I’m inclined to believe that those who preach vegetarianism are not out of the trap, and are using vegetarianism as a religion or ideology to makes themselves feel good about themselves, and as long as they are attached to those good feelings which are impermanent, they are attached to samsara. I see it more as a myopic obsession with their mouth and what goes into it. After all, so many religions are based on food (kosher, halal, bread in churches, etc…) which to me seems more about preventing people from eating together, as sharing food is a form of communion. Humans are so obsessed with food, it really is a huge addiction.
Someone who is out of the trap won’t care what food they are being served as long as it wasn’t killed for them. If they knew that the living being was killed for them, then they may feel troubled about it, but they won’t be troubled about something outside of their own volition, and they certainly don’t see food more than what it really is: the 4 elements. They don’t delight in it, whether it is vegetarian or not, and they don’t conceive notions about it or themselves either (e.g. This food is holier, and I am better for eating this type of food). There’s nothing honourable about food, it’s all doodoo in the end.
Speaking only for myself, as I have developed deeper relationships with ever-broadening varieties of non-human animals, it became painful for me to eat someone I could conceivably have called a friend. It actually has nothing whatsover to do with my practice, and I don’t really need to make a direct connection.
And whether compassion or plant-based diets come first may be kind of a chicken-and-egg question. (Yes, I did that on purpose )
I was careful not to claim that these are inevitable relationships (that’s why I chose to write “might”). I only wanted to say that I’ve observed them as trends in my own practice. I’m not even 100% vegetarian yet. I didn’t assume they’d influenced you, I only assumed that something must have influenced you.
I don’t see this as a area that is properly subject to logic, I see it as ethical and emotional.
Did you not read “Ethics leading to immersion” in the suttas, as I’ve countlessly mentioned, we are going in circles here.
The Buddha had ethics leading to immersion, and the Buddha said he seeks seclusion and immersion out of compassion. This has absolutely nothing to do with eating meat or not. Squeezing in vegetarianism is the pure conjecture, as I already said the Buddha ate meat and allowed monks to eat meat. Had you been correct, the Buddha would have banned meat.
What I said is not unsubstantiated conjecture, perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the suttas, especially the Jivaka sutta specifically on meat. As I said there is nothing honourable about food, you are not a better person for not eating meat, a person free from the trap does not delight in their food, and does not conceive things about themselves because of their food:
the night has passed, they robe up in the morning, take their bowl and robe, and approach that householder’s home, where they sit on the seat spread out. That householder or their child serves them with delicious alms-food. It never occurs to them, ‘It’s so good that this householder serves me with delicious alms-food! I hope they serve me with such delicious alms-food in the future!’ They don’t think that. They eat that alms-food untied, uninfatuated, unattached, seeing the drawback, and understanding the escape.
What do you think, Jīvaka? At that time is that mendicant intending to hurt themselves, hurt others, or hurt both?”
“Aren’t they eating blameless food at that time?”
“Yes, sir. Sir, I have heard that Brahmā abides in love. Now, I’ve seen the Buddha with my own eyes, and it is the Buddha who truly abides in love.”
MN 55 a sutta on meat eating where the Buddha truly abides in love, even as a meat eater.
One is blameless based on their intention at the time of eating. Like I always said, it’s wrong view you to extend your volition beyond your own actions.
Your attempt to squeeze vegetarianism into the definition of Buddhist ethics leading to immersion, in you own words: is pure conjecture and is not substantiated (by the suttas).
Your decision to be vegetarian is a personal one, and has no authority in the dhamma.
In fact, according to the dhamma, eating a vegetarian meal without seeing the drawbacks and the escape (from Mara’s prison), and with infatuation and delight is what makes one blameworthy and not whether or not there is meat in the dish.
Then the Buddha would have been reborn as a cow as well. Unfortunately, cows aren’t royal or higher animals according to the vinaya, and are allowed to be consumed.
“One should not consume elephant flesh… horse flesh… dog flesh… snake flesh… lion flesh… tiger flesh… leopard flesh… bear flesh… hyena flesh. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing.” — Mv.VI.23.10-15
Hi Karl. Nice post. It’s got two sentences in it that hopefully will help to explain my position.
I agree with this sentence.
This is what I call ‘motivation’. You saw the suffering of animals and your were moved to do something about it. Who wouldn’t be? The decision to do something was borne out of compassion, as you say.
So this is the bit I disagree with. This is what you decided to do about it. This is what I call a ‘plan of action’ or ‘kamma’. That ‘plan of action’ was to become a vegetarian. My position is that although your compassion was well placed and the ‘motivation’ was a good and wholesome, the ‘plan of action’ is at best ineffectual at addressing the suffering of animals and at worst is counterproductive.
Why is there this disconnect between us here? Because you and I have different experiences of the world and we each hold different views. My experience of what it is to ‘be a vegan’ or ‘be a vegetarian’ (I have called myself both of these things at different times in the past) is different to yours; my view of what happens when you let the slaughtermen out of the slaughterhouse is different to yours, and there is much much more. Putting it another way, my view of the causal links that run between ‘becoming a vegetarian’ and ‘suffering of animals’ is different to yours. Which one of us has the deepest, furthest and clearest view? Me of course!
But all is not lost, I think that our advice to others and (possibly) ourselves is probably very similar. My advice from my first post remains:
Just to be clear, I’m saying that buying meat is ethically dubious when alternatives are readily available.
Firstly because if we buy meat we’re expecting somebody else to break the first precept and do wrong livelihood on our behalf.
Secondly because Right Intention includes developing harmlessness, or at least the intention to minimise harm, and IMO this is the principle underlying the 3-fold rule. Buying meat regularly increases demand and causes more animals to be killed, thereby increasing harm.
Thirdly because developing metta surely extends to other sentient beings like cows and pigs - and not just family pets like cats and dogs. Selective metta based on dietary preference or craving for meat is missing the point.
The five precepts and teachings on right and wrong livelihood are training rules for those who wish to be tamed. If someone has a different religion or ethical philosophy then they may not be breaking their precepts. Do you pay that portion of your taxes that go on defense spending? If so, why?
I agree with the first bit. “Buying meat regularly increases demand”, but I disagree with the second bit “and causes more animals to be killed, increasing harm.”
I would love to see a study that backs up that assertion. Could you supply one as I can’t find it? I think the system is way more complex than the supply and demand one that is presented here.
Maybe the decision is based on a different understanding of the complex system and the amount of harm that results from the decisions made to either eat or not eat meat. Or maybe it is based on a recognition that the workings of kamma beyond your own immediate actions is chaotic (in the scientific sense of the word). It is notoriously difficult to see the tangled web of karmic links.
Intentionally refusing to look at the horrors in the world, of people dying of preventable causes -and not being able to stand the suffering, and looking away, is what I mean by ‘intentional ignorance’ and not looking away while bad deeds are committed. The level of morality, and not just basic sila, keeps improving all the way to enlightenment and each steps up is yet another shade of grey. Until you have attempted the sila ladder, idealistic, black and white karma, thinking will be discernible.
Assuming an average percapita consumption of 50 kg of cow meat / beef per annum and that a slaughtered cow yields in US yields 300 kg of sellable meat, you’re potentially sparing one cow every six years you’re abstaining from beef.
The above assumes beef totals 50% of the average meat consumption, usually split between cow meat, pork meat and chicken meat, which totals 95 - 100 kg per annum in US.
Furthermore, let’s assume that the remaining 40-50 kg of meat consumed is equally split between pork and chicken meat (let’s leave poor turkeys out for now), and that i) each slaughtered pork yields 100 kg of meat; and ii) each slaughtered chicken yields 2.3 kg of meat.
The above then means you spare one pig every four years being a vegetarian and spare roughly 10 chickens every year being a vegetarian!
In other words, for those looking for good karma, just giving up chicken meat alone yields a manifold greater karma improvement than just giving up beef and/or pork. That’s puts in check the usual approach of giving up beef before one stops eating other meats!
The above does not account for indirect contribution to the animal protein industry via consumption of soaps and other products derived from animal fat, carcass, etc.
Last but not least, assuming that for each poor turkey roasted for Thanksgiving dinners there are in average four hungry thankful Americans, then every four years you abstain from that weird tradition you may be as well sparing the life of a turkey! But that one is harder as usually the rest of the guests tend to make up for the vegetarians trying to convince them to not eat the poor bird!
I was once involved in the economic evaluation of business enterprises focused on what they call animal protein industry.
For those doing these calculations, which not only are used to determine the fair value of new stocks or bonds issued by those businesses but as well key for the investment decisions towards increased output (and hence increased slaughtering) the very key variable is what they call cost efficiency key performance indicators (KPIs).
Most of those KPIs are framed around how efficiently more animal protein output is obtained from the same amount of vegetable protein input (usually a mix corn and soy), as that reduces average production cost and therefore increases profit margin.
The trick however is that all that efficiency can only be obtained if demand as a whole grows in line with underlying population and/or GDP per capita growths. This is because in a profit-oriented capitalist system business exist to grow and serve the purpose of furthering capital accumulation.
Depending on where you are in the world, that is mostly envisaged via what they call local markets catch-up. Which is in a nutshell the process via which average per capita consumption of animal protein converges to the levels seen in what are deemed mature or developed markets such US and Western Europe.
This means that, for example, most of the business in let’s say Thailand making right now investment decisions around increasing the slaughtering capacity of the industry or locking in future increase in imports of animal protein are “betting” that average meat consumption there will increase from the current 25-30kg per year to somewhere closer to the 80-110kg per year seen in most of western countries or at least the 45-50kg per year seen in Japan.
All that said, when you give up buying and consuming meat you are albeit very marginally frustrating the expectations of such businesses which, over time, may indeed contribute to the revisiting their capital allocation choices. If they don’t and the overall effect is material enough, the industry as a whole will be frustrated and investors will one way or another grow sceptical of the value proposal of the industry as a whole.
Something alike is happening right now in a totally different industry but through a similar mechanism to the described above: fossil fuel thermal generation.
Over the last 10-20 years politicians in Europe started paying attention to people’s worries about climate change and how anthropomorphic carbon emissions may be causing it.
As a result, subsidies and incentives were gradually given to people wanting to use their money to put solar panels on their roofs or maybe better insulating their homes and offices from extreme heat or cold. This offsetting or frustration of electricity demand at the customer level at least for part of the day (when sunny) changed dramatically the hourly shape of the total hourly demand profiles across electricity markets and systems across Europe.
With that reshaping of the demand problem the economic feasibility of the business of baseload thermal generation, usually based on coal, was dramatically challenged to the point many power plants are now being retired (shutdown) dozens of years earlier than originally assumed. That is at the same time stoping investors and energy conglomerates to invest in replacing those assets or further expanding the coal generation capacity. Instead, to address the new demand problem electricity markets and policy makers are now finding ways to make systems ready to accommodate that new reality and furthermore promoting investment in large scale renewable sources such as what is called solar and wind farms. This is as well driving a lot of investment in pursuit of technological advancements towards more efficient transmission systems and short term large scale electricity storage technologies, which could allow legacy fossil fuel based thermal generation to be removed from electricity systems and markets.
Further on this, one may speculate that, in a reality in which per capita consumption across markets start declining and no catch up can be argued for, then animal protein enterprises may find themselves forced to disrupt themselves and find smarter ways to transform corn and soy into the sort of protein we tend to crave more for.
If that really takes place, then we may see enterprises such as those trying to cultivate meat without the need of a cow.
And that is not pure scientific fiction anhmkre, the article below touches on that possibility:
The reason we are going in circles is because you don’t seem to understand the argument being made here by the pro veg camp.
The particularities and circumstances of modern lay people choosing to eat meat is not the same ethical field of action as an ascetic in ancient India. Buddhist ethics is not frozen in time and space. The Buddha’s call to compassion and kindness in action is not something is which narrowly defined by the exact actions of monastics 2000+ years ago. I would say, read the arguments that have already been advanced further back in this thread with this idea in mind. There’s no point in repeating them here.
The core issue is that you understand Buddhist ethics in a very narrow sense (what the Buddha directly said not to do), while I understand it in a broader sense (what we can aspire to). This second way of seeing sila is broader and more flexible, as I believe, it should be.
A second point I want to affirm is that while I am promoting vegetarianism/veganism, I am not saying it is necessary for awakening or necessary for everyone (especially not monastics). However, it is something to aspire to and something noble that Buddhists should consider. Just because it is “allowed” as per the precepts does not mean it should be done. It seems to me you are having trouble with this distinction.
Here’s a case illustration: The precepts “allows” a person to walk by a drowning child and not help. But it is noble, compassionate and kind to help the drowning child. Indeed, we would promote such an action and hope Buddhists live up to such a deed when it presents itself. Therefore, it is within the scope of Buddhist ethics to do so, even if it is “allowed” or not mentioned. Why? Because the Buddha told us to be kind, compassionate, friendly, and so on.
Thirdly, I will remind you that you have not addressed the argument that was made which at least problematizes the idea that meat is “three times clean” in today’s modern economic system (see my older post above).