How oddly strange, how strangely odd, that a grandson is marrying his father’s mother. Pigs and goats on the heated bed above are sitting, and the six relations are in pots cooking. A girl is eating flesh of her mother, and a boy is beating a drum with his father’s skin. Although many people are coming to congratulate, I see this truly to be suffering!
– Chán Master Zhìgōng
In Emperor Liáng of Wǔ’s (梁武帝) era, Chán Master Zhìgōng (志公禅师) (418-514) was his national teacher (国师), who had the supernormal ability to recollect others’ past lives, and was later regarded as a manifestation of Maitreya Bodhisattva (弥勒菩萨). One day, a rich family invited him to grace a wedding for sūtra-chanting (念经) to offer blessings. However, once he stepped into the household, he recited the verse above.
It turned out that the bride was the groom’s paternal grandmother in her immediate past life, who died with strong attachment to her young grandson, concerned that he had no one to care for him. With such karmic conditions (业缘), she was reborn to become his wife.
The guests seated turned out to be livestock of pigs and goats slaughtered by humans in their past lives. Now reborn as humans, they are eating their killers, now reborn as pigs and goats as retributive payback. The animals being cooked were however all their past fathers, mothers, older brothers (and sisters), younger brothers (and sisters, husbands and) wives, sons (and daughters)…
In addition, a girl was eating pork hooves (猪蹄子) with relish, which belonged to her once human mother. A boy was playing with a drum made from donkey skin, which belonged to his once human father.
Thus, although many came to offer congratulations, seeing it as an occasion for celebration, Chán Master Zhìgōng exclaimed that it was truly a scene with much suffering, even if not recognised by the others, who invertedly (颠倒) saw suffering (of those involved) as joy (以苦为乐). (Such is the horrifying nature of possible inter-life and inter-species sex and violence.) After explaining his verse to those present, they resolved to give up killing of animals and eating of their flesh (杀生食肉).
Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) thus taught in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra《楞严经》: ‘With humans eating goats, goats who die are as humans reborn, and humans who die are as goats reborn… In death after death and birth after birth, they mutually come to eat one another, with [much] evil karma together arising [on both sides], that exhausts the limit of the future… With you in debt for my life, with me returning your debt, with these causes and conditions, passing hundreds of thousands of kalpas, constantly [trapped] in [the cycle of] birth and death.’「以人食羊，羊死为人，人死为羊… 死死生生，互来相啖，恶业俱生，穷未来际… 汝负我命，我还汝债，以是因缘，经百千劫，常在生死。」
In the Brahmā Net Sūtra《梵网经》, the Buddha taught that: ‘All males are my fathers, and all females are my mothers. As from life to life, there is no one I did not receive birth from, thus are the six realms’ sentient beings all my fathers and mothers.’「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。」
With more details in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra’s《楞伽经》Eighth Chapter On Severing Eating Of Meat (断食肉品第八), the Buddha taught that: ‘Of all sentient beings, from beginninglessness since, in births and deaths reborn without rest, none have not previously been our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters as family members, and even friends and beloved servants. With changing lives then receiving birds’, beasts’ and others’ bodies, how can we, with them within, capture and eat them?’「一切众生从无始来，在生死轮回不息，靡不曾作父母兄弟男女眷属，乃至朋友亲爱侍使，易生而受鸟兽等身，云何与中取之而食？」
Indeed, all beings are interconnected within countless rounds of rebirth. In fact, those who affect us most emotionally and physically, be they family, friends, strangers, pets and even those eaten, could well be interchanging enemies and loved ones. Our intertwined and mixed collective karma binds us together, as we create and pay karmic debts cyclically. However, most of us are too ignorant to realise this clearly. Such absurdly alternating roles should remind us of the sensibility of transcending the rounds of rebirth, that otherwise trap us indefinitely. This should also remind us to cultivate equanimous compassion for one another, despite the nature of our current relationships, as we are truly an extended family. A way to do this is to renounce both meat-eating and use of animal products.
In a later case similar to the above is that of Great Master Hánshān (寒山大师) in the Táng Dynasty (唐朝), who displayed skilful ‘crazy wisdom’ (狂慧; 疯智), and was later regarded as a manifestation of Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva (文殊菩萨). One day, a village’s family was arranging for a wedding ceremony, amidst fanfare and killing of livestock, setting many tables for a banquet, to which many family members and friends came to congratulate joyfully.
When the Master saw this scene, he burst into tears. Those near chided him for being crazy, to cry on such a joyous occasion. When about to be chased away, he exclaimed that he was not crazy, that they were the crazy ones instead. When asked why, he uttered the verse below. Knowing such famous classic cases already, why should we remain crazy?
In the six paths of rebirth with suffering, a grandson is marrying his father’s mother. Cows and goats are on seats of honour, and the six relations are in pots cooking. A girl is eating flesh of her mother, and a boy is beating a drum with his father’s skin. To invert this for exiting rebirth, do not eat sentient beings’ flesh.
– Great Master Hánshān
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The Mahāyāna Entry Of Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra’s 8th Chapter
On Severing Of Eating Meat
Why Are There Wars & Disasters
Did Jìgōng Urge Meat-Eating & Wine-Drinking?
‘The Song Of Patience By Hánshān & Shídé’ As Sung By The Bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī, Samantabhadra & Maitreya