As you are shaped by your intentional actions,
you are also what, who, why
and how you eat.
In the Mahayana sutras, Buddha advised his followers not to eat meat. Not only is it nonvirtuous to bring direct harm to another being, but the act of eating meat does not complement the four seals (http://tinyurl.com/thefourseals). This is because when you eat meat, on some level you are doing it for survival – to sustain yourself [though we can sustain ourselves healthier with a meat-free diet]. This desire to survive is connected to wanting to be permanent, to live longer at the expense of another being. If putting an animal into your mouth would absolutely guarantee an extension of your life, then, from a selfish point of view, there would be reason to do so. But no matter how many dead bodies you stuff into your mouth, you are going to die one of these days. Maybe even sooner.
One may also consume meat for bourgeois reasons – savoring caviar because it is extravagant, eating tiger penises for ‘virility’, consuming boiled bird’s nest to maintain youthful-appearing skin. One cannot find a more selfish act than that – for your vanity a life is extinguished. In a reverse situation, we humans cannot even bear a mosquito bite, let alone imagine ourselves confined in crowded cages [like egg-and-meat chickens] with our beaks cut off waiting to be slaughtered, along with our family and friends, or being fattened up in a pen to become human burgers.
The attitude that our vanity is worth another’s life is clinging to the self. Clinging to the self is ignorance; as we have seen, ignorance leads to pain. In the case of eating meat it also causes others to experience pain. For this reason, the Mahayana sutras describe the practice of putting oneself in the place of these creatures and refraining from eating meat out of a sense of compassion. When Buddha prohibited consumption of meat, he meant all meats. He didn’t single out beef for sentimental reasons, or pork because it is dirty, nor did he say it’s okay to eat fish because they have no ‘soul’. [‘Vegetarianism need not be an all or nothing practice, as it is better to eat less animals than many animals, while it is even better to eat no animals than some animals.’ – Stonepeace]
What Makes You Not a Buddhist
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse)
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