The Buddha and Vegetarianism (and Jesus, For That Matter)

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The Buddha and Vegetarianism (and Jesus, For That Matter)

By Kim Stallwood

I’m not someone who has to have their commitment to veganism legitimized because someone is or isn’t (or was or wasn’t) a vegetarian. Frankly, I don’t care about what anyone else does. (Well, I may have a strop if someone isn’t who I think should be.) I care about what I do today as I’m answerable to no one else but myself.

Debates about whether Jesus or the Buddha was or wasn’t a vegetarian are interesting. My jaded eyes tend to glass over, however, as I hear the arguments constructed in defense of opposing arguments. How is it possible that diametrically opposite perspectives can be made seemingly legitimately? Where’s the truth in all of this? How can we possibly know for sure? I conclude that it’s all conjecture.

So, I don’t worry about whether Jesus or Gautama did or did not eat meat. What is tragic, however, is how followers of both make a decision about not becoming a vegetarian because they believe Jesus and Gautama wasn’t. Don’t these people have a conscience of their own? Can’t they make their own minds up? Do they follow blindly whatever Jesus or Gautama may or may not have said? I suppose some Christians may if they believe the Bible was literally the word of God. As far as I know, nothing exists written in the time of the Buddha, which means we can’t possibly know for sure anything he may or may not have said. It was passed on from generation to generation as a spoken tradition.

Nonetheless, from time to time, I read something about this that I find particularly interesting. For example, Norm Phelps’s books The Dominion of Love: Animal Rights According to the Bible and The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights are great places to start.

These titles are published by Lantern Books, which, on its blog, recently published an interesting commentary by Keith Akers about the Buddha and vegetarianism.

The blog was prompted by Keith hearing author Stephen Batchelor (author of Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist) speak recently at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. Keith asked Stephen “whether he (Batchelor) was a vegetarian, whether the historical Buddha was a vegetarian, and how this all related to the first precept (not to take the life of any sentient creature).” Stephen answered by saying he was not a vegetarian and didn’t think the Buddha was either. Please read Keith’s post as it is fascinating. Check out Keith’s book, too.

I agree with Keith who concludes that if the first precept of Buddhism is not to take the life of any sentient creature, well, how can anyone reasonably conclude otherwise that it does not mean a vegetarian lifestyle? And what if you conclude it doesn’t? It doesn’t matter anyway. There are more than enough compelling arguments today why you should be!