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

Via elephant journal
on Aug 15, 2010
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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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8 Responses to “Buddha: don’t kill. Tibetan Buddhists: we love meat.”

  1. jcrows says:

    There is a whole lot a killing going on in the plowing and preparation of the earth that grows a vegan meal. Best to make any food a kind of offering for the liberation of all sentient beings who may have died to provide one with nourishment as one eats it. Dairy products as well are the result of the continuation of a cycle of suffering related to birth and death. Best to make a Ganapuja of all food. Take food intentionally without losing awareness about what has occurred to provide one with food.

  2. viraya says:

    Well and succinctly put – thank you jcrows "There is a whole lot of killing going on in the plowing and preparation of the earth. . . ." Use your imagination, feel the interconnection.

  3. Catrina says:

    Thank you for sharing your insight. I have wondered this about many spiritual and religious folk. It seems we agree with things that suit us and ignore the rest. We also make claims that we feel better or more grounded when we eat meat. To me this is an excuse for not looking into why you need meat to do this just because it is easier. Of course there is a case here and there that an exception must be made but overall, us Americans choose every day to eat meat or not, to inflict pain and suffering with our choices or not, to add to the destruction of the environment or not. I hope we can all choose to move out side of our comfort zones more often and add to the goodness of the world, including our own personal inner growth.

  4. Susan says:

    In a fundamentally nondual universe, to me it makes sense to consider the feelings of the so-called other being.

  5. elephantjournal says:

    Right…but killing involved in a vegan meal is far less torturous than a factory farm. Best to do our best?

  6. elephantjournal says:

    Jennifer Jones Hunt I'm American Buddhist & I'm strict vegan. From a physical, emotional, & spiritual standpoint, I would never think of eating an animal or an animal by-product. It is such a personal decision which is certainly not for everyone. I don't think it's something that anyone should feel 'guilted' into doing… it should be more of a deeply held conviction otherwise the benefits won't show through past the cravings and irritation.

    elephantjournal.com So well said, JJH!

    Nyima Wimberly http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2010/05/17/have-

    I'd suggest people listen to this radio documentary on eating meat if they would like to deeply contemplate this issue with an open mind. It gives a w…onderful array of viewpoints, including the need for animals for environmentally conscious… / sustainable farming. I felt this really expanded my views on the complexity of the subject.See More

    Richeau Breland I was driving home from work yesterday and saw a chicken truck…and they had about 100 or so chickens in little plastic crates, all stack on one another to make a delivery. The crates were so small and packed together the chickens couldn't sit up if they wanted to. I have to say I was horrified.

    Jennifer Wade This is a very good film that relates to this topic in many ways. It is only $5 to view and is available only through the end of August. –> http://adelicatebalance.vividas.com/index.php?mai

    Here is another film that is worth watching. It is being shown in various locations in the country right now I beleive. –> http://www.peaceablekingdomfilm.org/

    And, of course, for many including myself there is this life-changing film which can be viewed for free anytime at the link provided –> http://www.earthlings.com/

    Royce Blackwood We can choose to eat or not to eat meat. Our victims, the animals, have no such choice in the whole matter.

    Renata Peters
    Hi Elephant, thanks for your thoughts. Please consider the facts behind "happy meat" and eggs before openly endorsing them. Free range egg laying hens suffer horribly and end up in the same slaughterhouses as their battery egg sisters. Also… the they come from the same hatcheries that not only deny the chicks any contact with their mothers, but they also suffocate in bags or grind up the baby male chicks. Have a look at this short and non-graphic video of some rescued free range birds at the abolitionist Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary:

    The problem is not treatment, but use. You wouldn't endorse humane slavery would you? It doesn't matter how nicely we treat black slaves, the problem is with slavery itself. ANimals deserve to free like us. Thanks.See More

    elephantjournal.com Renata, we said that in the post…that free-range, cage-free is hardly better…but it is a step better than the torture that is factory farms, even vegans can agree.

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  8. Kalsang says:

    here are the thinks we need to consider, yes Buddha has propagate vegetarian diet for all his followers. i don't know about buddhist else where. but in Tibet, due to high altitude vegetation don't grow as that much in the low land. We are eating meat as there is no other options. but now a days many Tibetans are converting to vegetarian diet. If you know, we have custom of not eating meat during the precious dates and days. in this thin air of Tibet. normal simple veg diet cant make us fit and healthy, it must be some thing to do gene. but in nut shell, i want to become vegetarian, i want to follow all the guidelines of buddha teachings. but my body and health doesnt allow me to. i was sick and hospitalize for week body after stopping cunsuming meat for three year. i know its not the excuse i want to give, but its a reality. If you ask me, i am a buddhist, yes, i am. But i eat meat to survive.