Author Topic: Your opinions on eating meat and animal products?  (Read 1043 times)


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Your opinions on eating meat and animal products?
« on: May 26, 2017, 06:32:28 AM »
Hi guys,

I don't really know what Buddhism says about eating meat (and animal products like milk or honey). I've googled it online and gotten different answers (some say it is never okay, some say it is okay because monks take it as alms, some say it is okay only if you didn't kill the animal yourself, etc.)

Does anyone know of a sutta that references this?

Thanks and have a great next meditation practice.


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Re: Your opinions on eating meat and animal products?
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2017, 08:07:27 PM »
Not based in Buddhism, but one view.  Hunting and gathering was the last ethical way to obtain calories from both animals and plants, assuming both were for fairly immediate consumption ("fairly" encompassing storage for winter).  Agriculture and the ensuing domestication started down the slippery slope of unethical food production and consumption.  For both H&G and Agriculture, technologies that greatly remove risk and artificially produce "prowess" might be considered unethical...thus, high-powered rifles and tracking mechanisms for hunting and high-yield breeding and petro-fueled harvesting equipment in agriculture.  There is a fair amount of evidence of man taking in meat calories via scavenging as well as through hunting, thus removing "human-doing-the-killing" from the equation in such scenarios.  Obviously lots of assumptions and grey areas, but a starting point if the discussion expands.


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Re: Your opinions on eating meat and animal products?
« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2017, 10:40:52 AM »
Interesting that Star Treck's food replicator is getting closer to fact. We can already print food out using 3d printers, so in the future will these be the way forward for many Buddhists, that no living thing, not even plants will need to be killed?
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka


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Re: Your opinions on eating meat and animal products?
« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2017, 03:18:40 PM »
Hi Lonewolf

The strictures on eating or not eating meat are made in relation to sensuality and craving. There is an extreme example used to explore Dhamma in the "Puttamansa Sutta: A son's Flesh":

Quote from:
"And how is physical food to be regarded? Suppose a couple, husband & wife, taking meager provisions, were to travel through a desert. With them would be their only baby son, dear & appealing. Then the meager provisions of the couple going through the desert would be used up & depleted while there was still a stretch of the desert yet to be crossed. The thought would occur to them, 'Our meager provisions are used up & depleted while there is still a stretch of this desert yet to be crossed. What if we were to kill this only baby son of ours, dear & appealing, and make dried meat & jerky. That way — chewing on the flesh of our son — at least the two of us would make it through this desert. Otherwise, all three of us would perish.' So they would kill their only baby son, loved & endearing, and make dried meat & jerky. Chewing on the flesh of their son, they would make it through the desert. While eating the flesh of their only son, they would beat their breasts, [crying,] 'Where have you gone, our only baby son? Where have you gone, our only baby son?' Now what do you think, monks: Would that couple eat that food playfully or for intoxication, or for putting on bulk, or for beautification?"

"No, lord."

"Wouldn't they eat that food simply for the sake of making it through that desert?"

"Yes, lord."

"In the same way, I tell you, is the nutriment of physical food to be regarded. When physical food is comprehended, passion for the five strings of sensuality is comprehended. When passion for the five strings of sensuality is comprehended, there is no fetter bound by which a disciple of the noble ones would come back again to this world.

So, in etremis, even eating the flesh of one's child is used as an example of something that is acceptable for the sake of survival. The Sutta goes on to examine the understanding of the other "nutriments for the maintenance (of life)": contact, intellectual intention and consciousness, along the same vein of logic.

As with most things pragmatism is the Buddha's rule. More relevant perhaps than the above, in extremis, example is the "Jivaka Sutta" MN-55:

Jivaka, I say there are three occasions in which meat should not be eaten; when it is seen, heard or suspected that the living being has been killed for sake of a bhikkhu. I say: Meat should not be eaten on these three occasions.

So this is the rule for monks living under the Vinaya, having taken the robe: they can eat meat - as they should accept all alms without craving and without exception - yet if they know (or have reason to believe) that an animal has been killed to feed them then they ought not to eat it.

In the Jivaka Sutta the Buddha goes on to explain to Jivaka further circumstance whereby demerit (negative karma) is accumulated by the person preparing meat specifically for The Buddha or other Sangha:

If anyone slaughters a living being for sake of the Tathagata or any of his disciples, he thereby creates much demerit in these five instances: When he says: Go and fetch that living sentient being this is the first instance in which he lays up much demerit. When that living being experiences pain and fear on being led along by the neck, this is the second instance in which he lays up much demerit.
When he says: Go and slaughter that living sentient being this is the third instance in which he accumulates much demerit. When that living being experiences pain and panic on being killed, this is the fourth instance in which he lays up much demerit. When he provides the Tathagata or his disciples with such food that is not permitted, which is unsuitable & unacceptable, this is the fifth instance in which he collects much demerit.
Anyone who slaughters a living being for sake of the Tathagata or any of his disciples creates future disadvantage on these five occasions...

Right livelihood also explicitly rules out working in the meat trade (why Tibetans have Muslim butchers - a way of trying to escape the bad karma, which in reality just doubles-up on the bad karma as it is a simple trick of shifting blame, and therefore an untruth, a lie).

So this brings us to today and attitudes to eating meat and animal products. Again, pragmatism is the golden rule imho. There is not, for most people, any absolute need to eat meat or animal products - neither is there an absolute restriction against it proscribed by the Buddha.

It matters greatly what route these foods take to get to you and what your attachment and motivation for eating them are.

Industrial farming is cruel and harsh on animals. It differs by country and regime but pretty much everywhere it has negative consequences (karma): for the animals, who suffer distress, hardship, poor conditions and fear whilst living - and at the slaughterhouse, for those who work in the industry, and often become de-humanised by the experience - and for the environment.

Male calves are slaughtered at birth, young heifers are denied milk from their mothers so humans can consume it in the form of milk, cheese, butter etc. Male chicks are killed at birth, ground to death. Cows are artificially inseminated repeatedly and their offspring removed. They grieve this. There are many examples.

The ecological impacts of the craving-based high meat diet of American society (as an example) is vast: 70% of agricultural land in the USA is used for feedstock. The entire food industry is wasteful. Consumers are unthinking and wasteful. Gluttony abounds. Methane from livestock is one of the biggest drivers of global warming.

And yet, the Buddha did not instruct his monks, yet alone laypersons not to eat meat under any circumstance. Of course the industrial nature of these products did not exist in his day. Yet we can choose to take lessons from what he did teach:

If you are going to eat meat or dairy my personal opinion is that wisdom dictates you choose small-scale local suppliers. Know where the product comes from and how the animals are treated.

Be aware if meat/dairy is something you crave, or something you take as part of a balanced diet in moderation.

There is really no need to eat meat now (nor was there in the time of the Buddha). There is an ecological imperative that as a society we eat less meat/dairy in total - much less. There is a moral imperative not to support the inhumane conditions of industrial scale production.

I was told some years ago by both my Tibetan teacher and a friend who is a Therevadin Bhikku that I must start eating meat again, or that I might die. This is due to a neurological condition that means I do not absorb food well and suffer muscle wasting. I did so having been vegetarian for some years. I now eat some meat every week - all sourced locally from organic farms. I also eat goats cheese, also sourced from local organic farms. My consumption is relatively costly yet affordable as it is in relatively small quantities (compared to the average consumer). I know the animals are well treated and suffer the least distress possible. I tried returning to vegetarian (almost vegan) diet last year for a while but lost weight quickly despite eating a wide variety of foods, so I am back to some meat and some dairy.

In short, I would say that there is no stricture against eating meat and dairy in Buddhism. Culturally some Buddhists headed this way after Buddhism became attached to monasteries, yet it is not in the teachings of the Buddha. It is up to you to decide if you can eat meat/dairy in a way that is wholesome, does not involve craving or animal suffering. Nobody else is placed to judge your choices. Yet on the whole it is important that humans eat less meat/dairy and that they eat with awareness (no matter what food they are eating!). Also meat/dairy needs to be sourced responsibly including causing the least distress possible to the animals.

I hope that helps you decide what you want to do in regards to your dietary intake. The militant wing of veganism would like to impose a strictly vegan diet upon the world. I do not believe it necessary or the only ethical choice. It's your business what goes in your mouth, and you bear the consequences of it.
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~


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Re: Your opinions on eating meat and animal products?
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2017, 03:29:32 AM »
Thanks everyone for the responses, especially Mathew--it contained everything I was looking for.

I think that it does boil down to it not being necessary for us to eat meat to survive (with of course the exception of health related problems where it is necessary). I did research into the meat industry and it is pretty disheartening. When you buy cheese and see a picture of a smiling cow, that's really not how the cheese was obtained.

I've heard arguments that animals eat animals, but that is different. Animals aren't cognizant enough to decide wether or not to eat other animals. Many animals need to do so to survive. We as humans don't really need to.

Actually, if an animal died of natural causes I would think it is okay. But no unnecessary suffering should be added to the world, we should reduce it if possible, that is what metta is all about.

I also like the idea of focusing on oneself, but after seeing videos about the animal industry I really understand why Vegans fight against consumption of animal products.


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