I have listened to many dhamma talks but attended only a dozen or so sutta classes so my knowledge of the suttas is very limited. All of what I have heard has given me great faith and confidence in the Buddha’s teachings. There is one thing that concerns me though and I haven’t been able to get a satisfactory answer and so I’m hoping for some help here. In the Metta prayer/sutta it says a couple of times ‘May all beings be happy.’ My understanding is that this includes all beings, in all realms. Why then do Buddhists and some Sangha eat meat when there is alternatives available? I understand that if there is nothing else to eat you must eat what ever is available to sustain the body and if monks are out receiving alms they must gratefully accept what is given. But given the amount of suffering imposed on cows, sheep, chickens, pigs etc not to mention that our planet can not sustain meat eating for all ( the amount of water and grain it takes to produce one kilo of ‘meat’ is astronomical compared to just growing the grain: maybe this could be one factor in helping to feed the world and so less people would be starving), it does not make sense to me. If the sangha made it clear by only consuming the non meat dishes then would lay people only offer non meat dishes? Would it make a huge difference to the amount of suffering to animals of all kinds if Buddhist’s didn’t eat meat? I don’t know.
As I prefaced this request with an acknowledgment of my ignorance of the suttas I would be grateful for any kind explanations to my questions.
Apologies if this has been addressed elsewhere or if I should have put this in the Discussion section.
Thank you and ‘May all beings be happy … even lambs, calves and piglets’
With much Metta
Hey Robyn, welcome.
For what it’s worth, I agree with you. I wrote a longish essay about this some time ago, which i present for your reading pleasure!
When we recite the first precept, we say, ‘I undertake the training to refrain from killing living beings’. This is a challenge, and in itself is a powerful ethics. Yet it is merely a short summary of a principle. It was never meant to fully describe the virtue of harmlessness. When the Buddha spoke of this precept in more detail, this is what he had to say:
Having abandoned the taking of life, refraining from the taking of life, one dwells without violence, with the knife laid down, scrupulous, full of mercy, trembling with compassion for all sentient beings.
This is not just an ethic of allowability. It doesn’t merely set a minimum standard. It calls us out, asking us to aspire to a higher sense of compassion, an ethic that deeply feels for the welfare of all beings. More than just asking, ‘Does this act come from an intention to harm’, we ask ourselves, ‘Is this act the best I can possibly do to promote the welfare of all?’ Rather than simply escaping bad kamma, we create good kamma.
This is not consistent with the central teaching of the suttas. Which is that the only happiness is nibbana. Everything else is dukkha (suffering ); all conditioned phenomena are anicca, anattā and dukkha. Furthermore, not all beings can attain nibbana because they are either in the wrong realm (some hell realms are not conducive for nibbana practice) or the beings simply lack the sentience to attain nibbana. So it should say, may all beings be reborn in realms conducive to nibbana, or something like that.
Furthermore, many people argue that nibbana is nothing more than the end of rebirth and the end of existence. So it should say: may all be beings be reborn in a realm where they can end their rebirth and end their existence.
Welcome to the forum.
anguttara 2. dve me bhikkhave sukhani, katama dve… kama sukha nekkhama sukha
o monks there are two types of happiness
My impression is this historically did not occur because the way of the Buddhist monastic Sangha keeps a relatively wide boundary between itself & lay people. In other words, unlike Abrahamic religions, for example, it appears it is not part of the training for Buddhist monks to exhort heavy or strict moral impositions on lay people (as exemplified in the many rules of the Torah in the Old Testament of the Bible).
Also, my impression of the Sangha is it has, historically, been often self-serving. In other words, if it historically would have insisted its lay followers be vegetarian it may have probably lost much of its lay support & benefaction.
Dear Bhante - thank you for your reply it’s good to know I’m not alone in my thinking. I look forward to reading your essay unfortunately the website is currently returning an insecure connection response so I will have to savour it another day.
Thank you very much for your response. I am now motivated to find out where the Metta prayer originated. There is much to learn.
Thank you for you response you raise an important point regarding concern over loss of support and possible alienation of lay supporters. Also regarding the quoted point my thinking was not that the monks should impose ‘strict moral impositions’ as I know with the lay group I am part of it seems we just want to support the monastics to live in the ‘highest’ way possible, in general and so if they avoided the food/ Dana containing meat then the lay community would support that too. But I take your point though as the monks appear to be very happy to receive any offerings.