(An Introduction To Maha-Veganism 大乘净素)
Not heeding eating of meat,
one should contemplate this eating,
as one’s own child’s meat.
Those who eat meat,
sever the seed of their great compassion.
– Śākyamuni Buddha (Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra)
Out of his perfect compassion for all sentient beings, Śākyamuni Buddha eventually encouraged the avoidance of meat-eating in many sūtras. As an example, in the Brahmā Net Sūtra (梵网经), he taught its rationale as a higher discipline, in terms of a Bodhisattva Precept (菩萨戒), for the fuller avoidance of harm. This is so as to continually demand to eat meat demands killing of more animals. Here it is, as taught.
‘The Third [Lighter] Precept Against Eating Meat: If as Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, of intentionally eating meat, all meat should not be eaten. Those who eat meat, sever the great loving-kindness and compassion from the seed of their Buddha-nature, with all sentient beings seeing them abandoning them. Thus, all Bodhisattvas, should not eat all sentient beings’ meat. Eating meat attains immeasurable misgivings. If intentionally eating it, they commit a light[er] defiled misgiving.’
Bodhisattvas should aspire to liberate all beings from suffering, instead of eating them or creating ill connections with them. Animals to be helped might also shun those who devour meat out of fear and disgust. Meat-eating thus goes against the natural loving-kindness and compassion within our Buddha-nature, making its potential harder to bear fruit fully. (Note that this is a lighter misgiving in comparison to personal killing, which breaks ‘The First [Heavier] Precept Against Killing’.)
According to the Śūraṅgama Sūtra (楞严经), even animals whose meat and products are not linked to one’s demand should be avoided, so as to not create negative karmic affinities with the deceased. This becomes the practice of veganism, which also avoids use of animal milk, cheese, cream, butter, ghee, eggs, honey, gelatine, leather, silk, wool… Beyond going vegan, the Buddha also urged avoidance of the five pungent roots in the next Bodhisattva Precept. Here it is, as taught.
‘The Fourth [Lighter] Precept Against Eating The Five Pungent Roots: If, as Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, they should not eat the five pungent roots, of garlic, leeks, onion, chives and asafoetida. These five pungent roots, [mixed] within all foods, should not be eaten. If intentionally eaten, they commit a light[er] defiled misgiving.’
The reasons for not eating these roots were explained by the Buddha in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra as follows – ‘All sentient beings seeking samādhi [i.e. meditative concentration], should sever from the world’s five kinds of pungent root vegetables. These five kinds of pungent roots, when eaten cooked gives rise to lust, and eaten raw increases anger.‘ (‘是诸众生求三摩提，当断世间五种辛菜。是五种辛，熟食发淫，生啖增恚。’)
Eaten either way, they will give rise to one of the first two, of the three spiritual poisons (of greed, hatred and delusion) that create suffering. (Likewise are effects for cooked and raw meat.) Lust, which is sexual desire represents greed, while anger represents hatred. These twin poisons can manifest subtly as aphrodisiac effects that increase craving for sense pleasures and spur irritability, thus keeping stability and progress of concentration at bay. Their effects are however not obvious to those who consume only a little, or who are not simply mindful enough to notice their harm.
The sūtra continues – ‘Such people of the world, who eat the pungent roots, even if able to proclaim the twelve divisions of sūtras [i.e. all Buddhas’ teachings], the ten directions’ heavenly beings and those with godly virtues, will be disgusted at their foul stench, all far departing from them. Many hungry ghosts and such, as they, from them eat next, lick and kiss their lips. Always with ghosts dwelling, their blessings and virtues by the day dissipate, in the long term without any benefits.’ (‘如是世界食辛之人，纵能宣说十二部经，十方天仙，嫌其臭秽，咸皆远离。诸饿鬼等，因彼食次，舐其唇吻。常与鬼住，福德日销，长无利益。’)
As more spiritually and physically refined beings, though not yet Buddhas, naturally find the smell of the five roots (and alcohol) pungent, they will shun even from those knowledgeable in the Dharma who eat them. This is while ghostly beings, some of whom might be harmful draw near to consume the taste of the roots secondhand, due to their lack of positive karma to consume firsthand, from the very mouths of their eaters, without them knowing. Being often close to them, their physical health will suffer due to energy clashes, while being spiritually disturbed.
The sūtra proceeds – ‘These people who eat the pungent roots, when cultivating samādhi, Bodhisattvas, heavenly beings, those with godly virtues and the ten directions’ [i.e. everywhere’s] good [Dharma protector] gods, do not come to guard and protect them. Great powerful demon kings, attaining this convenience, manifest as Buddhas’ bodies, and come for them, to speak the [false] “Dharma” [i.e. teachings that distort true teachings of the Buddhas], that slanders the prohibitive precepts, and praises [the three poisons of] lust, anger and delusion. When life ends, they themselves become the demon kings’ family members. When received demonic blessings exhaust, they will fall into the uninterrupted hell. Ānanda, those who cultivate for Bodhi [i.e. enlightenment of Buddhahood] should forever sever from these five pungent roots.’ (‘是食辛人修三摩地，菩萨天仙，十方善神，不来守护。大力魔王得其方便，现作佛身，来为说法，非毁禁戒，赞淫怒痴。命终自为魔王眷属。受魔福尽，堕无间狱。阿难，修菩提者永断五辛。’)
The presence of Dharma protector gods naturally results from good Dharma practice. They are important because they safeguard practitioners physically and spiritually, keeping harmful unseen beings away. Thus, if absent, harmful beings can seize the opportunity to mislead with various manifestations, including as ‘Buddhas’, to delude with wrong teachings that lead away from Buddhahood. They will promote evil by belittling the importance of all precepts, while promoting growth of the three poisons. Those tricked by them thus create karma similar to theirs, to be reborn as one of them in their next lives. When their remnant positive karma dissipates, their demonic negative karma will ripen, sending them into the deepest (Avīci) Hell, where there is the most intense and prolonged suffering. Although this is the worst-case scenario, it can indeed happen. With the above concerns on food covered, the next precept is on drink. Here it is, as taught.
‘The Second [Lighter] Precept Against Drinking Alcoholic Beverages: If as Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, of intentionally drinking alcoholic beverages, as alcoholic beverages give rise to faults of commission and omission that are immeasurable, if personally by hand passing vessels with alcoholic beverages to offer others to drink alcoholic beverages, for five hundred lifetimes will one be without hands; what more if to personally drink them? Likewise, one must not instruct all humans to drink, and all sentient beings to drink alcoholic beverages, what more to personally drink alcoholic beverages. If intentionally personally drinking, instructing others to drink, they commit a light[er] defiled misgiving.’
Any intoxicating drink (or food) should not be consumed, lest loss of mindfulness results, leading to breaking of other precepts, which harm many, by doing what should not be done, and not doing what should be done. Even the slightest support of intoxication, such as by passing a wine glass to someone else should be avoided, since they might also lose mindfulness and harm many. Such abuse of hands can even karmically lead to their loss for many lifetimes.
As above, this is how all Bodhisattvas, who sincerely and diligently aspire for Buddhahood should eat and drink – in the ‘Mahāyāna vegan’, or for short, ‘Maha-Vegan’ (大乘净素) way, by avoiding all meat, animal products, pungent roots and alcohol to practise great compassion (Mahā Karuṇā). Of course, all yet to aspire, or who aspire to be Bodhisattvas are also encouraged do their best in practising this most enlightened diet and way of life!
Such as I have spoken,
is named Buddhas’ speech.
Not such as spoken,
is Pāpiyān’s [Māra: The Evil One] speech.
– Śākyamuni Buddha (Śūraṅgama Sūtra)
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Project Makan: Vegetarianism & Veganism In The True Sutras