha, “I am yet to meet with anything that was dearer than his own self. To teach one for himself, and others that the self is dear, let him who desires his own advantage not harm another.”
Great vegetarians in history
World renowned scientists, mathematicians, writers and philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Mahatma Gandhi, Shakespeare, Tagore, Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy and Bertrand Russel to mention a few were all vegetarians. 2600 years ago the mathematician and philosopher, Pythagoras denounced the eating of carcasses of animals believing in what he termed, the ‘trans-migration of souls between living creatures’. He said it was immoral for humans to destroy or aid and abet the act of killing living beings. The concept of vegetarianism was not known until the mid-19th century. However, this great concept lost favour with newer generations; in fact non-meat eaters in Europe were labelled as those who were unable to afford to buy meat.
As Tristram Stuart said, ‘vegetarianism took hold of the West after European travellers discovered that high-caste Indians lived long and healthy lives on vegetable diets….’ (The Bloodless Revolution’:Lond. 2006- Pp416.) He also quoted Thomas Tyron, the seventeenth century dissenter, who hailed the Hindu concept for life and said, ‘Brahmins represent the purest remnants of paradisiac tradition that remains on Earth’.
The myth that animal proteins are essential for humans to repair worn out tissues and for making enzymes has been effectively disproved. All 12 essential amino acids are available in plenty in grams, soya, lentils, seed products, milk, potatoes, peanuts, beans, green gram, and spinach. If one wants more high quality proteins than those found in meats and eggs, he can consume cashew nuts and tofu. Soya is a comparatively cheap source of all nutrients. A person with a body weight of 60 kg needs 60 gms of proteins a day. With an average vegetarian meal of rice, bread and dhal he can easily obtain 80 mgs of proteins. A non-vegetarian would usually consume excessive quantities of proteins, as much as 130-145 gm per day affecting joints, causing high blood pressure, increased levels of cholesterol, kidney dysfunction, obesity, osteoporosis, album in urine etc.
Buddha’s last meal of ‘sukara-maddava’ –a delicacy made of pork– is a faulty interpretation contributing to a grave misconception that the Enlightened One attained parinibbana after eating putrid pork. Sukara-maddava’ erroneously described as a ‘pork’ dish was actually made from a type of mushroom.
May all beings be happy!