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Meat and the First Precept

June 21, 2012

Note: I apologize for the delay in posting. I’ve been away on business

A common accusation
I often get asked how I can ‘murder animals’ be eating meat, while claiming to be Buddhist. Conventional wisdom tells us that the Buddhist First Precept of ‘Do no harm’ would prevent us from eating animals.

Fortunately, being a vegetarian, or vegan, is not a universally held view among Buddhists. Meat eating varies by tradition and often culture. The Theravada, perspective is that meat eating is of personal preferences. Mahayana traditions lean toward vegetarian, as opposed to Tibetan where meat eating is seen as necessary due to the difficulty of growing crops in their region.

Life and Death
It is impossible to live without accidentally or unintentionally causing harm or death to some beings. Accidentally stepping on an ant hill while on a hike, or being unable to swerve around a squirrel while driving are simple examples. But when we take into consideration the amount of death that is complicit to all forms of eating, the ‘Meat is murder’ argument falls away.

Killing a cow or fish for food makes many people feel uncomfortably close to the harm being done to those animals. Understandably, the compassion we feel for these beings makes many people turn to vegetarianism.

Unfortunately, the mass production of vegetables and grains also causes great harm and death to the field animals and insects when it is time to harvest. For anyone who has not worked on one of these farms, they are sufficiently removed from the pain of these beings and don’t feel the same compassion they do to the more visible meat giving animals.

In short, animals (including humans) must kill other animals directly or indirectly to survive. By nature we are born into carnivorous, omnivorous, or herbivorous types and consumption for survival shouldn’t be held against a being karmically.

Levels of suffering

We can certainly control or persuade what kind of suffering the animals we eat endure. When I purchase meat I look for organic, free range, and wild options. This way I know that I’m not supporting those that are causing undue suffering to the animals.

Though it is clear that killing your own food (hunting, fishing, butchering), or having it specifically killed for you (lobster at restaurant) breaks the first precept, there is no clarity on purchasing meat that was killed by someone else.

As I see it, eating meat breaks down to something like this; moving from inappropriate to appropriate:

– Directly killing an animal by self.
– Having animal killed for you.
– Purchasing mass produced, minimally regulated produce and meat.
– Purchasing regulated organic, wild caught, free range, etc produce and meat
– Only eating meat when offered or has died of natural causes
– Running your own self sufficient farm, taking all precautions to minimize harm.

Dealing with the expectations of other Buddhists

As mentioned by reader Dennis, there can be an increased degree of judgement or expectation from Western Buddhists to be vegetarian.Though this is not a universal feeling, my experience has shown that such strong expectations come from those that were vegetarian first, and then became Buddhist due to the First Precept.

Since I see vegetarianism as a choice, and that no form of consumption comes without a form of complicit suffering I am comfortable with both their and my decisions on what to eat. I luckily spend most of my time with Therevadan and Tibetan buddhists who have yet to show any concern over what I eat. Probably because they also eat meat as well.

According to the Blue Zones research it is important to surround yourself routinely with those that share your life philosophy or faith. I suggest finding a community of like minded Buddhists, or buddhist philosophists to enjoy time with. I also would not get hung up on labels, or being 100% Buddhist in order to call oneself as such.

It is said that the Buddha’s final words were “Work out your own salvation with diligence.” It is best to analyze the impact of your actions, and live accordingly to what you understand to be the most beneficial for yourself and other beings.

What do you think
I’m always interested in hearing what others have to say, and I know this can be a hot topic for some.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Kai permalink
    June 1, 2015 7:34 am

    I found your article when I searched for other Primal/Paleo folks who are also Buddhist. I was very excited to happen upon your blog. I agree with your perspective on meat-eating, and would also add that I just think that eating meat is part of the overall cycle of suffering. Many animals eat meat naturally for survival, if man was the only one doing it, I could understand how it might seem like causing unnecessary suffering. Its not as though the buddha ever suggested that the samsara would at some point stop if we personally stopped all of the suffering that we could cause. In fact, samsara is specifically stated as a never-ending cycle. I guess I was forced to reconsider my initial stance on this when I became a buddhist and researched it, after spending a day at my local Tibetan temple today during a small picnic. Most of the buddhists who are regulars at the temple seem to be vegetarians. A few told me the same argument about how even farming for vegetarian products will result in suffering, but I still felt slightly judged for my meat-eating. I just personally have always felt that I don’t feel like I have had a proper meal unless it has contained animal protein. And given the cycle of life and also the discoveries that meat-eating is what allowed our brains to develop to what they are today, vegetarianism has never made sense to me. So I guess I’m just saying, thank you for this article. Its exactly what I was looking for! And being primal I am sure you can understand that I find it hard to imagine a world where corn, grains, and soy would have to being a large part of my daily intake if I were a vegetarian! Thanks again!

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