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Apr 30
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To Meat or Not To Meat?

The topic of meat eating (or not) is not a novel phenomenon of the vegan-paleo debate. It’s one that human beings have struggled with for the past two million years. 

by Marcella Friel

reindeer-1323000__340According to food historian and scientist Harold McGee, we humans began eating meat because of climate change, when much of the vegetation on the planet disappeared and meat eating became a survival necessity. As is true for us today, it wasn’t so easy for our ancestors to look a beast in the eye and take its life for the purposes of food. Early societies responded to this dilemma by developing sacred rituals to atone for the act of harvesting life. It was ~ and is ~ something that those cultures took very seriously. 

As Joseph Campbell writes in the Power of Myth:

Man lives by killing, and there is a sense of guilt connected with that. . . . The basic hunting myth is a covenant between the animal world and the human world. The animal gives its life willingly, with the understanding that its life transcends its physical entity and will be returned to the soil or to the mother through some ritual of restoration.

Lots of work was put into the hunt, so the garnering of the meat was occasion for both ceremony and celebration.

goose-908291__340Later, in traditional agricultural societies, farm animals were valued for their labor contribution. Hens laid eggs; cows mowed the fields; hogs processed food scraps. When an animal had lived out its useful life, then and only then was it harvested for food (with the occasional exception of the celebratory harvest of the fatted calf). Just as in hunting societies, the farm family was typically very conscious to utilize the entire animal and leave nothing to waste.

cow-419081__340As society evolved from agricultural to industrial, meat animals likewise migrated from farm to feedlot; eating meat evolved from a sacred luxury to an everyday commodity. Urban bourgeois palates favored the muscles of the animal (i.e, steaks and such), while other vital parts went to waste. Commodity meat production valued output and profit margins over the welfare of the animal; this shift in values gave birth to the horrific, setting-sun concentration camps we have today known as Confined Animal Feeding Operations—what Michael Pollan refers to as “cow-schwitz.”

meat-1292376__340Author and physician Gabor Mate points out that the ceremonial use of a substance is the exact opposite of the addictive use. Whereas the ceremonial use elevates consciousness and connects us to a larger, benevolent universe, the addictive use reinforces isolation and hostility. I think it’s fair to say that our setting-sun society has become addicted to commodified meat consumption. We have no collective consciousness of the welfare of the animal; we expect meat to be available on demand; and the more we eat of it the more we degenerate into lower consciousness and degenerative disease.

As for the ceremonial aspect of meat eating, I personally had a very profound experience of this when I had to butcher, with my own bare hands, two freshly slaughtered goats to make goat curry for 400 people at a regional Community Supported Agriculture conference that I was cooking for.

biquette-913436__340I had personally ordered the slaughter of these animals and so asked the rancher when the harvesting would take place. At slaughter time I performed Sukhavati ceremony for those two goats. The butchering process took me and another chef 6 hours. I stopped only to drink water, pee, and wring out the blood from my cotton apron. This was childbirth in reverse, a powerfully sacred and profound prana exchange between me and those two animals.

meat-1031092__340As I broke these two sentient beings down into 1-inch stew chunks, I felt deep in my being the universal truth that death must occur for life to continue. I also recognized viscerally that this act not only shortened my own life but that, at some future point, the karmic wheel would turn such that I would become food for them, and I accepted these as the consequences of my decision. I now know, deep in my being, that having such a connection to the meat we eat can elevate our consciousness and bring about Great Eastern Sun vision of sacredness and appreciation. Conversely, the alienated, inhumane production and consumption of meat can cause society to degrade into setting-sun greed for our own satisfaction at the cost of the welfare of our fellow sentient beings.

(For the record, for those who wonder: Sakyamuni Buddha never told his students to be vegetarian. He advised against procuring food by causing harm. Hence, the Tibetans, who lived in a harsh high-elevation climate with no arable land for growing food plants, developed the “three hands removed” practice of only eating meat after three hands had handled it.)

I don’t believe there’s a “one-size-fits-all” answer to this complex question; for me it helps to understand the historical context of our current predicament, to mix that understanding with my personal experience, and to make the most conscientious and thoughtful decisions I can given what I know.

That, in my opinion, is what it means to be a responsible citizen in an enlightened society.

Marcella FrielMarcella Friel is a natural foods chef who has cooked and taught in meditation retreat centers throughout North America. She now runs Tapping with Marcella, a food and body image coaching practice that helps health-conscious adults love and forgive themselves, their food, and their figure. 


Editor’s note: readers interested in learning more can consider taking Marcella’s upcoming  class, “Mindful Eating: Joining Heaven and Earth at the Meal Table,” which opens April 30, 2016 through Shambhala Online. You can also read Marcella’s previous Shambhala Times stories:  Can Home Cooking Restore Enlightened Society?  and Meal Blessings and Great Eastern Sun .

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42 responses to “ To Meat or Not To Meat? ”
  1. Sure, there’s a historical context, but we are living in the now, are we not?
    If you’re not dirt poor, don’t have any serious health issues, and living in the West, nothing is stopping you from having a healthy and abundant vegetarian diet, other than desire and craving.
    What is more important- your craving, or a sentient being’s life?
    For me, it’s a simple answer.

  2. Balint Balasa
    May 16, 2016

    Marcella Friel, this is my reply to your questions. A more comprehensive reply may be viewed here:


    I take the position that eating all animal products including honey, wearing animal products and using animals for other purposes are unnecessary, unfair, and therefore morally wrong. In support of my position I am bringing up two widely accepted beliefs:

    1. Harming animals when it is not necessary is morally wrong.
    2. We exercise personal choice when it comes to choosing a piece of music or the colour of our clothes, but when our action harms others, that action is not a personal choice.

    Obviously it is not necessary to wear clothing made of animal products or use animals for entertainment. When it comes to eating animal products, all the top nonvegan, conservative, dietetic establishments in the UK, US, Canada and Australia agree that it is not necessary to eat animal products in order to be healthy, and, they all agree that a balanced vegan diet is healthful, may help in curing some diseases, and appropriate for everyone including children, pregnant women, athletes and the elderly.

    Yet when it comes to causing harm to animals, we call regulated torture “humane” treatment, which is nothing more than a marketing gimmick to sell more animal products. We accept that it would be outrageous to treat humans “humanely”.

    Should every human being anywhere on the planet without exceptions never eat animal products? Yes. We are all absolutist when it comes to injustices done to humans. We accept that injustice overrides cultural norms and tradition. We consider it morally wrong for a sixty year old male to marry a nine year old girl regardless of the practice being customary in some communities. Another important point is that if someone somewhere in the world is forced to exploit animals in order to survive, that does not morally justify buying animal products in the supermarket when we can easily opt for vegan food instead.

    Vegans are not in a position to force the majority to reject animal exploitation against their will. The majority make decisions. That is why we are raising, torturing and killing billions of animals. That is why we have anti-cruelty laws that do not protect animals from harm except when there is no economic value attached to harming them.

    It is a misconception that ethical veganism is about kindness. It is like saying that struggling for women’s right to equal pay is done in the name of kindness to women!?? Ethical veganism is a social justice movement. Vegans reject animal use because that is the least we must do if animals matter morally.

    My end goal is the abolishment of all animal use. In order to achieve that goal I reject animal use in my personal life and engage in nonviolent education about veganism with those who share my moral concern. I show them the way how to align their actions with the values they already hold. Once the majority reject animal use, the demand for animal products and the institution of domestication will end. For information on the morality of animal use I recommend all the books by Prof. Gary L. Francione, who developed the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights.

  3. Steven Deedon
    May 14, 2016

    [This is a corrected, and very lightly revised version of my preceding message, which may be discarded.]

    Killing another sentient being, a non-human animal who thinks, feels emotions (including some moral ones) and motivations, and is socially engaged with other members of their species (conspecifics), is murder. Allowing for the possibility of rare exceptions, humans murder non-humans for the sake of their own gustatory pleasure. (For reasons laid out by the pre-eminent Indologist and mythologist Wendy Doniger, Joseph Campbell is a questionable source for either moral benchmarks or ethnographic accuracy.)

    Breeding and raising cattle alone is the largest single source of greenhouse gases (see UN FAO white paper), the cause of the destruction of the earth’s large carbon sinks (rainforests), and — in the U.S. at least — the main cause of fresh water pollution. The methods of small scale farming where animals graze (I like to say, “play badminton”) would be forbiddingly harmful to the environment if scaled up. To replace cow eating with chickens would mean the deaths of many times more sentient beings. Humans are well on their way to destroying all marine life in the oceans, and if current trends continue, all commercial fish and other “seafood species” will collapse by 2048.

    The time is long overdue for bourgeois Buddhists to take to heart the exhortations of such leaders as the H. H. Gyalwapa Karmapa and the late Chatral Rinpoche, take seriously the happiness and well being of other sentient beings, and quit murdering them for their own pleasure.

  4. One last post before this article disappears from the lead page. The question was simple and direct. “Which is the compassionate choice, to eat meat or refrain?” People can no longer look the other way and pretend there’s no choice. Info posted by those who support abstaining was passionate and compelling. Some took it a logical and convincing step further by supporting the vegan path.

    For meat-eaters (and non-vegans), a transition to a more compassionate path forward would require great restraint, effort and some sacrifice. The effect would be a reduction in the suffering and violence we inflict on animals, a reduction in the agricultural killing necessary to support meat production, and the mitigation of the extremely negative environmental impact of factory farms.

    Has there ever been such an opportunity to practice what we preach? This particular question cuts directly to our supposed Buddhist core values. By taking action, not only as a group, but individually, we can have an immediate impact. What would inaction say about our sincerity and resolve?

    Perhaps some authority figure might weigh in with a compassionate call to abstain. Or effectively condone the slaughter by saying it’s up to the individual (isn’t everything). Or be silent and let the issue fade away. But so what? Buddhists should make their own decisions, based on their own experience and insight, and then act resolutely on those decisions. Hopefully, at least a few people with objectivity will review the info that was posted and the links and decide to make the effort. In doing so, they will not only talk the talk, which is easy, but walk the walk, which is a challenge.

  5. If you had served one inch chunks of tofu instead of goat, you wouldn’t have to write an article about how you rationalized your decision to murder two beautiful sentient beings who didn’t want to become someone else’s dinner.

  6. Balint Balasa
    May 10, 2016

    “…Let’s not try to disguise grim reality. Plants are ‘harvested’, animals are slaughtered…” – Alan O’Reilly of Grumpy Old Vegans

  7. Linda McKenzie
    May 9, 2016

    There is absolutely no nutritional need to consume animal products of any kind. Indeed, health experts are increasingly in agreement that animal products are harmful to health and that they are responsible for most of the illness and premature death in our society. Since this is the case, all consumption of meat, dairy and eggs is only for the sake of pleasure, convenience and habit. Those are not adequate moral justifications for inflicting horrendous suffering and death on innocent, sentient beings who value their lives and want to live just as we do. It makes no sense to talk about peace and nonviolence while plying oneself with the products of violence every day, through food, clothing and other uses of animals when there are non-animal, vegan alternatives that are easily accessible and usually cheaper. Most of us agree that it’s wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals. If we want to behave consistently with what we say we believe, we need to go vegan. Either we are vegan or we are engaging in animal exploitation. There is no third choice.

  8. Thanks to all for responding to Marcella’s article. I would also like an acharya opinion about meat at feasts. I believe (not certain) that no alcohol is consumed at the Abbey, but I have never heard of a vegetarian feast. In fact, the 3 poisons idea is oft repeated with the expectation that all imbibe and also consume some flesh. I recently raised the question at feast: do I still need to honor the tradition of eating meat when I have chosen a vegetarian path. The answer was something along the lines of – the Sakyong has asked that we enjoy meat at the feast and it should not be too offensive to the vegetarian path to do so. So, I am still wondering if this is the recommendation (meat and alcohol) and whether there is any current explanation for maintaining these practices.

  9. attitudes like this cause the food neurosis that is currently prevalent and more so in our society – a bunch of solid concepts of how others should be! give credit for opening up the conversation without adding to the dualism – whatever that means!

  10. In the interest of our planet’s future, I’m quite sympathetic to the idea of abolition. One can make a very compelling case that abolition would be no different than other laws put in place for the protection of society and that our failure to do so will have (and is having) catastrophic consequences. So, as a citizen, I have great interest in that debate. On the other hand, as a Buddhist, my concern is with making my own personal choice, one that is consistent with our principles of compassion and mindfulness, notwithstanding any laws forcing me to take such a path. I think we each have a personal obligation to understand the consequences of our decisions and not to look the other way or contrive rationalizations for the easiest most indulgent choice. I greatly appreciate the links and references provided by Timothy, Tracy and Max that can help us expand our wisdom and better understand the consequences of our decisions. What a great opportunity to directly address the obscurations and conditioned behavior that get in the way of our “basic goodness.”

  11. P.S.– It also should be mentioned here that the East Asian Buddhists, influenced more by the Tathagata-garbha school, Pure Land movement, and the Chan/Seon/Zen/Thien traditions, have really taken a strong stand over the centuries for Ahimsa (Nonharmfulness, Nonviolence) in the way the eat– in a beautifully far more compassionate and empathetic stance toward fellow sentient persons than the Tibetan and Theravada Buddhists or most other religionists.

    Google the topics Sachal eumsik on Korean Seon Buddhist “temple food,” the Japanese Zen Shojin ryori (Shōjin ryōri) “devotional cuisine,” and Chinese Chan and Pure Land Buddhism’s Zhaicai (Zhāicài) “fasting food,” etc.

    And listen to truly eminent Chan masters Xuyun (Hsu-yun, “Empty Cloud,” d.1959) and his successors like Hsuan-hua (1918-95) on stopping the exploiting and killing of animals. These and other illustrious spiritual leaders really do get it. We should be listening to them and to our own compassionate, empathetic hearts on the dire consequences of our food choices for the sake of fellow beings, future generations, and the planet.

  12. Thank you, Tracy, and Michael and some others, for speaking forthrightly about true Dharma and true ethics here. We simply do not have to participate in the global “corpse-eating cult” and female-exploiting dairy & egg monstrosity that is confining, torturing and eventually killing billions of sentient persons each year.

    I have a big webpage on this topic, featuring among other things a subsection of choice Gary Francione quotes on the Abolitionist approach; a long annotated bibliography and list of documentary film and web resources; food options for making the switch to a saner diet; and much much more at http://www.enlightened-spirituality.org/foodfacts.html.

    By the way, thanks to Max for the statistics he provided– but i’d like to bring attention to the fact that he and the UN FAO understate things in saying that the worldwide livestock industry is contributing 14% of greenhouse gases (GHGs) (the original 2006 UN FAO figure was 18%). The percentage is AT LEAST 51% or more, according to environmental impact experts Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang.

    In other words, exploiting animals for food is by far the biggest contributor to ruinous climate change, even more than coal and other fossil-fuel powered plants and all forms of transportation, etc., combined. Goodland, before his death in 2013, warned that the only viable short-term solution for alleviating climate change is a dramatic shift by year 2020 of 50%-85% of the global population away from meat, dairy, fish, and eggs toward vegan food-choices.

    To clarify this remarkably important point: instead of feeling paralyzed by dreadful fear of climate change destroying more and more of the planet’s ecosystems and creating a nightmare for our children, grandchildren and future generations of humans and animals, we are hereby empowered to MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE in future outcomes for all life on earth by simply eating a vegan whole-foods diet featuring a wide variety of wonderfully tasty plant foods.

  13. Tracy McDonnell
    May 8, 2016

    First of all, Joseph Campbell was not himself saying that animals “willingly” give up their lives; he was describing that concept as part of the “basic hunting myth.” (Emphasis on the word, “myth.”)

    Secondly, there seems to be a great deal of focus here on “meat.” However, the dairy and egg industries are arguably even more violent than the meat industry. Indeed, the dairy industry and the veal industry are, in effect, one and the same.

    All animal products are the result of suffering and violence. As Prof. Gary L. Francione succinctly states, “There is veganism and there is animal exploitation. There is no third choice.”

    To romanticize one’s deliberate participation in violence as a way of somehow entering into nature’s great cosmic web seems to me, at best, to be a form of willful delusion, and to verbally herald peace and non-violence while willfully engaging in animal exploitation makes no sense whatsoever.

    Rather than continuing to engage in verbal and philosophical contortions in a fruitless attempt to somehow, in essence, “find the right way how to do the wrong thing,” to again quote Prof. Francione, I recommend instead that non-vegans take a serious look at the wonderful new site, http://www.HowDoIGoVegan.com.

    It does not contain disturbing or graphic images; rather, it focuses on ethics and education, which, as Mandela said,”is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” Added bonus: There’s no “donate” button, as one cannot put a price on social justice. :)

  14. Jonathan Dickstein
    May 7, 2016

    Can you please respond to this then, from The Great Compassion by Norm Phelps?

    “If eating the meat, drinking the milk, or eating the eggs were necessary to sustain our lives, and we did so only reluctantly, regretfully, and with the sincere wish that there were some way, any way, that we could stay alive without causing the death of other beings, then our mindfulness would, in fact, be virtuous.

    [But] we consume the lives of animals because we enjoy the taste and texture of animal products. If we are being honest about it, when we eat animal products, we kill for pleasure, and in that circumstance our mindfulness is a sham.”

  15. Seann Tayler
    May 7, 2016

    Marcella — I’m am uncertain whether you will continue corresponding, so I want to thank you for the courage to post this article. Its contents and the responses that it has aroused has helped me to perceive how ego is the root cause of suffering, and how there is wisdom in ego. — By the way, nice photo of you — uplifting. — Cheers.

  16. Jonathan Dickstein
    May 7, 2016

    No. No “prana exchange”. No “universal truth”.
    Just the unnecessary slaughter of two beautiful creatures.

  17. It’s probably not clear in my earlier posts, but I just want to emphasize that I understand how difficult it is for those of us that were meat eaters to make the transition to a non-meat diet. I honor and respect those who, out of compassion, have attempted to make the change and have struggled with it. The best that any of can do is try. And even if we can’t totally abstain, a reduction in consumption is a progressive and compassionate act. As the Buddha said, “keep striving.”

  18. Linda Willow
    May 7, 2016

    Phyllis I find your post to be honest and conveying the type of humility I feel in reading this discussion. I went meatless for 5 years several years ago because of the ethics around killing and factory farming. I entered a career that was highly stressful and found myself craving meat, which I have been eating again for some time. I contemplate the karma around this as I also feel a desire to use justification/rationalization. I do contemplate the suffering of my life and how it may pale in comparison the suffering a factory animal endures. I see this as a challenging dilemma in which the truths are brutal to face and easy answers are not available. To you vegans and vegetarians, thanks for your sharing and keeping us honest; may I find the strength to abstain.

  19. I’ve often heard of folks who have problems when they make the change. People go vegetarian, fail to get the protein they need, feel ill, and their doctor tells them to go back to eating meat. Meat is a source of protein, which is necessary for human survival. But there are countless non-meat sources of protein and it just takes some research to modify one’s diet accordingly. Obesity, heart disease and diabetes are skyrocketing here in the U.S. But other than anecdotal items, you won’t hear any evidence of health problems arising from meat abstinence. Any health professional who says that you “must” eat meat to remain healthy is simply uninformed and invariably a meat-eater him or herself. That’s typical though, not unlike psychiatrists who prescribe drugs, often addictive and harmful, without considering that one first takes up meditation practice. Anyway, before throwing in the towel and resuming eating meat, do the research and make sure you’re getting the necessary protein. It’s most definitely available and accessible.

  20. Victoria Schafer
    May 6, 2016

    It sort of came to me as a surprise. I’m going meatless. I’d tried years ago, but hated it. This time I was loving all of it, tofu, kale, the whole bit. Then about 6 months into meatlessness I noticed that my depression was getting worse – could it be the lack of meat? A good friend said that meat grounded her. Online there were lots of opinions of course, but I realized it was possible. Went out and bought a steak, cut it in half, put it in a pan till medium rare and it was delicious. Kept this up and after one week I did feel better. I’m disappointed, but being meatless is just not for me. Thanks everyone!

  21. Phyllis Murray
    May 6, 2016

    I hate the euphemism “harvest”. It’s a way of denying that one is actually killing another being. Nor do I agree with Joseph Campbell, much as I appreciate him, that “the animal gives its life willingly with the understanding that its life transcends its physical entity…”. This is another form of denial; no animal wants to die, or understands anything about transcendence. Let us face what we are actually doing.
    (I say this as a meat eater.)

  22. Max. Thanks for the statistics. In general, people don’t understand the sheer size and destructive impact of meat production. The usage of water is especially important. I don’t have the stats at my fingertips, but most people are not aware that meat production is the largest, by far, consumer of antibiotics. Given the confined and unsanitary conditions of CAFO’s, antibiotics are necessary to fight off disease. It’s sad that the primary use of a scientific advance for the clear benefit and health of people, has become another tool in the exploitation of animals.

  23. Seann Tayler
    May 5, 2016

    Marcella — Upon further review of your response to my prior question, I can interpret that you intend to ask the acharyas about this topic. Is that what you intended? I think that it would be helpful if they were to “weigh in” on the topic. I’ll look forward to your response, and their input.

  24. Susie Cook
    May 5, 2016

    Dear Marcella, Thank you for sharing such an honest openly caring perspective on this practice that many of us participate in of eating meat. Excellent food for thought here!

  25. Some statistics:

    The industrial breeding of animals:
    Contributes to 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activities.
    Uses 750 million tons of wheat every year – which could adequately feed 1.4 billion humans.
    Uses 60% of the land available in the world
    Consumes 45% of all the water destined for the production of food.
    Uses over 90% of the 225 million tons of soy harvested in the world each year.

    7 kilos of grain are necessary to produce 1 kilo of beef.
    If all the inhabitants of North America didn’t eat meat for a single day, indirectly 25 million people could be fed for an entire year.

    (Source: “Altruism” by Matthieu Ricard, (Little, Brown and Company, 2015))

  26. Seann Tayler
    May 4, 2016

    Howdy, Marcella — Thank you for your response. — However, please let me further explain my question. — I have not questioned whether the Sakyong eats meat, or whether Trungpa Rinpoche ate meat. Nor do I feel any need to justify whether they, or anyone should or should not eat meat. — With consideration for the content of your article and the types of responses that you have received, I was wondering whether there are any quotes from the teachings of the Sakyong, or Trungpa Rinpoche or any of the Shambhala Buddhism acharyas that directly address this topic.

  27. To answer your question, Marcella, I don’t think it’s about imposing a certain way of living on anyone. The way I see Lord Buddha’s teachings, he was pointing out – these are the causes of happiness and these are the causes of suffering. If you do certain things, you will be happy and move closer to enlightenment, if you do other things, you will suffer and move further away from enlightenment. Lord Buddha pointed out the negative consequences of killing animals and eating their meat. It’s cause and effect. So it’s not wise to eat meat. If you understand that, then naturally you won’t want to eat meat.

    150 billion animals get killed by the meat industry every year. I see it primarily as a moral issue, that we humans are completely disregarding the preciousness of the lives of these animals, but it also has huge ecological consequences. There would be no hunger in the world if instead of using grain for animal feed, we used it to feed humans.

    HIs Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa Ugyen Trinley Dorje doesn’t eat meat, and at the Kagyu Monlam a few years ago, asked his followers to commit themselves to abstaining from eating meat as much as they are able. The great Dzogchen Master, Chatral Sangye Rinpoche also didn’t eat meat, and saved the lives of millions of animals during his lifetime through the practice of life release. Lord Milarepa didn’t eat meat. I remember reading, he was once offered meat by a benefactor, and he replied “I don’t eat the flesh of murdered animals.”

  28. Marcella. You ask if others should be coerced against their will to be vegan. I haven’t suggested anything along those lines. I am simply saying two things. 1) As Buddhists, compassion should always be our choice when we have the power to make that choice. 2) Most (practically all) of us now have the ability to make that choice.

    As to your other question about life being harmed by the manufacture and processing of such foods, I’ve heard that position before. There’s no question that in our presence here on earth there is no avoiding causing some harm. Every time we take a step, we probably cause harm. But that doesn’t mean we say “why bother” because there are so many societal activities, necessary for survival, that cause harm. When we have a choice that would unquestionably reduce the suffering of other sentient beings, a choice that is easier today than ever before, I simply think we should make the most compassionate choice. Harm shouldn’t be intentional and we should try, to the best of our ability and with mindful objectivity to avoid it. I can’t impose my choice on others, but I think it’s quite appropriate to address the topic.

    Let me answer your question a bit more directly. I think you’re talking about the harm that the agricultural process inflicts. In fact, a fellow Sangha member casually stated that he had no qualms about meat eating because the agricultural process kills as well. I think that’s just another rationalization to deflect having to make a change, a sacrifice. The diet of animals that are routinely slaughtered in the factory farm process consists largely of corn and soy (which is quite unnatural for most animals, but much cheaper). Animals to be slaughtered are fattened up as quickly as possible through the use of hormones and confined feeding facilities. In their short miserable lives before slaughter, the animals that die to support a typical meat-eater’s diet will consume more agricultural products (and antibiotics) than the meat-eating human can consume in many lifetimes. It’s unbelievably inefficient, an incredible waste. And the extremely harmful effect that factory farming has on the environment is yet another fact that is conveniently ignored. Refraining from eating meat reduces the pain and suffering we inflict on animals, it reduces the death we impose through the agriculture process and it would reduce the adverse effect on the environment (methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide). I acknowledge and applaud your earlier statements about CAFO’s and your sensitivity regarding the quality of the lives of the goats. And one can argue that he or she only eats “free range” chickens or “grass-fed” cows. But slaughter is slaughter is slaughter. And it’s unnecessary.

    Personally, as for the source of my food, I choose, to the best of my ability, organically grown vegetables, fruit, and other non-meat products. They are all commercially available. For me, “right effort” means to choose the food source that I believe causes the least harm. Are my choices always perfect? Probably not. But I try. And not being perfect doesn’t mean that I don’t make the effort. I don’t need a leader to tell me that. And what this or that leader chooses to do or not do does not relieve me of making what I believe to be the compassionate decision myself. To me, that’s the logic and beauty of Buddhism.

  29. Hi Marcella, thanks for your response and for continuing the conversation. Your questions indicate that you view vegetarianism as an ethical question. For me it is a religious question. Certainly there are ethical arguments to be made for embracing vegetarianism for environmental and other reasons, but I don’t go there. I don’t preach vegetarianism to others any more than I counsel people not to swat mosquitoes. Not everyone believes in karma and rebirth or that all sentient beings have been our parents. But I do. Having taken refuge in the Buddha, I vowed not to harm beings, and I see refraining from eating meat as a requirement of my refuge and bodhisattva vows. It is true that factory farming in the US is horrific, but the karma–not the ethics or the economic impact, but the karma–of eating free-range, organically fed, ethically raised, etc, animals from our local CSA farm is no different from buying a package of ground chuck at Safeway. It is still participating deliberately in the killing of sentient beings, an action that has negative consequences in this life and in future lives, so of course I don’t want to do it. This way of thinking does not make much sense to a non-Buddhist, but I do expect my dharma brothers and sisters to understand it. Given the fact that every diet causes harm to sentient beings one way or another, as you point out, shouldn’t we all be trying our best to minimize the harm we cause?

  30. I have a question for those of you who take issue with the position I lay out in this article:

    Do you feel, do you ask, do you demand ~ that no human being living in the “developed” 21st-century world, with no exceptions whatsoever, should ever, ever consume ~

    The flesh of any animal?
    The milk products of any animal?
    The eggs of any animal?
    The other food products of any animal?

    Or do you ask, do you demand, do you require, that no human being anywhere on the planet should ever, under any circumstances, consume the food products of any other sentient being?

    Does this dictum extend even to foods such as honey, which is made from the saliva of bees?

    Who gets to decide? What is the basis of that decision? Who has the authority to make that decision on behalf of others?

    Should others be coerced to be vegan against their will, in the name of kindness to all living beings?

    I’m just curious. How far does this go?

  31. Michael, what are your thoughts about the sourcing of your food? The soy milk, the tempeh, the “junk food” meat substitutes?

    Do you have a sense of any life that was harmed by the manufacture and processing of those foods?

  32. Darcy, when I say, “Death must occur for life to continue,” what I mean is that all life is sustained by death.

    In the book “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior,” the Dorje Dradul characterizes the setting-sun world as a world that is afraid of death. What do you think he meant by that? What do you think a Great Eastern Sun vision that is not afraid of death would look like?

    Thank you for your sympathy. I know, deep in my bones and in my heart, that what happened between me and those goats was completely sacred. I have no fear and am willing to accept the consequences of that action and all future actions involving similar acts of meat procurement and consumption. Thanks for posting.

  33. Sean Tayler, I can say, having cooked for Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche that he does eat meat. I regularly cook for other Tibetan lamas, and many eat meat, though a few who have been living in the West are now vegetarian.

    Trungpa Rinpoche also ate meat, though I never cooked for him personally. I think this would be a great question to ask the acharyas.

    Thank you for posting!

  34. Hi Marcella. Again, thank you for responding. Dialogue is good.

    My diet is actually much more varied than it was before I stopped consuming meat a bit more than a decade ago. So there really isn’t a given day. But for breakfast, I usually eat different fruit and have some fruit juice. I drink coffee (usually with a little soy milk) or tea. I will indulge in a bagel from time to time, although not all bagels are vegan. Lunch and dinners vary much more. We eat a lot of dishes based on chickpeas, quinoa, tempeh (although I’m not a big fan), and tofu. For dinner, I often make stir-fry dishes that include leafy greens like broccoli, mushrooms, nuts, brown rice and other vegetables, such as water chestnuts, bok choi, etc. The best meat substitute that I like is seitan, which has the texture of meat. Seitan, which is wheat protein, has been called “Buddhist meat” as it originated in Asia (so I’m told). We like pasta, especially with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. There are increasingly more non-meat products commercially available that replicate meats like sausages, chicken, even hot dogs. Sort of like vegan junk food, but convenient in a pinch. It’s getting easier when we go out to eat. As would be expected, Indian, Middle Eastern (hummus and baba ganoush!) and Thai restaurants typically provide the widest range of vegetarian options. I think the biggest challenge in making the transition is ensuring that you consume enough foods that provide the protein your body needs. People with allergies to nuts, which are a good protein source, have to adjust accordingly. Oh yes, I almost forgot – beer! In moderation of course.

  35. Marcella, you could try reading “Food of Bodhisattvas” by Lama Shabkar. Published by Shambhala Publications. Plenty of quotes from Sutras and Tantras where Lord Buddha taught not to eat meat. Also teachings on the karmic results of killing animals. I hope you are able to do a lot of purification practice for having those goats killed, the karmic results of killing are said to be a lot worse than just being eaten by them in the future. Good luck.

  36. “Death must occur for life to continue” implies that someone’s life would have been lost if these goats had not been slaughtered for this festive meal–obviously not the case. Individual health requirements aside, meat eating is not necessary for human survival in the developed world. You can call it “ceremonial,” and butcher (and buy and eat) your meat with “appreciation” and “gratitude,” and even recognize the negative karma you’re accumulating, but it’s still an act of killing, done out of craving, and a harmful act is purified by regret, not by avowing it as a learning experience. My question is, why? Why order animals to be killed for your own or anyone’s dining pleasure? Don’t we all know better?

  37. Seann Tayler
    May 2, 2016

    Are there any quotes from teachings by Trungpa Rinpoche, or Sakyong Mipham, or any Shambhala Buddhism acharyas regarding this topic?

  38. Thanks Fabrizio. What do you feel has evolved us humans to this point?

  39. Thanks, Michael. Just curious: tell me what you eat on a given day. What foods is your diet made up of?

  40. We chant – “May ALL beings enjoy profound brilliant glory!” Part of our practice is being present, in the here and now. Presently, there is no physiological reason why we must eat meat. And whether it’s by our own hand or in a slaughter-house, whenever we eat meat we are responsible for the slaughter of beings that experience fear and feel pain, just as we do. There is no getting around it. We can use words like compassion and courage. But if we are incapable of exercising restraint and controlling our conditioned craving, especially when such restraint is not only possible but would be a direct act of compassion, then those words ring hollow. It’s the 21st century. Historical conditioning is not a valid excuse to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on other sentient beings. In a world where there is rarely a black and white answer to the challenges we face, this is about as black and white as it gets.

    So Mr. Campbell says that animals give their lives “willingly” and that it’s a “covenant between the animal world and the human world.” How convenient. It contradicts not only observation but millions of years of evolution. A “covenant” that humans contrive and impose in order to justify the slaughter of animals is an abomination. I’ve been present at the hunts and slaughter of dolphins in Japan (Taiji) and I’ve watched them swim for their lives, sometimes escaping, as the boats herded them into the killing cove. Heartbreaking. Domesticated animals in a slaughterhouse, such as cows and pigs, often react quite strongly as they are led to their butchering. A hunted wild animal flees. Willing? No! It’s amazing that such a conclusion can be accepted, but people believe what they want to believe, quite often without question. Perhaps, as you say, certain agricultural societies harvested animals for food after they had lived out their useful lives. I think it’s safe to say that the meat we consume today is NOT harvested in this manner. And no ceremony that I’m aware of justifies slaughter.

    Put history aside. We are not living at the time of the Buddha. The harsh climate of Tibet of no excuse for us. Things have changed. And in the 21st century, the choice to refrain is easier than it’s ever been. There is simply no justification or rationalization to slaughter other sentient beings. None. Do our chants have real meaning or are they make-believe words that make us feel good? If we are truly courageous warriors, then It’s time to walk the walk. For those who chant “May ALL beings enjoy profound brilliant glory,” one size can indeed fit all.

  41. I am wondering why we humans don’t just realise our evolution and recognise that we are able to start building a diet without killing animals. Then when being a Buddhist there is no debate, killing animals has got its own effect, I just follow my Buddha nature I don’t care what Buddha said or didn’t say. We have to embrace honesty.

  42. Great article. I wish I could be vegetarian, but can’t digest legumes and I get sick if I don’t eat meat.

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