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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reflections on Meat by a Buddhist Vegetarian

As some of you know, I am a vegetarian and have been for 3 years this past August. It has been interesting to watch my perceptions about meat change over this period of time. At first and for the first two years I didn't really feel sickened when I smelled cooking meat but now I do from time to time. I also sometimes have a hard time looking at raw meat or cooking meat without feeling horrified as if I was looking at human flesh.

The main reason that I decided to become vegetarian was from an immense love of animals and compassion for their suffering. I feel a very deep connection and bond to all sentient beings and feel that eating them is no different then eating my mother.

That being said, I do not, however, look down on those who wish to eat meat nor do I have a problem eating meals with meat eaters. True, I do not like the smell or the idea but I would rather try to focus on the joy of being able to come together and rejoice in the pure presence of others then focus on our differences. Yes, I could turn up my nose and walk out on dinners that serve meat but that is not the middle way. Besides I am sure that I wouldn't (and don't) live up to someone else's standards and we all have to walk our own path and make decisions that seem the most logical to us in adherence to the famous Kalama Sutra. To criticize others for eating meat is less skillful and not conducive to creating and maintaining the environment of peace for all sentient beings including my meat eating friends and family whom I love dearly just as much as any other creature.

I'm not always skillful in my life but then who amongst us is? Which reminds me of something one of my mother's fellow Christian friends said when the subject of perfection came up in a conversation. She said, "You know what they do with perfect people don't you? They crucify them."

Anyway, It has just been interesting to watch my reactions to seeing and smelling meat being cooked. It has been (and continues to be) a fascinating and worthwhile practice in mindfulness. I am still amazed at what a powerful teacher just mindfully watching our lives unfold is to us all.

~Peace to all beings~

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anna said...

I've often toyed with the idea of going vegan,especially since I don't eat much meat in the first place.

You know how over at my place awhile back, I mentioned having you share some thoughts on Buddhism with me? The more and more I read about it the more intrigued I become. BUT...I feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Just wondering if you'd mind my picking your brain?

jack said...

Nice balanced article on the subject.

I have become vegetarian, too - for about 2 years now. I don't faint with remorse if I happen to get a bite of meat now and then, but I don't eat it. Vegetarianism fits well with Buddhism, but on a different level it is part of a deliberate effort to cultivate what Schweitzer called "reverence for life." And it appears to be helping toward that objective.

That said, the smell of a good fried turkey, or my neighbor's barbecue wafting in my direction still makes my mouth water a bit. I doubt it will ever be much different. But it is resistable, and that's good enough.

PeterAtLarge said...

I'm not a vegetarian, James, but I honor those who have made this choice. Aside from the point about compassion, which you eloquently make, there is a serious consideration about the contribution of our meat-eating habits to the problem of global warming: the clear cutting of forests to make grazing space, methane gas emissions, and so on. Maybe one of these days I'll come around. Thanks for your contribution to last week's controversy on The Buddha Diaries, by the way! I know you're quite big enough to defend yourself, but I got quite defensive for you in the fray! Blessings, Peter

the living mandala said...

I happened across your blog yesterday and I just wanted to say that I'm enjoying it. I've linked you on my blog, hope you don't mind. If you do, I'll remove it, of course.

As for this post, I wanted to respond. I'm not a strict vegetarian, I'll eat meat if I'm at someone elses home and they offer it. However, I never choose meat for myself, and most of my friends know that I would prefer to avoid it. Like you I'm often disgusted by it. However, I've noticed an interesting thing - two of my dearest friends are avid hunters, and when they come back from a hunt with fresh game, I know that they've thanked the animal and honored it for it's sacrifice, and eating the game meat they provide is nothing like eating farm-raised animals at all. I wonder if you've ever had this experience? To me, it's such a different experience all together. It's definitely a profound 'circle of life' (hokey, I know) moment. It makes for a great reflection on the nature of the world.

Wade M said...

Hi James,

An very interesting article, that certainly touched a spot within me. I too am a Buddhist Vege.

Whilst being in Monastic training over in the state I have been exposed to very senior (including an Abbot) who continue to eat meat. When asking for further details about how this could be possible etc, I got a very interesting reply.

They say that all things contain life, sentient and insentient, that no thing or no one item should be raised above another, and to do as such is dualistic. That all foods should be consider equal and regardless of what we should be just as thankful and respectful for the life we are taking.

From a _really_ Buddhist perspective it makes sense, and the attitude the monastery had was to always respect all food choices, allowing vegan, vege, and meat eating. It comes down to the individual and what they think and feel they need.

I feel that my life is more stable and grounded without meat. I feel my body is more focused and at greater peace without meat. I've been a vege for a year, and really respect and enjoy the foods I eat.

I continue to bow to my meals, regardless of where I am, it's a practice I find reminding, humbling, and rewarding. I also try to remember the Meal Gatha, which I will leave you with :)



First, seventy-two labors brought us this food, We should know how it comes to us.

Second, as we receive this offering, We should consider whether our virtue and practice deserve it.

Third, as we desire the natural order of mind to be free from clinging, We must be free from greed.

Fourth, to support our life we take this food.

Fifth, to attain our Way we take this food.

First, this food is for the Three Treasures.

Second, it is for our teachers, parents, nation and all sentient beings.

Third, it is for all beings in the six worlds.

Thus, we eat this food with everyone,

We eat to stop all evil, to practice good,

To save all sentient beings,

And to accomplish our Buddha Way.

They call him James Ure said...


If you have any questions regarding vegetarianism, I'd be happy to help. The same invitation stands regarding Buddhism. I'm no master or expert but I have learned a few things over the years. I would be more then happy to do my best. :)


Thanks, I try to be balanced in my views. I don't always achieve this of course but I really believe in the art of compromise.

Congrats on becoming veggie. As for enjoying the smell of a good turkey cooking, I must admit that I still miss fish sometimes. Cooking fish is still a smell that makes me sometimes gets me.

Mostly I think because it reminds me of my two years in Africa where fish is a staple. Fish, rice and a good red pepper sauce was delicious. Also, part of my decision to go veggie was from a health stand point.


I fully respect your choice to eat meat. I do not think either that it is a prerequisite to being "Buddhist." Whatever being a "Buddhist" means I always say. ;)

You make an excellent point on the land issue.

As for the controversy chez vous I wanted to engage that person further but I didn't want to get nasty on your blog. :)

Living Mandala:

I would like to extend a big welcome to you friend. I'm glad that you are enjoying the blog and I hope to see you around here often. I am humbled that you bookmarked my blog and no, I don't mind in the least. ;)

You bring up an excellent point on the veggie post. I have always been impressed by hunters who follow the Native American tradition of thanking the animals for their nourishing meat. It shows some respect for animals at least instead of just shooting them for sport.

I too wouldn't refuse meat if offered to me in a home and it was the only choice. There are many Buddhist monks who follow this rule.


That is an interesting thought brought up by the monk. However, I personally feel that respecting all life is important. We can respect all life without being dualistic I think. I just don't feel that eating meat in this day in age is necessary. For me it comes down to the principle in Buddhism that we seek to end the suffering of all sentient beings.

That being said, however, it is indeed a personal decision and I would never want someone to make such a big decision out of feeling guilty, forced or whatever. As with all decisions we should investigate and decide what makes the most sense for ourselves and not because some "master" said to do it.

For that monk his explanation makes the most sense but for me it falls a little short.

Thank-you for that gatha about eating. I have a similar one.

I hope you had a wonderful experience during retreat and I welcome you back to the blogosphere. I bow to the Buddha within you and all beings.

Wade M said...

Hi James,

Firstly thank you for your welcome back, I'm on Hosan, otherwise known as a weekend off. I go back on schedule on Monday morning, so am catching up a bit. We can talk more offline if you wish :)

For me it comes down to the principle in Buddhism that we seek to end the suffering of all sentient beings.

This is the dualistic thinking according to the monks and Roshi/Abbot. Drawing a line between sentient and insentient, they say everything is alive, a view most buddhist teachers I've heard promote, especially Thay.

I am totally with your view about personal investigation and reflection, your continued living of the Dharma is inspiring.

May all beings be happy, May all beings have peace.



Carla said...

Hi James! I'm a Buddhist vegan, but I was a vegan before I became a Buddhist. For me it's been four years. Personally, I could never eat a bite of meat even if it was offered to me because (and I can't explain how this happened to me) I can't bear the thought of putting a bit of corpse into my mouth, a being that was once alive and breathing and conscious and seeking to preserve its own existence. For myself, I have come to see that to consume other sentient beings is wrong on every level, including being ultimately unhealthy for my own body.

And by the way, I do now find the smell of cooking meat entirely

I don't look down on those who eat meat, but do find a curious defensiveness from them when they discover that I don't. I find that very telling.

Interesting post.

They call him James Ure said...


I see what you mean. However, with all due respect to the Roshi/Abbot, according to his logic we might as well eat each other. I feel the explanation that we are all equal and therefore should eat meat and non-meat to avoid being dualistic to be a poor excuse. I emphasize though, that I find it to be a poor excuse for me personally.

Unfortunately we are stuck in samsara which means living in a certain amount of duality in order to have some bearings. You have to have some paramiters and draw a line somewhere. Otherwise we live a nihilistic existence.

Even using the terms "I" and "You" is dualistic and yet we can't exist within society very well without using them.

I'm certainly not someone who wants to tell others what is right or wrong for themselves. I am merely saying that I don't agree with the Roshi/Abbot's explanation.

He has to live his own life though as do I. Indeed we all have our own karma to play out and so we aren't all always going to agree.


I understand your position very well. I would hope that I'm never in that situation because it would be a very difficult decision for me.

I guess if it came down to it perhaps I'd simply explain to them that I do not eat meat and could I possibly eat something else? And if they didn't have anything else then perhaps I'd fast until I could find some fruit or bread.

And if I was starving out in the wilderness? Well, I don't know how to hunt anyway so I guess I'd just meditate until I expire or until someone rescued me.

So I guess I just changed my mind.

Yet (and here I go again...I'm such a philosopher, always saying stuff like "On the other hand...") maybe I would eat meat if it meant living to help someone else such as a child or another life that depended upon me.

Great points everyone and thank-you for making me think. I like the discussions we have here. I like how everyone discusses things without engaging in personal attacks.

marc said...

bonjour from probably will be interested by the recent letter of thich nath hanh ; do you know the"son's flesh sutra"? listening thay explain this sutra drove me stopping eating meat; well, i have been practicing a lot before,may be it was only like a trigger for me . to find thay's letter, try"dear spiritual family+plum village( the full text of the sutra is in"creating true peace" from thich nath hanh. sorry for my poor english, a lotus for you, buddha to become, from france, not far from plum village, marc.

freedomseeker said...

Going vegatarian is good. Taking a nice attitude towards other people is better. And getting enlightenment is the best because it enables us to deal with the whole situation according to the Dhamma, which means that we don't have to worry about vegerarianism or non-vegetarianism.

clay.collier said...

Vegetarianism has such a strong association with Buddhism in the West that people are sometimes surprised that non-vegetarian Buddhists exist- though that described most lay Buddhists in East Asia, and both lay followers and monks in East Asia and the Himalayas. The history of Buddhism and vegetarianism is really interesting- the Theravada recension of the scriptures is at odds with the Sanskrit versions that were preserved in East Asia and Tibet, to the point that the neither of the two traditions is really sure whether the Buddha's famous last meal was pork or mushrooms!. Cultural factors played a huge role as well. If you're interested in a bit of history about how vegetarianism came to be associated with Buddhism in China, the book 'The Eminent Monk' by John Kieschnick has a lot of really interesting information.

Carla said...

Hi again James

I forgot to mention the issue of starving in my post. For myself, I feel fairly sure that if it came down to eating meat or starving, I would eat meat. Most of us would do whatever it takes to survive in that sort of situation. But there's difference between being caught between meals and having nothing on offer but a ham sandwich and being in a survival situation! So while I have the luxury of choice, I choose to eat from the wonderful range of plants that grow up from the good earth, and let fleshly creatures alone.

As to clay.collier's post, I'm always surprised that people don't know there are some non-vegetarian Buddhists. Although I don't why I'm surprised--there are so many misconceptions about Buddhism out there!

They call him James Ure said...


Salut!! I will look for that letter. Thank-you for bringing that to my attention. I think your English is quite good. :)

I bow to the Buddha within you. _/I\_

Freedom Seeker:

Yes I think in the end we can get too caught up in the particulars of life and Buddhism rather then just living and enjoying the moment which is at the heart of the Buddha's message.


I was one of those surprised that vegetarianism isn't more prevalent in Asian countries but I guess that just showed my ignorance. I have since educated myself.

And thanks for the book suggestion. I'm a book worm (avid reader) and am always looking for a good book.



I fully agree with you about the distinction being clear between the two situations. And yes, there are indeed many misconceptions about Buddhism. I have studied for a few years and am still learning as I'm sure I always will.

Ginger said...

Hello, I just stumbled across your page in a search for information on Bodhi Day.
This is humorous to me, I know what you're talking about. I've been vegan for about a year and a half and I have similar reactions as you around meat, but I'm usually okay with dairy and egss.
I made a chessecake for a friend of mine for her birthday in August and my stomach was in knots for 3 days because of my reaction to the raw eggs and cheese. Your post just reminded me and made me giggle so I had to share.
Thanks, XOXO

Ginger said...

Please pardon my typos, that's embarrassing. Happy Bodhi Day :)

They call him James Ure said...


Welcome to the blog. I too eat dairy and eggs. I do, however, buy organic eggs from cage free, free-roaming chickens. Same with the milk.

Although right now our budget won't allow for organic cheese. One day I hope to buy that organic too.

Jerry said...

Thanks for the article. It was timely in my case because I have been eating less and less meat over the last year to the point that I only have meat 1-2 times/week now. If not for my family's preferences, I would be eating much less.

I use to be a big meat eater...every meal and lots of red meat. It seems that I am slowly changing in a way that meat is not as appealing. I also have been overcome by the smell of meat. At times it smells like rotting flesh, which of course is exactly what it is.

Eggs, dairy and most seafood do not usually bother me. But there are times that I even avoid these. I suspect I am a budding vegetarian.

They call him James Ure said...


You're welcome. :)

Isn't it fascinating to watch ourselves evolve over time? Glad to hear that you are feeling good about eating less meat. For one things, it's healthier. As I'm sure you know. :)

curaloucura said...

I am vegan and zen buddhist. when I practice meditation or when I prepare a good meal to friends I feel peace. Most of my friends are not vegetarians, but they do understand the care for the animals, they just can't see meat as a dead animal, and I have to respect their time.

thanks for sharing your thoughts


They call him James Ure said...


Perhaps in time your friends will come around to not eating meat but in the mean time it is wonderful that they respect animals in all other ways.

I've never been much of a cook but I can imagine how preparing a meal would be a nice meditation.

GooGoo said...

Nice post! I asked some Buddhist vegetarians/vegans recently for help in giving up meat, and some of them preferred to call me a murderer rather than answer my questions and said that eating meat is "all-or-nothing". I certainly didn't think that was the Middle Way... So I'm very grateful for a respectful approach.

But speaking of dualism, I believe that disgust is as much part of dualism as lust. In this case, at least it is better than making creatures suffer, and you have not used it to create anger or hatred as some vegans have. You have directed it with compassion and not toward those you believe to cause it. Thank you.

They call him James Ure said...


Thank-you. I agree about disgust. I try not to let it take over my mind. I don't think that it's all meat or nothing either. Everyone is on their own path and we do not have the right to condemn anyone else.

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