Why Buddhists Should be Vegetarian

As a Buddhist and imperfect vegan who more accurately fits the definition of vegetarian, this post offers much food for thought, if you’ll pardon the unfortunate cliché, and the comments that follow are every bit as thought provoking and helpful in their way as the author’s most excellent writing on the subject. Let us all reason together, explore, discuss, evolve and change for the better. May we try each day to live Metta, or loving kindness, to the very best of our imperfect ability. Namasté, Sonnische/Shielagh

Sujato’s Blog

The Buddha ate meat. This is a fairly well attested fact. The issue of vegetarianism is addressed a few times in the Suttas, notably the Jivaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya. The Buddha consistently affirmed that monastics were permitted to eat meat, as long as it was not killed intentionally for them. There are numerous passages in the Vinaya that refer to the Buddha or the monastics eating meat, and meat is regularly mentioned as one of the standard foods.

For these reasons, the standard position in Theravada Buddhism is that there is no ethical problem with eating meat. If you want to be vegetarian, that is a purely optional choice. Most Theravadins, whether lay or monastic, eat meat, and claim to be acting within the ethical guidelines of the Buddha’s teachings.

This position sits squarely within a straightforward application of the law of kamma, understood as intention. Eating meat…

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Brief Review: The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism

 

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Captivated by an intriguing Buddhism Now review published last week http://buddhismnow.com/2015/05/21/the-princeton-dictionary-of-buddhism/#more-10775 detailing the new Dictionary of Buddhism, by Robert E. Buswell, Jr., and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (2014, Princeton University Press, 1304 pages), I ordered the volume. I went to Amazon where I found it for nearly $20 less than the suggested retail price. I decided to order the hardback volume. I found it waiting for me today when I returned to the city after the long Memorial Day weekend.

It is a large, heavy volume and the print is small. Beyond its impressive physical characteristics, the book is an exhaustive, comprehensive reference volume that explains historical, regional, linguistic, and other distinctions among the terminologies of various types of Buddhist practice and their meanings. It includes a timeline, maps and diagrams. There are cross references to words in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai in the entries themselves, plus a lengthy appendix devoted to each language. Then there are the pages devoted to the enumeration so prominent in Buddhism: e.g., the Four Noble Truths, The Five Mindfulness Trainings, The Eightfold Path, etc., and this “List of Lists” is vast indeed.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path

As a Buddhist who began by practicing alone and only later joined a sangha, I spent a very pleasurable and educational afternoon going from item to item as more words and phrases arose that I wanted to define or better understand. Thus far I am particularly impressed with the “List of Lists,” and explanations of the subtle differences among Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai terminologies.

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

 

Here are a few of the points I’ve taken from it just today:

  • The Mala (string of rosary-like beads, usually 108 beads for reciting the mantra) is held in the right hand. I was holding mine in both. It takes some dexterity to advance from one bead to the next with one hand. Another aid to keeping focused while sitting.
  • The Heart Sutra is one of the most widely recited of all the sutras.
    The mantra of the Heart Sutra, Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha, speaks to transcending both worldly limitations and sensual desires and as well as arriving at the sublime, free from rebirth. Repeating it is thought to enable those who recite it and those who hear it to transcend samsara, the cycle if birth, death and rebirth.
  • Buddhism spread from Himalayan India into all of Asia over a period over just a few centuries.
  • The word Dao was mistranslated as Tao by an English scholar.
  • Self-immolation is an ancient and continuing form of denial of the earthly self as well as a powerful form of protest, perhaps the most famous being that in 1963 of Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc. His heart remained after his body was reduced by fire to bone and ash, and the relic has been preserved. If you wish to see it, a video of his immolation can be seen online. A yoga teacher once urged me to view it. I did so and found it powerfully moving, albeit disturbing. David Halberstam’s eyewitness account is riveting: http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/vietnam/figure/003-htQuangduc.htm.

That is what I am able to retain well enough to share it with you. I have rarely enjoyed a newly acquired book as much.

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The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

 

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

 

We are so very fortunate that on September 11, 2014, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, called Thay (“teacher”) by his followers, presented a brand new English translation of the ancient Sanskrit text known as the Heart Sutra, one which he said corrects an error in translation made approximately 2,000 years ago. Recently I wrote a piece here about the Heart Sutra, and I now happily share this version with you. Thay calls this, based on the original texts, “The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.” If you go to the Plum Village website you will find the details and more information. Here is the retranslation:

Thay’s retranslation of the New Heart Sutra, in English, September 11th, 2014

The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

Avalokiteshvara
while practicing deeply with
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,
suddenly discovered that
all of the five Skandhas are equally empty,
and with this realisation
he overcame all Ill-being.

“Listen Sariputra,
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
The same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
and Consciousness.

“Listen Sariputra,
all phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness;
their true nature is the nature of
no Birth no Death,
no Being no Non-being,
no Defilement no Immaculacy,
no Increasing no Decreasing.

“That is why in Emptiness,
Body, Feelings, Perceptions,
Mental Formations and Consciousness
are not separate self entities.

The Eighteen Realms of Phenomena
which are the six Sense Organs,
the six Sense Objects,
and the six Consciousnesses
are also not separate self entities.

The Twelve Links of Interdependent Arising
and their Extinction
are also not separate self entities.
Ill-being, the Causes of Ill-being,
the End of Ill-being, the Path,
insight and attainment,
are also not separate self entities.

Whoever can see this
no longer needs anything to attain.
Bodhisattvas who practice
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
see no more obstacles in their mind,
and because there
are no more obstacles in their mind,
they can overcome all fear,
destroy all wrong perceptions
and realize Perfect Nirvana.

“All Buddhas in the past, present and future
by practicing
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
are all capable of attaining
Authentic and Perfect Enlightenment.

“Therefore Sariputra,
it should be known that
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
is a Great Mantra,
the most illuminating mantra,
the highest mantra,
a mantra beyond compare,
the True Wisdom that has the power
to put an end to all kinds of suffering.
Therefore let us proclaim
a mantra to praise
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!”

 

The mantra Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi, Svaha, means, as said in my previous post, “Om, Gone, Gone Beyond, Gone Completely Beyond, Awake, So Be It.”

If you would like to listen to a chanting of the mantra, here is a version by Deva Premal and the Gyuto monks of Tibet.  Deva Premal begins chanting in a lilting voice, later accompanying the rumbling voices of the monks. The Tibetan monks here chant in a deep, bass throat singing characteristic of much Tibetan chanting, repeating the mantra 108 times:

 

 

 Shakyamuni Buddha

Namaste

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Gazing at Peace and Truth

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 We gaze at the face of the Buddha, one who has shown countless beings who have gone before us the way of peace and truth, of right living, of non-harming (ahimsa), of mindfulness, of dwelling in the moment, of experiencing life open and aware (mindfulness). We see calm and beauty in his face, and we remember why we seek it, for peace in our hearts and for peace in the world we inhabit. We seek to live honorably, fairly, humanely, responsibly and rightly, and embodying loving kindness (Metta).

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What do we bring today to honor this enlightened being who has spoken wisdom, passed down to us through the ages, offering tools by which to bring an end to suffering in ourselves and in others? If we follow the Dharma, we bring the intention to align our lives, every moment of every day, with the Noble Eightfold Path. Perhaps we succeed only momentarily, but as we continue to practice with the intentions of Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration, we will have more such right moments. Even more perhaps than the peace right living brings to us is the peace it can bring to all with whom we come in contact in our lives. The ripples spread ever outward, and the healing influence and positive effects are endless.

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The path awaits.

Namaste

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Exquisite Beauty Transcending Time

 

99 of 100 Views of Edo, by Utagawa Hiroshige

99 of 100 Views of Edo, by Utagawa Hiroshige

We will not be on this earth forever. Our time here is brief. Perhaps we will leave beauty for those who come after us to enjoy. It may be our wisdom, or it may be our art. I grew up with a print of this beautiful wood cut by Utagawa Hiroshige. A little girl stared and stared at this beautiful image of snow over Edo, as Tokyo was known then. Little did she know then that she would come to follow the teachings of the Buddha to whom this temple was built, when she was a grown woman. The beauty with which we adorn our homes and our lives can have amazing influence. May we choose carefully.

Kinryuzan Temple, Asakusa (Asakusa Kinryuzan), No. 99 from One Hundred Famous View of Edo
The color scheme of this composition—red on white—is reserved for propitious occasions, in this case the beginning of winter. The place is the entrance to the temple of the Buddhist deity Kannon in Asakusa, the oldest and most venerable Buddhist temple in Edo. Formally known as Kinryūzan Sensōji, it dates back to 628, when two brothers discovered a tiny gold image of Kannon in their net while fishing on the Sumida River. The image was enshrined here, and over the centuries the temple became the object of a widespread popular following that remains strong today. As with all popular temples in Hiroshige’s time, the Asakusa Kannon Temple was also a major entertainment center.

From the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

Yes, may we choose very carefully.

Namaste,

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The Noble Eightfold Path

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The Noble Eightfold Path:

The Way to the End of Suffering

The body of teachings of the Buddha, called the dharma (or dhamma in Pali), contains eight areas of aspiration toward our enlightenment, areas to be aligned with the principles of loving kindness, non-harming, self-discipline, mindful contemplative practices, and other important aspects of the teachings. This collection of teachings is referred to as The Noble Eightfold Path, and it guides seekers of enlightenment toward appropriate adjustments in their thoughts, intentions and actions. It tells us things we ought not to do, and it tells us things we ought to do. I recently posted a preview to this post on The Noble Eightfold Path with this:

Noble-8-Fold-Path

Here is very different but informative treatment of the Noble Eightfold Path in a lovely illustration:

imageWhen we understand the “right” aspects of each of these areas of human life, assuming we are of like mind in our pursuits and goals, with practice and determination in time (and it could take many lifetimes), we can correct the deviations we have. And we all have them. We may chance, if we are most fortunate, to cross paths with a bodhisattva, or enlightened being, in our lifetimes, but very, very few of us will qualify for that title right now. So for all intents and purposes, let us assume there are areas in all of us where we would do well to align ourselves more fully to the dharma.

To best give clear and accurate information, I refer the reader to an excellent essay on The Noble Eightfold Path by Bhikkhu Bodhi that does the topic more justice than I can hope to do. We consider those things we think, feel and do that are out of alignment with the dharma, and we make a sincere effort to change them. Here are my thoughts on the aspects of The Noble Eightfold Path, put forward imperfectly but as I understand them today:

  • Right view: How do I see things? Is my view distorted by anger, craving, delusion, or afflictions of some kind? Can I see the good in all beings?
  • Right intentions: What is my motivation? Do I seek the approval of others more than I seek to do the right thing? Am I acting out of greed, anger, or laziness? Do I sincerely aspire for all beings to be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit, or do I hope ill to befall an enemy or hope I will receive favor because of adversity happening to someone else?
  • Right mindfulness: Am I present-centered, in the now, aware of myself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually? Am I meditating mindfully? Or do I zone out or habitually disconnect my mind from my life?
  • Right concentration: Do I meditate faithfully? When I focus am I able to give my task or experience my full attention? Or do I become easily distracted and abandon my worthy efforts too soon?
  • Right effort: Am I putting all that I can into that which I undertake? Or do I hold back selfishly for no good reason? My effort may need to be spread among my various responsibilities and aspirations, but am I putting in the right effort where it is needed?
  • Right speech: Do I choose my words carefully, wasting none, and avoiding frivolous criticisms? Am I able to say what I mean and mean what I say, and carefully consider my intentions before I speak? Do I offer wisdom or do I prattle on mindlessly? If I know I have no wisdom to give do I keep silent?
  • Right action: Am I acting with kindness in all my decisions, judging none and living wisely? Do I find that I sometimes blunder into trouble by not being mindful in my actions? Can I keep myself acting out of respect for all beings, including respect for myself?
  • Right livelihood: Am I pursuing an honorable profession or line of work?  Am I of service to others? Does what I do cause harm to any being? Do I exploit any being in my occupation?

My intention in choosing to write today about The Noble Eightfold Path is to share the beauty of the Buddha’s clear and simple teachings. It is my hope that I have been able to manifest sufficient right speech in selecting my words, truthfully to the best of my ability, and use the effort to bring the dharma near enough for others to want to learn much more about it than I am able to impart. I am certain, that whatever else any of us seeks, most of us seek the end of suffering, at least our own.

Namaste

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