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Animals: why did the Buddha remain silent?

I know there have been discussions about vegetarianism, but my question is not exactly that.

I know that:

  • The Buddha allowed eating meat for monks, if it is clear that the animal was not killed on purpose (Majjhima Nikaya 55.5), especially to provide the meal. The main premise behind the three-fold rule is to graciously accept what one receives in your bowl when going for alms round. This rule was meant and spoken to monks and nuns, not to lay people. “Beggars can’t be choosers” in modern terms. The Buddha’s diet was more likely a vegetarian diet who ate meat “out of pity” on rare occasions.
  • On various occasions, the Buddha denounced the professions of fisherman and fish merchant as well as butcher. These professions are not part of a just livelihood (fifth of the eight stages of the Eightfold Path), nor is the trade in arms, intoxicants (alcohol) and the trafficking of living beings, human or animal. The ahimsa therefore covers for the laics the idea of not killing animals as well.
  • The Buddha banned the religious sacrifice of animals.

Knowing this, I don’t understand why he didn’t ban meat from the laics, or at least recommend a reduction in consumption?

We can clearly see that the Buddha considers meat consumption to be at least an indirect violation of the first precept of not killing, since he forbids monks to eat meat killed for them. Why does he allow meat that has not been directly killed for the monk? I have the impression that the Buddha considers that if the relationship of evil is not directly causal then it is less serious (that is why he allows the monk to eat meat that has not been directly killed for him). This can be understood: kamma is the intention and the one who eats meat doesn’t intend to hurt an animal even if that’s what he causes more or less directly by supporting the butcher’s market. But then, why not at least say to limit your meat intake?

When we see the horrors of the meat and dairy industry, I don’t understand why the Buddha was silent on this subject. Even more if we consider that he was omniscient, so he saw all the suffering that this industry has inflicted, is inflicting, and will inflict in the future.

I understand all the less this silence precisely because, contrary to the Abrahamic religions, there is a form of equality between man and animal in Buddhism in the sense that each man can be reborn as an animal within samsara, and that each animal is surely a human being in the making. Animals are beings in their own right, not resources that man can dispose of as he pleases (Genesis 9:2-3).

I understand the logical reasoning that the Buddha must have had:

  • kamma is intention.
  • the one who eats meat has no intention of hurting a sentient being.
  • eating meat is still indirectly causing the death of the animal, so he forbids consumption in the first degree (if the animal was killed directly for us).

I understand that every action creates suffering, that you have to put an arbitrary limit somewhere so that you don’t end up wondering how not to hurt the bacteria? But even if we eat meat that hasn’t been killed directly for us, we are supporting a gigantic industry of suffering by doing so; in his compassion, wisdom, and possibly omniscience, I really don’t understand his silence, he could have at least asked us to reduce our consumption, I don’t know. I find it a bit easy to clear oneself because the animal was not slaughtered for us personally.

So:

Is the ethics of the dhamma incomplete?

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I think the Buddha’s rule was right for his time and place. He focused on the actual cause of animal suffering, which were the professions that actually kill animals. If everyone followed that rule, then society would have to be vegetarian. Instead of focusing on the secondary issue of diet, he went to the actual issue, killing animals. A Buddhist who followed the Dharma seriously in ancient Indian society probably did not eat much meat since he could not kill an animal himself or pay someone to kill an animal for them. They would only be able to eat meat that was already killed for general uses. Seeing as how average persons in the ancient world had much less chances to eat meat in the first place, following the Buddha’s rules here would make one mostly vegetarian in practice.

Regarding the modern world, I am of the opinion that paying for meat in today’s modern capitalist system breaks at least the spirit if not the letter of the Buddha’s injunction not to eat meat that was killed for you. Since you are a general consumer and your paying for meat sends a price signal to those companies to keep up production, you are then responsible for animal death, even if that signal is a very small one in comparison to the entire market demand. This systematic response to consumer demand did not really exist in the ancient world.

Not only that, but since it is so easy and painless to be vegetarian these days, then it’s just pretty obvious what the most compassionate option is for me.

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Take vegetables as an example. Even more so let’s take the production of organic vegetables. The production of these vegetables supports the milk industry because that is where they get their manure from. This is an integral part of their respective business model. The milk industry is a gigantic industry of suffering too. So in the world that I live in (i.e 21st century UK where businesses are tightly integrated and the system is capitalism) I have very little option but to support these gigantic industries of suffering. It hurts to know that even our organic vegetables are not ‘vegan’, but there it is. Even if we concede that the Buddha was omniscient in the way you describe, I guess he had to draw the line somewhere.

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It’s a false argument, I’m not here to defend veganism, but the vegans never claim that the vegetable industry doesn’t cause suffering (there’s always some form of animal exploitation involved as you said), just that it causes drastically less suffering than the meat and milk industries, which is a fact.

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It’s not an argument. I’m sorry if it appeared to you as if it was one. I was just responding to your thought that “we are supporting a gigantic industry of suffering by doing so (eating meat)”. I was merely pointing out that this is the case if one persists in being.

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Research question: Why did the Buddha remain silent?
Background: The Buddha rejected Devadatta’s demand that monks and nuns should be strict vegetarians
Research type: Interventional Trial

Methodology:

  1. Whip up the emotions of the public against Meat eating
  2. Ban the slaughter of Cows

Results

  1. What to do with the unproductive cattle?
  2. What to do about the unemployed humans? Won’t those who want to eat Meat just switch to alternative animals? Maybe even Bats ( :grimacing:)
  3. What to do about the misuse of the law to settle scores, excuse vigilante attacks, etc…?
  4. Where will the money come from?

Conclusion
Better to remain silent than to invite the unintended consequences of ill planned mass intervention.

:pray:

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Well, the Buddha was not that silent about this. T
The answer is in Āmagaṇdhasutta Snp 2.2.

Na macchamaṃsānamanāsakattaṃ,
Na naggiyaṃ na muṇḍiyaṃ jaṭājallaṃ;
Kharājināni nāggihuttassupasevanā,
Ye vāpi loke amarā bahū tapā;
Mantāhutī yaññamutūpasevanā,
Sodhenti maccaṃ avitiṇṇakaṅkhaṃ.
Not from fish and flesh tasting and not by nudity,
not by the plucking of head-hairs,
nor growing of matted locks,
not by the smearing of the ashes of the dead,
not wearing abrasive skins,
not following sacrificial fires,
or worldly austerities for gaining immortality,
nor mantras, nor offerings,
oblations, seasons’ services
can purify a mortal still overcome by doubt.

Sotesu gutto viditindriyo care,
Dhamme ṭhito ajjavamaddave rato;
Saṅgātigo sabbadukkhappahīno,
Na lippati diṭṭhasutesu dhīro
Who lives with sense-streams guarded, well-aware,
in the Dharma firm, enjoying gently rectitude,
beyond attachments gone, all dukkha left behind,
that wise one’s unsullied by the seen and the heard.

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As I see it there are two main reasons for the ‘silence of the Buddha’ regarding lay people and meat consumption:

Mostly, because Buddhism was originally a ‘bhikku-centric’ practice. The center of original Buddhism was liberation, and liberation was mostly for monastics (and gifted lay people), but not for ‘normal’ lay people. The Buddha apparently didn’t see himself as ‘the savior of the world’ but more the savior of people who sought liberation. So, generally to recommend ahimsa, yes. Telling laypeople how to live their life, no.

Secondly, I would argue that Buddhism does not see samsara as a symmetrical ladder where you go up to the heavens and then down again to the human realm and the animals. It’s fundamentally an anthropocentric practice - gods and animals are ‘decorative’ necessities for the soteriology, but we don’t find texts (maybe exceptions?) where the Buddha points to a dog and says “this friends, was once the mother of so-and-so”. Obviously, the Jatakas follow this logic, and abstract samsara suttas, but not the suttas in general and not in concrete animal-cases.

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Possibly belief in Kamma was common at that time hence such emphasis was not needed. Modern vegetarianism or veganism seems to be more linked to elitism than faith or genuine spiritual knowledge.

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Here are some thoughts:

  • Meat was probably a luxury at the time of the Buddha, not something widely available. So most people would have been vegetarian anyway. E.g. an3.39:

“While the bondservants, workers, and staff in other houses are given rough gruel with pickles to eat, in my father’s house they eat fine rice with meat.”

[The Buddha gives this is as an example of how pampered was growing up; i.e. only the extremely wealthy could provide common people with meat]

  • If everyone followed the first precept, there would be very little meat available. Perhaps only from animals that died of old age or animals who died accidentally?

  • In times of drought and famine, animals might be the only source of calories available. From a purely practical standpoint re. the survival of the sangha, it might be the lesser evil to not ban meat.

  • Animal agriculture didn’t exist at the time of the Buddha as it does now; i.e. the industrial scale exploitation of animals wasn’t something the Buddha could take any position on, so he didn’t.

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Yes, you’re right. And the fact we still find so much meat around in Buddhist communities just tells us how little the individuals in these are putting effort in taking seriously the Buddha’s advice. :man_shrugging:

I think this means not to sell meat, but doesn’t necessarily address buying meat.

This has some parallel to the non-Buddhist Indian way of dealing with it. The outcast candalas were living outside of the normal community and would earn money also with goods and services that were considered impure, for example selling meat. Some of them became quite well-off. So people got their meat, but they still didn’t like the occupation.

Is that so different from today? People like their chicken masala, but processing chicken is not really a dream job.

At least in Sanskrit vaṇijyā is the business of a merchant.

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Maybe, but not necessarily. It’s not symmetrical and there are even today many examples for this.
A company that produces guns is evil, but someone (in the US) who buys a gun for protection is a concerned citizen.
Or think of ‘dirty’ trades like money lending in history. Jews were considered evil for doing that, but to borrow money was ok.
So we can’t conclude from selling a product that was considered unwholesome that the purchase was considered bad as well. This has to be shown within the context of the culture.

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There are no clear cut margins to what is a being? Are plants and microbs sentient? What is kamma, what drives the extent of a kamma vipāka?
Deciding what is morally good or bad is also counts with those questions.
Killing an animal and buying meat is not the same thing. If a man slaughters and sells meat he collects a lots of bad deeds. Commentaries trying to give a better explaination to the sutta.

sattavaṇijjā ti manussavikkayo.
sattavaṇijjā means selling humans (as slaves)
maṃsavaṇijjā ti sūkaramigādayo posetvā tesaṃ vikkayo.
maṃsavaṇijjā means raising and selling animals like pigs and deers.

It is not the same when you sell meat and animals. Each and every being in the world has a right to live. If you kill an animal you complete a kammapatha and collect a bad deed that can bring you a rebirth in the hell, the least short lifespan, sickness, etc as a kammic result.
Selling meat will not complete a kammapatha resulting bad rebirth. Buddhism does not teach you to be an extremist.

When Devadatta asked for five practices, he asked below,

For as long as life lasts, let them not eat fish and flesh; whoever should eat fish and flesh, sin would besmirch him.

The Buddha denied it saying,

Fish and flesh are pure in respect of three points: if they are not seen, heard or suspected (to have been killed on purpose for him).”

And MN 55 explains this better.

Eat or not that is your choice, but you should have a proper understanding about deeds.

Arguing further is not useful because anything beyond is just concepts and theories. That is why this debate never ends. Steping into this debate is a wrong choice.

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There should also be some consideration into the intention of buying meat. If someone is buying meat to feed their family protein and they did not cause the death of the animal in question, i.e. The animal was already butchered at the time of purchase, then it becomes very grey on the kammic connection. In low-income areas meat provides dense proteins, fats, and vitamins that can become expensive if you go the vegetarian route, and even more so if you go vegan. Animals can also process foods we cannot, such as grass, and increase our food security by giving us access to milk and meat.

If you also consider today’s value chains that further dilute our direct intentional actions then it becomes even more difficult to determine what it means to be a “clean” livelihood or purchase. Every method of farming actively kills animals if you engage in traditional or modern practices. You can get by as a small scale farmer without actively killing even though it’s bad for your crops (and possibly your family’s health), but if you buy food these days animals were most certainly killed to increase crop yield.

Overall I find it to be too much of a gray area and so I’ll just follow traditional Theravada Buddhist advice on eating meat and try to keep the first precept as according to the Vinaya-not killing, asking for an animal to be killed, or watch/hear an animal be killed- so that I won’t be the direct cause of an animals death. But it’s worth noting that attaching too much to meat isn’t the wisest thing either. You shouldn’t be upset if there is no meat available. Otherwise I just get a headache splitting hairs and trying to find which shade of gray to draw the line at. I’m sure the Buddha understood all this and that’s why the guidelines are drawn where they are, even if we don’t understand it very clearly.

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I read somewhere a theory according to which Buddhism did not consider plants as sentient beings, part of saṃsāra, because although they are alive they do not have the 5 khandhas and especially they do not have consciousness (viññāṇa) although they have perception (saññā). A sunflower perceives the sun and reacts by turning towards it but it is not conscious of its perception, it has no metacognition. I found this idea interesting but I don’t know how true it is since Buddhism seems to define consciousness more as what allows discrimination than as what allows metacognition.

:pray:

Well, there are many examples like this where plants reacts to the external changes. But still in Buddist view there is no doubt plants are not sentient.
The Buddha did not say this directly, but there is is phrase in vinaya that say plants are not sentient indirectly.

jīvasaññino hi, moghapurisā, manussā rukkhasmiṃ
Foolish men, people regard trees as conscious.
People regard them as conscious, but they are not.

Perchasing meat is similar to purchasing anything else or not?
Answering that with direct evidence from EBTs is not possible. But there are stories in commentaries as I remember. Someting like: Sīha senāpati (commander) gave an alms using purchased meat.

But, if someone makes a living by selling meat, that may lead him to a bad rebirth. When one is selling meat and spending much time with meat and blood his mind works with related things. Which may result a rebirth in a lower realm. So one can consider that as a bad way of living.
If someone argues That animals are slaughtered because we buy them. And buying meat encourages killing.
It is an unsolvable riddle. But you cannot stop all the killing, you are trying the impossible. Eating meat does not making a kammapatha related to killing. So eating is not a problem. But the killing is.

The impossible
The Buddha wonders whether it is possible to rule justly, without violence. Māra appears and encourages the Buddha to purse such a path (SN4.20.

About plants:
I was just stating few never ending debates.

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As long as you know it! :rofl:

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