Humans do not need
to eat animals to live.
Animals need humans
to not eat them to live.
Even if veganism might seem
secondary to some humans,
it is always primary to all animals.
A common remark by some who do not have much aspirations to support or go vegetarian (or vegan) is that ‘ Although it is good to go vegan, if your mind is full of the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion, it is not good enough, as the poisons should be rid of first.’ This is how Buddhist vegans could reply – Veganism is an important practice for ridding greed for animal products, (subtle) ‘hatred’ against those who speak for voiceless animals, and delusion about the harms of eating animals. Thus, it is a mistake to imagine veganism is not about ridding the three poisons. It is part of the practice, which affects many lives in our lifetime. This is why vegetarianism is a Bodhisattva precept. It is a practice of generosity to all beings that counters greed, of compassion to all beings that counters hatred, and of wisdom that counters delusion that our choice of diet is inconsequential. How else can we practise these qualities for the animals that we otherwise keep eating, in the hundreds, thousands, millions and billions?
Sometimes, the remark takes form with stronger false dichotomy – ‘ If there were a person who was a very strict vegetarian but who was selfish, dishonest and mean, and another person who was not vegetarian but who was thoughtful to others, honest, generous and kind, which of these two people would be the better Buddhist? In the Buddha’s teachings, the important thing is the quality of your heart, not the contents of your diet. Many people take great care never to eat meat but they may not be too concerned about being selfish, dishonest, cruel or jealous. They change their diet which is easy to do while neglecting to change their hearts which is a difficult thing to do. So whether you are a vegetarian or not, remember that the purification of the mind is the most important thing in Buddhism.’
This would be a possible reply – If there were a person who was non-vegetarian, and was selfish, dishonest and mean, and another person who was vegetarian, but also selfish, dishonest and mean, the second person would be the better Buddhist, because this person is at least kind to animals, while the first is not kind to both humans and animals. It is a big mistake to imagine there is contrived dualism that one is either ‘vegetarian and unkind’ or ‘non-vegetarian but kind’. Veganism is essential for expansion and perfection of compassion. If change of diet is easy, everyone should and would change to the kinder and wiser diet now, for the welfare of animals, humans and the environment. The truth is, to want to change one’s way of life (go vegan) does require change of heart, to cut down greed for meat. Thus, going vegan has strong links with spirituality.
The second remark  was from a book, the author of which, having turned vegetarian, added this in a new edition – ‘If a good-hearted vegetarian’s motive in avoiding meat was concern for animals and not wanting to be involved in the cruelty of modern industrial farming, then he or she would definitely have developed their compassion and their concern for others to a higher degree than the meat-eater would have. Many people find that as they develop in Dharma [practice] that they have a natural tendency to move towards vegetarianism.‘ What we eat cannot purify our minds, but with greed behind our choices of eating, we are not eating purely, be our choices vegetarian or involving dead animals. That said, most who eat animals do have much greed for meat, which is why they refuse to renounce or reduce meat-intake. The contents of one’s heart (e.g. ‘greed for animal products’ or ‘compassion for animals’) do decide the contents of one’s diet. Why not start making the change – even if by taking baby steps?
No one points a knife at humans
to force anyone to go vegan,
while countless animals face knives,
that force them to be meat for humans.
Going vegan as a spiritual practice is
to not use the body to devour or use killed animals,
to not use speech to ask for or support killing of animals,
to not feed the mind with greed for killed animals.
Does Meat-Eating Break the First Precept?