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Thread: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

  1. #1

    Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Hi,

    We have had many many threads about vegetarianism, and I do not want to cover old ground. But I just stumbled across a very interesting essay by a Theravada priest that may be informative for newer folks, and I found interesting too.

    In a nutshell ... the South Asian priests generally feel that Buddha allowed meat eating under certain restrictions, the Mahayana Sutras generally banned it and are against it, but most (I believe) Japanese lineage priests are again --not-- strictly vegetarian (especially outside a monastic setting), including my teacher Nishijima and many of us.

    What Buddha said about eating meat

    by Ajahn Brahmavamso


    Since the very beginning of Buddhism over two thousand five hundred years ago, Buddhist monks and nuns have depended on almsfood. They were, and still are, prohibited from growing their own food, storing their own provisions or cooking their own meals. Instead, every morning they would make their day's meal out of whatever was freely given to them by lay supporters. Whether it was rich food or coarse food, delicious or awful tasting it was to be accepted with gratitude and eaten regarding it as medicine. The Buddha laid down several rules forbidding monks from asking for the food that they liked. As a result, they would receive just the sort of meals that ordinary people ate - and that was often meat.

    Once, a rich and influential general by the name of Siha (meaning 'Lion') went to visit the Buddha. Siha had been a famous lay supporter of the Jain monks but he was so impressed and inspired by the Teachings he heard from the Buddha that he took refuge in the Triple Gem (i.e. he became a Buddhist). General Siha then invited the Buddha, together with the large number of monks accompanying Him, to a meal at his house in the city the following morning. In preparation for the meal, Siha told one of his servants to buy some meat from the market for the feast. When the Jain monks heard of their erstwhile patron's conversion to Buddhism and the meal that he was preparing for the Buddha and the monks, they were somewhat peeved:

    "Now at the time many Niganthas (Jain monks), waving their arms, were moaning from carriage road to carriage road, from cross road to cross road in the city: "Today a fat beast, killed by Siha the general, is made into a meal for the recluse Gotama (the Buddha), the recluse Gotama makes use of this meat knowing that it was killed on purpose for him, that the deed was done for his sake" [1].

    Siha was making the ethical distinction between buying meat already prepared for sale and ordering a certain animal to be killed, a distinction which is not obvious to many westerners but which recurs throughout the Buddha's own teachings. Then, to clarify the position on meat eating to the monks, the Buddha said:

    "Monks, I allow you fish and meat that are quite pure in three respects: if they are not seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk. But, you should not knowingly make use of meat killed on purpose for you." [2]

    There are many places in the Buddhist scriptures which tell of the Buddha and his monks being offered meat and eating it. One of the most interesting of these passages occurs in the introductory story to a totally unrelated rule (Nissaggiya Pacittiya) and the observation that the meat is purely incidental to the main theme of the story emphasizes the authenticity of the passage:

    Uppalavanna (meaning 'she of the lotus-like complexion') was one of the two chief female disciples of the Buddha. She was ordained as a nun while still a young woman and soon became fully enlightened. As well as being an arahant (enlightened) she also possessed various psychic powers to the extent that the Buddha declared her to be foremost among all the women in this field. Once, while Uppalavanna was meditating alone in the afternoon in the 'Blind-Men's Grove', a secluded forest outside of the city of Savatthi, some thieves passed by. The thieves had just stolen a cow, butchered it and were escaping with the meat. Seeing the composed and serene nun, the chief of the thieves quickly put some of the meat in a leaf-bag and left it for her. Uppalavanna picked up the meat and resolved to give it to the Buddha. Early next morning, having had the meat prepared, she rose into the air and flew to where the Buddha was staying, in the Bamboo Grove outside of Rajagaha, over 200 kilometres as the crow (or nun?) flies! Though there is no specific mention of the Buddha actually consuming this meat, obviously a nun of such high attainments would certainly have known what the Buddha ate.

    However there are some meats which are specifically prohibited for monks to eat: human meat, for obvious reasons; meat from elephants and horses as these were then considered royal animals; dog meat - as this was considered by ordinary people to be disgusting; and meat from snakes, lions, tigers, panthers, bears and hyenas - because one who had just eaten the flesh of such dangerous jungle animals was thought to give forth such a smell as to draw forth revenge from the same species!

    Towards the end of the Buddha's life, his cousin Devadatta attempted to usurp the leadership of the Order of monks. In order to win support from other monks, Devadatta tried to be more strict than the Buddha and show Him up as indulgent. Devadatta proposed to the Buddha that all the monks should henceforth be vegetarians. The Buddha refused and repeated once again the regulation that he had established years before, that monks and nuns may eat fish or meat as long as it is not from an animal whose meat is specifically forbidden, and as long as they had no reason to believe that the animal was slaughtered specifically for them.

    The Vinaya, then, is quite clear on this matter. Monks and nuns may eat meat. Even the Buddha ate meat. Unfortunately, meat eating is often seen by westerners as an indulgence on the part of the monks. Nothing could be further from the truth - I was a strict vegetarian for three years before I became a monk. In my first years as a monk in North-East Thailand, when I bravely faced many a meal of sticky rice and boiled frog (the whole body bones and all), or rubbery snails, red-ant curry or fried grasshoppers - I would have given ANYTHING to be a vegetarian again! On my first Christmas in N.E. Thailand an American came to visit the monastery a week or so before the twenty fifth. It seemed too good to be true, he had a turkey farm and yes, he quickly understood how we lived and promised us a turkey for Christmas. He said that he would choose a nice fat one especially for us .... and my heart sank. We cannot accept meat knowing it was killed especially for monks. We refused his offer. So I had to settle for part of the villager's meal - frogs again.

    Monks may not exercise choice when it comes to food and that is much harder than being a vegetarian. Nonetheless, we mayencourage vegetarianism and if our lay supporters brought only vegetarian food and no meat, well...monks may not complain either! May you take the hint and be kind to animals.

    Refs:
    [1] Book of the Discipline, Vol. 4, p324
    [2] ibid, p325

    Ajahn Brahmavamso
    (Newsletter, April-June 1990, Buddhist Society of Western Australia.)


  2. #2

    Re: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Jundo,
    This is a very interesting article. Being new to Zen Buddhism, I often wonder if it is acceptable to eat meat or if I was breaking some sort of cardinal rule by doing so. Knowing that the Buddha and his monks ate meat that was offered to them, as long as it was not killed for the monks, makes me feel better about my choice to eat meat.

    Gassho,
    Bryan

  3. #3

    Re: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Quote Originally Posted by bcaruthers
    Jundo,
    This is a very interesting article. Being new to Zen Buddhism, I often wonder if it is acceptable to eat meat or if I was breaking some sort of cardinal rule by doing so. Knowing that the Buddha and his monks ate meat that was offered to them, as long as it was not killed for the monks, makes me feel better about my choice to eat meat.

    Gassho,
    Bryan
    Well, we have an additional inducement to switch to cut back on meat ... it is radioactive.

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ ... 717a1.html

    So, we can eat vegetables ... although, come to think of it, they're radioactive too! :shock:

    Gassho, J

  4. #4

    Re: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Here comes my poor opinion,

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    ...The Buddha refused and repeated once again the regulation that he had established years before, that monks and nuns may eat fish or meat as long as it is not from an animal whose meat is specifically forbidden, and as long as they had no reason to believe that the animal was slaughtered specifically for them.
    I believe times changes a bit here, and if I, as a lay person visit someone, I wont refuse meat. If I go to the supermarket, I wont pick meat. I wont pick it, because by picking anything in a store, I create demand on a supply chain. Buddha did not know of modern times supply chains, and that picking a chicken from the freezer cabinets, sausages in a can or whatever meat creates a slaughter for the buyer. Of course its anonymous, its not for Peter, but as much as is bought is slaughtered.

    Monks may not exercise choice when it comes to food and that is much harder than being a vegetarian ... May you take the hint and be kind to animals.
    Well, at least for me I'm sure being vegetarian is not about being picky, or having a choice. Also its not about trying to avoid hard training, this part seems really a bit funny to me. But the very last sentence sums it up well: Lets be kind to these sentinent beings.
    I apologize if my post creates discomfort or bad feelings for anyone, I believe we need to see this teaching in the context of todays large scale livestock farming and the suffering - I'm sure - it creates.

    _()_
    Peter

  5. #5

    Re: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Probably seems like a funny source, but the apostle Paul dealt ith a very similar dietary debate, and his conclusion was this: if your conscience allows, eat what you will. If not, it would be sinful to eat what violates your conscience. As in all things, let each person be fully convinced in his own mind and act accordingly.
    Probably the only issue on which he took such a liberal stance, but it seems that it's the same for us, too.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Long before I began to practice, a friend if mine was dating a guy from Tibet. The subject of meat consumption came up at some point in time, to which I asked why, as a Buddhist, he wasn't a vegetarian. Mind you at the time I believed that all Buddhists were, and that he was somehow "breaking the rules". He said that even though Buddhists traditionally don't eat meat, Tibetan Buddhists do because the ground is so hard and mostly infertile to grow enough crops to sustain the people. It was then that I realized that this practice was not something which was set in stone but rather quite adaptable to places, times, etc.

    Gassho,
    John

  7. #7

    Re: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Lin

    Well, at least for me I'm sure being vegetarian is not about being picky, or having a choice. Also its not about trying to avoid hard training, this part seems really a bit funny to me. But the very last sentence sums it up well: Lets be kind to these sentinent beings.
    I apologize if my post creates discomfort or bad feelings for anyone, I believe we need to see this teaching in the context of todays large scale livestock farming and the suffering - I'm sure - it creates.

    _()_
    Peter
    Yes I agree with you 100%. I'm no vegetarian, but I'm conscious that the meat I eat does not come from corporate farming, or if it does, it is raised humanely without antibiotics.

    I don't really care about the Zen perspective on things. I don't mean that how it sounds. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't want another belief system. I want to get to the heart of reality, strip down my bs and live more compassionately. I'm not trying to sound like an A-hole, but the last thing I need is another framework to apply to my existing way of thinking. So I don't like hearing "what does Zen say about this or what does Buddhism say about that?" From one perspective that is important, but in the end we need to investigate and apply and see what works for ourselves. Ok I'm off my soapbox. hahahaah

    In any case, my wife and I buy chicken that is free range, antibiotic and crap free. The same thing with beef. Grass fed, no antibiotics.

    This meat eating thing goes beyond just whether or not you believe you should eat it. There are compelling arguments either way. We kill things to eat, whether it's vegetables or animals or bugs or whatever. If you don't kill you will die, and that's not good either.

    But as Peter mentions, it goes to the heart of our food supply chain itself. The market produces whatever is in demand, and in this economy (capitalistic ones at least) we vote with our wallets. So I don't buy mass produced meat that has harmed animals. I also try to purchase organic veggies.

    First chickens. Mass produced chicken raising includes cutting off the beaks of chickens so they don't kill each other. They are in such cramped conditions that the animals go berzerk when trying to establish a pecking order. In addition, chickens are raised to produce more meat, so they are pumped full of crap that makes them grow bigger and faster. Often times they are unable to walk because they cannot support the additional weight their body isn't designed to support. The worker conditions are often horrible as well.

    With corporate farming of cattle, it's also bad news. The cattle are fed a grain diet. No big deal right? Wrong. Cows aren't meant to eat grain; they eat grass. In order to eat grain they need to be gradually introduced to it or they could die. Due to the complications of eating grain, it will lead to infection, so they require antibiotics to fight off infection of the unnatural diet. These animals are in cramped spaces, walking in their own feces, and they are mistreated.

    Pigs are also in teh same league.

    Corporate farming practices are ethically questionable, and the best way I can do something is to reward companies that properly and ethically raise animals for food.

    Even if you eat animals, you should treat them well and respect them while they are living. They are providing sustenance for your life. It's the least we can do.

    This is a physical manifestation of the meal gatha.

    So to go back to what I was saying about adding another belief system. Beliefs are fine, but I think practice is more important. Doing what we can even if it seems little.

    Ok sorry for being preachy

    Gassho,

    Risho

  8. #8
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Re: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Quote Originally Posted by Risho
    Even if you eat animals, you should treat them well and respect them while they are living. They are providing sustenance for your life. It's the least we can do.
    Yes, I totally agree. I am not a vegetarian but I am concerned on how animals are treated.

    And I have a lot of thoughts about this issue. On the one hand we can't deny that animal sacrifice is part of human progress. Thanks to it we got to develop medicine, clothing and thanks to the protein we got to evolve into the species we are now (among many factors, that is). Thing is, animals are mistreated more often than not and yes, corporate meat might be the worst since the last thing they care about is suffering.

    And there's a new conscience that's building up steam more and more: we now as consumers care about animal rights. And that's a very good thing because since the 90's companies started to listen to us and started changing business models.

    Still there is a lot of work to do in order to a proper animal treatment but I think it's a start.

    This leads me to this article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/foo ... le1890605/

    Would you eat meat created on a lab?

  9. #9
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Choco wrote:
    Would you eat meat created on a lab?
    Hi Choco,
    Thanks for the link. This very subject came up a few months ago here:
    viewtopic.php?f=9&t=3764

    There were many interesting points raised! It would be nice to hear from others who missed the chance to share their opinion the first time around. Personally I'd still eat it!

    Gassho,
    John

  10. #10

    Re: Buddha and Meat Eating (A South Asian Perspective)

    Quote Originally Posted by Risho
    ...We kill things to eat, whether it's vegetables or animals or bugs or whatever. If you don't kill you will die, and that's not good either.
    Thanks for this, it has to be mentioned in this context!

    Even if you eat animals, you should treat them well and respect them while they are living. They are providing sustenance for your life.
    This single sentence says it better than my whole post :-D And ...

    This is a physical manifestation of the meal gatha.
    Wham! This one struck my like a lightning, "This food comes from the efforts of all
    sentient beings...", thank you Risho!

    _()_
    Peter

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