Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year

Image hosted by

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Aren't all Buddhist 'SUPPOSED' to be Vegetarian?

I had a conversation about being Buddhist and NOT being a vegetarian recently with an online friend. She asked why I chose not to be, and this was how I explained it to her.

Just sharing in case anyone cares to read it.

Yes, many Buddhists are vegetarian. I often get people asking me how I can claim to be Buddhist but still eat meat. Let me be clear: there is nothing in the sacred text or writings of the Buddha that says a Buddhist HAS to be a vegetarian. I don't follow a particular sect of Buddhism, I follow the eightfold path and read the dharmapada and follow Buddha's teachings, as they are sound wise ways to lead your life in my opinion.

Vegetarianism came about over time due to some Buddhists feeling all life is sacred and not wanting to kill any living being, and feeling that they could eat sufficiently and healthy by omitting eating animals. The truth is, all things we eat are alive at one point or another and have a life force even if we don't understand it or dismiss that lettuce is alive for example. Herbs and plants that give us nutrition are alive, and their interactions with our bodies create a relationship, so we should be just as humble about eating a tomato sandwich for the tomatoes and the wheat and live yeast organism than rose the bread with which we place the tomatoes on, as we would if we were thankful for the tuna fish who gave his life, if we ate a tuna sandwich to nourish our bodies (which are our temples in this life). It is important to understand that the main idea of Buddhism is not that there are "deadly sins" or irrevocable wrongs, but that things must be done for the GREATER GOOD. There is a balance to everything, including the concept that under certain conditions we (as societies or individuals) may have to kill. If the choice is to end one life to save a hundred, ending that life would be for the greater good, karmically speaking.

In order for me not to kill any living organism, I would have to cease to eat and therefore cease to live myself, and that is harm to a living being as well (harm to our own self is just as "un-Buddhist" as it is to harm another being). As a Buddhist I believe the all life is sacred. Be it a lady bug, a leaf on a tree that is alive, the bacteria in my yogurt or a human being. Who am I to choose which life is more important? The life of a cat is just as important as a worm's life, or as a person's life, and being a Buddhist, that worm could be a reincarnation of my brother who died at 32 or my grandmother who died at 88. If I would treat them well in their past life in which I knew them, then I will try to treat all living things well, because they (1.) deserve it, and (2.) could be someone who might be from your past interacting with you again.

We come in contact with all other living beings for a purpose, nothing is fluke or chance in life. Karma sets it in motion our life before we are even born, and I know each and every person in my life for a reason. As a "good" Buddhist, it is my responsability to interact with all living beings that I come into contact with, as I would wish to be treated. It is funny but a saying that Dr. Phil has is very Buddhist like, "You are either contributing to the relationship, or contaminating it". As a Buddhist, I work very hard to remain mindful and try to make sure (not always successfully) I am contributing in a good way to all relationships in my life. even with my food. My greatest weight loss has come since I became Buddhist. I still struggle, old life habits are hard to break, and the life I led up until I became a Buddhist was not conducive to eating healthy or just for fuel for my body. I know that this lifetime is not my last lifetime and I have many more lives to be reincarnated and experience before I ever reach Nirvana.

I may seem like I'm getting off track or "preaching", but it is all connected, and I only explain because you asked, I wish not to "convert" or convince anyone. I respect everyone's choice to chose and have their own faith.

So, rich people sleeping in their silk PJ's and flannel bed sheets tonight are no more or less important than the poor man on the street tonight, cold and hungry, searching for shelter and food. And a cow is no more or less worthy of being saved from death to nourish me then the lettuce growing in the garden. Sadly society in general does not understand this concept, and many vegetarians who chose to be so they are not killing animals, don't realize they are killing everything they eat, no matter what - unless they have found a way to survive by eating sand.

Society sees the rich man as more important then the poor man. A baby who dies is mourned for longer and harder then the old man who suffered with alzheimers for 10 years, and died scared and alone in an old folks home, with no family around him, because his family went on with their lives when he got ill, simply because society thinks that becaue he had more years on earth. His life is somehow less worthy of mourning than the baby who died without pain, in the arms of their loving mother suckling at her breast, as she slipped away from a birth defect just 12 hours after they were born.

As I mentioned, as a Buddhist, I believe that the soul of a worm could very well be a reincarnation of my grandmother, that a cow may very well be the soul of my reincarnated brother. All Buddhists believe it in varying degrees, but we do still eat meat. Mainly because of what I just explained above, if we are eating a living thing regardless of what we choose to eat, eating fruits and veggies over a cow, is no more or less unkind.

In many places like Tibet, where Buddhism is a very predominate faith, they can hardly even grow vegetables due to climate and soil composition, and have goats and other livestock to raise for eating and for their milk. They can hardly grow enough vegetables and beans etc to survive off them solely, and therefore have diets very rich in meat.

Our family is very conscientious of what we eat, and include other sources of protein such as lentils and legumes, eggs, peanut butter etc. But, they all still are a living thing that was harvested, created, or killed to allow us to eat it. We also eat about 1 to 3 vegetarian meals a week depending on how we feel and how time allows, and use very little meat when we do eat meat, but mainly for health sake and to be dollar wise.I can make two pounds of ground beef into four meals. We eat fish and tofu and TVP, largely as well.

We are very consciously aware of the lives that are lost for us to eat, and we bless the souls that gave their lives to nourish our bodies every day. We also thank the earth for growing the plants we eat and the sun and rain for nourishing them as well so that we may obtain life energy from them. It is that living being's karmic "destiny" to be chosen to be eaten, as it is beleived that everything we experience in each of our reincarnated lives is a life lesson we need to learn for past things/wrongs we have done, in order to bring us to enlightenment (in laymans terms like Buddhist "heaven") Buddist's beleive that we are continuosly reincarnated until we reach a state of complete enlightenment and goodness and purity and lack of all want and are then passed on to Nirvana, which is like another realm, where we no longer need a physical body to contain our souls and we are released from the earth bound existence for eternity as energy (Kind of like the movie Powder if you know it).

So...A tomato grows… we pick it, it dies, from the moment it is plucked from it’s vine it begins to decay and die, become wilted, redder. How do we know it does not have a soul? I and many other Buddhists do believe that it does have a life force, and that soul that was reincarnated into a tomato, was destined to become a tomato and be plucked and eaten. The tomatoes on my vine that I forgot to pick and got mouldy and rotten off onto the ground, also was destined to become THAT tomato. and it still had goodness in it's life even though many see it as a waste, it nourished the ground that it fell onto, and will help the tomotoes next year grow. It was Karma, and the cycle of life.

Many do not know that Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. Through the stories and accounts of his teachings written and passed down through the sacred texts by Buddha's followers, it is believed that he actually died of food poisoning from eating bad pork. He never had an animal purposley killed to nourish his body, but he did not turn away food offered to him by kind people on his travels and teachings. Very often he ate meals of the meat variety, but he had to know that the meal was not made for him specifically, or he would not eat it if an animal had been sacrificed specifically for him.

If I am invited to someone's house for dinner as a special invite, not just invited to stay because a meal was near taking place, and they ask what I would like, I ask them to make whatever they were going to make for themselves anyway, not to buy or make anything special for me, so I am not requesting the death of anything.

Some would say that I am not a true Buddhist for eating meat, each sect of Buddhism has their own reasons for certain beliefs, and many I do not personally agree with because they are not the teachings of Buddha but rather religious dogma accumulated over the centuries. I far more believe that what makes a person a Buddhist is the kindness in their heart and following the eightfold path rather than what they put in their stomachs, to nourish the body.

When I first found Buddhism and realized it’s teaching was truly how I felt in my heart, I had a large struggle with eating meat and feeling like I was going to be forced to give up meat. Feeling terrible for my eating meat and enjoying it, and not wanting to give up a steak meal or a pot roast, that I do enjoy on occasion, I sought answers from more knowledgeable Buddhists. The following really helped me see that it is not what I put in my mouth but how I act in life that will make me a good or bad person.

The following was an excerpt from a website that no longer exists. Sadly, because many Buddhist work for no pay or for charity, many Buddhist web pages have come and gone in the past 7 years I have studied and followed Buddhism, due to lack of funding to keep them going.


1) Buddhists should be vegetarians, shouldn't they?

Not necessarily. The Buddha was not a vegetarian. He did not teach his disciples to be vegetarians and even today, there are many good Buddhists who are not vegetarians.

2)If you eat meat you are indirectly responsible the death of a creature. Isn't that breaking the first precept?

It is true that when you eat meat, you are indirectly and partially responsible for killing a creature but the same is true when you eat vegetables. The farmer has to spray his crop with insecticides and poisons so that the vegetables arrive on your dinner plates without holes in them. And once again, animals have been used to provide the leather for your belt or handbag, oil for the soap you use and a thousand other products as well. It is impossible to live without, in some way, being indirectly responsible for the death of some other beings. This is just another example of the First Noble Truth, ordinary existence is suffering and unsatisfactory. When you take the First Precept, you try to avoid being directly responsible for killing beings.

3)Mahayana Buddhists don't eat meat

That is not correct. Mahayana Buddhism in China laid great stress on being vegetarian but both the monks, laymen and women of the Mahayana tradition in Japan and Tibet usually eat meat.

4) But I still think that a Buddhist should be vegetarian.

If there was a man who was a very strict vegetarian but who was selfish, dishonest and mean, and another man who was not a vegetarian but who was thoughtful of others, honest, generous and kind, which of these two people would be the better Buddhist?

The person who was honest and kind.


Exactly. One who eats meat can have a pure heart just as one who does not eat meat can have an impure heart. In the Buddha's teachings, the important thing is the quality of your heart, not the contents of your diet. Many Buddhists take great care never to eat meat buy they are not concerned about being selfish, dishonest, cruel or jealous. They change their diet which is easy to do, while neglecting to change their hearts, which is a difficult thing to do. So whether you are a vegetarian or not, remember that the purification of the mind is the most important thing in Buddhism.