Should Buddhists Eat Cows?

When compassion is greater than greed,
it is easy to abstain from eating animals.

– Stonepeace | Books

A common question among Chinese Buddhists is whether they are ‘allowed’ to eat cows. Is it a Buddhist practice to abstain from eating cows (with bulls and calves)? The answers are ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It is ‘yes’ – because as the Buddha progressively taught, he encouraged many to go vegetarian and eventually Maha-vegan, as can be seen in this article: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2016/10/how-should-all-aspiring-for-buddhahood-eat-and-drink This naturally includes not eating cows.

It is ‘no’ – because the Buddha advocated practice of equanimously universal compassion for all sentient beings, which includes all animals beyond cows. Cows do not have any special status, to be specially protected, just as other animals do not have any special status, to be neglected. The non-eating of cows probably arose as an attitude of gratitude for their ploughing of the fields, especially in ancient times. (However, these days, most such cows still get killed for their meat, skin and gelatine.) This also does not mean that animals who did not prove ‘helpful’ to humans should be eaten. Humans are also not ‘helpful’, and are instead harmful to many other animals, but this does not mean humans should be eaten! 

In the Angulimāliya Sutra, Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva asked the Buddha, ‘Is it true that the Buddhas do not eat meat due to [their] Tathāgatagarbha [Buddha-nature]?’ The Buddha replied, ‘It is exactly like that, Mañjuśrī. In the sequence of lives during our beginningless and endless coming and going in Saṃsāra [rebirth], there is no being that has not been our mother, that has not been our sister. Even dogs have been our fathers before. The world of those lives is like a play [with interchanging roles]. Therefore, since our own flesh and that of others is the same flesh, the Buddhas do not eat meat.’

Moreover, the Buddha also taught this Bodhisattva Precept in the Brahma Net Sutra. As part of the Twentieth [Lighter] Precept [Against] Not Practising Liberation [And] Saving [Of Sentient Beings] goes – ‘… All males are my fathers, [and] all females are my mothers, [from whom], life after life, there is no one I did not receive birth from. Thus, the six realms’ [sentient] beings [of hell-beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras and gods] all are my fathers and mothers. And to kill and to eat them, is to kill [and to eat] my fathers and mothers…’ (第二十不行放救[轻]戒:’… 一切男子是我父,一切女人是我母,我生生无不从之受生,故六道众生皆是我父母。而杀而食者,即杀我父母… ’)

To summarise, the Buddha urges us to see all beings, including animals, as precious mother sentient beings, our past loving parents, whom we are heavily indebted to. Thus, there would be no reason to have favourtism (speciesism) for protecting cows only. There is however still good to abstain from eating some animals first, while working towards not eating any animals at all. Taking baby steps to quit meat is ‘alright’, though to meet demand for their meat, animals continue to stand in line to be slaughtered, as we speak. May all beings help all beings to be free from fear and harm. May all beings be well and happy always. (This article purposely called beef ‘cows’ to remind readers to see meat as who they were – sentient beings.)

Related Articles:

Why Do Buddhists Avoid Meat-Eating And Practise Animal Liberation?
How The Buddha Eventually Advocated Veganism
How Should All Aspiring For Buddhahood Eat And Drink?
Why Veganism Is The Beginning And End Of Vegetarianism

When wisdom is greater than ignorance,
it is easy to abstain from eating animals.

– Stonepeace | Books

1 Comment

  • Why only cows? Why not ALL beings? Dharma says …may ALL beings be free from suffering…that means cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, fish, clams, oysters, etc..etc..etc…

    Speciesism has pushed us to the brink of human extinction.
    Compassion is most achieved by recognizing all animals as having their own right to live free of suffering. VEGAN is the only intentional cruelty free diet.

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