Buddhism and the Question on Dietary Preference

Using the Buddha’s teachings to preserve and enhance our well-being, as we engage with the world
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Dharmasherab
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Buddhism and the Question on Dietary Preference

Post by Dharmasherab » Fri May 24, 2019 7:25 am

The first precept of Buddhism is to do with avoiding of killing and harming of sentient beings. Almost all sentient beings have fear of death and therefore the act of killing brings a lot of suffering. In most ways which are used to bring about the death of a sentient being, it can involve pain – both physically and mentally. The act of killing generates heavy mental volitions (Samskaras) so the more you violate the first precept the more one creates obstacles for themselves on the path to enlightenment.

As Buddhists, we can appreciate there are killings of sentient beings happening all over us at this very moment and some of that is to do with producing meat for consumption. People eat meat which creates a demand and order to meet the demand there has to be a supply – and that is where the killing comes in. If everybody in the world followed the 1st precept then there would be no meat production which means that people would have no choice but to be vegetarian, to say the least. So if we were to follow this basic linear logic that consumption leads to demand which in turn creates the supply then as Buddhists we could say it would be best to avoid meat/fish.

Diet is an important part of our lives. But diet is not the only aspect on which our existence depends on. If we look into the domains outside of diet then we can see that our very existence required the destruction of so many different lifeforms. The houses or flats which we live in required the digging up of the earth which were inhabited by different types of subterranean creatures such as moles, rabbits, and earthworms. The roads and the cities which are built around us required the clearing of forests which were homes to thousands if not millions of animals and birds. The airplanes which we travel to different countries lead to deaths so many birds and bats. The methods which we depend on energy supplies leads to pollution of the environment and animals who are adapted to a certain environment will have no choice.

Given that our existence requires the destruction of other forms of life there is no ultimate lifestyle which is completely free from harm to other sentient beings. This is why we should not fall into the illusion that avoiding meat is the path of no harm. The magnitude of the suffering and destruction of other lifeforms for our own existence makes the comparison of different forms of diet look insignificant. Even the vegans enjoy their vegetables without having to worry about worms or holes in them because farmers have sprayed tons of pesticides on fields to get rid of millions of bugs and slugs (unless somebody happens to be an organic vegan which is a rarity).

Even if the motivation to follow a vegan diet or anything above that (such as fruitarianism) is based on compassion for animals, it is ignorant to have a self-righteous attitude towards diet and look down upon alternative forms of diet. It is ignorant because one has ignored that one’s own existence required the suffering and destruction of other forms of life.

On the Buddhist path, it can be more of an obstacle to have strong views about diet because a lot of the dietary preferences that we hold onto tend to be on dualistic and conceptual thinking. Being judgemental about other forms of diet is a reflection on how much one puts a value on their dualistic/conceptual thinking and the more you put value in these forms of thought the narrower the doorways to realizations become. The path to Enlightenment is a path which is meant to lead us away from dualistic/conceptual thinking. Having strong views on diet related to the wellbeing of animals usually carries a high degree of magnetic potential which tends to ground people in conceptual thinking and that can reinforce arrogance and superiority – which closes down any open spaces in the mind to which realizations can appear from.

There are some Sutras which do encourage Buddhists to avoid meat whiles others which take a liberal attitude towards meat. It is not possible to avoid meat in every single part of the world – like in Tibet where the land is mostly infertile where people have no choice but to depend on meat for their source of food. Whichever the dietary preference we have as Buddhists we take it up as individuals but at the same time being careful not to develop arrogance, self-righteousness or a sense of superiority over Buddhists who follow an alternative form of diet compared to ours. We should not use diet as a sectarian device to create sectarian splits in the Sangha. It is said that sentient beings that live in the pure abodes look at the food we eat no different from excrement. Therefore there is no point in fighting over what appears on our plate which is seen as excrement by other types of beings.

Eating meat does not violate the 1st precept – otherwise, the precept would have explicitly mentioned avoiding all types of meat. It just doesn’t. This does not mean that we have to neglect the suffering of sentient beings and it is best to minimize their suffering whiles noticing that there is no such thing as a perfect moral high ground with respect to our diets. Whiles being engaged it is also important not to be attached to outcomes with expectations because that attitude becomes a major obstacle in the path. Killings have always happened in the past and they will continue to happen after our existence in this realm. Our true freedom from suffering is not within Samsara but outside of that, which is Nirvana. Buddhism is not about creating a better Samsara.

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Kim O'Hara
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Re: Buddhism and the Question on Dietary Preference

Post by Kim O'Hara » Fri May 24, 2019 7:47 am

Hi, Dharmasherab,
I agree with most of what you say, and the key to my agreement is this -
Dharmasherab wrote:Given that our existence requires the destruction of other forms of life there is no ultimate lifestyle which is completely free from harm to other sentient beings.
The best we can do, IMO, is to minimise harm to sentient beings as much as is reasonable in our own circumstances. And both "as much as is reasonable" and "our own circumstances" vary so widely that we shouldn't be too critical of others' choices.

The Jains have always tried harder to eliminate killing than (most) Buddhists, with things like wearing face masks to prevent murdering little bugs by inhaling them, and sweeping paths before walking on them. For me, those fail the test of what is reasonable - especially as the production of their food and clothing is likely to have caused so many small deaths.

:namaste:
Kim

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KathyLauren
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Re: Buddhism and the Question on Dietary Preference

Post by KathyLauren » Fri May 24, 2019 4:20 pm

This position always comes up in the discussion of veganism on Buddhist websites. The ultimate fallback position, when all other arguments against veganism fail, is always: "Well, we can't avoid *ALL* harm, so there is no point in avoiding meat."

Which is a total non sequitur. We should avoid harm when we can. And since the vast majority of people do well on vegetarian and vegan diets, cutting back on or eliminating animal products is a good thing.

Om mani padme hum
Kathy

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DNS
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Re: Buddhism and the Question on Dietary Preference

Post by DNS » Fri May 24, 2019 8:13 pm

KathyLauren wrote:
Fri May 24, 2019 4:20 pm
This position always comes up in the discussion of veganism on Buddhist websites. The ultimate fallback position, when all other arguments against veganism fail, is always: "Well, we can't avoid *ALL* harm, so there is no point in avoiding meat."

Which is a total non sequitur. We should avoid harm when we can. And since the vast majority of people do well on vegetarian and vegan diets, cutting back on or eliminating animal products is a good thing.
:goodpost:

We can't be completely non-violent in our diets and choices, but we can try. And by trying we can at least decrease the amount of harm and suffering. There is no question a vegetarian and especially a vegan diet provides less killing and suffering. See this chart:

Image

Yes, there might be some unintentional killing of insects and even some other animals, but you have all that plus the animal when you eat beef, lamb, chicken, etc as the animals are fed grains for years until ready for slaughter. And the grains are raised in the same way as they are when humans eat them, with insecticide, etc.

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Re: Buddhism and the Question on Dietary Preference

Post by DNS » Fri May 24, 2019 8:32 pm

In regard to sutras / suttas, yes there are some that appear to allow meat eating, however, there are also some (especially Mahayana) that unequivocally prohibit it, for example Lankavatara Sutra, Nirvana Sutra.

In regard to self-righteousness, that can be seen on both sides of this issue. I've seen some omnivores complain vociferously about vegetarians and vegans, how they are killing their children, how their omnivore diet is far superior and I've even seen some say that vegetarianism is bad karma. Attachment to views can come with any position, either side.

It's okay to take a stand one way or the other, but also to listen to other views and understand that everyone does not always have the luxury of making the choices we have, be it from family, tradition, culture, being a monastic, or under the care of another who prepares meals.

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Re: Buddhism and the Question on Dietary Preference

Post by Kim O'Hara » Fri May 24, 2019 11:42 pm

DNS wrote:
Fri May 24, 2019 8:32 pm
...It's okay to take a stand one way or the other, but also to listen to other views and understand that everyone does not always have the luxury of making the choices we have, be it from family, tradition, culture, being a monastic, or under the care of another who prepares meals.
...which is why I said what I said about reasonableness and circumstances.
DNS wrote:
Fri May 24, 2019 8:13 pm
...Yes, there might be some unintentional killing of insects and even some other animals, but you have all that plus the animal when you eat beef, lamb, chicken, etc as the animals are fed grains for years until ready for slaughter. And the grains are raised in the same way as they are when humans eat them, with insecticide, etc.
Your general point is good, but "the animals are fed grains for years" and "grains are raised in the same way as they are when humans eat them, with insecticide, etc" are culture-specific.
Right across SE Asia, chickens, ducks and (in countries that eat pork) pigs eat what they can find plus kitchen scraps. What the poultry can find includes a lot of insects, true, but without their clean-up services there would be less people-food coming from the veggie patch and the rice paddy. Subsistence farmers would probably starve more often if they did not keep and eat poultry.
And in my part of the world (and others), cattle and sheep eat grass, not grain. Cattle-grazing, in fact, is the only way a lot of low-rainfall grasslands can be used to produce food for people, and insecticides, fertilisers and irrigation are the exception, not the norm. In even drier areas (think Northern Africa) goats replace cattle.
I'm not advocating meat-eating, of course, just saying that (as usual), it's complicated and we shouldn't be judgemental.

:namaste:
Kim

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Dharmasherab
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Re: Buddhism and the Question on Dietary Preference

Post by Dharmasherab » Tue Aug 06, 2019 7:07 am

KathyLauren wrote:
Fri May 24, 2019 4:20 pm
This position always comes up in the discussion of veganism on Buddhist websites. The ultimate fallback position, when all other arguments against veganism fail, is always: "Well, we can't avoid *ALL* harm, so there is no point in avoiding meat."

Which is a total non sequitur. We should avoid harm when we can. And since the vast majority of people do well on vegetarian and vegan diets, cutting back on or eliminating animal products is a good thing.

Om mani padme hum
Kathy
Yes we should avoid when we can but also without being judgemental about other who eat meat.

Eating meat doesn't make one a bad Buddhist as well as avoiding meat doesn't make one a better Buddhist either. Whether one eats meats or not it doesn't affect one's ability to become enlightened.

It is a bigger obstacle to the path of enlightenment to have very strong judgemental views as a vegan as compared to being a non-judgemental meat-eater.

I myself am a vegetarian but among the most non-judgemental of Buddhists I have come across are those who eat meat.

We as Buddhists should not make dietary preference into a sectarian device where automatically we consider that Buddhists who avoid meat are superior to those who consume meat.

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Re: Buddhism and the Question on Dietary Preference

Post by KathyLauren » Wed Aug 07, 2019 11:59 am

Dharmasherab wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 7:07 am
Yes we should avoid when we can but also without being judgemental about other who eat meat.

Eating meat doesn't make one a bad Buddhist as well as avoiding meat doesn't make one a better Buddhist either. Whether one eats meats or not it doesn't affect one's ability to become enlightened.

It is a bigger obstacle to the path of enlightenment to have very strong judgemental views as a vegan as compared to being a non-judgemental meat-eater.

I myself am a vegetarian but among the most non-judgemental of Buddhists I have come across are those who eat meat.

We as Buddhists should not make dietary preference into a sectarian device where automatically we consider that Buddhists who avoid meat are superior to those who consume meat.
I presume that you are not referring to me specifically, so no offence taken.

Still why does the subject of judgementalism always come up in these discussions? Are there really that many judgemental vegans that the subject must always be raised? Yes, there are some - I've met some - but there really aren't that many. The majority are quite happy to let people make up their own minds.

Yes, judgementalism is an obstacle to enlightenment, whether you are referring to vegans, vegetarians, or meat eaters. And yes, there are non-judgemental meat-eaters, I am happy to say.

The pervasive hostility towards vegetarians and vegans on Buddhist forums is also an obstacle to enlightenment.

Om mani padme hum
Kathy

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