the great vegetarian debate

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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Monsoon » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:58 am

I've always been very troubled by vegetarianism in general, and also by the apparent Buddhist connection.

The simple fact that people moving to vegetarian diets have to go to some lengths to make sure their diet has the right composition of essential nutrients and whatnot suggests (rather obviously I would have thought - and without even dragging in the wealth of other supporting evidence) that vegetarianism is not a natural global condition for humans. Ultimately we are omnivores, and yet we can be quite versatile in times of scarcity. Thus on the one hand we have people who spend their whole lives as vegetarians (with no ill effects), and on the other we have people like the Inuits whose traditional diet is almost entirely meat/fish, with their only veg input coming from the part-digested stomach contents of slaughtered caribou.

And so, looking at the Buddhist connection. If all sentient creatures have Buddha nature then how does one explain carnivores? Actually, I feel that one doesn't need to explain anything at all. A carnivore is true to its nature and condition, as are herbivores. It is only we humans that seek to change our natural condition by denying that which we are - omnivores! Following on, I wonder if the current interpretations of this aspect of Buddhism have become distorted over time to the point where it is now highly polarised, and we find ourselves walking into the all too common trap of believing that somehow we are distinct from the natural world and everything that is in it. This, to me, is the antithesis of the core of Buddhist teachings - that there are no distinctions. Is this nothing more than another example of arrogance of man?

This is where my thoughts lie at the present. I hope I haven't offended anyone here by offering them for consideration.
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby seeker242 » Mon Jun 03, 2013 12:58 pm

Monsoon wrote:I've always been very troubled by vegetarianism in general, and also by the apparent Buddhist connection.

The simple fact that people moving to vegetarian diets have to go to some lengths to make sure their diet has the right composition of essential nutrients and whatnot suggests (rather obviously I would have thought - and without even dragging in the wealth of other supporting evidence) that vegetarianism is not a natural global condition for humans.


Hello, Monsoon

It's a common idea that vegetarian need to go to lengths to make sure they get enough nutrients etc. However, if you have access to a wide variety of foods, a large supermarket for example, it's actually quite easy. Even if you don't, it's still not entirely difficult depending on where you live. If you live in the Tundra, yes it would be very difficult. However, vegetarianism originated in ancient India and people have been practicing it there for thousands of years with no problems.

And so, looking at the Buddhist connection. If all sentient creatures have Buddha nature then how does one explain carnivores? Actually, I feel that one doesn't need to explain anything at all. A carnivore is true to its nature and condition, as are herbivores. It is only we humans that seek to change our natural condition by denying that which we are - omnivores!


One explain carnivores by explaining that they don't have a choice as to how they behave. Meanwhile, humans do have this choice. In that regard, humans are unique because only humans can engage in the act of following a system of ethical behavior. In some circumstances, it's quite appropriate for humans to seek to change "natural behavior" because some natural behavior is unethical. Simply because a behavior is natural, does not mean that this behavior is good or right. For example, it's quite natural for carnivores to kill other carnivores. It's also quite natural for humans to kill other humans. However, just because it's natural, does not mean that we should continue doing it!

Following on, I wonder if the current interpretations of this aspect of Buddhism have become distorted over time to the point where it is now highly polarised, and we find ourselves walking into the all too common trap of believing that somehow we are distinct from the natural world and everything that is in it. This, to me, is the antithesis of the core of Buddhist teachings - that there are no distinctions. Is this nothing more than another example of arrogance of man?

This is where my thoughts lie at the present. I hope I haven't offended anyone here by offering them for consideration.


The core of the Buddhist teaching do teach that there are distinctions. The distinction of what is "right action" vs what is "wrong action". That is why there are precepts to follow like "do not kill, do not steal", etc. If there were no need for these distinctions, there would be no need for precepts or vows like this. I don't think it can be called arrogance when one can chose to follow a system of ethical behavior. It is simply following "right action" of non-violence.

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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Monsoon » Mon Jun 03, 2013 9:47 pm

:good:

However, if you have access to a wide variety of foods, a large supermarket for example, it's actually quite easy.


Having such an access is a largely artificial state for most of us, I suspect. However, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't take advantage of it!

My current opinion on the subject though is mainly dependent on the understanding that vegetarianism is not mandatory for buddhists and eating meat does not represent an obstacle on the path. I don't eat a lot of meat myself, but my diet is not free of it. Then again, neither is that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so if you wish to criticise my position then you must - by extension - criticise his.

Regarding ethics though: having the option to change and refusing to do so is unethical? This presumes that the change is in the right direction. Considering that the precept is not to kill, as I undestand it, rather not to eat meat (there is a difference), I am not convinced of any fundamental ethic relating to meat-eating... but hey, that's just me.

More than happy to be frimly edumacated on the matter though! :smile:
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:19 pm

Well, um...Samsara, obviously doing what is "natural" is not necessarily what you want to do from a Buddhist perspective. The three poisons are natural, bad karma is natural, and beings have been naturally suffering since beginningless time, so being "natural" is not an argument that holds any sway within Buddhism I don't think.

I think with vegetarianism it can go either way, it can be done with genuine intention and presumably bring real merit, or it can be done as a reason to look a certain way to other people, to excuse one from changing habits that are more direct etc. As it stands it's realistic and doable for some, and not for others. personally I have enough work looking at how I can lessen my negative impact, and increase the merit made by my actions in direct ways, and indirect things like diet take a back seat for now.

HHDL if I recall started eating meat for health reasons, I'm not a vegetarian at the moment, but I don't think one can throw the baby out with the bathwater like that, it's reasonable to make an argument that it is not neccesary for all Buddhists to be vegetarian (where I think I can definitely agree), but it is a different thing to imply it never means anything, because I think in some circumstances, for some people it does.

Having such an access is a largely artificial state for most of us, I suspect. However, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't take advantage of it!


By that logic agriculture itself is an "unnatural state" -it's a relatively new development too.
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Sherab Dorje » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:26 pm

Monsoon wrote:More than happy to be frimly edumacated on the matter though! :smile:
You could start by reading the previous 99 pages of discussion.
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One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Monsoon » Mon Jun 03, 2013 11:27 pm

Johnny, there are people who will claim that having access to the same vegatables all year round does indeed represent a departure from what humans are used to historically. Not saying it's wrong, just different.

@Greg, you are obviously vastly more learned than I on these matters. Perhaps you could point me to the specific text that says vegetarianism is a requirement for enlightenment? I seem to have overlooked it somewhere in among the piles and piles of other texts that I am currently wading through. Be a dear!
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Jun 03, 2013 11:35 pm

Monsoon wrote:Johnny, there are people who will claim that having access to the same vegatables all year round does indeed represent a departure from what humans are used to historically. Not saying it's wrong, just different.

@Greg, you are obviously vastly more learned than I on these matters. Perhaps you could point me to the specific text that says vegetarianism is a requirement for enlightenment? I seem to have overlooked it somewhere in among the piles and piles of other texts that I am currently wading through. Be a dear!


There are some Mahayana sutra that mention it.

Only one I think of atm is Lankavatara Sutra, which iirc is pretty militant about it. But yeah there are a places it's mentioned, also sets of vows that include it.

You missed my point about the agriculture thing...
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby seeker242 » Mon Jun 03, 2013 11:40 pm

Monsoon wrote::good:

However, if you have access to a wide variety of foods, a large supermarket for example, it's actually quite easy.


Having such an access is a largely artificial state for most of us, I suspect. However, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't take advantage of it!

My current opinion on the subject though is mainly dependent on the understanding that vegetarianism is not mandatory for buddhists and eating meat does not represent an obstacle on the path.


It depends on what tradition of Buddhism you are speaking of and what sutras you read. :smile: For some it is mandatory for monks according to the monks precepts, specifically those of the Brama Net Sutra, and encouraged for laypersons. Some sutras say it's an obstacle, others don't. Some traditions, Tibetan for example, don't require the monks to be vegetarian. Most likely because the tradition is from a region lies at 14,000 ft elevation.

I don't eat a lot of meat myself, but my diet is not free of it. Then again, neither is that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so if you wish to criticise my position then you must - by extension - criticise his.


I do criticize his! :smile:

Regarding ethics though: having the option to change and refusing to do so is unethical? This presumes that the change is in the right direction. Considering that the precept is not to kill, as I undestand it, rather not to eat meat (there is a difference), I am not convinced of any fundamental ethic relating to meat-eating... but hey, that's just me.


More than happy to be frimly edumacated on the matter though! :smile:


Again it depends on which set of precepts you are looking at. :smile: The Brama Net Sutra contains precepts against killing and a separate precept against the eating of meat, which is why the majority of the Mahayana monks in China and SE Asia, minus Japan and Tibet, are required to be vegetarian. Although, violation of that precept is a "secondary offense" while violation of not killing is a "major offense". But of course, many laypersons don't follow the precepts as closely as the monks do but they are encouraged to!

The Dalai Lama encourages people to become vegetarian when possible because that type of diet most closely aligns with the Bodhisattva compassion for all beings, non-violence, Ahimsa, etc. He says "In order to satisfy one human stomach, so many lives are taken away. We must promote vegetarianism. It is extremely important." In the past several years, His Holiness has requested Tibetan monks and nuns become vegetarian. The kitchen at his monastery in Dharamsala is vegetarian. Tibetan monasteries in India are increasingly becoming vegetarian and he sees this as the good, compassionate thing to do. :smile:

The particular Mahayana sutras the mention not eating meat include the Nirvana Sutra, Shurangama Sutra, Brahmajala Sutra (Brama Net), Angulimaliya Sutra, Mahamegha Sutra, Lankavatara Sutra, Karma Sutra, Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, as far as I know.

But of course, for a layperson, the decision to not eat meat will always be a personal decision. For some monks, not so much. :smile:

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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Monsoon » Tue Jun 04, 2013 12:53 am

Thank you seeker242, that was kind of what I thought the situation was.

Seems there is an awful lot of argument in the sphere of buddhist thinking. An awful lot...

I guess I will have to be the Eternal Noob! :smile:
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:20 am

Did you think they would all agree or...
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Jun 04, 2013 7:53 am

Monsoon wrote:@Greg, you are obviously vastly more learned than I on these matters. Perhaps you could point me to the specific text that says vegetarianism is a requirement for enlightenment? I seem to have overlooked it somewhere in among the piles and piles of other texts that I am currently wading through. Be a dear!
It is not a requirement for enlightenment, any more than giving food to beggars is a requirement for enlightenment. It sets up causes and conditions conducive to enlightenment thus making the task easier. The only requirement for enlightenment is getting rid of ignorance.
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Monsoon » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:47 am

:thanks:

That's a little more illumination for the very dark recesses of my tiny mind! (honestly. it's so small I'm surprised I can even live in here :smile: )
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Jikan » Tue Jun 04, 2013 2:37 pm

The Surangama Sutra is a Mahayana text that advocates against eating meat. I don't know if it is claimed that enlightenment is impossible for omnivores in that text.
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby kirtu » Thu Jun 20, 2013 2:37 pm

Tsoknyi Rinpoche told that once in Bodhgaya when he was younger, he was eating a nice chunk of meat in a restaurant when he heard screams, sounding like a human, or a young child. Very serious, not like play, like a desperate cry for help, like out of sheer terror and agony. He went out thinking that he perhaps I can do something, and saw it was a pig being beaten with a big thick staff. “Stop stop,” he yelled, “why are you torturing the pig?” They replied, “it’s to make sure the pig’s blood vessels break so that the blood seeps into the flesh” and he said “why are you doing that”. “It will weigh more when it’s cut up because all the blood doesn’t run out”. That made him into a vegetarian for six or eight years. It was because of noticing, but mostly we don’t notice. It’s very hard to connect a chunk of food to an animal if you just see it in the supermarket.


from an interview with Erik Pema Kunsang, pg 5.

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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Nilasarasvati » Fri Jun 21, 2013 6:45 pm

Buddhists can justify not eating meat but if you look at the opposing views...it's kind of a non-issue. The nutritional justifications by and large show no real understanding of nutrition and are usually pretty lame (IMHO) even when they come from high up Lamas. There's nothing meat has that other sources of protein and vitamins don't have, and moreover they have harmful fats and chemicals that no vegetable can give you.

A hearty bowl of black beans and rice or Chana masala with whole weat chappati is an overload of protein. Unless you're one of those vegetarians who only eats pop-tarts, there's no real dietary leg to stand on.

On the other hand, I don't expect anybody to stop eating meat.

Most Buddhists, I've experienced, are of the opinion that even if they do eat meat, they aspire not to because they recognize that it's linked to the suffering of others, and it rewards the negative actions of murder, torture, and abuse that are endemic in the factory farming industry.

You'll probably have a much more heated discussion if you suggest that Buddhists shouldn't drink. :cheers:
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby dzogchungpa » Fri Jun 21, 2013 7:47 pm

I was wondering what the learned members of DW might make of this:
http://a-bas-le-ciel.blogspot.com/2012/06/vegetarianism-and-theravada-orthodoxy.html
I found it somewhat confusing.
ཨོཾ་མ་ཧཱ་ཤུནྱ་ཏཱ་ཛྙཱ་ན་བཛྲ་སྭཱ་བྷཱ་བ་ཨཱཏྨ་ཀོ་྅ཧཾ༔

The thousands of lines of the Prajnaparamita can be summed up in the following two sentences:
1) One should become a Bodhisattva (or, Buddha-to-be), i.e. one who is content with nothing less than all-knowledge attained through the perfection of wisdom for the sake of all beings.
2) There is no such thing as a Bodhisattva, or as all-knowledge, or as a ‘being’, or as the perfection of wisdom, or as an attainment.
To accept both these contradictory facts is to be perfect.
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Jun 21, 2013 8:31 pm

dzogchungpa wrote:I was wondering what the learned members of DW might make of this:
http://a-bas-le-ciel.blogspot.com/2012/06/vegetarianism-and-theravada-orthodoxy.html
I found it somewhat confusing.
VERY interesting article, not really about vegetarianism (not at all actually) more about how Buddhists use their Canon in order to justify their personal preferences.
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby kirtu » Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:13 pm

Nilasarasvati wrote:Most Buddhists, I've experienced, are of the opinion that even if they do eat meat, they aspire not to because they recognize that it's linked to the suffering of others, and it rewards the negative actions of murder, torture, and abuse that are endemic in the factory farming industry.


I am probably the only former employee of a division of the Department of Agriculture who did not have to go on a tour of a meat processing plant. Every other person working there was scheduled a visit over the years - all the other programmer that I knew, everyone.

John Daido Loori pointed out in an article published in Tricycle in the 90's that even vegetarians participated in factory farming in the extermination of insects and many small animals that live on farms and get in the way of tractors, etc. His point was that no one on Plant Earth, and certainly no one in the West, could possibly be totally free from killing. In order for large scale food production to occur, beings die. The only possible exception to this would be a large enough family farm that very carefully harvested their food and that is not feasible for most people.

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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby seeker242 » Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:51 pm

dzogchungpa wrote:I was wondering what the learned members of DW might make of this:
http://a-bas-le-ciel.blogspot.com/2012/06/vegetarianism-and-theravada-orthodoxy.html
I found it somewhat confusing.


That is interesting! Although, the author could have easily left out the numerous accusations of dishonesty, ignorance and insincerity...It's overflowing with negativity! It taints the whole article!

kirtu wrote:
Nilasarasvati wrote:Most Buddhists, I've experienced, are of the opinion that even if they do eat meat, they aspire not to because they recognize that it's linked to the suffering of others, and it rewards the negative actions of murder, torture, and abuse that are endemic in the factory farming industry.


I am probably the only former employee of a division of the Department of Agriculture who did not have to go on a tour of a meat processing plant. Every other person working there was scheduled a visit over the years - all the other programmer that I knew, everyone.

John Daido Loori pointed out in an article published in Tricycle in the 90's that even vegetarians participated in factory farming in the extermination of insects and many small animals that live on farms and get in the way of tractors, etc. His point was that no one on Plant Earth, and certainly no one in the West, could possibly be totally free from killing. In order for large scale food production to occur, beings die. The only possible exception to this would be a large enough family farm that very carefully harvested their food and that is not feasible for most people.

Kirt


I'm curious if he also mentioned the fact that modern day animal agriculture causes much more harm to living beings than modern day plant agriculture? Does he recognize that growing grains, feeding it to cows and eating the cows, kills many more beings than just eating the grain itself? I don't know how it is with Daido Loori but when people mention that no one could possibly be totally free from killing, much of the time it's just a red herring to direct attention away from the undeniable fact that more harm is caused by animal agriculture, which is the real issue. No one in their right mind believes that, vegan, vegetarian or not, a person can be be totally free from killing to begin with. It's a moot point! The issue is minimizing the harm caused, not completely eliminating harm caused because that is near impossible! When people speak of only of the latter, they often just ignore the real issue. Intentional or not, it's a red herring, by definition.
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Re: the great vegetarian debate

Postby Monsoon » Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:15 pm

Things will die as a result of the actions of other things. This is the rhythm of life. It is inescapable. Even in death life kills other life. For us humans, perhaps unique among life, intention is everything. I think it is important to emphasise this for people who are too invested with only the outcome of their actions.
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