Friday, 19 May 2017

Buddhism and vegetarianism

The most compelling argument I ever heard for becoming a vegetarian was simply, 'you don't need to eat meat', simply that, 'you don't need to', and it is true, I became a vegetarian when I was about 20 years old, and now I am 50. My principal teacher, Urgyen Sangharakshita, became vegetarian at about the same time in his life, and he is now 91. Many in the West consider being vegetarian is good for your health and some even become vegetarian solely for health reasons.

For me becoming a vegetarian was about trying not to harm other living beings, humans or animals. Being more 'harmless', choosing not to do actions that harmed, led to a feeling of freedom and lightness, and a growing sensitivity to my other harmful actions. I think back now to how I often acted back then before this greater sensitivity emerged, I can break out in a cold sweat, and not to speak of how much more aggressively people acted towards me back then.

But some people say animals don't suffer. To me this seems an amazing statement. If a cat is unlucky enough to have it's tail trodden on, or be poked it in the ribs with a sharp stick, just watch and listen to how it reacts and the sounds it makes, it is obvious, the animal is in pain.

The Buddhist path is a very long path, starting where we are now and leading to the state of a fully and perfectly Enlightened being, a Buddha. It is a path of continual practice and development, and has been described over the centuries in many ways. One of the oldest and more well known of these descriptions is the Threefold path of Ethics, Meditation and Wisdom, (in Pali Sila, Samadhi and Panna). The path starts with the most basic steps, ie ethics, and finishes with the most elevated, ie wisdom. But how do we start traveling along the path, what concretely are those first steps?

Buddhism has developed as a world religion in many countries and cultures over many centuries. However, the majority at least of the formulations of its ethical precepts have refraining from taking life (in Pali, panatipata veramani) in first place. This means it is the first step. We refrain from killing or causing to kill, which includes paying someone to kill, or paying for something that has already been killed.

But the Buddha ate meat, I hear some of you say. He did, or at least he ate meat that he knew hadn't been intentionally killed for him. But there is a difference between him and us, there are many differences, but here only one is of importance. The Buddha was a homeless wanderer, he lived on alms, he ate what he was put into his begging bowl without picking or choosing, he didn't have a choice. Also Tibetan Buddhists didn't have a choice when they lived in Tibet, where you can't grow vegetables.

In our modern consumer societies, we all have a choice, and every time we spend our money, we exercise that choice and our money supports the people who provide what we buy.

No comments:

Post a Comment