I have personally been a vegetarian from a rather young age. Although we weren’t farmers I was brought up in a farming village and I remember walking with my parents one day when I was around 10 or 11 years old along a road where there were new-born lambs playing in the field.
Something was said (I forget what now) and suddenly I was able to put 2 + 2 together, and it dawned on me that the “lamb” we ate on a Sunday and the “lamb” who was gambolling in the fields were one and the same thing.
I was appalled by the insight, and from that time on I stopped eating meat, or rather red meat, as I was not fully under control of my own life, of course, at such a tender age, and my parents insisted that I still take chicken and fish.
However when I first left home at age 16 I became fully vegetarian and have persisted in it ever since (with only a small break in my late-20s when I was divorced and didn’t know how to cook and started eating fish for about a year to make up for an otherwise rather poor diet).
I have learned many more things about the advantages of being vegetarian since then, like the health arguments, the waste arguments and so on. But it was really a moral decision, the first really moral decision I made in my life, and funnily enough I still regard it as the best one I ever made too.
Ven. S. Dhammika
As I have mentioned before, when reviewing his Buddhism A-Z I consider Ven S. Dhammika to be one of the more intelligent and thoughtful writers on Buddhism writing today, so I am happy to see he has put his considerable talents to examining the question of vegetarianism in Buddhism, and he has very kindly given permission for me to reprint the book in its entirety in pdf format on tomorrow’s blog, so please do check it out.
Most works on this subject that I have read on the subject, whether for or against, have tended to be biased, either by leaving out relevant material or by twisting uncomfortable facts to fit in with preconceived notions.
In To Eat or Not to Eat Meat, A Buddhist Reflection I am glad to say Ven. Dhammika doesn’t dodge the facts: every indication we have from the original sources would suggest that the Buddha was not a vegetarian himself and did not advocate being one. Really this is undeniable, even to a convinced vegetarian like myself.
But then he goes on with some good and original arguments to show why being vegetarian is consistent with the main thrust of the Buddha’s teaching. These I find really compelling as they show how vegetarianism fits in well with the Buddha’s consistent teaching on friendliness and compassion (mettā, karuṇā).
Ven. Dhammika has strong arguments to show that if we are to live up to these teachings then it really is incumbent on all of us to look at how our actions affect others, and there can be no doubt that buying and eating meat is detrimental to other beings’ welfare. I take it as given that no one would deny that.
In the following chapters he has many other points to make in support of the stance, and also – again not dodging the facts – examines some of the strange inconsistencies in the teachings, where conclusions that seem logical to draw are, in fact, not then drawn.
He also dispels the simplistic myths that surround the subject, like Mahāyānists are vegetarian and Theravādins are not. While in fact the situation is much more complex than that, and it may be truer to say that while most Chinese and Korean Mahāyāna monastics are indeed vegetarian, Tibetans are decidedly not. And in my experience at least, the Chinese lay-followers are some of the voracious meat-eaters I have ever come across.
On the other hand most Theravāda monastics are not vegetarian, but some are, and it is not such a small percentage – for instance the main forest-dwelling meditation sect in Sri Lanka is almost entirely vegetarian – and many of the lay-followers in Lanka also do not eat meat, though they may eat fish.
On a personal note he also discusses the reasons it took him so long to accept being vegetarian (or almost so) in a chapter he calls The Problematic Vegetarian, and what eventually was the trigger for his acceptance of the need for it.
The articles in this book were originally published as a series on his blog dhamma musings, but have been considerably revised for the book.
The book itself is only 20 pages long, which I think is an advantage as anyone can find time to read it, and hopefully it will have an impact and make many other Buddhists at least reconsider their position on this important ethical issue.
The book was published by the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society and immediately reprinted by that great Dhammafarer in Singapore, TY Lee, who runs the Love Us Not Eat Us website and 3,000 copies are already in circulation.
The book is aimed at the Buddhist community, and Ven. Dhammika says quite clearly that he is only considering the humane argument in this book, but there are, of course, many other reasons why anyone (Buddhist or not) should be vegetarian, and over the coming weeks I will post some follow-ups on the subject. Please have a look at them, and see if you can also reduce or stop your meat-consumption.