Buddhists and Meat

Buddhists and Meat

Rev. Ray Innen Parchelo is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario and this article on Buddhists and Meat is answer to the question “Is it a virtue not to eat meat?”

I have heard every possible Buddhist answer, ranging from "we should all be vegans" to "people can eat whatever they choose." From a monk in Sri Lanka, a country which has a predominantly meatless diet, I heard that it was not appropriate to set absolute standards.

He explained that the Buddhist message needs to be available for all people in any land. Therefore, he concluded, someone living in the Arctic must be able to eat animal based food.

Conversely, there are North American teachers who are in the forefront of the vegetarian movement. They argue, in part, that our civilization has moved beyond the necessity for meat, and people in developed countries should recognize the many benefits to the planet and their own lives from a meat-free diet.

They cite the outrageous inefficiency of feeding livestock with grains that could sustain far greater numbers than does the meat produced and at much lower cost. They cite the increasing danger from animal waste. They cite the well-documented cruelty involved in animal raising and processing.

All strong reasons.

Our prosperity provides us with choices, so we no longer need to rely on meat.

The other distinction commonly made in Buddhist circles is the difference between lay and monastic diets.

Here, lay people are free to use a diet that suits their place, preference and pocketbook.

On the other hand, monastics are committed to following the appropriate monastic regulations set out in their tradition.

However, here again, there may be some range, since the monastic regulations are open to interpretation. For example, in my own Tendai lineage, we as clergy are committed to follow the "bodhisattva precepts", the closest term we have to "virtue." These, in turn, are based on the instruction from the Brahma Net Sutra which mention "non-injury" and "nonharm," and which can be interpreted in varied ways.

The interpretation we use locally sets out three pertinent phrases from eight precepts.

They are:

1.) "I vow to respect all life, sentient and insentient, and practise non-harm";

2.) " I vow to protect this body, this planet and all beings"; and

3.) "I vow to challenge the promises of consumption, (and to avoid) exploitation of the vulnerable."

This is typical of Buddhist texts which tend not to issue "thou shalts," preferring to provide frameworks for individual decision and action.

Given the openness of these precepts, I can understand how one of my fellow practitioners maintains a vegetarian diet and another insists that humans are another animal that lives off other animals.

Ultimately, the act itself is neither virtuous nor unvirtuous; it is a combination of intention, circumstance and degree that determines the morality and consequence.

Buddhists and Meat

Religious Opinion

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