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Buddhist Vegetarianism

Although it is an agnostic moral philosophy (i.e., no recognition of a personal God) a few centuries older than Christianity, Buddhism teaches a consistent ethic of reverence for all life. No wars have ever been waged in the name of Buddhism. Similarly, the act of abortion is explicitly condemned in the Buddhist canonical scriptures. Sir Edwin Arnold’s poetic biography on Siddhartha Gautama, The Light of Asia, caused quite a controversy in Victorian England: centuries before Jesus, an earlier teacher lived “the Christ life.”

The ethical teachings of the Buddha are quite similar to those found in the Gospel of Jesus: One must never be proud nor harbor anger against anyone. He who humbles himself shall be exalted, while the one who exalts himself shall be degraded. Harsh language must never be used against anyone.

Avoid lust, anger and greed. One should not scrutinize the mote in a neighbor’s eye without first noticing the beam in one’s own. One must “turn the other cheek” if attacked or abused. One’s own possessions must be shared with the less fortunate. If a man obtained the whole world and its riches, he still would not be satisfied, nor would this save him.

In 261 BC, the Indian emperor Ashoka witnessed firsthand the innumerable casualties he caused during one of his many military campaigns. His heart was filled with grief. He converted to Buddhism. 19th century scholar and writer H.G. Wells considered Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism one of the most significant events in world history.

Ashoka, formerly a bloody and ruthless emperor, became a remarkably kind and gentle leader. Ashoka established some of the first animal rights laws. He stopped the royal hunt, stopped the sacrifice of animals in his capital city, stopped the killing of animals for food in the royal kitchens, and gave up the eating of meat. Ashoka made it illegal to kill many species of animals, such as parrots, ducks, geese, bats, turtles, squirrels, monkeys and rhinos. He forbade the killing of pregnant animals, or animals that were nursing their young. He declared certain days to be “non-killing days,” on which fish could not be caught, nor any other animals killed. He established wells and watering holes, places of rest and hospitals for humans and animals alike.

Ashoka educated his people to have compassion for animals, and to refrain from killing or harming them. He sent missionaries to all the neighboring kingdoms to teach mercy, compassion and nonviolence. Through Ashoka’s patronage, Buddhism was spread all over the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism would eventually reach the rest of Asia; today there are an estimated 300 to 600 million Buddhists worldwide.

The first precept of Buddhism is: “Do not kill, but rather preserve and cherish all life.” There is an ancient poem, reputed to be the only text ever written by the Buddha himself, which states:

“Let creatures all, all things that live, all beings of whatever kind, see nothing that will bode them ill. May naught of evil come to them.”

The Buddhist emperor Ashoka (268-223 BC) declared in one of his famous Pillar Edicts: “I have enforced the law against killing certain animals..The greatest progress of Righteousness among men comes from the exhortation in favor of non-injury to life and abstention from killing living beings.” 

The Dalai Lama has said, “I do not see any reason why animals should be slaughtered to serve as human diet when there are so many substitutes. After all, man can live without meat.”

Mahayana Buddhism supports the vegetarian way of life. According to the Mahaparinirvana Sutra: “The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.”

The Lankavatara Sutra says:

“For the sake of love of purity, the bodhisattva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born from semen, blood, etc. For fear of causing terror to living beings let the bodhisattva, who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh…It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself, when he did not order others to kill it, when it was not specifically meant for him…Again, there may be some people in the future who…being under the influence of the taste for meat will string together in various ways many sophisticated arguments to defend meat-eating…But…meat-eating in any form, in any manner, and in any place is unconditionally and once and for all prohibited…Meat-eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit, I will not permit…”

The Surangama Sutra says:

“The reason for practicing dhyana and seeking to attain samadhi is to escape from the suffering of life. But in seeking to escape from suffering ourselves, why should we inflict it upon others? Unless you can control your minds that even the thought of brutal unkindness and killing is abhorrent, you will never be able to escape from the bondage of the world’s life…After my parinirvana in the final kalpa different kinds of ghosts will be encountered everywhere deceiving people and teaching them that they can eat meat and still attain enlightenment…How can a bhikshu, who hopes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings?”

Contemporary Hindu spiritual masters have taught us that if one wishes to eat cow’s flesh (or the flesh of any other animal for that matter), one should wait until the animal dies of natural causes, rather than take the life of a fellow creature. This indicates that we are vegetarian first and foremost out of nonviolence toward and compassion for animals, rather than because we follow “dietary laws.”

Avoidance of onions and garlic is not limited to Hindus in India following an Ayurvedic diet; there is a tradition of avoiding these foods in China, antedating the arrival of Buddhism. ‘Enjoy’ Vegetarian Restaurant in San Francisco, CA is run by Chinese Buddhists, and they do not serve onions or garlic in any of their preparations. However, they do serve mushrooms!

In Theravada Buddhist countries (Burma, Ceylon, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Tibet, Malaya), although the monks are forbidden to kill animals, they beg for food and are expected to eat whatever is offered them. Contrasting the Mahayana Buddhist countries (e.g., China) with the Theravada, in A Vegetarian Sourcebook, author Keith Akers writes:

“In the Mahayana countries, the custom regarding monks is completely different, reflecting a different attitude towards meat consumption. The Mahayana Buddhist monks do not beg for food at all; they prepare their own food, which is either bought, grown, or collected as rent. The Mahayana monks in China were strictly vegetarian in ancient times and remain so today.

“Dietary abstinence from meat was an ancient Chinese tradition that antedated the arrival of Buddhism. In China, all animal foods, onions, and alcohol were either forbidden or customarily avoided. Animal products were avoided in dress as they were in diet. There was a prohibition on the use of silk or leather (not observed in Theravada countries).

“Not only are the Mahayana Buddhist monks vegetarian, but so are many Buddhist lay people in China. Lay people usually receive a lay ordination, in which they must take from one to five vows. Almost everyone takes the first vow, which is not to take the life of any sentient creature.” In 502 AD a Chinese prince named Hsaio-Yen became the first emperor of the Liang Dynasty.  His name as emperor was Wu-Ti.  In his youth, he was a Taoist, a follower of the contemplative and nonviolent religion founded by Lao Tzu.  Impressed by Chinese Buddhist monks, he converted to Buddhism. In 511, he stopped the use of meat in the palace kitchens.  In 517 he forbade the use of animals in religious sacrifices. He commanded that people should make vegetarian offerings--fruits and vegetables--in place of animals, or make sacrificial animals out of dough.

The emperor sometimes wore a Buddhist monk's robe and performed menial work in a temple for a few days.  He was compassionate towards criminals, and disliked punishing or executing people. The emperor Yuan, also of the Liang Dynasty, began ruling in 552.  He was also impressed by Buddhist teachings.  He especially believed it was a moral duty to help and rescue living beings.  He built a pavilion with a fresh water pond in it.  This pond is the first of its kind in recorded history of the famous "fang-sheng chih" ("ponds for releasing life").  They were usually built by devout Buddhists.  People brought shrimp, fish, turtles and other small water animals from the food merchants, saved them from being killed and eaten, and released them in the ponds. The practice of building these ponds and releasing living creatures in them became popular in China.  Emperor Su-tsung of the T'ang Dynasty ordered the building of eighty-one such ponds.

The San Francisco Weekly says Supreme Master Ching Hai was born Hue Dang Trinh to a Vietnamese mother and an ethnic Chinese father, on May 12, 1950 in a small village in Vietnam.

In 1979, she followed a Buddhist monk whom she met in Germany for three years, but his monastery denied entry to females. She immigrated to India to study different religions.

In 1983, she followed a Vietnamese Buddhist monk in Taiwan named Jing-Xing, who initiated (ordained) her in 1984 as "Thanh Hai". In Mandarin this is Ching Hai, which means "pure ocean."

In 1986, Ching Hai founded the Immeasurable Light Meditation Center and the Way of Sound Contemplation (Quan Yin) in Taiwan. In 1988 she severed any connection with Buddhism and developed the flamboyant style with which she is now associated.

Ching Hai has been jeered at in the Western press as "The Immaterial Girl: Part Buddha, Part Madonna," and as "The Buddhist Martha Stewart ... merchandising mystic from Taiwan."

Ching Hai says, "It’s not that I invented the Quan Yin Method; I just know it. This method has existed since the beginning of time, when the universe was first formed. And it will always exist. It is not a method; it is like the way of the universe, a universal law that we must follow if we want to get back to the Origin, back to our true Self, back to the Kingdom of God or our Buddha nature."

Ching Hai initiates spiritual aspirants into the Quan Yin Method, which she claims is referred to in the Bible and said to be acknowledged repeatedly in the literature of all the world's major spiritual traditions.

Ching Hai accepts people from all backgrounds and religious affiliations for initiation. One does not have to change one's present religion or system of beliefs. The Quan Yin Method requires two and a half hours of meditation per day and adherence to five precepts borrowed from the Five Precepts of Buddhism:

* Refrain from taking life. This precept requires strict adherence to a vegan or lacto-vegetarian diet.

* Refrain from speaking what is not true.

* Refrain from taking what is not offered.

* Refrain from sexual misconduct.

* Refrain from the use of intoxicants.

Misturu Kakimoto of the Japanese Vegetarian Society writes: “A survey that I conducted of 80 Westerners, including Americans, Englishmen and Canadians, revealed that approximately half of them believed that vegetarianism originated in India. Some respondents assumed that vegetarianism had its origin in China or Japan. It seems to me that the reason Westerners associate vegetarianism with China or Japan is Buddhism. It is no wonder, and in fact we could say that Japan used to be a country where vegetarianism prevailed.”

Gishi-wajin-denn, a history book on Japan written in China around the third century BC, says, “There are no cattle, no horses, no tigers, no leopards, no goats and no magpies in that land. The climate is mild and people over there eat fresh vegetables both in summer and in winter.” It also says that “people catch fish and shellfish in the water.” Apparently, the Japanese ate fresh vegetables as well as rice and other cereals as staple foods. They also took some fish and shellfish, but hardly any meat.

Shinto, the prevailing religion at the time, is essentially pantheistic, based upon the worship of the forces of nature. According to writer Steven Rosen, in the early days of Shinto, no animal food was offered in sacrifice because of the injunction against shedding blood in the sacred area of the shrine.

Several hundred years later, Buddhism came to Japan and the prohibition of hunting and fishing permeated the Japanese people. In 7th century Japan, the Empress Jito encouraged “hojo,” or the releasing of captive animals, and established wildlife preserves, where animals could not be hunted.

There are many similarities between the Hindu literature and the Buddhist religions of the Far East. For example, the word Cha’an of the Cha’an school of Chinese Buddhism is Chinese for the Sanskrit word “dhyana”, which means meditation, as does the word “Zen” in Japanese. In 676 AD, then Japanese emperor Tenmu proclaimed an ordinance prohibiting the eating of fish and shellfish as well as animal flesh and fowl. 

During the twelve hundred years from the Nara period to the Meiji restoration in the second half of the 19th century, Japanese people enjoyed vegetarian style meals. They usually ate rice as staple food and beans and vegetables. It was only on special occasions or celebrations that fish was served. Under these circumstances the Japanese people developed a vegetarian cuisine, Shojin Ryori (ryori means cooking or cuisine), which was native to Japan.

The word “shojin” is a Japanese translation of “vyria” in Sanskrit, meaning “to have the goodness and keep away evils.” Buddhist priests of the Tendai-shu and Shingon-shu sects, whose founders studied in China in the ninth century before they founded their respective sects, have handed down vegetarian cooking practices from Chinese temples strictly in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha.

In the 13th century, Dogen, the founder of the Soto sect of Zen, formally established Shojin Ryori or Japanese vegetarian cuisine. Dogen studied and learned the Zen teachings abroad in China, during the Sung Dynasty. He fixed rules aiming to establish the pure vegetarian life as a means of training the mind.

One of the other influences Zen exerted on the Japanese people manifested itself in Sado, the Japanese tea ceremony. It is believed that Esai, founder of the Rinazi-shu sect, introduced tea to Japan and it is the custom for Zen followers to drink tea. The customs preserved in the teaching of Zen lead to a systematic rule called Sado…a Cha-shitsu or tea ceremony room is so constructed as to resemble the Shojin, where the chief priest is at a Buddhist temple.

Food served at a tea ceremony is called Kaiseki in Japanese, which literally means a stone in the breast. Monks practicing asceticism used to press heated stones to their bosom to suppress hunger. Then the word Kaiseki itself came to mean a light meal served at Shojin, and Kaiseki meals had great influence on the Japanese.

The “Temple of the Butchered Cow” can be found in Shimoda, Japan. It was erected shortly after Japan opened its doors to the West in the 1850s. It was erected in honor of the first cow slaughtered in Japan, marking the first violation of the Buddhist tenet against the eating of meat.

An example of a Buddhist vegetarian in the modern age: Kenji Miyazawa, a Japanese writer and poet of the early 20th century, who wrote a novel entitled Vegetarian-Taisai, in which he depicted a fictitious vegetarian congress…His works played an important role in the advocacy of modern vegetarianism. Today, no animal flesh is ever eaten in a Zen Buddhist monastery, and such Buddhist denominations as the Cao Dai sect (which originated in South Vietnam), now boasts some two million followers, all of whom are vegetarian.

The Buddhist teachings are not the only source contributing to the growth of vegetarianism in Japan. in the late 19th century, Dr. Gensai Ishizuka published an academic book in which he advocated vegetarian cooking with an emphasis on brown rice and vegetables. His method is called Seisyoku (Macrobiotics) and is based upon ancient Chinese philosophy such as the principles of Yin and Yang and Taoism. Now some people support his method of preventative medicine. Japanese macrobiotics suggest taking brown rice as half of the whole intake, with vegetables, beans, seaweeds, and a small amount of fish (optional, but not required).

In his 1923 book, The Natural Diet of Man, Adventist physician Dr. John Harvey Kellogg writes: “According to Mori, the Japanese peasant of the interior is almost an exclusive vegetarian. He eats fish once or twice a month and meat once or twice a year.” Dr. Kellogg writes that in 1899, the Emperor of Japan appointed a commission to determine whether it was necessary to add meat to the nation’s diet to improve the people’s strength and stature. The commission concluded that as far as meat was concerned, “the Japanese had always managed to do without it, and that their powers of endurance and their athletic prowess exceeded that of any of the Caucasian races. Japan’s diet stands on a foundation of rice.”

According to Dr. Kellogg: “the rice diet of the Japanese is supplemented by the free use of peanuts, soy beans and greens, which… constitute a wholly sufficient bill of fare. Throughout the Island Empire, rice is largely used, together with buckwheat, barley, wheat and millet. Turnips and radishes, yams and sweet potatoes are frequently used, also cucumbers, pumpkins and squashes. The soy bean is held in high esteem and used largely in the form of miso, a puree prepared from the bean and fermented; also tofu, a sort of cheese; and cho-yu, which is prepared by mixing the pulverized beans with wheat flour, salt, and water and fermenting from one and a half to five years.

“The Chinese peasant lives on essentially the same diet, as do also the Siamese, the Koreans, and most other Oriental peoples. Three-fourths of the world’s population eats so little meat that it cannot be regarded as anything more than an incidental factor in their bill of fare. The countless millions of China,” writes Dr. Kellogg, “are for the most part flesh-abstainers. In fact at least two-thirds of the inhabitants of the world make so little use of flesh that it can hardly be considered an essential part of their dietary…”

Misturu Kakimoto concludes: “Japanese people started eating meat some 150 years ago and now suffer the crippling diseases caused by the excess intake of fat in flesh and the possible hazards from the use of agricultural chemicals and additives. This is persuading them to seek natural and safe food and to adopt once again the traditional Japanese cuisine.”

Part 2:

Was Jesus a vegetarian? 

The Buddha certainly was!  

Dr. Tony Page writes in his 2000 book, Buddhism and Animals:

"From the age of thirty-five, when Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha (the "Awakened One" or the "Enlightened One") until his death at the age of eighty, this remarkable spiritual Master travelled extensively throughout his native India preaching to all who would listen.

"Unlike the social establishment around him, he paid no heed to divisions of caste, class, sex or race.  

"Like another Saviour who was to come five hundred years later, he would sit with criminals and prostitutes, the rich and the poor - anyone who had an ear for his Gospel."

****

Although it is an agnostic moral philosophy (i.e., no recognition of a personal God) a few centuries older than Christianity, Buddhism teaches a consistent ethic of reverence for all life. No wars have ever been waged in the name of Buddhism. Similarly, the act of abortion is explicitly condemned in the Buddhist canonical scriptures. Sir Edwin Arnold’s poetic biography on Siddhartha Gautama, The Light of Asia, caused quite a controversy in Victorian England: centuries before Jesus, an earlier teacher lived “the Christ life.”

The ethical teachings of the Buddha are quite similar to those found in the Gospel of Jesus: One must never be proud nor harbor anger against anyone. He who humbles himself shall be exalted, while the one who exalts himself shall be degraded. Harsh language must never be used against anyone.

Avoid lust, anger and greed. One should not scrutinize the mote in a neighbor’s eye without first noticing the beam in one’s own. One must “turn the other cheek” if attacked or abused. One’s own possessions must be shared with the less fortunate. If a man obtained the whole world and its riches, he still would not be satisfied, nor would this save him.

In 261 BC, the Indian emperor Ashoka witnessed firsthand the innumerable casualties he caused during one of his many military campaigns. His heart was filled with grief. He converted to Buddhism. 19th century scholar and writer H.G. Wells considered Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism one of the most significant events in world history.

Ashoka, formerly a bloody and ruthless emperor, became a remarkably kind and gentle leader. Ashoka established some of the first animal rights laws. He stopped the royal hunt, stopped the sacrifice of animals in his capital city, stopped the killing of animals for food in the royal kitchens, and gave up the eating of meat. 

Ashoka made it illegal to kill many species of animals, such as parrots, ducks, geese, bats, turtles, squirrels, monkeys and rhinos. He forbade the killing of pregnant animals, or animals that were nursing their young. He declared certain days to be “non-killing days,” on which fish could not be caught, nor any other animals killed. He established wells and watering holes, places of rest and hospitals for humans and animals alike.

Ashoka educated his people to have compassion for animals, and to refrain from killing or harming them. He sent missionaries to all the neighboring kingdoms to teach mercy, compassion and nonviolence. Through Ashoka’s patronage, Buddhism was spread all over the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism would eventually reach the rest of Asia; today there are an estimated 300 to 600 million Buddhists worldwide.

****

The first precept of Buddhism is: “Do not kill, but rather preserve and cherish all life.” 

There is an ancient poem, reputed to be the only text ever written by the Buddha himself, which states:

“Let creatures all, all things that live, all beings of whatever kind, see nothing that will bode them ill. May naught of evil come to them.”

The Buddhist emperor Ashoka (268-223 BC) declared in one of his famous Pillar Edicts: “I have enforced the law against killing certain animals..The greatest progress of Righteousness among men comes from the exhortation in favor of non-injury to life and abstention from killing living beings.” 

The Dalai Lama has said, “I do not see any reason why animals should be slaughtered to serve as human diet when there are so many substitutes. After all, man can live without meat.”

****

The 'Jataka Tales' (folk tales) within Mahayana Buddhism Promote Vegetarianism

"In the Buddha's past life as Ajastya, a forest-dwelling ascetic, he sustained himself on a strictly vegan diet.  He lived off 'roots and fruit' plus fresh water. 

(Jatakamala, by Aryasura, translated into English as The Marvelous Companion, Dharma Publishing, Berkeley, CA, 1983, p. 55) 

"When this source of food dried up, Ajastya was not unduly worried, for he knew he could still survive on leaves, water, and grass... The thought clearly did not occur to him to kill and roast a few birds, or snare and eat the occasional rabbit. The animals which lived in the forest with him were perfectly safe - and they admiringly looked up to him as their friend, protector and role model...

"In another life, as the wandering ascetic, Mahabodhi, the Buddha once told a powerful king that - contrary to the king's suspicions - he had not once been guilty of animal murder, nor could his adherence to a virtue ever allow such a thing.  He says:

'In truth, your majesty, I have never killed even a single living creature...

'He who... maintains virtuous action, who cherishes compassion - how could such a person kill any living being?'

(Jatakamala, p. 226)

"...There are, of course, other examples of pro-vegetarianism which could be cited from the Jatakas - but the above should suffice to indicate the general trend of sentiment. So let us turn now to the actual purveyors of meat: the hunters, fishermen and butchers. What does the Buddha have to say about such people?"

****

The Lotus Sutra on the Evil, Animal-Slaughtering Trades

"The Buddha-Path is one of inner purity. Not only killing animals oneself, but even associating closely with those involved in such murder is liable to pollute the spirit of the aspiring Bodhisattva-Mahasattva ("Great Enlightenment Being").  The Buddha thus advises his followers to keep well clear of animal abusers:

"'They [Bodhisattvas] should not be closely associated with... persons engaged in raising pigs, sheep, chickens or dogs, or of those who engage in hunting or fishing or other evil activities.'  

(The Lotus Sutra, translation by Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, New York, 1993, p. 197)

"Obviously the breeding activities referred to here are entered into, not to benefit the animals, but to swell the coffers of those who rear and sell the animals. Ultimately, such persons are as misguided and worthy of condemnation as the hunters and fishermen who directly kill the creatures unfortunate enough to fall into their hans or nets.

"The Buddha was ever a realist, and whilst not denying the possibility that such animal-exploiting persons could reform, he id not hold out inordinate hope in this regard.  He tells his followers in the Lotus Sutra:

'If such persons at times come to one, then one may preach..., but one should expect nothing from it.'" (Lotus Sutra, p. 197)

Dr. Tony Page merely comments: 

"Those of us who have vainly tried to speak sweet reason to vivisectors (experimenting upon animals) and other animal molesters will ruefully acknowledge how accurate the Buddha was!"

Dr. Page continues:

"...In the same section of the scripture, the Buddha reiterates the theme of shunning those who harm animals:

'Also he [the Bodhisattva] must not associate with slaughterers or flesh-carvers, those who hunt animals or catch fish, or kill or do harm for profit.  Those who peddle meat for a living or display women and sell their favors - all persons such as this one should never associate with.' (Lotus Sutra, p. 199)

"It is interesting to note that in the Buddha's eyes, those who butcher animals and sell their meat are as dissolute and depraved as pimps, who exploit women and sell sex.  Both types of person are 'doing harm for profit.'  Yet sadly, in today's upside-down world, even more so than in the Buddha's time - profit is worshipped as God.

"Fortunately,  however, there is a counter-current developing, and increasing numbers of people are saying 'No!' to a heartless capitalist system that has neither respect for animal life nor concern for oppressed men, women and children.  It is because the Buddha sees the identity of depraved inner values as shared between animal abusers and pimps - both of whom exploit without mercy - that the two groups are rightfully bracketed together.

"So important is this message of condemnation of animal abuse, that the Buddha repeats it at the very end of the scripture. Speaking of the accomplished Bodhisattva, he tells of how such a person could never take pleasure from mixing with those who pursue evil, animal-abusing professions:

'They [Bodhisattvas] will take no pleasure in associating with... those engaged in evil occupations such as butchers, raisers of pigs, sheep, chickens or dogs, hunters, or those who offer women's charms for sale.' (Lotus Sutra, p. 323)

"If it is wrong to be intimate with hunters and butchers, how much more wrong must it be to finance their work by buying their grisly, blood-stained 'products'! As we shall now see, eating meat - and thus being part of the cold, compassionless system of animal exploitation - is utterly condemned by the Buddha in some of the most important Mahayana scriptures."

****

The Buddha Utterly Condemns Meat-Eating

"The primary objection to eating animals is that it involves the killing of those creatures. Non-killing is the minimum that can be expected of an aspirant Bodhisattva and is the very first of the Buddhist precepts or prohibitions. The Buddha states in the Brahmajala Sutra:

'Disciples of the Buddha, should you yourself kill, willfully cause another to kill, encourage someone to kill, extol killing, take pleasure seeing killing take place, deliberately wish someone dead, intentionally cause death, supply the instruments or the means for killing, cut off a life even when sanctioned by law, that is, participate in any way in killing, you are committing a serious offense warranting exclusion from the sangha (association or community).

'Pray, do not intentionally kill anything whatsoever which has life.  As a Bodhisattva, awaken within yourself a heart that is unending in its mercy and compassion, respect and dutifulness, and use your skillful means to help and protect all sentient beings.'

(The Scripture of Brahma's Net, in Buddhist Writings, translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, OBC, Shasta Abbey, CA, 1994, pp. 127-28)

'Disciples of the Buddha, should you yourself willingly and knowingly eat flesh, you defile yourself... Pray, let us not eat any flesh or meat whatsoever coming from living beings. Anyone who eats flesh is cutting himself off from the great seed of his own merciful and compassionate nature, for which all sentient beings will reject him and flee from him when they see him acting so.  This is why all Bodhisattvas should abstain from eating the flesh of any and all sentient beings. Someone who eats flesh is defiling himself beyond measure...'

(The Scripture of Brahma's Net, in Buddhist Writings, translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, OBC, Shasta Abbey, CA, 1994, p. 138)

According to Dr. Tony Page:

"The fascinating Lankavatara Sutra is perhaps the most insistent of all the Buddhist scriptures that meat-eating is to be condemned. There is a whole chapter (Chapter Eight) in the Lankavatara devoted to this subject:

'...wherever there are living beings, let people cherish the thought of kinship with them, and, thinking that all beings are [one's] child, let them refrain from eating meat. So with Bodhisattvas whose nature is compassion, meat is to be avoided by him.  Even in exceptional cases, it is not of a Bodhisattva of good standing to eat meat...

'For fear of causing terror to living beings... let the Bodhisattva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh... let the Bodhisattva, who is disciplining himself to abide in great compassion, because of its terrifying living beings, refrain from eating meat...

'...let the Bodhisattva, whose nature is pity and who regards all beings as his only child...refrain from eating meat...'

(The Lankavatara Sutra, translated by Dr. D.T. Suzuki, Prajna Press, Boulder, CO, 1978, pp. 212-216)

Dr. Tony Page comments:  

"...Buddhism sees all beings as related to one another - not just in a figurative sense, but quite literally: since beginningless time, we have been reincarnating into different families, in different forms, so that there is now scarcely any person or animal in the world who is not related to us in some degree of kinship. To kill an animal and eat its meat is thus tantamount to slaughtering and devouring one's own relatives...

"Thus by catching and killing fish, rearing and slaughtering chickens, breeding and butchering cattle, etc., we are... murdering a potential Buddha of days to come... one should not stretch out one's hand for the sliced-off tissues of a murdered fellow being. The Buddha appeals here to compassion - pure and simple...

"Some persons argue that eating meat is permissible since one has not done the killing oneself. There is a name for such a stance: hypocrisy! The Buddha was well aware that by sponsoring the meat-trade through eating meat we are implicated in the killing of animals.  He says in the Lankavatara Sutra:  

'If meat is not eaten by anybody, there will be no destroyer of life.'

(The Lankavatara Sutra, translated by Dr. D.T. Suzuki, Prajna Press, Boulder, CO, 1978, p. 217)

"The Buddha firmly states that he does not permit any meat-eating, nor will he at any time in the future:

"It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when [the animal] was not killed by himself, when he did not order others to kill it, when it was not specifically meant for him...there may be some unwitted people in the future time, who... under the influence of the thirst for [meat]-taste, they will string together in various ways some sophistic arguments to defend meat-eating... meat-eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit, I will not permit."

(The Lankavatara Sutra, translated by Dr. D.T. Suzuki, Prajna Press, Boulder, CO, 1978, p. 217-219)

****

An exchange between one of the Buddha's disciples, Kasyapa, and the Buddha found in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra:

"O World-honoured One! Why is it that the Tathagata [the Buddha] does not allow us to take flesh?"

"O good man! One who takes flesh kills the seed of great compassion."

(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, p. 91)

Dr. Tony Page comments:  

"The Buddha's primary objection to eating meat, it is plain, is that such a practice is incompatible with the cultivation of compassion.  And the wise nurturing of that seed of compassion, which lies buried in all of us, is nothing less than the primary purpose of Buddhism (at least, according to the Mahayana).  How dreadful meat-eating must be in the Buddha's eyes, then, if it strikes at the very heart of what his Dharma (way of life) embodies and comprises - boundless all-wise compassion...

"One of the pre-eminent aims of Buddhism is to purify one's heart. It is evident from the above words that by eating or advocating meat one is forsaking what is pure and committing a crime against Dharma.  From a Buddhist point of view, that is a most serious offense...when Kasyapa asks what a Buddhist should do if offered a meal which contains meat. Is it permissible to eat such a meal and yet remain pure? Kasyapa wonders. The Buddha's reply is unambiguous:

"Use water, wash off the meat [from the plate], and then take it [the rest of the meal]... If one sees that there is much meat, one must not accept such a meal. One must never take the meat itself. One who takes it infringes the rule. I now set this rule of segregating one's own self from taking meat."

(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, p. 94)

The Buddhist precepts for moral living include prohibitions not to slander others nor drink alcohol. The Buddha himself refers to the vinaya [monastic] rules in the sutras of Mahayana Buddhism. Celibacy, known in the Hindu religious tradition as well as in Buddhism (in Sanskrit) as bramacharya, is referred to by Dr. Page as "the path of holiness" or "divine faring."  

Dr. Page comments:  

"Some Buddhists have argued that a monk should accept and eat whatever food is offered - but this is clearly rejected by the Buddha here, who states that if there is a lot of meat on a preferred dish, the whole meal should be refused. And if there is only a small amount of meat with the rest of the food - then the meat must be washed clean away before the other food can be touched.  It could not be more apparent how defiling and impure meat was in the Buddha's eyes.

"Not only meat is prohibited by the Buddha, but likewise the keeping of animals or the attending of animal 'shows' or fights. Speaking of what is not permissible for his brethren (and nuns), he says:

"One does not keep the elephant, horse, vehicle, cow, sheep, camel, donkey, hen, dog, monkey, peacock, parrot... jackal, wolf, cat, raccoon, dog, wild boar, and pig... nor does he enjoy himself looking at the fights of elephants, horses, vehicles, soldiers, men, women, cows, sheep, cocks, pheasants, parrots, etc. He does not look at--- the fights of lions and elephants... and all kind of amusements."

(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, pp. 284-85)

****

According to Dr. Tony Page, Mahayana Buddhism is nearly abolitionist when it comes to animal exploitation. Dr. Page notes that of the sixteen practices listed in the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures as "evil," thirteen of them concern the exploitation of animals:

1. keeping, feeding, and fattening sheep for profit and sale.

2. buying and killing sheep for profit.

3. raising, fattening and selling pigs for profit.

4. buying and killing pigs for profit.

5. raising , fattening and selling calves for profit.

6. buying and killing calves for profit.

7. raising hens for profit and selling them when fully grown.

8. buying hens for profit and killing them.

9. fishing,

10. hunting.

11. selling fish.

12. catching birds by net.

13. charming snakes.

(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, p. 719)

"It is quite obvious from the above," insists Dr. Page, "that the Buddha was not only opposed to meat-eating, but any form of gross-animal exploitation (including circuses or 'animal entertainments' - of which snake-charming is just one representative example).

"The present writer also knows of no passage in the Sutras which portrays the Buddha as riding around on a horse or even a donkey (after his gaining of enlightenment). He seems to have walked everywhere.  Is this not itself testimony to his respect for animals?

"The Buddha perceptively brought together the fields of 'human rights' and 'animal rights.' The Buddhist followers were strictly enjoined not to traffic in free human beings or slaves of either gender, nor to traffic in animals or their products.  To the Buddha, no distinction should be made between brutal human exploitation and that of animals. 

"Of course the mindset which can sanction and perform abuse to one species of being is liable to do the same to another."

(The Scripture of Brahma's Net, in Buddhist Writings, translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, OBC, Shasta Abbey, CA, 1994, p. 144)

****

Dr. Page claims the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures support veganism:

"...it could be argued that the Buddha did not expect all Buddhists to give up all animal-products overnight - but to move toward that goal gradually. He himself says in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra: 

"The Tathagata... prohibits by gradual steps and not at a time."

(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, p. 95)

"By the same token," comments Dr. Page, "it seems that, although many scriptures sanction the use of dairy products, the... goal was that of veganism."

In the Surangama Sutra we read:

"How... can you eat the flesh of living beings and so pretend to be my disciple?...

"All bhiksus [monks] who live purely and all Bodhisattvas always refrain even from walking on the grass; how can they agree to uproot it? How then can those who practice great compassion feed on the flesh and blood of living beings? If bhiksus do not wear garments made of silk, boots of local leather and furs, and refrain from consuming milk, cream and butter, they will really be liberated from the worldly...

"This teaching of mine is that of the Buddha whereas any other is that of evil demons."

(The Surangama Sutra, translated by Lu K'uan Yu, B.I. Publications, Bombay, India, 19789, pp. 153-154)

In the January 2003 issue of Live and Let Live, a pro-life / animal rights/ libertarian 'zine, James Dawson, raised Catholic and now a Theravadin Buddhist, comments: 

"While I personally consider veganism an ethically superior diet to ovo and/or lacto vegetarianism, and as much as discipline and circumstances allow, try to move toward it as much as I can, Dr. Page's claim that the Buddha advocated veganism, to my mind is really stretching it. This isn't to say the scriptural evidence is nonexistent, but just very thin. However, even this might be worth considering further."

Dr. Page responds:  

"...on the substantive issue regarding veganism: yes, the scriptural evidence for the Buddha's advocating veganism is very slim, that is true; amongst the Mahayana sutras, it is mainly to be found in the Surangama Sutra. But there is a lot of Mahayana sutric insistence on vegetarianism. 

"I still believe that the Pali suttas (the canonical scriptures of Theravada Buddhism) clearly indicate great reservations about the eating of meat: clearly it was something that was not lightly to be undertaken. The passsages which I quote seem pretty clear to me that the Buddha was urging against meat consumption for monks. 

"And in any case, as a Mahayanist, I believe that whatever the Buddha said in the Pali suttas (or agamas) is superseded by the more advanced teachings of the Mahayana (yes, James is right that I do regard Mahayana as a step forward within the Buddha's doctrines...).

Veganism would certainly be a logical conclusion of ahimsa (nonviolence toward humans and animals alike) within Buddhism. Roshi Philip Kapleau writes in his 1983 book, A Buddhist Case for Vegetarianism that the Buddha was: 

"...a person so sensitive to the sufferings of all living beings that he would not drink milk from a cow during the first ten days after its calf was born..."

(A Buddhist Case for Vegetarianism, Roshi Philip Kapleau, Rider, London, 1983, pp. 24-25)

****

According to Dr. Page:  "The vital Buddhist practices of meditation and spiritual study should not be used as a means of cutting ourselves off from empathy with others, but for bringing us closer to them. As the Buddhist writer Fred Eppsteiner puts it in the stimulating book, The Path of Compassion - Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism:

'No one would disagree that the 'inner' teachings and practices which lead to self-trnsformation and emancipation are at the core of Buddhism. But if the insights and awareness these practices help develop are not applied throughout daily life - to our work, our relationships, and our responses to crises near at hand and around the globe - then 'selfishness' is a euphemism for selfishness, and detachment an excuse for indifference.'

"One 'crisis near at hand' is the ecological destruction of our world, currently proceeding at break-neck speed. This includes the decimation of our forests and their dependent creatures, and the abuse and slaughter every year of millions of animals for unnecessary 'food' and in utterly useless 'biomedical' research' (chimpanzees, for instance, are at risk of eventual extinction, if the current trend of laboratory exploitation of them worldwide is not halted - see Professor Vernon Reynolds' valuable and informative book, Poor Model Man...)

"The karma which is being generated through this truly insensate obsession with Profit and material Power will sooner or later hit back at the world in its entirety, complicit as it is in mass violationism of the law of Compassion - and then all will be the losers, humans and animals alike.

"The Buddha spent his entire life (or lives) speaking out against injustice, and pointing to the path of fairness and kindliness which it is incumbent upon us to take in our daily existence. Animals are included n this path.  How, then, can we today - when the scale of the torment, the terrorizing and slaying of animals is far greater than during Shakymuni Buddha's time - remain seated in silence?"

According to Dr. Page: 

"The key Buddhist concepts for appropriate campaigning are peacefulness, friendliness (metta or maitri) and mindfulness (sati, smriti) - friendliness towards all living beings and mindfulness of one's own inner reactions when face to face with persons of whose views one does not approve...

"Leafleting or holding stalls in the streets is extremely valuable for spreading the truth. From a Buddhist point of view, such campaigns should be conducted peacefully, intelligently, informedly and without hatred or violence against any person... one's actions should be motivated by compassion and a genuine wish to improve the world...

"Speaking to the public with civility and friendliness is not only consonant with all Buddhist principles, but is also likely to create a more favorable impression and thus help to win over members of the public who may not otherwise have been one one's side...for the sake of the voiceless animals."

The Hindu scriptures describe the sage Narada teaching a hunter named Mrigari compassion for all creatures. Mrigari killed animals not because his survival depended upon it, but merely for the sadistic pleasure of tormenting other living entitities. Narada taught Mrigari to renounce hunting as well as the eating of meat.  During the late 1980s, Govinda's Vegetarian Restaurant in San Diego, CA was a regular meeting place for members of San Diego Animal Advocates. Dr. Tony Page similarly says Buddhism supports campaigning for animal rights:

"In the Bhadrakalpika Sutra, the Buddha speaks of the wisdom (his own word) of liberating animals who are being held in captivity. He tells of how the great lion Subuddhi (the very name links him to the Buddha), freed five hundred rabbits and other wild animals who had been caught in a trap. Subuddhi turns them loose and teaches them Dharma.

"Even the scriptures of the more conservative Theravada School of Buddhism applaud animal liberation. In the Kutadanta Sutta, for example, the Buddha tells the brahmin priest, Kutadanta, of how he (the Buddha) had in an earlier life caused a king to renounce the practice of animal sacrifice.  Inspired by this story, Kutadanta resolves to liberate the thousands of animals who are currently being held captive in readiness for a sacrifice to be celebrated by himself and hundreds of other brahmins.

"Kudanta says to the Buddha:

'...I set free the seven hundred bulls, seven hundred bullocks, seven hundred heifers, seven hundred he-goats, and seven hundred rams. I grant them life, let them be fed with green grass and given cool water to drink, and let cool breezes play upon them.'

"Kudanta progresses from animal-slaughterer to animal liberator, through the animal-friendly words of the Buddha... If there be any vestige of doubt in the reader's mind as to whether it is acceptable for a Buddhist to intervene at a scene of animal abuse - or even intended animal abuse - let the reader onsider the following precept promulgated by the Buddha in the Brahmajala Sutra:

'Disciples of the Buddha, you should willingly and with compassion carry out the work of setting sentient creatures free...

'Should you see a worldly person intent on killing an animal, attempt by appropriate means to rescue or protect it and to free it from its misery.  

'We must always give the Precepts of the Bodhisattvas in order to bring all sentient beings to the Other Shore.'

Dr. Tony Page concludes: 

"Subuddhi's compassion act was not denounced or condemned by the Buddha. Rather, it was praised. Inaction is not an option."

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