Eating meat not in terms of Killing but in terms of Stealing

I know that
(i) as long as I did not kill, someone did not kill specifically for feeding me and also I did not see or hear the killing, I can eat meat;
(ii) even if we all go vegan, human civilizations will still end up killing animals and bugs;
(ii) taking each other for one’s nutriment (physically mentally) is the condition of saṃsāra, which is why to practice and get out of the rebirth cycle is the true and the most ethical deed in the long run.

What I try to ask today is eating meat in terms of stealing. In SN 9:14, Gandhatthena Sutta, the deva tells the monk how even sniffing at a lotus flower is not much different from stealing (taking what is not given to one). This sutta popped up the question in my head ‘But the animals we eat did not offer themselves for us to eat!’

What do you think of this logical dilemma?

(Before posting, I always search first to see if there is a thread on the topic I am trying to ask, but obviously I haven’t been too successful in detecting the right posts relevant to my questions. Sorry for the redundancy. I hope I will get better as I get more familiar with this website.)

Best,
Heesoo 🙏

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Can you please clarify what this means?

If one doesn’t eat an animal, it lives on. No animal thinks to itself “I would prefer people eat me than not eat me”. Some animals obviously think things of some sort, but I doubt any of them think they want to get eaten, or establish being consumed as their life goal.

Likewise, no flower would think ‘I will offer my self for people to pick or sniff at.’ Of course a flower cannot even think, and yet! the deva tells the monk sniffing at the flower is stealing.

So, I guess my point is that, for us to be logically consistent, we seem to need to do either (a) or (b):
(a) we should relax the definition of ‘stealing’ a bit so eating meat or sniffing at a flower won’t be included in stealing;
(b) we should acknowledge that eating meat is stealing and humbly take it as sort of ‘necessary evil.’

Am I confused or splitting a hair? :sweat_smile:

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Understood.

One main thing lay people must do is realize they are lay people, and not monastics. The second I think is realize that a lot of the Buddhist teachings are filled with allegory and contradictions that are meant to get one thinking. For example, I have been to many temples, of really all traditions, and there are flowers there that were clearly picked, and maybe even sniffed.

Also, if we are speaking logic there really is no logic in:

(i) as long as I did not kill, someone did not kill specifically for feeding me and also I did not see or hear the killing, I can eat meat; (I know this is in the suttas, but I just quoted your version)

When an animal is butchered, meant for consumption by humans, who those humans are is irrelevant to the butcher. So thinking to oneself “the butcher didn’t butcher this for me, Richard, so it’s fine” is certainly not logical, if anything it is something silly to tell oneself so one can enjoy a cheeseburger. This is like Bhutan importing meat, but not slaughtering meat in their country, it really lacks logic, but beams with “Buddhist virtue” or something along those lines.

I don’t think you are confused, because the topic of eating animals is heavily debated in Buddhist communities. My recommendation to people is to do their best to reduce their meat consumption, if you purchase meat do your best to source it from farms and places that somewhat honor that animal or treat it with respect. The best thing we can do is honor the Earth for the food it bestows upon us, whatever our diet may be, and understand that no matter what we consume (even vegetables) comes at a cost. All we can do is focus on doing the best we can. Buddhism is not about whipping oneself because they eat meat once in awhile. Personally, I do well on a vegetarian diet, and I know the world will never go vegan. It is also illogical to think that. There has never been a vegan indigenous culture, and I doubt during a period of intense and immense consumption and self-centeredness, that everybody is going to start caring about animals or saving the planet, which by the way veganism will not do.

I think it is honorable for people to consider these actions like you are pondering here, and believe me, that hair is split all the time on this forum and in other Buddhist communities.

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Well, not stealing is one of the 5 Precepts. That is one problem.

Far, far, far, fewer of each, as in billions, if not trillions.

That has to matter for people who have a genuine concern instead of looking for rationalizations or arguments.


Sutta: Wrong Livliehood

AN 5.177


“Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five?

  1. Business in weapons
  2. business in human beings,
  3. business in meat,
  4. business in intoxicants,
  5. business in poison.

“These are the five types of business that a lay follower should not engage in.”

You can’t have a business without customers. If you are stealing meat, you are still creating a demand for it.

I haven’t found any opinions in the suttas about which social media platform is the best replacement for Twitter. There are many contemporary concerns we have to make decisions for on our own.

The U.N. has a report stating that livestock production contributes more to the greenhouse effect than transportation.

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Is the deva an Ariya? Because you’re implying the deva has more wisdom than the Buddha. Wouldn’t the Buddha, who has the highest wisdom, not eat meat if it was breaking a precept? You’re appealing to the deva’s authority over the Buddha’s.

Also, if sniffing a flower is stealing, then isn’t eating plants also stealing? building a house with wood? clothes from cotton? Therefore we must steal to live.

I’m not sure if that sutta supports your conclusion. What does “Engaging in business” mean here?

It could mean

  • Owning a business as a shareholder
  • Operating a business as an employee
  • Buying from a business (your conclusion)

It could just mean that the Buddha is saying don’t work for businesses that cause you to break the precepts, such as working at a slaughterhouse will require you to kill animals, but maybe being an accountant at a slaughterhouse is perfectly fine? Or working in the military could require you to kill people but working as a nurse in the military is perfectly fine.

What if the slaughterhouse is operated by AI or by automation, is then engaging in such businesses fine?

We don’t know the scope or detail to draw generalized conclusions from that sutta alone.

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It is important to note, this is factory farming. There is a big difference between factory farms and a small regenerative farm with the appropriate amount of animals for the size of the land that is being farmed. There is something called carrying capacity that is relevant in many applications.

It is important people reflect on this and really think about it. On my property, I have chickens and the amount of waste they create is a benefit to the system since there is enough of it to be balanced out by other parts of the system (i.e. poop being nitrogen, and wood chips or leaves being carbon from my site being mixed to essentially make compost). I am sorry to say but a big factory pumping out fake meat pollutes more than my chickens.

Factory farming, since it is based on capitalist principles, is extractive and has no concern for the carrying capacity of the environment those animals are in, thus creating excess wastes that cannot be managed by humans. The only goal is to make profits by driving down costs. Doing the right thing costs money.

If humans are to manage the environment and Nature in a way that is restorative, it requires us managing animals since there is no ecosystem where animals are not a part.

Also millions and millions and millions of bees die every year in forced labor for conventional agriculture systems, vegetables included. So, just think on that as well.

People not composting and throwing their food waste in the trash is a huge issue as well, and adds plenty of emissions, so we need to understand our footprint is a challenge with many divergent sub-sections that must be looked at, not just our diets.

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This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

I am happy to check the reference out to better understand what you mean, but if factory farming in the united states was based on socialism, or anything close to egalitarian principles, big corporate entities wouldn’t farm above carrying capacity to maximize profits per acre while creating waste fields and washing it down stream.

There is no presumption of any individual being affiliated with any political theory in my statement. I am speaking of capitalism as purely a market system.

Also, most of the kind of farming I am speaking of happens inside large complexes, not outdoors, or at least minimally outdoors. So, I don’t see the value of land decreasing because farmland in the USA has historically always went up in value, despite the use type.

Because they don’t bear the costs of waste, watch the video I linked, he explains how this happens. It’s not free market if someone, with the power of coercion, usually the government, takes responsibility instead of the entity who is the owner of that property.

The video I linked will elaborate on this further, and better than I could type it.

Waste has to go somewhere, even the air, and he proposes that they pay for this air pollution as well, instead of the government paying for it.

I will certainly watch it. Although his book Water Capitalism: The Case for Privatizing Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, and Aquifers has me shaking my head a little bit. Since he says in the synopsis, “the tragedy of the commons: when something is unowned, people have less of an incentive to care for it, preserve it, and protect it, than when they own it”. This is insane to me since property rights is a relatively new invention in the history of human beings, and during that short history we have essentially caused ecological devastation that is just beyond anything imaginable 10,000 years ago. But then again, we have the internet and cool cars. Maybe it was worth it.

I am not a capitalist, so, maybe I am bias. But I am going to listen to this lecture.

But what does this have to do with free market? “We” here often includes government subsidizing industry and therefore pollution.

Quite honestly, maybe I have to listen to your reference material, because I am not only going off topic, but I have no idea what you are getting at. I am just making statements that have nothing to do with any markets, except the fact that the “free market” has lead us here–to a place where people are more concerned with their diets than the amount of crap they purchase off Amazon or the amount of kids they have, or how much they drive when they could use alternate forms of transportation. All I am getting at, is the diet thing is such a big thing in Buddhism, and really, there are a lot of activities in life we need to look at with concern and see where we can do better. If you are saying government subsidizing industry is bad, I agree. I don’t know what else to say. Native Americans had no claim on “owning” the land, yet they treated it with respect and honored it. Capitalists don’t want there to be Commons anymore because they don’t want you to go in and get free firewood, they want to sell it to you instead. People managed forests long before the capitalists, out of reverence. I just get confused when people get grouped in with anarchist thinkers, then go on to claim somebody should own the ocean. It is weird, but then again the internet is strange and maybe I am all wrong.

Call my posts rhetorical rambling, or whatever, but I digress.

The point is that it’s never been a free market because the government has always had a hand in tipping the scales in their favour, whether it’s the corn syrup industry, tobacco industry, milk, or whatever. But yes, let’s not derail this thread further, I would watch the video to get a better understanding so that you could get a better and more effective counter argument. I’m not saying you should agree, only that you should understand the issue better so that you could defend your beliefs better. You could DM me if you’re still interested.

I agree. I don’t understand what issue I am even countering. But hey, again, the internet is a strange place.

I see what you mean and totally agree that what’s important is for us to do our best. Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom.


You are right. Thank you for helping me come to senses. Greatly appreciated.

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I find Bhante Sujato’s essay helpful for this topic: How Early Buddhism differs from Theravada: a checklist

Its a long read but well worth it. The part that addresses meat consumption is under “the bare minimum”.

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I don’t know the technical term for what is going on in this sutta, but I think it’s fundamentally problematic to base any doctrinal theories off of it. When I read this sutta, especially in the context of all the other suttas that precede it, it’s clear to me that the deva is trying to startle the monk into better behaviour. Not lay down a new doctrine about theft.

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Although many suttas specify (or imply) ‘stealing’ as ‘taking what is not given’ as far as I know, I agree with you that the point of this sutta is to bring the monk back to practice. I guess I was overanalyzing it. And you are right; taking things out of context is risky.

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The Pali actually says ‘business in living creatures’. It is the commentary that interprets this as referring to human beings. But the same commentary glosses ‘business in meat’ as ‘raising pigs, deer, etc., and selling them’ (sūkaramigādayo posetvā tesaṃ vikkayo). So a more consistent translation would be either ‘business in living creatures’ + ‘business in meat’ (as @sujato renders it) or ‘business in human beings’ + ‘business in meat and living creatures raised for meat’ (as per the commentary).

This is an intriguing sutta with no known parallels, and could well be an expression, along with some of the Jātakas, of the more ‘abolitionist’ side of the early Saṅgha(s).