Can you be a Buddhist and a non-vegetarian?
Yes, or no?
Buddhism follows the middle way so it might be difficult to answer that question with a yes or no. The Buddha himself is said to be a meat-eater. This is keeping in mind that maybe everything we know about him is fiction, considering most of the work was compiled after his death. However, he did outline the necessity of not killing and refraining from any kind of torture.
For him “Anger, arrogance, inflexibility, hostility, deception, envy, pride, conceit, bad company, these are impure foods, not meat.”But inflexibility plays an important role here, when using animals for meat. Inflexibility of approach, could lead one to be blind about exploring how your food reached your plate. It could lead you to have no interest in ever thinking, that the animal salted on your plate, once breathed air.
If you are a meat-eater who practises compassion, and kindness, you are most definitely better than a vegetarian who is filled with contempt. That is mostly what Buddhism would look at. His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama ate meat as well. When he lived in Tibet due to the extreme cold there was a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. In India, he is said to have adopted vegetarian-ism for most of the year.
These words do not aim to propagate vegetarian-ism, but understand non-vegetarian-ism mindfully. I was brought up as a non-vegetarian and chose to shift when I was 10. I have a been vegetarian, except for a few months here and there since then. Personally with meat, I am like a smoker who commits to giving up. And then, you might see me with a chicken wing in my hand once in 6 months. I understand, meat tastes good. But today information is available, it is not under the strong-hold of a feudal lord. Thus, it is our duty to be aware of our meat. Ethical meat, and free range eggs are options. They are obviously 5 times the price in most cases, but are options nonetheless.
How does the torture make a difference?
It makes a difference only if you have compassion for the animal killed, or can not help the situation. We know that humans are omnivorous, whereas some animals are carnivorous or herbivorous. That is why in nature, when you see a leopard attack a deer, it is not cruel, it the law of the land. It is the food chain. Similarly, when humans eat animals, it is understandable. However, the leopard knows no other way of killing the deer. Whereas, humans can chose to subtract the torture that comes before the death of an animal raised for meat entirely.
The agony the animals must be experiencing is horrific. Animals are not treated like living-beings in many places, but merely as carrier of meat, stored in factories, kept in in-hospitable conditions which are torturous. It is hard to eat/find ethical meat. But that must not stop us from being flexible, to stretch our mind and think of that animal, who may also be delicious.
In Tibet the Buddhist communities did not want to engage in killing the animals, but were non-vegetarians.Thus, muslim communities were butchers. This questions whether eating the dead meat is fair, which is already dead. But in most cases, it is killed for you – not personally, but as a consumer. It is a precarious subject. Killing is wrong. But eating may, or may not be. My understanding would be to think of birds, animals, humans, all as living beings, and then make a decision.
There is a reason why the Buddha asks not to kill. At the end of the day, killing somebody that does not want to die is murder.
Information about the photograph
(source: creative commons) The photo shows a monk staring into his empty alms bowl. Monks and nuns following Buddhism need to beg for alms. Most nations have customs where people give them only vegetarian food. However, the word ‘bhikhu/bhikhuni’ used for monks/nuns means ‘to beg’. Thus, they must accept whatever is given.