the great vegetarian debate

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the great vegetarian debate

Postby Individual » Wed Mar 04, 2009 7:50 pm

Tex wrote:DISCLAIMER: Voting intended for Theravadins only please; discussion is of course welcomed from all traditions.

Abstaining from meat consumption is not required in Theravada, but I'm curious to see how many of our Theravada practitioners choose to abstain from eating animal products anyway.

I'm not, but I'd like to be and strongly recommend it. I don't think eating meat is intrinsically or absolutely wrong, but in a modern context, the Buddha's reasoning for allowing it in the past no longer applies here.

In the past, food may have been more scarce, where a nutritious vegetarian diet may have been impractical. It's been demonstrated, for instance, how a diet high in soy actually isn't very healthy, compared with the standard diet of balancing the five food groups. Vegetarianism only developed in places like India, after all, because they had a certain climate which was advantageous to farming, and a certain economy, which made cows more valuable alive for their milk, cheese, dung, and as pack animals, rather than as meat. Also, by opposing meat, you would be harming farmers' livelihood for the sake of the animals. While in abstract economic terms, supply is (probably) driven by demand, so "one unit of demand supports one further unit of supply", practically, one person's consumption or abstinence has a negligible impact on the overall market.

Now, in modern times, it is certainly possible to have a healthy vegetarian diet, and it is certainly noble to do so. Most farming nowadays is done by large companies, not individual farmers. Aside from the cruelty of things like factory farming... more importantly, meat drives up the cost of fuel (uses more gas to produce meat than veggies) and contributes to global warming. It's been estimated that eating meat contributes more to global warming than driving a car.

So, with all of this in mind, it seems very reasonable to me to promote vegetarianism -- not in a militant or evangelical way, though, like PETA.

I am not a vegetarian myself, however, because I am an America, where meat is a staple of my diet, I have a certain palette where I don't like vegetarian foods very much, I'm too lazy to go through the type of preparation required, and I just haven't really gotten into it. But I do think it's a good thing.
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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Thu Mar 05, 2009 5:33 pm

In my opinion a Buddhist shouldn't be a strict vegetarian or vegan. To take such a stance would just be attachment to views. The Āmagandha Sutta makes it clear. To be a vegetarian for reasons of health or frugality makes more sense than for reasons of ethics.

If you lived near a farm where the farmer grew cabbages, and you knew that the farmer shot rabbits. Then at the farm shop, would you buy cabbages, or rabbit meat, both, or neither? On what basis would you make that decision?

All modern farming methods involve the intentional destruction of living beings — even for growing vegetables. If you have time, you can grow your own organic veggies and take reasonable care to ensure that no living beings are killed in the process, but growing wheat and making your own bread is not easy. So, why not just be mindful of your intention and save a whole lot of grief that arises from attachment to views?

In four ways one can break the precept of killing living beings:
  1. One kills living beings by one's own hand
  2. One urges another to do it
  3. One grants permission to another to do it
  4. One speaks in praise of killing
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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby Avery » Thu Mar 05, 2009 6:44 pm

I have gone vegan before, and I try to avoid eating too much meat because I know it comes from factory farms. But I have been eating meat all my life, so my body needs it. It's not good to deny yourself part of the healthy diet you grew up with.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 7:08 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:In my opinion a Buddhist shouldn't be a strict vegetarian or vegan. To take such a stance would just be attachment to views. The Āmagandha Sutta makes it clear. To be a vegetarian for reasons of health or frugality makes more sense than for reasons of ethics.

Hi Bhante Pesala,

I was wondering when you were going to post with your views on this subject. :anjali: No disrespect in this statement, I welcome the opposing views for this debate. The debates on vegetarianism (like the rebirth threads) go on and on, at least over at e-sangha and other forums, so I imagine it will happen here too.

Speaking of views, attachment to views is true and I would add that attachment to views can happen no matter which way you stand on an issue, including vegetarianism. Like you and others, I have seen vegetarians who are attached to their views, but I have equally (probably more so) seen non-vegetarians attached to their views too. Some (not all) get almost irate and violently upset at vegetarians. Attachment can occur either way.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 7:12 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:In my opinion a Buddhist shouldn't be a strict vegetarian or vegan. To take such a stance would just be attachment to views. The Āmagandha Sutta makes it clear.


Abstaining from fish and meat, nakedness, shaving of the head, matted hair, smearing with ashes, wearing rough deerskins, attending the sacrificial fire; none of the various penances in the world performed for unhealthy ends, neither incantations, oblations, sacrifices nor seasonal observances, purify a person who has not overcome his doubts.


In my opinion, the Amagandha Sutta is referring to those who believe you can ritually become pure by eating certain foods, doing some ascetic practices, etc., not as a rejection of vegetarianism, per se. In ancient India it was not uncommon for some to believe that certain foods (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) had certain purifying effects, much like baptism, and also beliefs in water immersion too for becoming pure.

A vegetarian can be morally impure in so many ways. His diet will not make him pure. That is what I get out of that Sutta. But a Buddhist may want to lessen the violence done to sentient beings by being vegetarian and the Sutta does not reject that, in my opinion.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 7:24 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:In four ways one can break the precept of killing living beings:
  1. One kills living beings by one's own hand
  2. One urges another to do it
  3. One grants permission to another to do it
  4. One speaks in praise of killing

For me, numbers 2 through 4 sound very similar to ordering, requesting meat. This would not be the case for a monastic who lives by the Threefold Rule, but for lay people who choose what to buy, what to order, that is a different matter.

In my opinion, if I go to a butcher and request some meat and for the purposes of this hypothetical example it is his last piece of flesh in the store, then the butcher will order another carcass from the slaughterhouse. It is a direct line from my order.

Yes, there are some unintentional killings of insects and possibly some rabbits in the fields, but there is a difference in my opinion. I have lived on a farm and I have not seen any farmer intentionally kill any rabbits or other animals in the fields. Maybe that happens, but I have not seen it. There is organic farming which lessens the number of unintentional killings of insects and other beings.

Even if we still say that there is much killing of insects and other beings from the harvesting of vegetarian foods, there will still always be less killing, less violence, with a vegetarian diet, because a meat eater is eating the animal that was slaughtered, PLUS all of the above, because the slaughterhouse animals are fed grain and vegetarian foods (processed just like the above paragraph mentions) for years while they are being raised for their meat.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Mar 05, 2009 8:34 pm

TheDhamma, was it your intention to turn this thread from a poll into a debate?

TheDhamma wrote:
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:In four ways one can break the precept of killing living beings:
  1. One kills living beings by one's own hand
  2. One urges another to do it
  3. One grants permission to another to do it
  4. One speaks in praise of killing

For me, numbers 2 through 4 sound very similar to ordering, requesting meat.

a] "Please sell me that piece of meat, which came from an animal killed without any knowledge that I personally, here and now, would wish to purchase it."
b] "Please kill an animal and then sell me it's meat."

I think we can all agree there is a difference between these two scenarios. The question is therefore a] what is the nature of this difference? and b] is this difference significant in terms of the Buddha's teachings?

In my opinion, if I go to a butcher and request some meat and for the purposes of this hypothetical example it is his last piece of flesh in the store, then the butcher will order another carcass from the slaughterhouse. It is a direct line from my order.

It seems to me not a direct line but rather an indirect line. The Butcher could decide to order another carcass or he could decide to get out of the meat business, having sold all his existing stock. Similarly, the workers at the slaughterhouse make the decision every day to continue in that line of work. And what about the delivery truck driver? Is he part of this so-called "direct" line? He neither places order nor makes decisions to kill. He is neither part of supply nor demand.

This seems to me the crux of the disagreement: whether buying and animal killed in the past constitutes urging another to kill in the future.

Yes, there are some unintentional killings of insects and possibly some rabbits in the fields, but there is a difference in my opinion. I have lived on a farm and I have not seen any farmer intentionally kill any rabbits or other animals in the fields. Maybe that happens, but I have not seen it.

The farm you lived on did not employ pesticides against crop-destroying insects? it did not trap or poison crop-eating rodents? I can assure you these are in fact common-place practices. One need only to look through any farm-supply catalog to see the myriad tools employed for pest elimination.

Even if we still say that there is much killing of insects and other beings from the harvesting of vegetarian foods, there will still always be less killing, less violence, with a vegetarian diet

The problem with this argument is it suggests the Buddha taught one to engage in less killing. The teachings as I am familiar with them say to abstain from all killing. Since it is physically impossible to not be a part of any indirect chain of events that might lead to killing, I can conclude that indirect chains are not what the Buddha was referring to.
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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Mar 05, 2009 8:36 pm

Perhaps interestingly, I am reminded of medical cadavers.
a] "Please let us use this dead body for medical study, which was killed without any knowledge that I here and now would wish to use it."
b] "Please kill someone and bring us the body so we may use it for medical study."

Of course the obvious difference between this case and buying meat is the animal is killed for the express purpose that someone would buy it's meat. No one kills people for the express purpose of creating medical cadavers. On the other hand, killing people for any reason is illegal. Similarly, killing an animal for any reason is taught by the Buddha to be unwholesome. It seems to me unnecessary to extend the Buddha's teachings on this matter to include anyone who is in any way even remotely connected to the person doing the actual killing. If no one was willing to kill directly then the entire discussion of vegetarianism becomes moot.
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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 8:51 pm

Peter wrote:TheDhamma, was it your intention to turn this thread from a poll into a debate?


I thought that was what was going on already?

Peter wrote:The Butcher could decide to order another carcass or he could decide to get out of the meat business, having sold all his existing stock. Similarly, the workers at the slaughterhouse make the decision every day to continue in that line of work. And what about the delivery truck driver? Is he part of this so-called "direct" line? He neither places order nor makes decisions to kill. He is neither part of supply nor demand.

I am only referring to those who do the killing and those who request the killing, not anyone else.

Peter wrote:The farm you lived on did not employ pesticides against crop-destroying insects? it did not trap or poison crop-eating rodents?

No and many farms do not use those instruments, especially organic.

Peter wrote:The problem with this argument is it suggests the Buddha taught one to engage in less killing. The teachings as I am familiar with them say to abstain from all killing. Since it is physically impossible to not be a part of any indirect chain of events that might lead to killing, I can conclude that indirect chains are not what the Buddha was referring to.


You don't think that less killing is better than more killing? For example, if it is decided to bomb a headquarters of a terrorist group and since killing is already allowed, is it then okay to use a nuke and destroy the headquarters and another 250 mile radius including all of the civilians around that area? The Buddha went to the battlefield to stop a war. As far as I can see the Buddha did want less killing because no killing means less killing, as much as possible, at least.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:00 pm

Peter wrote:Of course the obvious difference between this case and buying meat is the animal is killed for the express purpose that someone would buy it's meat. No one kills people for the express purpose of creating medical cadavers. On the other hand, killing people for any reason is illegal. Similarly, killing an animal for any reason is taught by the Buddha to be unwholesome. It seems to me unnecessary to extend the Buddha's teachings on this matter to include anyone who is in any way even remotely connected to the person doing the actual killing. If no one was willing to kill directly then the entire discussion of vegetarianism becomes moot.

I agree, animals are killed for the express purpose of making meat for sale. No one kills a human to create a cadaver. The cadavers all died naturally. I would not see anything wrong ethically with eating meat from an animal that died naturally. I would not want to do it, though.

The Buddha considered killing an animal for any reason to be unwholesome. I agree again. I do not propose that meat eating be made illegal as it is for killing humans. I think it is a choice issue. For me, it is a small way to do less killing in this samsara, but each must make their own decision. Killing animals is unwholesome, probably unethical in many instances, but not illegal, that's too far.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:12 pm

TheDhamma wrote:I am only referring to those who do the killing and those who request the killing, not anyone else.

No, that's not what you were referring to at all. You referred to the person who buys a piece of meat. He neither kills nor makes a request to kill. Your words: "if I go to a butcher and request some meat and for the purposes of this hypothetical example it is his last piece of flesh in the store, then the butcher will order another carcass from the slaughterhouse. It is a direct line from my order." You requested the last piece of meat in the store. Thus it was already dead, thus you did not kill nor request anything to be killed.

No and many farms do not use those instruments, especially organic.

I agree organic farms do not, but I disagree with your assertion that "many farms do not". Here's a map of pesticide use by state from 2002.

You don't think that less killing is better than more killing?

I do not think less killing is wholesome while more killing is unwholesome. Rather I think less killing is less unwholesome that more killing, yet still unwholesome. Furthermore, I do not find anything in the Buddha's teachings to suggest he praised unwholesome behavior of any quantity. For example, I am not aware of any scripture which states "Better than killing a hundred people is to just kill five."

For example, if it is decided to bomb a headquarters of a terrorist group and since killing is already allowed...

Allowed by who? Buddhism teaches all killing to be unwholesome.

...is it then okay to use a nuke and destroy the headquarters and another 250 mile radius including all of the civilians around that area?

Bombing the headquarters is unwholesome. Bombing the civilians in the area is also unwholesome. At least according to Buddha's teachings, which is what I thought we were discussing here.
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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:14 pm

The cadavers all died naturally.

Some died naturally. Some died as the result of violent crime.
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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:22 pm

Peter wrote:No, that's not what you were referring to at all. You referred to the person who buys a piece of meat. He neither kills nor makes a request to kill. Your words: "if I go to a butcher and request some meat and for the purposes of this hypothetical example it is his last piece of flesh in the store, then the butcher will order another carcass from the slaughterhouse. It is a direct line from my order." You requested the last piece of meat in the store. Thus it was already dead, thus you did not kill nor request anything to be killed.

Then the debate between us is just over if there is a direct line or not. In my opinion if one orders meat, then another animal will be killed. In my opinion requesting meat, asking for meat is allowing and approving of a future animal to be slaughtered. Your opinion is that there is no direct line. That is fine. We can disagree on that. We're still both practicing Buddhism.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:24 pm

Peter wrote:
The cadavers all died naturally.

Some died naturally. Some died as the result of violent crime.

But they were not killed specifically to make another cadaver. Or if they were, that would be really unwholesome, I am sure we would all agree to that.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:31 pm

Then the debate between us is just over if there is a direct line or not.

My question to you, which you did not answer, is how far does that direct line go? If I buy fruit in a store that also sells meat, am I "allowing and approving" their general business model, which includes selling meat? If I drive the truck from the slaughterhouse to the store am I "allowing and approving" the sale of meat? If I didn't drive the truck then there'd be no meat to sell, right? If I treat the illness of a man who makes his living selling meat, am I "allowing and approving" him to continue doing his job?

If I buy non-organic fruit, am I "allowing and approving" the use of pesticides and traps? Is the buying of non-organic fruit against the Buddha's teachings in your eyes?

I understand you see a direct line. My question is how far does that line go?
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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:42 pm

Peter wrote:I understand you see a direct line. My question is how far does that line go?

Just the owner of the trade, be it poisons, assault weapons, alcohol, meat and in my opinion those who directly purchase those items; not the delivery people, employees, etc.

You could replace meat with alcohol, poisons, etc. and see that it is just those directly involved, for example the person who buys alcohol and the owner of the liquor store; both unwholesome, not illegal.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 10:18 pm

Peter wrote:If I buy fruit in a store that also sells meat, am I "allowing and approving" their general business model, which includes selling meat? If I drive the truck from the slaughterhouse to the store am I "allowing and approving" the sale of meat? If I didn't drive the truck then there'd be no meat to sell, right? If I treat the illness of a man who makes his living selling meat, am I "allowing and approving" him to continue doing his job?

Every time someone buys a vegetable or fruit in a grocery it is sort of a "vote" for those items. It is supply and demand. It doesn't matter if the store also sells meat. If someone only buys the non-meat items, it is those items that will become in short supply and then the manager will order more of those items. I see nothing wrong or unwholesome in purchasing vegetarian items at a store that also sells meat or ordering vegetarian at a restaurant that also serves meat. So as mentioned above, just the owner of the business or the one directly buying is something I would not do, the delivery people, etc. pose no harm.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby Branko » Thu Mar 05, 2009 10:50 pm

Yes. That means I've been veggie for last 33 years of my life. During that period I was eating fish for 3-4 years.
Reason for my decision in the first place was feeling sorry for the animals,
although some might consider as an attachment to views.
Whatever it might be, I feel better being what I'm now.

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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby Tex » Thu Mar 05, 2009 11:39 pm

TheDhamma wrote:Even if we still say that there is much killing of insects and other beings from the harvesting of vegetarian foods, there will still always be less killing, less violence, with a vegetarian diet, because a meat eater is eating the animal that was slaughtered, PLUS all of the above, because the slaughterhouse animals are fed grain and vegetarian foods (processed just like the above paragraph mentions) for years while they are being raised for their meat.


This makes sense, of course. But if the goal is minimizing the total number of deaths, then wouldn't the answer actually be to eat meat exclusively?

Couldn't I buy beef from a butcher that buys his cows from a rancher that grazes his cows exclusively on grass? I don't know exactly how much beef one cow yields, but I'm sure I could survive for a couple of weeks or more per animal death caused for my food consumption this way.

:shrug:
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Re: Poll: Are you vegetarian/vegan?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 11:57 pm

Tex wrote:Couldn't I buy beef from a butcher that buys his cows from a rancher that grazes his cows exclusively on grass? I don't know exactly how much beef one cow yields, but I'm sure I could survive for a couple of weeks or more per animal death caused for my food consumption this way.

But the cow grazing will also be killing so many insects from the eating and also out the other end when it relives herself/himself.

If one really wanted to limit the total number of beings, organic vegetables, fruits, and grains would be the way to go.


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