A Buddhist take on factory farming

The book Eating Animals is brilliant. Jonathan Safran Foer has done the world a service. He is a best-selling novelist who has managed to write a book about factory farming that is readable — horrific, yes, but still readable. Even un-put-downable. He has looked at the question of eating animals from many angles — culture, community, history, politics, husbandry, morality, health etc. He has avoided black and white haranguing and reasonably discusses shades of gray so people can come to their own conclusions.

“I need some exercise!”

Those of you die-hard carnivores who don’t want to change your habits at all, don’t read any further, and don’t pick up this book. As 99% of USA meat is factory farmed, really knowing about factory farming forces you to change in some ways  — and you may not want to change! The facts in this book, if digested, will lead most people (a) to become vegetarian or vegan, (b) to eat less meat, or (c) to be far more careful about choosing meat from animals that have not been tortured their entire lives or stewed in their own filth and stuffed with antibiotics, hormones etc. (If this book gets people into the habit of asking the store and restaurant owners where their meat or eggs actually come from, this will in itself have the power to improve animal welfare and human health). The alternative from digesting this book (as opposed to dismissing it) is that you won’t change but you will feel guilty, and that is not a useful state of mind according to Buddhism.

“I *really* need some exercise.”

This article is more about me than about you. I can’t lecture anyone about vegetarianism (let alone veganism)  — until some years ago I was an imperfect vegetarian, eating meat when I went to visit my family for holidays for example, thinking erroneously it was the best way to blend in, plus secretly digging the excuse …  But I never felt that good about it. I love animals, and I could see that loving animals was somewhat contradictory to eating them! It sat uneasily with me. But hey, steak smelt so good, and I didn’t always have the will-power to ignore others tucking into it whilst I nibbled on the brussel sprouts.

Pigs are as intelligent as dogs. Who would push their dog in a closet and throw away the key?
“I can’t help it. I have to eat.”

Then I watched a nature program about animals in the Arctic. Like these programs always are, it was brutal. Kill or be killed. It dawned on me that — unlike every animal struggling every day in the wild — I have the choice, every day, not to eat meat. That is my good fortune. I don’t have to kill anyone in order to eat. And every time I exercise that choice, I create the karmic cause to have that choice again. Whereas if I deliberately allow animals to be killed for me so that I can eat them, am I not creating the cause to have less freedom to choose in the future? Every thought and action has consequences. Buddha said that with our thoughts we create our world. From a Buddhist understanding of rebirth (and depending on my motivation) could one even say that I might be creating the cause to be a powerless animal in future lives?

None of us likes being told what to do or having our lives controlled by others. Imagine what it is like, then, to be an animal.

Even by omission, by ignoring the facts, I personally felt like I was buying into samsara, the cycle of impure life.

This all got me thinking, and later I visited a friend who happened to have a copy of Eating Animals on the table. I read it avidly over the next two days and then could think or talk of little else but the horror of factory farms, driving everyone around me mad. I even fancied I caught a glimpse of what it felt like for the local Germans finally seeing the concentration camps that had been invisible in full sight all along.

“Let me out. I want to go outside!”

When Buddha Shakyamuni tried to help us improve our states of mind or our actions, he would explain the benefits of doing something positive and the faults of not. This way people could check these out for themselves, in their own experience, and come to a genuine intention that was all theirs. No one can force us to be good or kind or healthy. Everything depends upon our own intention.

So for myself I have a quick mental checklist of the benefits and faults of eating animals — a mixture of worldly and spiritual. Although my temptation to eat anyone with a face is now down to zero, this list has been helpful in helping me get here. Much of this is explained in the book Eating Animals, the rest in Buddha’s teachings on karma and rebirth.

Benefits of not eating animals

  • I am more conscious to avoid harming animals

    “Let us out. We *really* want to go outside.”
  • I avoid the hypocrisy of saying I love animals and then eating them
  • I’m healthier and slimmer
  • I’m helping the planet
  • I’m less likely to create the karmic causes to be tortured or eaten myself in the future
  • I am trying to purify the karmic causes of taking an animal rebirth where it is eat or be eaten in samsara
  • I’m increasing my empathy and compassion

Faults of eating animals

  • The opposite of the above
“Cute, aren’t we? … but where are you taking us …?”

This, or any similar checklist of your own, might work for reducing your factory farmed intake, one way or another. Ignorance is not bliss according to Buddhism. In fact, it is the complete opposite of bliss (which is indivisible with the wisdom realizing emptiness, more another time). So my feeling is that if we’re going to eat factory-farmed animals, we should at least do so with full possession of the facts. I don’t think we need to harangue others (sorry if I am haranguing you!) — in Buddhism we try to identify and get rid of our own faults, rather than dwell on the faults of others. But nor do we need to, as it says in one of my long-time favorite quotations from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (who doesn’t eat meat):

“Act as if we are sleepwalking or let our habits dominate our behavior.”

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Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

45 thoughts on “A Buddhist take on factory farming”

  1. While I can agree that factory farming is a terrible thing and it is also probably better for you to be Vegetarian, I cannot agree that eating meat is deliberately having the animal killed for me, if this is how we think then we don’t understand Karma, there is plenty of examples of this in Geshla books of how Karma works. If you have the Karma to be slaughtered and tortured, then this will happen even if we all become Vegetarian beings will experience these sufferings. Sure if we go to a restaurant and pick a live fish from a fish tank to be killed for us then that would be sure a negative action as we are active within that killing.
    Living beings die from everything we do within samsara, cleaning products, driving your car, all the materials that have been used to build your home and furniture, your vegetables from farming, your leisurely walks through country side as we walk along grass, gardening, if you look around your room probably everything you have around you as involved the death of an animal, insect or humans, from the digging or pollution or hardships or what materials it is made of, we are living in a horror show of death and destruction all around us, whatever we do involves the suffering of other sentient being. Would we to refuse to sit on an IKEA chair because millions of insects and squirrels died for the benefit of this seat, is by sitting on that seat contributing to the suffering of all these beings and there creating the cause for suffering. (Maybe the kindness of others would be better and realizing the nature of samsara is everywhere like sitting in a thorn bush of suffering is among a vast amount of thoughts to arise). Seems to me animals are cute and cuddly so we put more love towards these more than insects and even humans whereas everybody without exception is suffering and unless we gain liberation from samsara we will be lining up at the slaughter house in our future lives too, or losing our home and life for the sake of an IKEA chair.
    Nowhere within any of Geshla’s books to my knowledge is the word vegetarian. Most people believe to be a Buddhist we have to be a Vegetarian which is wrong. The whole point of Buddhism is to change your mind and your world will change as I understand.

    1. Thanks Chris. You make some good points but I think everything we do affects others, we are interconnected on every level. Just to talk to your last point for now, it is true that being vegetarian is not a commitment of being a Buddhist. However, Geshe-la himself is vegetarian. He has also encouraged his ordained community to be vegetarian. Kadampa Centers don’t allow meat on the premises.

    2. I agree that if we change our mind, we change our world. I also think that our individual karma does not happen in a bubble – there is an inter-relatedness. Perhaps we do not have the karma to be tortured and slaughtered, but we have the karma to live in a world where this does happen to others. So, what can we do to change that? Perhaps, by generating compassion for these beings – changing our mind – and then acting on that compassion by deciding to not use and enjoy the products that come from that suffering, we can create the karma to live in a world where this doesn’t happen – not to mention all the environmental destruction caused by factory farming.

    3. Chris,
      I think you have made some interesting points and in particular re: the constant “unintentional harming” of living beings everywhere in samsara which is simply the nature of samsara. But with these living beings there is no intention to harm rather, it is the natural effect of samsaric existence (unfortunately). However, for me there is a difference in that the “fish in the tank” and the “cow in the factory farm” are both being “intentionally” raised to be killed for food. Whether I order the fish or the steak I am part of that shared intention to harm these animals and so I do create some karma of killing. Regarding insects, there are many true stories about Ven. Geshe-la caring for insects and showing us the example that every living being is equally precious. One recently was a few years ago before the summer festival the staff noticed that the place where the kids tent was supposed to be had a huge wasp nest. So they asked Ven. Geshe-la what they should do. He replied that they should move the kids tent somewhere else:-) I know whenever there is a large earth moving building project at one of our centers, we always do Medicine Buddha Prayers before the excavation and Powa for all those who may have died during the move so we are definitely encouraged to have compassion for all living beings equally and avoid intentionally harming whenever we can.

  2. Great article. I am a Buddhist, Vegan and Animal Acivist. How do I respond when another Buddhist says “but billions of inspects die in harvesting the sugar canes or corn fields.” My heart tells me this is not the same and merely a deflection of the core issue here of indescribable sufferings due to farming agriculture as you described. It’s about intention and choice to choose non harm. All living beings will die — it’s the cycle of samsara, thus these insects die as part of the course of their day and due to attachment. They die when we drive a car, when we walk on grass tv
    They were not bred, captured, held hostage, raped, tortured and murdered to satisfy my taste buds. And as a vegan I still need to eat to survive so it’s plants over animals. I have no choice but to eat plants but we do not require meat and animal products to survive, there is a choice.

  3. Wonderful post Luna – thank you! About 10 years ago, out of compassion for animals, I decided to become vegetarian. But, a few years ago, I started to feel it wasn’t enough to just give up eating meat. Animals are factory farmed not just for their meat, but also for their milk and eggs, etc. They are living beings, forced to live in terrible conditions, mistreated and abused, and then killed when they are no longer productive. So, after many years as a vegetarian, two years ago I decided to become vegan.

    Even if the animals from whom we get milk and eggs, etc. were not mistreated, we are still taking from them without their consent. In Meaningful to Behold, Geshe-la writes that the object of stealing is an object that does not belong to us or has not been given freely to us. Do animals give their milk, their eggs, their wool, their meat and their very lives freely? It doesn’t appear so. Maybe we are not incurring the full karma of stealing because we pay for these things at the store; but they were not given freely in the first place to the person who sold them.

    Interestingly, around the time I decided to become vegan, many vegan cooking blogs started to appear in my world, through which I was able to learn to prepare delicious and healthy plant-based meals, that even my meat-eating husband really enjoys. I don’t miss milk, cheese or eggs and I feel that I am eating better than ever, from the point of view of both flavour and nutrition. I feel very healthy. I just got myself a copy of Eating Animals; I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Thank you for all your wonderful posts. I always enjoy reading them and always take away something meaningful that helps me with my practice and my teaching.

      1. Very good point about stealing. I have been contemplating whether honey is a suitable source of nutrition. On that basis I would not eat honey as the bees did not freely give it. Thoughts?

        1. I avoid honey and other bee products for that reason, and also because some – but not all – beekeepers treat the bees inhumanely and harm them. https://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/whats-wrong-with-eating-honey/ On the other hand, I’ve also read that beekeeping helps increase and protect bee populations, which is good for the bees and the planet, and the bees are just “doing their thing”, making honey and beeswax, so there’s no harm in harvesting some of it. So there are arguments for and against it.

          One of the particular sufferings of animals is to be exploited by human beings for labour, food, resources and entertainment. I just want to try to not be a part of that exploitation. I’m not perfect, but I just try to avoid consuming animal products.

          Hope this is helpful! 🙂

  4. Nice article, Luna. I like your list of the benefits of avoiding meat (and the faults of not doing so). Eating Animals is my favorite book on the subject of food. Well researched and well reasoned.

    Regarding eating meat to be polite and fit in, I try never to be fussy when invited to a meal, but I find that in most cases people are respectful of my food choices, and if they know about it upfront, they are often happy to accommodate. The alternative is that they eventually find out that I don’t ordinarily eat meat, and may get upset, feeling that they wasted their effort and resources.

  5. Dear Luna, i have established a blog which which is called ” cooking meaningfully” and i visit people in their homes and teach them healthy& quick vegan cooking and try to share all sorts of tricks, from saving insects until cooking noodles….and i was wondering if i could translate your list into german and show it on my blog , giving the original source to it… Also the prayer for animals is soo beautiful together with the pictures and music, is thete a possibility to put this on the blog too? And if, how?
    Thank u so much for all your inspirations !!!

    1. Your blog sounds great! What is the link? Feel free to use any of my material. I didn’t write that Prayer for Animals, but i don’t think the authors would mind it being circulated.

  6. Malerie, maybe take a look at Ami dog and cat food on veggie pets.co.uk, and call them they are very helpful and well informed about healthy pets and my animals LOVE this food, I’ve known others to get rid of skin and gland ailments by changing TO it and fussy cats to be convinced too! Animals are sentient. Samsara is imperfect but we must do what we can to reduce our involvement in harm to others. I love knowing that Geshe-La does not eat meat 🙂

  7. another brilliant article! Love to hear your wisdom on topical issues, as well as more conventional dharma subjects. Feels like modern buddhism in action.

  8. So happy to be vegetarian again after some years of anaemia and other bodies weakness!

    The argument that touches me the most is how can we eat animals if we love them? When we see a piece of meat roasted we forget that there was a living being and just think about food. I don’t have strong attachment for meat even that I was daughter of a family who worked with meat and I inherited a butcher. I was advised by my Guru to resolve this issue soon as possible. After many obstructions I finally managed few year ago to reverse this place for a church!

    I hope I can purify all money that I received by renting these property as a butcher and all meat I ate for many years! May all people who has a similar situation be aware of the consequences of can free themselves from this negative karma.

  9. My family read about factory farming and made a choice to try a vegan diet for one month. We felt great about the initial switch and in time, myself and my two teen daughters, really em braced veganism. My husband, tried, and participated fully for six months. During the next two years, I saw my oldest daughter, then 15, reduce in appearance, while at the same time, her confidence was at an all time high. She was participating on both the school tennis and cross country teams. Twice she ended up in the hospital for fainting, resulting in concussions. A third incident occurred during a tennis practice, where she fell and hurt her finger (probably due to low blood sugar). Her nail broke into her nail bed and mixed with gravel and turned red with infection. She ended up having surgery on her hand, and the nail repaired. The surgeon told my husband that her nails were so thin, as a person with severe malnutrition. We could no longer look past her exercise and strict diet as “healthy.” After many visits to the family doctor, emotional counseling, and nutrition counseling, we discovered she had exercise anorexia. We learned that many teen age girls hide this issue by maintaining a vegan diet. Over time, we were able to add more variety into her diet, and ours. She is doing well physically now, but we have to continue to watch her diet and exercise. I am the only Buddhist in the house. This whole scenario really made me reflect on some of my choices. I did feel morally superior (self-grasping), when I shopped at the grocery store while buying “organic” vegan foods. When the surgeon repaired her hand, he gave large amounts of antibiotics to “kill germs.” My stance on a spiritual path at my home has always been one of choice. I tell my girls that they can study whatever path they like, but they cannot commit to one until they are adults and truly “know” the implications of their actions. My beautiful, straight A, athletic daughter was the appearance of a blessed person, who was suffering greatly inside. Society rewards these appearances. The surgeon who repaired her hand, keeps a lab of rats in his clinic to practice his microsurgery skills needed for hand surgery. His training harmed countless animals during medical school, and it continues in his current practice, that now helps repair humans. I am thankful that his surgical skills repaired my daughters hand, and the antibiotics he used to kill the infection also kept her safe. What does this all mean? How can we ever know all of our karmic ripples? We don’t know, and I accept that. I am at peace with it all.

    1. Thank you Erin, food for thought! Shows how we cannot make samsara work, whatever we do, but that this is why we need to keep training in renunciation, love, compassion, wisdom and skill in all situations.

    2. Erin, your post shows me that we have to be very attentive, regarding all life situations. Living in samsara, being blessed by the teachings of Dharma, gives us the unique chance to live in a state of consciousness regarding, for instance, all living beings as our mothers and equals. We are bound to karma, so we still are killing millions of animals just by breathing or taking a shower, but Dharma teaches us to be aware of it and gives us the possibility to pray for them and not just wash them down the toilet. Eating “farmed” animals is a choice we are able to do. I’m sure we are immediately connected to all the process which comes with this act. It is horrific and personally I cannot find any excuse for keeping it up, specially being fully aware of what it means. But first we have to learn about the subject, otherwise, in ignorance, we can not be able to make a decision regarding the subject. Then, there are the special needs of humans dealing with eating meat, having to take medicines tested on animals, having pets, etc. That is, in my understanding, the law of karma. On the steps to enlightenment we will free ourselves and be able to free others. May all suffering be instantly transformed in Peace.

  10. Would you say it comes down to knowing clearly our intention when we eat meat (or do anything)? If we sit down to a factory farmed “product”, are we about to eat it out of attachment or simply not knowing what we are putting into our mouth (type of confusion) or out of non-conscientiousness or even out of some virtuous intention?

    A close friend is a lifelong vegetarian but has developed rheumatoid arthritis, and his doctors are insisting he eat some meat and fish medicinally. He will follow their advice, but is finding ways to mentally transform this. How can Malerie not feed her cats meat, seeing as they are carnivores, without them starving? In Tibet, it was not possible to grow vegetables, so everyone ate meat, yet many gained profound realizations. And so on. Samsara, as you’ve all pointed out, is never straightforward. How can a crazy hallucination of an ignorant mind ever be straightforward.

    But in my case I have the luxurious choice not to eat factory-farmed meat right now, and making that choice feels clear and positive. No, it is not enough on its own to get me out of samsara, for that I am working on the wisdom directly realizing emptiness; but for me it feels like another move in the right direction. And it surely will lessen the demand and therefore the supply.

    I liked Mac’s point about not being an angry vegetarian (and Kat’s story of the teacher letting pepperoni pizza be served was to enable an uptight vegetarian monk to loosen up, I guess.) (Having said that, the one rule in the NKT~IKBU we do have on the subject is not to have any meat served at any NKT center). I very much appreciate PETA’s passion for helping animals; but sometimes the comments on the PETA FB page can be very angry, and all that does is make sure the only people listening are the other angry ones — it alienates rather than educates. So of course for many reasons, whether we eat meat or not, we have to work primarily on removing anger, attachment and ignorance from our minds.

    Over the holidays my gourmet French aunt and English uncle took some family members out to a meal in an expensive meat-orientated Italian restaurant. Half the table ordered veal. I felt a surge of almost nauseous aversion in the pit of my stomach, but I knew that it was neither the time nor the place to say anything. Everyone would have just gotten defensive and we would have argued, and I couldn’t have accomplished anything positive. So I transformed the situation as best I could, acted as though my soggy pasta was incredibly tasty, and enjoyed the moments I had with my dear, entertaining family.

    There are many things needing fixing in samsara — at times like this I remember that the only totally non-deceptive course of action is to get ourselves and everyone else out by realizing emptiness. And, concurrently, to watch my own mind and intentions, and practice the best moral discipline I can.

    Geshe-la tells us publicly to develop bodhichitta and so on, but has held off publicly being explicit about meat-eating — perhaps as he knows we can get all extreme or angry about anything given half the chance! But I’m glad we’ve been discussing this. It seems important to think about.
    When Geshe-la was in Tibet he ate meat, but after coming to the West he became a vegetarian — he must have thought about it inbetween.

    In terms of the eating-animals-kills-more-insects argument, my feeling is that we don’t breed those insects for the express purpose of eating them, and then torture them before they are killed. The killing seems less targeted, somehow — how is ordering a factory-farmed sausage not ordering a tortured animal? Geshe-la lovingly picks up the dying wasps on a summer’s day near his window and spends the longest time blowing mantras on them. I don’t know how many of you were at Madhyamaka Centre the year a fly flew into his teacup, and he scooped it out, paused the Je Tsongkhapa empowerment, made a lot of prayers blowing into his hand, and then laughingly but seriously told us that the insect was now in Tushita 🙂 So his decision not to eat cows etc won’t have come about presumably from his thinking that insects’ lives are less important. Not that I was privy as to how he came to his decision, it’s just an observation.

    Sorry this comment got rather long! To conclude though, I am hoping that people will read Eating Animals. If nothing else, it can be a sustained meditation on compassion.

  11. Mac- I think you may be misinterpreting what I meant. Yes, we need to abandon samsara, but my point was that being vegetarian itself does not purify the causes of taking an animal rebirth, nor does it create the causes to be tortured as the entry says. You can only be sure of your own mind and intention, and if *others* use the Dharma to justify their attachments that is not my concern. My intention is to be clear on what the teachings say, and with a correct understanding people hash the rest out for themselves. 😉

    1. hi Kat –

      your point re. causes is quite right – we agree: eating meat doesn’t in itself cause rebirth in samsara and nor does being vegetarian cause liberation.

      i guess my intention here is just to flag up my own and others’ potential hypocrisy, in order to prevent us hiding behind spurious “Dharma” – i know i do this a lot. i didn’t mean to imply anything about you personally!

      i DO believe that we need to think carefully about the consequences of our consumption: i think it benefits our compassion, and therefore our spiritual path, to act in ways that reduce the harm and pain inflicted on others as much as we possibly can. this article is about the Buddhist take on factory farming; i think we can all agree that, for a Buddhist, such exploitative torture for the sake of our eggs or bacon is utterly abhorrent.

  12. Thanks for all this helpful discussion 🙂

    This seems related. In this article it says: http://ilovekadampabuddhism.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/bodhichitta-or-saving-100-bears/

    “Here is a conundrum for you to solve. So my friend asks me: “If you had the choice to save 100 little Pomeranian bears from cruelty, torture and life in a cage or develop spontaneous bodhichitta, which would you choose?”

    He also asked me the same question with respect to the wisdom realizing emptiness. Now, I think I know what most Buddhists would choose if we *had* to choose one or the other. But we currently have the good fortune to do both — we can do the main job of training our mind and we can also reduce our factory farmed intake one way or another and protect animals (less demand = less supply).

    It doesn’t say anywhere in Geshe-la’s books that eating animals is or is not the negative action of killing — probably because the karma of killing depends upon delusions and intention. But I know that when I eat a factory-farmed animal, I am creating the demand for more animals to be tortured. So that is what sits uneasy with me.

    1. Thank you, Luna. “But I know that when I eat a factory-farmed animal, I am creating the demand for more animals to be tortured.” and knowingly eating an animal who has been tortured cannot, in my mind atleast, be the cause for future happiness. It is not easy to have this commitment-to refrain from supporting those who cause harm and and to refrain from comfortable eating habits so that we are not part of the supply and demand process..can only do our best…to keep trying. If I could have a couple of goats live with me where I live, I would learn how to make goat cheese!

  13. Kat – fantastic. We don’t like to do the hard work for actually recognizing, reducing and destroying our self-grasping.

    Mac – we use your argument to never destroy our self-grasping, the real work that must be done. Eating meat does not keep us in samsara as Kat correctly points out, but grasping does.

    Mindfulness is key and not accepting what we see. Apply effort.

    1. hi Tamara – i don’t understand your reply; please would you clarify? forgive me, I’m being dense!

      1. >>i can’t help but feel though, if you’ll excuse me, that i very often hear these arguments somewhat misused by Buddhist folk merely (i suspect!) to justify their attachment to their bacon sandwich…

        Hi Mac – this comment … I don’t think anyone can ever misuse training in the correct view of emptiness.

        Everyone needs to realize emptiness of all things, bacon, avocados, people, etc. :>)

      2. ah, i see! thank you.

        well, i agree that no-one could ever misuse actual training in the correct view of emptiness! 🙂

        my point, though, is that i know that i (sadly all too often) say things like: “hey, don’t be uptight about it: there IS no coffee/ice cream/movie/donut/etc./etc.!” glibly, without doing any real training of my mind – and when i do that, i’m using Dharma words to justify following my attachments. then, i’m certainly misusing the argument that everything lacks inherent existence.

        i believe that, whilst of course as Buddhists our first and greatest responsibility is always, as you and Kat rightly say, to oppose and overcome our ignorance, nevertheless we have a duty, whilst remembering emptiness, to act responsibly within the world as it appears conventionally.

        in terms of how we relate to animals, our kind mothers, my own view is that acting responsibly includes taking care of them and not exploiting or harming them for our own enjoyment. i’d go further, actually, and say that unless we positively need to, as compassionate beings we probably shouldn’t be eating them either! they’re our mothers.

  14. you know, Kat – you make valid points, none of which is wrong, and i think your intention’s spot on, pointing out that the real root of suffering (and object to be abandoned) is self-grasping, rather than diet. we tend to grasp at diet/health/environmental/etc. issues strongly! of course, we need to let go of strong grasping.

    i can’t help but feel though, if you’ll excuse me, that i very often hear these arguments somewhat misused by Buddhist folk merely (i suspect!) to justify their attachment to their bacon sandwich… 😀

  15. This was a wonderful post in many ways. I think that it is important to be a socially and environmentally conscious person in as many aspects of our lives as we can, as well as to constantly evaluate how our spiritual practice can further influence our actions. However, with the respectful intention of teasing out a few corrections of the spiritual ramifications of eating meat, I’d like to comment on some of the points made. I knew of a very respected teacher who allowed the ordained to order a pepperoni pizza and eat it in the backyard. This teacher was giving one monk a chance to have pepperoni, and giving the other monk a chance to work on his pride about not eating pepperoni (but he wasn’t forced to eat it). Many people choose not to eat meat out of compassion, and this is most wonderful. And anyone who knows about factory farming would probably have a hard time continuing to eat meat. Yet, the karmic cause of taking an animal rebirth is lack of moral discipline, not eating meat that has been prepared for you. We have always been taught that you do not incur the karma of killing by eating meat. If you had no hand in the actual torture or killing, you had no intention, so there was no mental or physical action there. We should also be mindful of the four different effects of one action, and that any action done with a mind of self grasping is still a throwing action that leads to the ripened effect (because it will result in a samsaric rebirth, good or bad). You therefore are still perpetuating your own samsara whether you eat meat, vegetables, or hay provided that you have a mind of self grasping while doing it. The only way to not perpetuate your own samsara is to abandon the mind of self-grasping ignorance. We can still grasp very tightly and be quite attached to our compassionate actions. Having said that, I do think that vegetarianism or informed meat consumption are still virtuous minds to have. And, what better way to meditate on taking a lower rebirth than to see the horrid suffering of these poor mother beings in factory farms.

  16. Organic farming does not have any morals regarding killing – they just use different methods to kill “pests”.

    I am sure there are loving meat eaters too that pray for the animals to take more fortunate rebirths.

    I am not disagreeing with this article or the points written here. I am just looking deeper into the whole problem of being in samsara. Cannot avoid harming others as long as we remain in samsara. Being a vegan or vegetarian alone is not a path out of samsara.

    1. Tamara-you are correct re: organic farmers! I was thinking of a few smaller farms where I have talked with folks about their methods of protecting the veggies!
      No-its not a way out, but it helps us on our journey cultivating bodhichitta…which helps us get out!

  17. you make an interesting point, Tamara. after all, one cow’s death could feed a family for weeks, where every loaf of bread may kill literally thousands of insects through the use of pesticides, etc. this point was made to me by a teacher when i was getting uptight about being vegetarian; it very effectively knocked me off my high moral horse! so now i’m still a vegetarian, but no longer quite such an angry one. 🙂

    nevertheless, the above is not a valid reason to continue to support cruelty to animals in factory farming. we can’t say that it’s somehow ok to eat factory-farmed cows and pigs just because many bugs are killed to produce wheat! and anyway, in its lifetime, a cow eats lots of grass and treads on lots of bugs; it’s simplistic to say that a steak has cost only one life.

    in reality, in samsara, there IS no perfect answer. to try to find one is, perhaps, to try to make samsara work… going down this route, a Buddhist logician would argue, you’ll end up behaving in an extreme manner – refusing to move or eat in case you hurt something. that would severely impede your ability to help others practically!

    so the only real answer is to destroy samsara as quickly as possible.

    until then, however, out of love and compassion, we should surely always pick the LEAST harmful lifestyle options available to us: unless you need to eat meat, a compassionate person really has no excuse. and even if you MUST eat meat, then the animals you eat should be raised and cared for appropriately. factory farming is inexcusable. it’s disgusting.

    as Mahatma Gandhi said: “”The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” and my own teacher, Venerable Geshe Kelsang, has said in a public teaching that animals are worthy of the same rights as human beings – we must care for all our kind mothers, however they have been reborn. it seems to me that there’s an unspoken lesson in the fact that he himself doesn’t eat his mothers.

    1. When it comes to the amount of food a cow or a loaf of bread creates, you need to remember that for every pound of meat that comes from a cow is takes hundreds of times more grains to actually feed that cow. It would be incredibly difficult to make a case that you should eat meat because it harms fewer sentient beings.

      1. grass fed? i wouldnt eat a cow that has been fed grains…these replies are really based on the factory-farmed & grain fed model…i was a vegan for 5 years but it was a knee-jerk response to factory farming. After learning about indigenous diets and the work of Dr Weston Price, I tried dairy again (grass fed goats from a friendly farm) and found it to be wonderful..my constant hunger was gone, and my mind was opened.

        Seriously…this is all based on factory farming…there are so many more people out there working with animals to provide very healthy products for consumers…vegan isnt the only option, nor is vegetarianism.

  18. For Tamara: While it is true that non-organic farming of veggies may intentionally cause the deaths of countless living beings-supposedly, organic farming avoids this, as best as can be done. My understanding is that pure intention to not cause harm-does not result in negative future effect. As animal loving vegetarians and vegans, we have that pure intention. My own practice, as a vegan, is to include those who have perished(for the sake of my food) in my prayers of gratitude. As well, my prayers are that they all have fortunate rebirths.

  19. I agree with this article but we must not forget that countless living beings are intentionally killed in all food production (insects, birds, small animals). What karma is created here? We are not eating the killed in this case (mostly) but killing is done to provide vegetables, grains, etc.

  20. I agree with everything in your article, but in practice, as usual in samsara, it’s not always so black and white.

    I try and avoid dairy products when I have the choice but because I rely upon communal meals (ie decided upon, cooked and provided by others) I have no control over what I eat and I simply do not have the resources to provide my own food. Although the meals are all vegetarian, they aren’t vegan – and being coeliac makes it tricky enough!

    I started getting quite frustrated about this recently because I wanted to be vegan but I also realised that to help others in the job I do, I need to be healthy. I went through all sorts of possible solutions but when I tried practising it for a couple of weeks I found it impossible to do and I just got really frustrated! Noticing that frustration made me realise that I was missing the real point. I was trying to make samsara work!

    Then it dawned on me that I can try and stop harm to animals by avoiding meat and dairy etc whenever I can in order to temporarily stop their suffering but I shouldn’t get distracted from my main job – which is to become a Buddha and then liberate them *permanently*.

    So now, I try to be more mindful when I eat and when I have the choice I go for the vegan option. But mostly I keep praying that soon all the communal meals will be vegan 🙂

    If anyone else has been in a similar situation and found a solution though – please let me know!

  21. John Robbins, heir to the Baskin Robbins fortune wrote, Diet for A New America, in the mid 1980’s. He walked away from his fortune because of the factory farming conditions of his families dynasty and wrote one of the first books exposing the atrocities. I had been vegetarian since the early 1970’s(with some backsliding periodically)but, had great difficulty letting go of dairy. Then in 2008, a few years after becoming Buddhist, I made myself learn about the horrors that dairy cows suffered through. They are connected to milking machines 24/7 and kept pregnant for as long as their lives permit. Their female calves are taken and prepared for to be milking cows and their male calves are given to the concentration camps of the veal farms. The cows cannot turn around or walk or lay down, as cows enjoy doing. They stand until they fall down and die or are butchered and used for leather goods-our couches and cars and shoes and purses.
    I love cheese and yogurt and ice cream and cream in my coffee! How could I support this brutality and develop the pure heart of Bodhichitta? My love for animals precludes my love for these foods. The horrors humans inflict on others, either directly or indirectly, is the cause for samsara to last. Equanimity is with all living beings…all. I began little by little. First, I stopped using dairy in my coffee and used substitute creamers. (SILK Creamer is very good, albeit an acquired taste). Then went the ice cream and then the yogurt and finally the cheese. It has been doable. I educated myself regarding healthy vegan eating. I haven’t been perfect. Traveling in Europe and Brazil was trying and I was not prepared, as I plan to be next time I travel…anywhere. I know that there are parts of this world where people have to eat meat, or perish..and there are parts of this world where people choose to perish rather than eat animals. My dog and cat are not vegetarian and so, I still support the industry of harming animals. Have not yet resolved this conundrum. Dogs can be vegetarian, but neither dog or cat are meant to be. Samsara is a vicious state. We can only do what we can to avoid creating suffering now and in the future. My wish is that no Being suffers.

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