The Open Letter to the Dalai Lama has elicited some interesting feedback. It’s there, buried in the COMMENTS that are posted next to the letter.
I’ve reproduced the latest exchange here for easy reading:
In the service of true peace, I should think we would not judge how others eat, but pray they all have sufficient nourishment that pleases them; since all sentient beings have value, I myself think equal harm is done to sentient beings in the harvesting of vegetarian food, as well; it is a part of the suffering imposed upon us in this cyclical existence, that we must eat and that the food choices we make inevitably harm other sentient beings of all kinds.
It doesn’t seem to me to be a good thing to insist others choose to behave and believe as we do, within the law, of course, but it seems right to allow them their choices as a matter of conscience, which helps them continue along the path of personal growth. As a practicing Mahayana Buddhist, the last thing I would undertake is to correct or criticize His Holiness’ eating habits, or to criticize any Sangha or begrudge any one the nourishment he or she might choose.
Norm Phelps replies:
The questions you raise are good ones, and I pondered them long and hard before deciding to write the open letter to the Dalai Lama. I finally reached the following conclusions:
1) The issue is not “how others eat,” but the the simple fact that meat cannot be obtained without killing an innocent sentient being. The proper focus for a follower of the blessed Buddhadharma is not on us and our eating preferences, but on the suffering and death that are intrinsic to animal flesh. The First Precept “Do Not Kill” is universally understood to apply to animals as well as human beings.
Every time the Dalai Lama (or anyone else) eats meat, he is killing a mother being and violating the First Precept. As the Buddha said, “If no one ate the meat, no one would kill the animal.” The Mahayana Scriptures quote the Buddha numerous times unequivocally condemning all meat eating. If someone preferred to obtain sexual satisfaction by rape, incest, or child molestation, all Buddhists would condemn that as wrong. No one would suggest that “The last thing I would undertake is to . . . criticize any Sangha [member] or begrudge any one the sexual fulfillment he or she might choose.” We would all recognize that the issue is the victim, not the perpetrator.
Likewise with eating human flesh. The issue is the suffering and death of the victim, not the “nutritional choices” of the flesh eater. Acording to the Mahayana teaching, all sentient beings have at one time been our mother; eating meat is, in a very real sense, eating the flesh of your mother. It is a form of cannibalism and explicitly condemned as such by the Buddha. We do not have a right to make personal choices that inflict suffering and death on innocent beings. It is as simple as that.
2) It is factually inaccurate to say that “equal harm is done to sentient beings in the harvesting of vegetarian food.” Animals are very inefficient producers of protein. It takes many more acres (roughly 10 times as many by many estimates) of grain to feed a meat eater than it takes to feed a vegan.
Therefore, a meat diet kills roughly 10 times as many sentient beings as a vegan diet, not counting the animals (some 48 billion of them worldwide every year) who are killed deliberately for their flesh. We cannot live a perfectly harmless life in this imperfect world. But our goal as Buddhists should always be to live as close to harmlessly as possible. The fact that we must inevitably kill some sentient beings accidentally in the production of grains, fruits, and vegetables is not a valid reason to kill far more sentient beings for the sake of food we do not need to live long, healthy lives, i.e. for the sake of the very kind of craving that Buddhist practice is intended to help us overcome.
This is why Buddhists are forbidden to be butchers or to raise animals for sale, but are not forbidden to be grain and vegetable farmers. The fact that some people will inevitably die accidentally in automobile accidents is not an excuse for deliberately running down pedestrians. Killing is a far more grievous offense than criticizing someone for killing.
I feel that I would be committing a far worse sin if were to condone by my silence the killing of 48 billion sentient beings every year for food than the sin I may be commiting by criticizing the Dalai Lama for eating food derived from murder.
3) The law has nothing to do with Buddhist morality. The Precepts do not say, “Do anything that is legal.” They specify what we as Buddhists and moral human beings may not do. And at the top of the list is “Do not kill,” whether the killing is is legal or not.
Posted by Kurma on 21/6/07; 8:51:32 AM