Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Let me just state at the very beginning: meat is not food. Contrary to what the common wisdom may be claiming, meat was never meant to be taken by humans as an edible substance. Unless you live in an extremely harsh climate, such as close to the North Pole, and have no access to vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, honey, mushrooms, etc., you should avoid eating meat.
Why am I saying this? Firstly, as a Buddhist practitioner, I have a vested interest in creating and maintaining the situation that would be conducive to effective spiritual practice and to a swift progress on the spiritual path. That bias is given, and I am not going to spare efforts in trying to convince people to abandon their meat eating habits.
Secondly, from a pure materialistic perspective, eating meat is very harmful. Not only to the individual who eats meat, but also to the environment, and ultimately, to the climate affecting the entire planet.
Many benefits can be achieved by cutting meat out of our diet. In this article, I will elaborate mostly on the spiritual and psychological benefits, leaving the other aspects to the more qualified experts. From the spiritual perspective, it should be plain as a day to anyone that any act of killing cannot be good for one's spiritual progress. If one believes that the laws of the spirit are indeed in full effect, then it would be impossible to deny that all the acts one performs in their daily life has unavoidable consequences to their spiritual well being.
Whenever we eat meat, we participate in the act of violent killing. Whether it is us who actually do the killing (i.e. we hunt or fish the poor animal), or whether we merely buy an already killed animal, there is not that much difference -- we are perpetuating the activity of killing.
From the psychological perspective, appetite for eating meat is an acquired taste (indeed, babies and little children rarely exhibit enthusiasm for meat; quite the opposite, most children are appalled at the sight of a piece of meat on their plate, and will do anything possible to wiggle out of that duty). But, through training and coaching, many children learn to make truce with meat and then acquire the taste and the appetite for eating it. The detrimental side effects of that habit is that many people who are meat eaters tend to crave meat constantly, and the more they eat meat, the more they crave strong flavors that meat offers.
This then creates addiction and gluttony, which are not healthy traits to have. On the other hand, we rarely, if ever, see addiction and gluttony exhibited by the people who avoid eating meat. From this we see that avoiding meat in our diet leads to a much healthier lifestyle.
Another thing that is intriguing about the difference between people who eat meat and people who avoid meat is that, apparently, those who abstain from eating meat seem to not suffer from bad dreams and reckless sleeping patterns. This phenomenon is easy to explain when we consider the fact that meat is much harder to digest than vegetarian food; consequently, meat eaters don't enjoy such peaceful and restful nights like vegetarians enjoy.
From the psychological perspective, it is not difficult to understand that every living being holds its life dear and is afraid of dying. No animal nor human could ever be brought into a situation where they'd be very glad to voluntarily die. Because of this, inflicting the pain of fear on other beings is not a good practice. Consuming the meat of a being who's been hunted down mercilessly and then killed in a most brutal fashion is not a desirable thing to do.
From the hygienic aspect, meat should be considered feculent; the meat tissue has been produced by ingesting either the bio mass of some plants (as in the case of herbivore animals), or by ingesting the flesh of other animals (as in the case of carnivores and cadaver eating animals). That fact indicates that the animal meat is derivative, as it has already been processed, sometimes even to the point of being a third-hand derivative (the meat of a vulture, for example).
Such substances are quite poisonous (and I hasten to add, extremely repulsive, as the meat tissue consists of blood, puss, lymph, etc.), and should not be ingested by humans. They are detrimental to our health -- our physical health, as well as our psychological and spiritual health.
As spiritual practitioners, our goal is to follow the Buddha's example and view all living beings as our children. If we are to succeed in achieving that goal, how can we then stoop to the level of eating our own children? From the Buddhist point of view, eating animal meat equates to eating the meat of our own son. Simply unthinkable!
Lastly, being on the path of spiritual liberation, our goal and our duty is to comfort, embolden and assist all living beings. By empathizing with the beings around us, our innate compassion comes to the full fruition, and we then quite easily see that all beings fear for their lives, and are under a constant stress that they will get killed for food. If we are to offer them comfort and if we are to console them and show them the way out of that sorrowful state, how are they to trust us if we ourselves eat meat? All trust is broken the moment the beings realize that we too have developed craving for meat and thus cherish the act of killing leading to the procurement of our favorite food.
Because of that, we must absolutely cease consuming any meat coming from any living being. We must work on creating a situation where all living beings feel comfortable in our presence, and can then trust us to show them the way towards the ultimate liberation.
Anyone who claims that he or she can accomplish that while at the same time continuing to eat meat is completely deluded.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The biggest challenge that a Buddhist practitioner can encounter in his or her daily practice is the irresistible urge to minimize the grave urgency of the situation. This urge to minimize is ingrained in each and every human being. Without indulging in the bed time story which promises that things are actually not bad, and that everything's going to be fine pretty soon, most people cannot go to sleep.
Same is in everyday life -- we seem to need some sort of reassurance, a sedative of sorts that will help us buy into the pretense that there actually isn't that much suffering that pervades our lives.
This sentiment is the absolute worst enemy of the effective Buddhist practice. Minimizing the danger in which we find ourselves as we wander around the world of samsara is not going to do any good to our practice. The only way our practice will ever pick up and start bringing forth some fruition is if we accept, in all seriousness, the horrendous dangers in which we find ourselves today, as we're buzzing around with our daily concerns and activities.
Buddhist practice is not about admiring the teachings of the Buddha and other realized Buddhist masters. There is a huge, unbridgeable difference between a person who satisfies his intellectual and emotional curiosity by studying the Buddhist teachings, and a person who takes those teachings to heart, internalizes them, and applies them in their daily life, moment-by-moment. Only the latter practice can bring you closer to the liberation.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that, for ordinary humans, suffering is present at two levels: direct suffering, and suffering caused by envy and jealousy.
The direct suffering is characterized by the undeniable nature of such phenomena as being born, growing old, getting sick, and dying. There is pain, physical, psychological and so on, that is accompanying these activities in human life.
The suffering caused by jealousy seems easier to control. For example, if your income gets taxed by the government, you will suffer financial loss, because part of your income will be taken away from you for the taxation purposes. You will, however, assuage that pain and suffering by placating yourself with the argument that others get also taxed under the same law, which therefore means that it's not really all that bad.
However, if you were the only person whose income got taxed, while all the other people got away for free, the pain and the suffering caused by that jealousy would be absolutely unbearable to you. The pain of inequality and the suffering caused by being ostracized is indeed something that most people cannot deal with.
It is precisely because of that mechanism, whereby we find suffering caused by jealousy to be much worse than the direct suffering, that the suffering caused by growing old and dying does not make us too worried, because, hey, everyone else is also subjected to that same suffering.
Thanks to that faulty logic, we sedate ourselves into thinking that life is not actually all that bad, and that things are perfectly fine as they are.
But that's a very perilous way to look at things. The logic is faulty, because it does not really solve anything. Look at it this way: if you have to go to hell and endure the relentless suffering there, will it help to know that your friends will also be there, enduring the same tortures? Of course it wouldn't help, and so the urgent message here is to abandon such foolish ways and to come to our senses and realize the precarious situation we're in.
It is only then that we can step on the true path of Buddhist liberation and realization.