The 'Jataka Tales' (folk tales) within Mahayana Buddhism Promote Vegetarianism
"In the Buddha's past life as Ajastya, a forest-dwelling ascetic, he sustained himself on a strictly vegan diet. He lived off 'roots and fruit' plus fresh water.
(Jatakamala, by Aryasura, translated into English as The Marvelous Companion, Dharma Publishing, Berkeley, CA, 1983, p. 55)
"When this source of food dried up, Ajastya was not unduly worried, for he knew he could still survive on leaves, water, and grass... The thought clearly did not occur to him to kill and roast a few birds, or snare and eat the occasional rabbit. The animals which lived in the forest with him were perfectly safe - and they admiringly looked up to him as their friend, protector and role model...
"In another life, as the wandering ascetic, Mahabodhi, the Buddha once told a powerful king that - contrary to the king's suspicions - he had not once been guilty of animal murder, nor could his adherence to a virtue ever allow such a thing. He says:
'In truth, your majesty, I have never killed even a single living creature...
'He who... maintains virtuous action, who cherishes compassion - how could such a person kill any living being?'
(Jatakamala, p. 226)
"...There are, of course, other examples of pro-vegetarianism which could be cited from the Jatakas - but the above should suffice to indicate the general trend of sentiment. So let us turn now to the actual purveyors of meat: the hunters, fishermen and butchers. What does the Buddha have to say about such people?"
The Lotus Sutra on the Evil, Animal-Slaughtering Trades
"The Buddha-Path is one of inner purity. Not only killing animals oneself, but even associating closely with those involved in such murder is liable to pollute the spirit of the aspiring Bodhisattva-Mahasattva ("Great Enlightenment Being"). The Buddha thus advises his followers to keep well clear of animal abusers:
"'They [Bodhisattvas] should not be closely associated with... persons engaged in raising pigs, sheep, chickens or dogs, or of those who engage in hunting or fishing or other evil activities.'
(The Lotus Sutra, translation by Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, New York, 1993, p. 197)
"Obviously the breeding activities referred to here are entered into, not to benefit the animals, but to swell the coffers of those who rear and sell the animals. Ultimately, such persons are as misguided and worthy of condemnation as the hunters and fishermen who directly kill the creatures unfortunate enough to fall into their hans or nets.
"The Buddha was ever a realist, and whilst not denying the possibility that such animal-exploiting persons could reform, he id not hold out inordinate hope in this regard. He tells his followers in the Lotus Sutra:
'If such persons at times come to one, then one may preach..., but one should expect nothing from it.'" (Lotus Sutra, p. 197)
Dr. Tony Page merely comments:
"Those of us who have vainly tried to speak sweet reason to vivisectors (experimenting upon animals) and other animal molesters will ruefully acknowledge how accurate the Buddha was!"
Dr. Page continues:
"...In the same section of the scripture, the Buddha reiterates the theme of shunning those who harm animals:
'Also he [the Bodhisattva] must not associate with slaughterers or flesh-carvers, those who hunt animals or catch fish, or kill or do harm for profit. Those who peddle meat for a living or display women and sell their favors - all persons such as this one should never associate with.' (Lotus Sutra, p. 199)
"It is interesting to note that in the Buddha's eyes, those who butcher animals and sell their meat are as dissolute and depraved as pimps, who exploit women and sell sex. Both types of person are 'doing harm for profit.' Yet sadly, in today's upside-down world, even more so than in the Buddha's time - profit is worshipped as God.
"Fortunately, however, there is a counter-current developing, and increasing numbers of people are saying 'No!' to a heartless capitalist system that has neither respect for animal life nor concern for oppressed men, women and children. It is because the Buddha sees the identity of depraved inner values as shared between animal abusers and pimps - both of whom exploit without mercy - that the two groups are rightfully bracketed together.
"So important is this message of condemnation of animal abuse, that the Buddha repeats it at the very end of the scripture. Speaking of the accomplished Bodhisattva, he tells of how such a person could never take pleasure from mixing with those who pursue evil, animal-abusing professions:
'They [Bodhisattvas] will take no pleasure in associating with... those engaged in evil occupations such as butchers, raisers of pigs, sheep, chickens or dogs, hunters, or those who offer women's charms for sale.' (Lotus Sutra, p. 323)
"If it is wrong to be intimate with hunters and butchers, how much more wrong must it be to finance their work by buying their grisly, blood-stained 'products'! As we shall now see, eating meat - and thus being part of the cold, compassionless system of animal exploitation - is utterly condemned by the Buddha in some of the most important Mahayana scriptures."
The Buddha Utterly Condemns Meat-Eating
"The primary objection to eating animals is that it involves the killing of those creatures. Non-killing is the minimum that can be expected of an aspirant Bodhisattva and is the very first of the Buddhist precepts or prohibitions. The Buddha states in the Brahmajala Sutra:
'Disciples of the Buddha, should you yourself kill, willfully cause another to kill, encourage someone to kill, extol killing, take pleasure seeing killing take place, deliberately wish someone dead, intentionally cause death, supply the instruments or the means for killing, cut off a life even when sanctioned by law, that is, participate in any way in killing, you are committing a serious offense warranting exclusion from the sangha (association or community).
'Pray, do not intentionally kill anything whatsoever which has life. As a Bodhisattva, awaken within yourself a heart that is unending in its mercy and compassion, respect and dutifulness, and use your skillful means to help and protect all sentient beings.'
(The Scripture of Brahma's Net, in Buddhist Writings, translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, OBC, Shasta Abbey, CA, 1994, pp. 127-28)
'Disciples of the Buddha, should you yourself willingly and knowingly eat flesh, you defile yourself... Pray, let us not eat any flesh or meat whatsoever coming from living beings. Anyone who eats flesh is cutting himself off from the great seed of his own merciful and compassionate nature, for which all sentient beings will reject him and flee from him when they see him acting so. This is why all Bodhisattvas should abstain from eating the flesh of any and all sentient beings. Someone who eats flesh is defiling himself beyond measure...'
(The Scripture of Brahma's Net, in Buddhist Writings, translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, OBC, Shasta Abbey, CA, 1994, p. 138)
According to Dr. Tony Page:
"The fascinating Lankavatara Sutra is perhaps the most insistent of all the Buddhist scriptures that meat-eating is to be condemned. There is a whole chapter (Chapter Eight) in the Lankavatara devoted to this subject:
'...wherever there are living beings, let people cherish the thought of kinship with them, and, thinking that all beings are [one's] child, let them refrain from eating meat. So with Bodhisattvas whose nature is compassion, meat is to be avoided by him. Even in exceptional cases, it is not of a Bodhisattva of good standing to eat meat...
'For fear of causing terror to living beings... let the Bodhisattva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh... let the Bodhisattva, who is disciplining himself to abide in great compassion, because of its terrifying living beings, refrain from eating meat...
'...let the Bodhisattva, whose nature is pity and who regards all beings as his only child...refrain from eating meat...'
(The Lankavatara Sutra, translated by Dr. D.T. Suzuki, Prajna Press, Boulder, CO, 1978, pp. 212-216)
Dr. Tony Page comments:
"...Buddhism sees all beings as related to one another - not just in a figurative sense, but quite literally: since beginningless time, we have been reincarnating into different families, in different forms, so that there is now scarcely any person or animal in the world who is not related to us in some degree of kinship. To kill an animal and eat its meat is thus tantamount to slaughtering and devouring one's own relatives...
"Thus by catching and killing fish, rearing and slaughtering chickens, breeding and butchering cattle, etc., we are... murdering a potential Buddha of days to come... one should not stretch out one's hand for the sliced-off tissues of a murdered fellow being. The Buddha appeals here to compassion - pure and simple...
"Some persons argue that eating meat is permissible since one has not done the killing oneself. There is a name for such a stance: hypocrisy! The Buddha was well aware that by sponsoring the meat-trade through eating meat we are implicated in the killing of animals. He says in the Lankavatara Sutra:
'If meat is not eaten by anybody, there will be no destroyer of life.'
(The Lankavatara Sutra, translated by Dr. D.T. Suzuki, Prajna Press, Boulder, CO, 1978, p. 217)
"The Buddha firmly states that he does not permit any meat-eating, nor will he at any time in the future:
"It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when [the animal] was not killed by himself, when he did not order others to kill it, when it was not specifically meant for him...there may be some unwitted people in the future time, who... under the influence of the thirst for [meat]-taste, they will string together in various ways some sophistic arguments to defend meat-eating... meat-eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit, I will not permit."
(The Lankavatara Sutra, translated by Dr. D.T. Suzuki, Prajna Press, Boulder, CO, 1978, p. 217-219)
An exchange between one of the Buddha's disciples, Kasyapa, and the Buddha found in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra:
"O World-honoured One! Why is it that the Tathagata [the Buddha] does not allow us to take flesh?"
"O good man! One who takes flesh kills the seed of great compassion."
(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, p. 91)
Dr. Tony Page comments:
"The Buddha's primary objection to eating meat, it is plain, is that such a practice is incompatible with the cultivation of compassion. And the wise nurturing of that seed of compassion, which lies buried in all of us, is nothing less than the primary purpose of Buddhism (at least, according to the Mahayana). How dreadful meat-eating must be in the Buddha's eyes, then, if it strikes at the very heart of what his Dharma (way of life) embodies and comprises - boundless all-wise compassion...
"One of the pre-eminent aims of Buddhism is to purify one's heart. It is evident from the above words that by eating or advocating meat one is forsaking what is pure and committing a crime against Dharma. From a Buddhist point of view, that is a most serious offense...when Kasyapa asks what a Buddhist should do if offered a meal which contains meat. Is it permissible to eat such a meal and yet remain pure? Kasyapa wonders. The Buddha's reply is unambiguous:
"Use water, wash off the meat [from the plate], and then take it [the rest of the meal]... If one sees that there is much meat, one must not accept such a meal. One must never take the meat itself. One who takes it infringes the rule. I now set this rule of segregating one's own self from taking meat."
(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, p. 94)
The Buddhist precepts for moral living include prohibitions not to slander others nor drink alcohol. The Buddha himself refers to the vinaya [monastic] rules in the sutras of Mahayana Buddhism. Celibacy, known in the Hindu religious tradition as well as in Buddhism (in Sanskrit) as bramacharya, is referred to by Dr. Page as "the path of holiness" or "divine faring."
Dr. Page comments:
"Some Buddhists have argued that a monk should accept and eat whatever food is offered - but this is clearly rejected by the Buddha here, who states that if there is a lot of meat on a preferred dish, the whole meal should be refused. And if there is only a small amount of meat with the rest of the food - then the meat must be washed clean away before the other food can be touched. It could not be more apparent how defiling and impure meat was in the Buddha's eyes.
"Not only meat is prohibited by the Buddha, but likewise the keeping of animals or the attending of animal 'shows' or fights. Speaking of what is not permissible for his brethren (and nuns), he says:
"One does not keep the elephant, horse, vehicle, cow, sheep, camel, donkey, hen, dog, monkey, peacock, parrot... jackal, wolf, cat, raccoon, dog, wild boar, and pig... nor does he enjoy himself looking at the fights of elephants, horses, vehicles, soldiers, men, women, cows, sheep, cocks, pheasants, parrots, etc. He does not look at--- the fights of lions and elephants... and all kind of amusements."
(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, pp. 284-85)
According to Dr. Tony Page, Mahayana Buddhism is nearly abolitionist when it comes to animal exploitation. Dr. Page notes that of the sixteen practices listed in the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures as "evil," thirteen of them concern the exploitation of animals:
1. keeping, feeding, and fattening sheep for profit and sale.
2. buying and killing sheep for profit.
3. raising, fattening and selling pigs for profit.
4. buying and killing pigs for profit.
5. raising , fattening and selling calves for profit.
6. buying and killing calves for profit.
7. raising hens for profit and selling them when fully grown.
8. buying hens for profit and killing them.
11. selling fish.
12. catching birds by net.
13. charming snakes.
(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, p. 719)
"It is quite obvious from the above," insists Dr. Page, "that the Buddha was not only opposed to meat-eating, but any form of gross-animal exploitation (including circuses or 'animal entertainments' - of which snake-charming is just one representative example).
"The present writer also knows of no passage in the Sutras which portrays the Buddha as riding around on a horse or even a donkey (after his gaining of enlightenment). He seems to have walked everywhere. Is this not itself testimony to his respect for animals?
"The Buddha perceptively brought together the fields of 'human rights' and 'animal rights.' The Buddhist followers were strictly enjoined not to traffic in free human beings or slaves of either gender, nor to traffic in animals or their products. To the Buddha, no distinction should be made between brutal human exploitation and that of animals.
"Of course the mindset which can sanction and perform abuse to one species of being is liable to do the same to another."
(The Scripture of Brahma's Net, in Buddhist Writings, translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, OBC, Shasta Abbey, CA, 1994, p. 144)
Dr. Page claims the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures support veganism:
"...it could be argued that the Buddha did not expect all Buddhists to give up all animal-products overnight - but to move toward that goal gradually. He himself says in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra:
"The Tathagata... prohibits by gradual steps and not at a time."
(The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, in Three Volumes, translated by Kosho Yamamoto, The Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1973 - 1975, p. 95)
"By the same token," comments Dr. Page, "it seems that, although many scriptures sanction the use of dairy products, the... goal was that of veganism."
In the Surangama Sutra we read:
"How... can you eat the flesh of living beings and so pretend to be my disciple?...
"All bhiksus [monks] who live purely and all Bodhisattvas always refrain even from walking on the grass; how can they agree to uproot it? How then can those who practice great compassion feed on the flesh and blood of living beings? If bhiksus do not wear garments made of silk, boots of local leather and furs, and refrain from consuming milk, cream and butter, they will really be liberated from the worldly...
"This teaching of mine is that of the Buddha whereas any other is that of evil demons."
(The Surangama Sutra, translated by Lu K'uan Yu, B.I. Publications, Bombay, India, 19789, pp. 153-154)
In the January 2003 issue of Live and Let Live, a pro-life / animal rights/ libertarian 'zine, James Dawson, raised Catholic and now a Theravadin Buddhist, comments:
"While I personally consider veganism an ethically superior diet to ovo and/or lacto vegetarianism, and as much as discipline and circumstances allow, try to move toward it as much as I can, Dr. Page's claim that the Buddha advocated veganism, to my mind is really stretching it. This isn't to say the scriptural evidence is nonexistent, but just very thin. However, even this might be worth considering further."
Dr. Page responds:
"...on the substantive issue regarding veganism: yes, the scriptural evidence for the Buddha's advocating veganism is very slim, that is true; amongst the Mahayana sutras, it is mainly to be found in the Surangama Sutra. But there is a lot of Mahayana sutric insistence on vegetarianism.
"I still believe that the Pali suttas (the canonical scriptures of Theravada Buddhism) clearly indicate great reservations about the eating of meat: clearly it was something that was not lightly to be undertaken. The passsages which I quote seem pretty clear to me that the Buddha was urging against meat consumption for monks.
"And in any case, as a Mahayanist, I believe that whatever the Buddha said in the Pali suttas (or agamas) is superseded by the more advanced teachings of the Mahayana (yes, James is right that I do regard Mahayana as a step forward within the Buddha's doctrines...).
Veganism would certainly be a logical conclusion of ahimsa (nonviolence toward humans and animals alike) within Buddhism. Roshi Philip Kapleau writes in his 1983 book, A Buddhist Case for Vegetarianism that the Buddha was:
"...a person so sensitive to the sufferings of all living beings that he would not drink milk from a cow during the first ten days after its calf was born..."
(A Buddhist Case for Vegetarianism, Roshi Philip Kapleau, Rider, London, 1983, pp. 24-25)
According to Dr. Page: "The vital Buddhist practices of meditation and spiritual study should not be used as a means of cutting ourselves off from empathy with others, but for bringing us closer to them. As the Buddhist writer Fred Eppsteiner puts it in the stimulating book, The Path of Compassion - Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism:
'No one would
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