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August 15, 2010

Buddha: don’t kill. Tibetan Buddhists: we love meat.

Your average egg-laying chicken spends its life in a space much smaller than your average laptop screen.

The Buddha and other early leaders of Buddhist practice generally advocated for a suffering-free diet. But is samsara in our thoughts, more than merely our actions?

For the sake of love of purity, the Bodhisattva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood… For fear of causing terror to living beings let the Bodhisattva, who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh.
It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself, when he did not order others to kill it, when it was not specially meant for him Again, there may be some people in the future who being under the influence of the taste for meat will string together in various ways sophistic arguments to defend meat eating.
But meat eating in any form, in any manncr, and in any place is unconditionally and once for all prohibited… Meat eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit, I will not permit. ~ Lankavatara

Growing up in a(n American) Tibetan Buddhist family, we ate meat and fish a little. Never a lot, but we did it. I tried to be vegetarian when I was a child after learning that bacon came from the same pigs I loved in childrens’ books so much. I was horrified. But soon enough the wafting smell of heaven lured me back to the ways of killing animals for pleasure.

Hurt not others with that which pains yourself. – Udanavarga

Now, I’m vegetarian again. Have been for 8 years, the life of elephant. I became veggie again after living with a girlfriend who’d never eaten meat or fish in her life. At the time, I did it more for environmental reasons than out of moral belief. Now, fed on a steady diet of vegan and environmental news, it’s hard to distinguish. Still, I allow that many cultures have a direct, more responsible and kind relationship with their fish, their sheep, their cows, their shellfish, their diets. So what most concerns me is the notion that 97% of eggs consumed in America come from factory farms—and that the other three percent aren’t a whole lot better, yet. What concerns me is that we rather unwittingly, unthinkingly support factory farms that effect daily torture on fellow sentient beings.

All beings seek for happiness; so let your compassion extend itself to all. – Mahavamsa

And so I ponder, from time to time, my Buddhist roots. How is it that the Buddha prescribed vegetarianism, and yet Tibetans, Zen and many other Buddhists, including most American Buddhists, eat meat and fish?

He who, seeking his own happiness, punishes or kills beings who also long for happiness, will not find happiness after death. – Dhammapada

When I asked this question as a child, my mom explained that hardly anything grew up on the Himalayan plateau, so Tibetans pretty much had to eat yak. And that they, like the Sioux Indians, “killed with kindness”—thanking the yak and using every bit of it, even the hide, bones and sinew. 99.9% of  Americans can hardly be said to do the same, of course. Hunters may be surprising exceptions to this sad rule.

Full of love for all things in the world, practising virtue, in order to benefit others, this man alone is happy. – Dhammapada

But Tibetans, thanks to their liberators, now have crappy prepackaged food shipping in and available ’round the corner at their local grocery, just like the rest of our globalized small world. So what’s with Buddhists, and meat?

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