Not ‘Possessed’ Of Enough Compassion & Wisdom

Featured in the middle of season 1 of ‘Possessed’, are some dialogues that a fictitious ‘monk’ has. Try to spot the Dharma mistakes… The senior monk asks a few young child monks who returned to the Korean monastery if they had a good time, to which they said yes. An adult monk who was with them says he will have them wash up quickly, to be ready for prayer service. The senior says to just let them go to bed. The other monk wonders why. Senior says as they must be full and tired, they will obviously doze off during meditation, which makes it pointless.

Senior elaborates to a girl who overhears, that eating can be considered part of their training, that they went out to eat jjajangmyeon and tangsuyuk, which are meat-based dishes. Seeing her incredulous, he explains, ‘They’re in their growth spurts, you know… [Mahāyāna] Buddhist monks [especially] don’t eat meat. Most people think it’s an unbreakable Buddhist rule, but strictly speaking, even grass and leaves are all living things. Superficial formalities aren’t everything. A sage who eats meat is obviously better than a robber who’s strictly vegetarian.’

How can an ‘excursion’ out of the temple, already with healthy and ethical vegan good, for needless buying and eating of deceased animals using donors’ funds, be expected and agreed to be a good time? How badly damaged will the reputation of monastics be if seen to have such indulgent ‘good times’? Why should junior monks be excused from evening prayers and meditation just because they might be full and tired from meat-eating? This is making the mistake of offering time-off from Dharma practice for an anti-Dharma mistake made. They should not had stuffed themselves with dead animals in the first place.

If eating is part of spiritual training, they should had trained to eat with more compassion and wisdom. It is untrue that those growing up must eat animals, as there are countless healthy vegans from birth worldwide. The famed Shàolín Monastery is also known for successfully training young child monks in challenging martial arts as vegans. People do indeed know meat-eating is a Bodhisattva Precept (in the Brahma Net Sūtra; 梵网经) that should not be broken, because meat is the flesh of sentient living beings (有情众生) who clearly suffer when killed – while grass and leaves are clearly non-sentient living things (无情众生).

Even if argued that plants are of equal preciousness, well, animals eaten had to first eat much more plants to fatten up, before they are killed for their flesh. Understanding this, how can abstaining from animal products be a superficial formality? What truly superficial is the obviously false dichotomy, that one is either a good person who eats meat, or an evil person who does not eat meat – because the one better than both is the good person who does not eat meat.

The girl had decided to have a short temple stay to clear her mind, but there was quite a bit of confusing advice above, which she did not clarify further. Hence this review, this exemplifies the danger of imagining that authentic Buddhist teachings can be properly learnt from shows meant for mere entertainment. Even with big budget film-making, with elaborate sets and sites, acting and scripting, nothing is better than sincere, systematic and comprehensive learning in Dharma courses, from qualified teachers, who teach directly from the Buddhist sūtras.

Related Articles:

You, ‘Animals And The Buddha’
How The Buddha Taught Mahāyāna Buddhist Veganism (or Mahā-Veganism for short)
How Meritorious Is Severing From Meat & Alcohol?

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