It isn’t a simple issue. It is often forgotten that the harvesting of vegetables, you are killing vegetables, insects by the billions, even bystander animals etc.
While I agree killing a fly isn’t as bad as killing a cow, and intentionally killing a fly vs unintentionally killing a fly is a different act, it all still involves killing in some capacity. That is the problem with the condition of our existence. What we should be discussing here, I believe, is not whether we should be vegetarian or not (the Buddha was pretty clear he did not require that of anyone), but how we manage to keep the killing to a minimum and make skillful choices for us as individuals.
But yes, I too will be very happy when the cultured meat comes out.
Yeah, but just a reminder, less insects and rodents are killed growing plants directly for humans because overall less plants need to be grown. With meat you have to grow a heck of a lot more plants to feed those animals and then on top of all that extra insect and rodent killing there is the horror of killing all those billions of raised farm animals.
I guess what I am pointing out is the unfortunate common denominators in all of that is killing/feeding. We can argue about the best ways to do things, but let’s not pretend that by eating vegetables only, we are opting out of that process somehow. We are just being selective about how we do it. The same can be done as a meat eater. Saying anything else about the process from a Dhamma perspective essentially involves judging people based on their diet which is where most debates about vegetarianism on online forums seem to lead (Suttacentral is thankfully better than most!).
I thought of something else of interest. I believe Ajahn Chah used to say that being vegetarian can be good kamma, if your intention is to reduce killing and be kind to animals. Or it can be neutral kamma, for example if you want to eat a healthy diet. Or it can actually be negative kamma, if you adopt a self-righteous attitude, considering yourself superior to others because of your vegetarianism.
"As the largest land-use system on Earth, the livestock sector occupies 30% of the world’s ice-free surface… "
“Globally, livestock consumed ∼4.7 billion tons of feed biomass in 2000, with ruminants consuming the bulk of feed (3.7 billion tons compared with 1 billion tons by pigs and poultry). Overall, grasses comprise some 48% (2.3 billion tons) of the biomass used by livestock, followed by grains (1.3 billion tons, 28%).” (source)
Pragmatically speaking, it is probably best to draw the line at not over-replacing oneself. Naturally the population would then decline as not everyone will reproduce anyway. Also, raising the standard of living and providing education, especially to girls and women, might be an effective way to eventually significantly reduce the human population, and that’s on top of the benefits to the woman and girls who will live better lives even if they do still over-replace themselves. Also, having contraceptives widely and freely available around the world and knowledge of how to use them, with no stigma or cultural embarrassment blocking the way, is a must.
Making a personal choice to not reproduce is however very commendable. For those intent on raising children, adoption would be preferable to making a kid from scratch given the current human situation. Although I think that suggesting others have a moral obligation not to reproduce would be silly, at least pragmatically. Since reproduction is one our strongest drives, it is basically the “purpose” of life evolutionarily speaking, i.e. to continue and pass on our genes, a gentle approach to population control would probably work best.
We can’t completely stop all killing of sentient beings in our food production, but by eating plants only we are significantly reducing it in a way that is impossible to do as a meat-eater. So not the same thing can be done as a meat eater, at least not until lab grown meat can be mass produced. And it isn’t about judging people, it’s about judging the choices they make according to effects those choices have on the world, and more specifically the entire biosphere, i.e. all life on earth.
And yes, if aversion arises towards humans who consume meat, then that is unwholesome. But it would be the mental state of aversion that is unwholesome, not the vegetarianism. The solution wouldn’t be for that person to give up a plant based diet so that they can become nice to people again, the solution would be to understand that there is a better way to encourage others to become vegans, or vegetarians, or at least reducetarians, than by getting angry, which will likely backfire and only produce reactance in meat-eaters.
For people who have noticed that a vegan or vegetarian diet has had harmful consequences to their health or general well-being, they should be encouraged to be reducetarians as much as possible. Hopefully the combination of lab grown meat, as well as research into our microbiomes, will provide us with the ability in the future to give everyone a healthy gut able to digest and thrive on a variety of plant sources, and where meat supplementation is still needed or simply desired, it will be available from a non-polluting, non-slaughtered source.
Placing oneself in a position of superiority (even if gently worded) because of their diet is a choice made too.
As mentioned elsewhere, there is nothing in the Suttas (at least that I am aware of) which indicate vegetarianism is required, advisable, or even praiseworthy (reference the Devadatta episode). I’m not saying it can’t be, but it isn’t in the canon from what I have seen. Mindfulness towards what we eat and ensuring nothing is killed at our request is.
Taking the jump from that to saying any vegetarian can do better than any non vegetarian ever could is wrong in the sense of dhamma. If you are talking ecology then that may be different.
Exactly! Even vegans still participate in the exploitation of other human beings. Most crops (at least in the U.S.) are owned by big agri-business, and fruits & veggies are grown and harvested by migrant farm workers under low pay and dangerous conditions from pesticides. Unless vegans grow their own food or buy from self-owned small farms, they are giving their money to corporations that rely on low-cost human labor. Monsanto, which owns a large majority of the world’s soybeans, is not exactly an exemplary corporation.
Yes, unfortunately the harm reduction principle cannot be taken to 100% efficiency. At least not yet. Nevertheless, trying to buy food grown free of biocides and the exploitation of human beings is something extremely commendable and should be pursued to whatever extent one feels is possible or reasonable for them, with an open mind towards expanding what seems reasonable.
What’s the connection between a fish fillet and an armadillo? Scrambled eggs and a jaguar? A Sunday roast and the loss of forests in Latin America?
You may be surprised to learn that it’s the humble soybean.
Can we break the connection?
Check out the Soy Scorecard 2016 and see how more than one hundred companies performed on responsible soy.
Most people associate soy with tofu and soy milk. However, only a small portion of soy is consumed directly by humans. In fact, most of the world’s soy crop ends up in feed for poultry, pork, cattle and even farmed fish.
Unbeknownst to most of us, soy is found in almost all commercially produced meat or chicken that we eat.
And unfortunately, the expansion of soy to feed the world’s growing demand for meat often contributes to deforestation and the loss of other valuable ecosystems in Latin America. Soy, you & deforestation
So if you came across a tribe of cannibals, suffering all kinds of health problems as a result (on top of the general gruesomeness of it all), you feel that it would be more unethical to gently suggest they change their diet than to leave them to their devices, because judgments imply conceit?
(I use the cannibal example for reductio purposes, not to be incendiary)
I want to point out that you seem to be judging judgment, which is self-defeating. Judging can be wholesome or unwholesome, depending on how and why you do it.
You should judge actions and not people. As they say, hate the sin, not the sinner.
You should judge actions according to whether they lead to the affliction of sentient beings or whether they lead to the welfare of living beings. Any other kind of judgment is either ethically neutral or unethical.
It is true that the EBTs do not advocate vegetarianism. But I don’t take the EBTs to contain a complete account of ethics.
As for a buddhist argument for vegetarianism, I think one can be made quite easily based on the Buddha’s instructions to Rahula:
"Whenever you want to do a bodily action, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction… it would be a skillful bodily action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then any bodily action of that sort is fit for you to do.
"While you are doing a bodily action, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily action I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both… you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not… you may continue with it.
"Having done a bodily action, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it… you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction… it was a skillful bodily action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then you should stay mentally refreshed & joyful, training day & night in skillful mental qualities. Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta
If doing something leads to harm (and it can be avoided), don’t do it, per the sutta above.
Buying meat and other animal products is a major cause of the continuance of animal agriculture.
Animal agriculture causes much harm to living beings via direct slaughter as well as habitat destruction, pollution and climate change. (and it’s largely if not wholly unnecessary for humans)
Therefore, you shouldn’t buy meat or animal products (or should buy as little as possible).
So go vegan, or vegetarian, or at least reducetarian.
May you be happy and free of suffering!
Sabbe sattā sukhitā hontu.
May all living beings be happy.
Sabbe sattā averā hontu.
May all living beings be free from animosity.
Sabbe sattā abyāpajjhā hontu.
May all living beings be free from oppression.
Sabbe sattā anīghā hontu.
May all living beings be free from trouble.
Sabbe sattā sukhī attānam pariharantu.
May all living beings look after themselves with ease.
Sabbe sattā sabba-dukkhā pamuccantu.
May all living beings be freed from all stress & pain.
This is true, and even just by existing we are displacing other beings by using resources that could have been used by someone else.
I have at times wondered why equanimity is the ‘highest’ of the four brahmaviharas, and I speculate that it is because non-engagement with samsara is the most ethical act; because there is no way to claim a stake in samsara without causing suffering at some level, for ourself or others.
But I don’t think vegans claim not to participate in any exploitation, they are just pointing out a super gross form of exploitation; for many animals life on earth is pretty similar to a hell realm, where humans are the demons, prodding and cutting them, sometimes skinning them alive.
Can you imagine being reborn as a milk cow, where you are repeatedly impregnated and then have your baby calf taken away from you after a few days? And have this repeated until your body is used up, and then you are killed.
I think maybe modern animal agriculture practices are so unethical that peoples’ brains shut down or something, the mind just wont tolerate those perceptions. Maybe it’s related to whatever mechanism keeps us in samsara? We just aren’t able to perceive the suffering inherent in samsaric existence, for ourselves or for other beings.
I agree, and if we are serious about developing Right Intention and harmlessness then surely it is appropriate to examine our dietary choices, and the consequences of such choices. Also if we choose to buy meat then we are expecting others to break the first precept and do wrong livelihood, which seems hypocritical.
Exactly! Understanding dependant origination doesn’t require much effort. Being aware of our own actions and responsibility for consequences is a good start on the path. Becoming light to oneself is a must.
But do you think the plants to feed those animals are different from plants for human consumption? Does the plants for animals consumption involve less killing of insects and rodents compare to plants for human consumption? Thanks.