Thursday, December 03, 2009

Buddhists and Meat

Here is an interesting article on Buddhism and eating meat. Reading a new collection of Buddhist scriptures right now, I was a bit surprised to find that hunters wind up in a sort of hell. I knew a lot of Buddhists are vegetarian, but not that killing animals is an offense in Buddhism.

Of course, it makes sense because nonviolence/ahimsa towards animals is an ideal in Hinduism, and especially Jainism, so it would have carried over to Buddhism. The Greeks had various philosophers who were vegetarians- Pythagoras didn't eat meat, and Socrates probably didn't either. Vegetarianism sort of died out for a time in the Christian West however. In Judeo-Christianity, animals are on earth for man's use, although it's not always clear what that entails. However, there are animal sacrifices made to God. The same happens in Islam, of course, as Muslims recently celebrated the feast of the sacrifice. But, the Buddhist writings are clear about animal killing as a sin, which begs the question- can Buddhists eat meat that is provided for them? This is especially interesting because monks are supposed to live off alms and charity- what do they do when someone donates meat?

The article seems to suggest they would be okay with eating meat in such a situation. Apparently, Gautama Buddha did eat meat on occasion. His official word to his monks:
"Monks, I allow you fish and meat that are quite pure in three respects: if they are not seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk. But, you should not knowingly make use of meat killed on purpose for you." [2]
So, if you go to the store and buy meat, is that acceptable? It was not killed on purpose for you- and actually in many cultures that still happens- you have to pay someone to slaughter the animal for you. In industrial cultures, of course, all responsibility has been removed- the meat shows up as if by magic. Most of us don't see, hear, or suspect the animal was killed for us.


The Pagan Temple said...

Another way of looking at it is in pre-historic times, it's said that people might have taken on the aspects of the animals they ate in some cases, as well as by wearing their fur. I don't think this is by any means a proven fact, just a theory, to explain why certain early drawings of what were presumably deities with deer antlers might have ended up on cave walls. It might have been a way of getting closer to the animals in order to have a more successful hunt. It involved from there-supposedly-to where shamans magically invoked an animal's spirit in order to acquire the strength of a bear, for example, or the cunning of a wolf, or whatever.

So this thing could have evolved from something similar to that, into a belief that eating the flesh of an animal might doom you to be reborn as that same kind of animal, and doomed to suffer the same kind of life.

gregvw said...

If I had to pick one thing, it was this item during my phase of religious curiosity that made me decide Buddhism wasn't for me.

On the contrary, I am convinced humanity would have never made it to where we are without meat.

Rufus said...

Patrick: It's hard to say. I do get the sense that the idea of sacrificing animals to the gods predates later ideas of human sacrifice for collective vices, as in the Aztec and Christian religions. In that case, it's the reverse- the sacrifice takes on the characteristics of those doing the sacrificing. I can't say what, if anything, that has to do with meat eating however.

Greg: Yeah, we have a naturopath friend who generally says that too much red meat is bad for you, but no meat at all is not conducive with good health.