Question: I came across this teaching of the Buddha in the Surangama Sutra: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2016/06/how-the-buddha-eventually-advocated-veganism and have decided to lead a vegan lifestyle. However, I have a number of leather bags (sofa chairs, belts…) and bottles of wine bought in the past. How should I handle them? Should I just give them away?
Answer: This advice might seem counter-intuitive, but it is probably the best in the long run…. The bags and such should be cut up in the midst of chanting (e.g. Nianfo practice of mindfulness of the name of Amitabha Buddha – ‘Amituofo’) and disposed of, and the bottles’ wine flushed away down the toilet bowl, before recycling the bottles. This is not wasteful as imagined due to the reasons below.
The teaching in the Surangama Sutra on veganism is about not creating any negative karmic affinity with sentient beings dead or alive through consumption (or use). The bags are essentially parts of cows’ carcasses and are non-essentials for humans. If they are given away to interested friends or even for charity, there is the potential problem of the new users coming to delight in leather goods, and probably buying more in the future, which will be linked to the demand for more cows’ skins.
The leather industry is not an incidental by-product of the beef industry; it is a lucrative part of the total exploitation of cows – it is a co-product. (Some cows are skinned alive too.) As it creates negative karma to demand for leather in the first place, it does not create negative karma to simply no longer use it, or let others be uninterested in using it. In fact, to abstain from usage and to discourage usage so creates positive karma.
As alcoholic beverages have the potential to muddle up the mindfulness of drinkers, leading to possible breaking of precepts, which harm both the drinkers and those they interact with, this ‘poison of delusion’ (无明药), as called in Buddhism, should be discarded, to discourage them being consumed. It is worth noting that trade in intoxicants is ruled as an unwholesome livelihood by the Buddha. If so, giving intoxicants away free could be consequently worse, as it makes them more easily available.