By Shodo Jishin (Lee Tao Dana)
The Eightfold Path is a cornerstone of Buddhist teachings.
It is a path for living wisely, morally and compassionately. Coupled with modern technological advances and science, all of earth’s inhabitants, both human and nonhuman can live together peacefully and sustainably.
The good news is, Buddhism does not go against much of what modern science has to say.
Among other Buddhist teachings, the principles of the Eightfold Path serve as a guide for people of this world to live in harmony with all sentient beings within our environment. As it is now, in the 21st century, there are many challenges which are creating an enormous strain on all of the earth’s inhabitants, its natural resources and the environment as a whole.
There needs to be more progress made towards providing a framework by which all creatures, human and nonhuman, can live in harmony as we go forth into the future. People, animals and the environment can not only coexist but can also reach new levels of peace, compassionate living and sustainability.
Let us take a look at the following three areas which can be used as a guide for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
- The Buddhist Teachings on the Eightfold Path: By following the Eightfold Path one can live a moral and ethical life while at the same time lead one to progress on the path to liberation. Infused with loving-kindness and compassion the Eightfold Path is the building block for a better world.
- Modern Science: Along with the ancient wisdom of Buddhism, modern science, nutritional science, and sustainability practices provides humanity with the knowledge and tools to live sustainably in an ever complex world.
- Sustainable Practices: As more and more demands are placed on meat and dairy as a means of food we need to produce more and more meat and dairy products which means more and more killing. Killing goes against the first Buddhist precept of not killing. The killing of animals is always violent and is not humane. The practice of slaughtering animals not only brings harm to the animals killed but as research shows is not a necessary practice. Health and ethics aside, considering its damaging environmental effects it’s a wonder why this practice continues on, in this, the 21st century.
Mercy for the animals and mercy for the planet is demonstrated by vegans and vegetarians every time they sit for a meal or put on their clothes.
Their practice is for their own health, but also for saving animals’ lives and for the environment.
Vegetarians and specifically vegans refrain from killing, eating or harming animals in any way and do everything possible to lead a naturally healthy and compassionate lifestyle while at the same time avoiding many of the most common diseases associated with meat eating, namely: cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, and other terminal and debilitating illnesses.
Compassion is often times the most outstanding factor when one decides to turn away from all the negative aspects associated with the practice of killing and exploiting animals for food and fashion, sports, and entertainment.
In 1981, an immensely important book was written by Philip Kapleau Roshi entitled, To Cherish All Life. Kapleau Roshi was the leader of a Zen Buddhist Sangha in upstate New York, the Rochester Zen Center.
In his book, Kapleau Roshi brings to light the unnecessary practices of eating meat and dairy, using animals for experiments, the ecological issues attached to the meat and dairy industries, and other present day issues, while at the same time pointing out the health benefits of eating a vegan diet and its connection to the Buddhist principles of loving-kindness and compassion.
This book also touches upon ahimsa, an ancient practice from India which is concerned with doing no harm. Further, the book compares the theories between the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and the Theravada Buddhist tradition as it pertains to eating meat. To Cherish All Life also contains pertinent information on the negative environment effects of factory farming-the kind of farming practices most often used in the United States and in other first world countries.
It is an understatement to say that science has come a long way in the last one hundred years, but perhaps no areas have been more important than the advances made in medicine and nutrition which have provided us with a wealth of information on how best to care for the sick and how to feed the people of the world.
One hundred years ago no one could have possibly imagined what the world would be like today and yet with all the science and all of the technological discoveries, the world still cannot find a way to feed all the people on this planet.
With all the information we could possibly need in order to feed the world’s population, and we still do not do it. There are still tens of thousands of children who die each day due to a lack in proper nutrition. At the same time, discoveries in the science of nutrition have provided humankind with a mountain of evidence to prove that not only do humans not need to consume meat and dairy, but in fact if people ate a plant-based diet the entire population of the planet could be feed many times over. And still, we have not solved the problem of world hunger.
So what’s the problem?
Meat and dairy is the problem, and it is well past the time that everyone switched to a plant-based diet-if only humans are able to give up the taste of meat and dairy.
Despite all of the evidence proving the healthy advantages associated with eating a plant-based diet people seem to find it difficult to give up on their favorite animal foods, even with the evidence of higher mortality rates belonging to meat and dairy consumers.
How many these days can deny the fact that vegetarians and vegans are overall healthier and live longer than those who eat meat and dairy? If I may say, this information is not really anything new and is hardly debatable.
Medical experts in the field of nutrition believe that by refraining from ingesting animal products we can feed all the people of the world.
That alone, it would seem, would be enough to inspire people to go vegan, but the meat producing companies keep churning out the cheeseburgers and consumers keep buying and eating them. Meanwhile, vast amounts of food and water are wasted around the world. In the United States alone 30% of all food, worth US$48.3 billion, is thrown away each year.
It is estimated that about half of the water used to produce this food also goes to waste, since agriculture is the largest human use of water.
So what does it take to become a vegan?
I would say that it takes compassion. The rest is easy. Veganism is sometimes viewed as a diet, sometimes as a fad, even as an extreme hippy-like practice that has no business being called a healthy way of eating. Veganism, on the contrary, is a compassionate, ethical and sustainable lifestyle that is compatible with Buddhist teachings and modern science.
Veganism is more than a fad. It is a key strategy for combating world hunger and poverty. In fact, a report from the United Nations on world hunger said, “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.”
With the wisdom acquired through the study and practice of Buddhism, and the scientific knowledge gained through experimentation and research we can consider how best to conquer critical world issues in the 21st century while at the same time living healthier and longer lives.
On top of this, the unnecessary practice of exploiting and killing animals for food can and should be a practice left far behind, a practice not so different from the exploitation and killing of human slaves-now viewed as a most horrific practice.
Any debate over ancient Buddhist scriptures being in support of the eating of meat or supporting vegetarianism should not exclude the facts that we are aware of today. What we now know in the 21st century is that the exploitation and killing of animals is uncompassionate and for human health completely unnecessary. Further, vast amounts of research conducted on the eating of meat and dairy presents us with overwhelming evidence on the unhealthy effects of eating animal products.
And finally, are not the lives of sentient beings, the animals, more important than how they taste?
When people say that it is not easy to go vegan what they are really saying is that they are thinking of themselves and how they like the taste. They are not thinking first about those suffering, the animals. Most people love the taste of meat. It’s a habit that many in the West grow up with and it’s not an easy habit to break.
Nevertheless, when one practices compassion with regards to all sentient beings the choice to live a vegan lifestyle is not a difficult one.
Shodo Jishin is currently the Director for Undergraduate Studies at Webster University, Bangkok Campus, Thailand. He also serves as a lecturer teaching courses on Buddhism and Ethics, and coach men’s basketball. Besides his role/s at Webster, he also works as a Warden for the United States Embassy in Bangkok. Usually this involves meeting with Americans who are inmates in Thai prisons. He is a zen Buddhist priest as well as an advocate for Veganism and owns a small Vegan cafe in Bangkok. Sometimes he gives Dharma talks and speaks on the importance of going Vegan for reasons of compassion for the animals, good health for humans, and for combating world hunger and a healthy environment.
Photo: Mark Peters Photography/flickr
Editor: Alicia Wozniak