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Buddhism on a Plate the case for buddhists to go vegan

Samacitta


Buddhism on a Plate the case for buddhists to go vegan Samacitta, Birmingham Buddhist Centre This article appeared in Shabda, the Triratna Buddhist Order’s monthly journal, in November 2011. Reprinted with permission.

This is one of an occasional series of essays on the Dharma published by thebuddhistcentre.com, home on the web for the Triratna Buddhist Community. Articles are accepted on the basis that they relate directly to Buddhist life and practice in the modern world. Suggestions for future publications are welcome, please contact feedback@thebuddhistcentre.com.

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Buddhism on a Plate the case for buddhists to go vegan Samacitta, Birmingham Buddhist Centre This article appeared in Shabda, the Triratna Buddhist Order’s monthly journal, in November 2011. Reprinted with permission.

One of the practices for the arising of the Bodhicitta is to contemplate the sufferings of living beings and, sadly, there are plenty of different kinds to contemplate. Relieving suffering is surely a concern for all members of the Triratna Buddhist Order, but faced with the huge range of urgent problems in the world, where does one begin? It would be naive to suggest that any one approach will be the solution to them all. Moreover, any action taken to relieve suffering in one sphere is likely to have implications in another, both positive and negative. The picture buddhism on a plate | thebuddhistcentre.com

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ď ’ is horribly complex. Understandably, we tend to engage more with those issues that touch us personally. What is it for you? Is it climate change, famine, conflicts, poverty, species extinction, over-population, drug trafficking, water scarcity, HIV/aids, the widening gulf between rich and poor, corruption, pollution, child pornography, bear bile farming, the plight of the honey bee, natural disasters, dictatorships?...Here, I would like to discuss the issue of food production and factory farming from a Buddhist perspective. This issue is both global and individual, both abstract and concrete. Firstly, let us consider some fundamental principles of Buddhist ethics in general. Secondly, I will introduce the problem itself as I understand it. Thirdly, I shall borrow an idea from Steven Covey's 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People'. And fourthly, I will attempt to apply both the Buddhist ethical framework and Covey's model to this particular global issue. Then I will make some general points before concluding.

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ď ’ 1. Buddhist Ethics in general Firstly, as Buddhists, we undertake to abstain from taking life and from harming living beings. We recognise that all sentient beings can suffer just as we can suffer. 'All tremble at violence, all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.' Dhammapada 129 'All tremble at violence, life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.' Dhammapada 130 Our metta practice can awaken a sense of connectedness to other living beings, and an identification with their experience. When you feel connected to other living beings through metta, you can empathise more easily with their experience and if you are aware of their suffering you want to relieve it - urgently - just as if it were your own suffering. The starting point and basis for all ethical conduct is the First Precept, that of non-harm or lovingkindness.

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ď ’ Secondly, Buddhist ethics are progressive. The Precepts are not a tick-list; we can always go further with any one of them. They are our guidelines for training in the spiritual life, something we become more and more skilled at. The Dharma is 'Opanayiko' meaning 'leading forward', 'leading onward', 'progressive'. You don't achieve perfection all at once. Thirdly, Buddhist ethics are ethics of intention The mental state with which an action is performed is the main factor determining the ethical quality of that action. Intentions are a karmic force, not to be underestimated. Even if we only form an intention to become more skilful in some area of practice, there will, in time, be positive consequences both for ourselves and for others. So Buddhist ethics are based on non-harm or loving kindness, they are progressive, and intention is crucial.

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ď ’ 2. The problem: just what is wrong with factory farming? In a nutshell, factory farming strives to produce the most meat, milk, and eggs as quickly and cheaply as possible, using the minimum amount of resources possible, resulting in unnatural and abusive conditions for the animals involved. This article is going to take a peek behind the scenes of factory farms. Many different species are farmed commercially but here I will look at just two types of ordinary everyday farm animals: poultry and cattle. Let us consider first how they would live naturally. Chickens are complex, intelligent birds who would normally roost in trees, search for tasty food by scratching and pecking the earth, dust-bathe to keep their feathers healthy, and engage in a range of fascinating social rituals. They have a powerful nesting instinct. Cattle are herbivorous, herd-dwelling, social animals. Easily domesticated, they generally behave like 'gentle giants'. What they mostly want is what all of us want - food to stop hunger, safety from danger, freedom from disease and pain, contact with others of the same species, and the opportunity to engage in natural behaviours like reproduction and nurturing their young. buddhism on a plate | thebuddhistcentre.com

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ď ’ Just like human mothers, cows have a strong maternal instinct; they are devoted to their offspring and highly responsive to their needs. Cows appear to be extremely patient because they will keep munching, plodding, standing and waiting in all sorts of conditions and environments without complaint and it is all too easy to assume from their placid behaviour that they are contented. How do the descendants of these ordinary creatures live today? The green pastures and idyllic barnyard scenes of years past are a fantasy. On today's factory farms, cows, calves, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and other animals are confined in huge, stinking, windowless sheds for the entirety of their miserable lives. Sometimes they are unable even to turn around. Giving them space for their comfort is uneconomical, and depriving them of exercise conveniently means that all their energy will go toward producing more milk, eggs, and flesh. They are never allowed to raise their offspring, root in the soil, build nests nor do anything that is natural and important to them. They are subjected to selective breeding which results in massive distortions such as 'drumstick' thighs and oversized breasts in

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ď ’ broiler chickens, so that their genetically manipulated bodies can barely support their short lives. Even before they reach the abattoir, animals on UK factory farms die every day by the tens of thousands, of neglect, disease and even of thirst and hunger. This is no exaggeration! Then there are the terrors of the journey to the abattoir. Chickens are grabbed with bone-crunching speed by workers paid by the number of chickens loaded within the shortest possible space of time. They are rammed roughly into crates and loaded onto lorries which, these days, are enclosed to keep the doomed, miserable creatures out of sight of other drivers on the motorway. Upon arrival at the abattoir, they are shackled upsidedown, and thus they enter a conveyor-belt of horror, to be scalded, electrocuted and finally sliced apart. The kill floor for cattle, where the unfortunate beasts are also hung up for 'processing' is no less gruesome and bloody. Interestingly, in June 2011, Animal Aid mounted a successful campaign to introduce CCTV cameras in UK slaughterhouses www.animalaid.org.uk/h/n/CAMPAIGNS/slaughter//2420// in order to introduce some kind of brake upon the worst instances

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ď ’ of animal abuse and sadism in what must be one of the most brutalising environments on earth. Obviously, working in any part of this hellish industry is as unethical as is working in the arms industry, or trading in drugs, alcohol or poison. There are numerous health issues regarding meat, eggs and dairy products. Cittapala outlined some of them in his article, 'The Compleat Vegetarian' which can be found on his website at www.cittapala.org. But this article focuses mainly on the ethical issues from a Buddhist point of view. In a talk given in April 2010, Ratnaghosha states, '...sometimes Buddhists are in danger of elevating the subjective and ignoring the objective...However mindful we are, however much bliss and rapture we experience in meditation, there are some things which are just plain wrong and cannot be purified from the inside out, so to speak.' ('Another Look at Right Livelihood')

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ď ’ In The Ten Pillars, under the First Precept (p.63), Sangharakshita writes, 'Observance of the First Precept will, in fact, naturally result in one's being a vegetarian.'

But - is vegetarianism enough? If we can empathise with animals farmed for their meat and if we can decide to give up meat-eating for ethical reasons, then we must be capable of empathising with animals who are farmed for their offspring, their body parts, and other extracts from their bodies such as their milk, eggs, bile, feathers, fur, skin, trotters, tusks, horns, etc. Sometimes, there is a vague assumption that because animal products such as eggs or milk are only byproducts of the meat industry, their procurement does not directly harm the animal itself. But the animal is still being exploited in every way imaginable throughout its unnatural and painful life. In order to boost milk production in cows, they are forced to produce calves. But the calf is not simply sent out to play in the buddhism on a plate | thebuddhistcentre.com

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ď ’ fields, leaving the mother to get on with being milked by us. It is removed from the mother within a few days of its birth, causing extreme distress to the cow who begins bellowing desperately for her lost calf. This is a deeply traumatic event in the life of a new mother. The calf is then slaughtered for its meat. Veal is considered to be better quality if the meat is white, so the calf may be imprisoned for the three months of its short, tortured life inside a crate which is barely larger than the calf itself (1 foot 10 inches wide by 4 feet 6 inches long), isolated from its mother and from all contact with any living beings, bovine or otherwise, and fed a liquid diet which ensures that instead of developing muscles, its body is kept in a state of prolonged infancy and its flesh remains white rather than becoming pink or red. Meanwhile, the grieving mother cow will soon be impregnated with her next calf. Her body has been manipulated to produce milk in quantities that are totally superfluous to the natural needs of her offspring so all her physical energy is channelled into milk production for humans, at the expense of her own health. The stress of carrying udders equivalent to the weight of a full-grown man typically causes leg and foot problems. In this way, a dairy cow is worked so hard that she can barely sustain buddhism on a plate | thebuddhistcentre.com

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ď ’ the way in which she is forced to live and tends to be 'spent' before she reaches her second birthday, despite the fact that her natural lifespan would be 25-30 years. The picture of an emaciated, exhausted cow with heavily bulging udders that are painfully infected with mastitis gives some idea of what is really going on in the lives of what people like to assume are 'contented cows'. Eggs are mass-produced in similarly intensive conditions. All egg-laying chickens will come initially from a hatchery and in the vast majority of cases the male chicks, which are useless to the industry, are disposed of by being ground up live in gigantic mincers. The females are then channelled into huge chicken sheds where the overcrowding is so severe that they will never have enough room even to stretch their wings, let alone fly. They will be subjected to extremes of temperature and unnatural cycles of light and dark. They will suffer from their confinement and overcrowding and many will die from suffocation, crushing, and all manner of illnesses such as broken bones and tumours. Before arrival, they are debeaked because the conditions they must live in can lead to cannibalism and feather pecking. In the

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ď ’ sheds, they are unable to engage in any of their natural behaviours or develop social relationships with one another as they would in the wild. Sometimes they desperately try to bury themselves underneath the bodies of other hens in order to gain some cover for egg-laying. Once egg production declines, typically 12 months, they are considered 'spent' and those who have survived will be slaughtered for use in pies, soups, etc. Some vegetarians take comfort in labels such as 'free range' and 'organic' but unfortunately, these labels afford very little protection for the hens. The 'organic' label has to do with the amount of drugs permissible in the hens' feed, which affects the chemical substances in their eggs. As for 'free range', Jonathan Safran Foer points out in 'Eating Animals' that 'You can keep a dozen turkeys under your kitchen sink and torture them every day, and still qualify for the free range label.' In terms of animal welfare, these labels are almost meaningless. Some people will argue that there are many farms in the country where the animals are treated quite well - but virtually all the animal ingredients in the foods you buy from the supermarket, or in the meals you order in restaurants, come from factory farms.

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ď ’ Even on the best and kindest family-run small-holdings, animals are still being treated as 'meat' rather than as sentient creatures who have a right to their own lives. Recently, I happened to see part of a TV programme called 'Countryfile' which obviously tries to present farming in a positive light. The cheery farmer, who was pleased with his second lambing season of the year, talked in a completely matter-of-fact way about how quickly the cute little lambs would be fattened up and 'ready for the table'. All farm animals are being exploited and all will end up on the kill floor of an abattoir, probably before they reach adulthood. The Buddhist position on how to treat living beings is perfectly clear because 'All tremble at violence, all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.' - Dhammapada 129. Furthermore: 'One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter' - Dhammapada 131

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ď ’ In the egg and dairy industries, animals are kept alive for years on end in conditions of violent oppression, in order to obtain the products of their bodies. Arguably, such cynical and ruthless exploitation causes even more suffering than does the meat industry. Those animals who are farmed directly for the edible meat in their own bodies are, in many ways, the lucky ones. In the Ten Pillars (p.61), Sangharakshita writes: 'Observance of the First Precept means that, as a result of our imaginative identification with others, we not only abstain from actually killing living beings but operate more and more in accordance with the love mode and less and less in accordance with the power mode.' Most Triratna Buddhists choose to be vegetarians for a number of very good reasons - reasons which apply equally to veganism. Many of us enjoy reasonable health and would be perfectly capable of giving up all animal foods out of mercy and compassion for animals - or at least of moving in that direction.

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ď ’ 3. Steven Covey's 'Seven Habits' In 1989, Steven R. Covey wrote, 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', which many Order Members will remember as a 'buzz-book' in the movement around that time. The subtitle was, 'Restoring the Character Ethic'. This was a new kind of success book because it suggested that effective living depended upon and began with integrating some basic ethical principles into one's character. Covey taught these principles in terms of 'habits' to be developed, and the first of the habits was: Be Proactive. To teach this habit, Covey devised a simple model, that of the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. Within the Circle of Concern are all those issues which interest us in any way, whereas those issues in which we have little or no interest fall outside our personal Circle of Concern. Examples of things outside our Circle of Concern might be the fate of planets in outer space, or who was in last year's Big Brother contest. Examples of things inside our Circle of Concern might be our health, our work, current affairs, public services, global warming, recycling, the internet, music, eBay...in other words, the full range of issues which engage us emotionally to any degree.

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ď ’ Within our Circle of Concern, there will be some things we can do something about and others over which we have no real control. Those things over which we do exercise a measure of control can be delineated within a smaller circle: our Circle of Influence. Covey's teaching is that proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence, whereas reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern, resulting in a tendency to blame others and to feel victimized. Interestingly, Covey suggests that the Circle in which one focuses one's energy will be the Circle which tends to expand. So if we can learn to focus our energy within the Circle of Influence it will increase the effect that we may have on those issues and concerns that really do matter to us.

4. Buddhist ethics plus Covey, and the problem of factory farming Now let us consider the difficult and thorny problem of factory farming in the world today using Covey's model within a Buddhist ethical framework.

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ď ’ Buddhist ethics are based on non-violence - and factory farming is based on violence to living beings from start to finish. Is this of concern to me? Do I have any feelings about it? If so, it falls within my Circle of Concern. Where is my Circle of Influence in relation to this area? Factory farming is well established in today's society. Is there anything that I can do, personally, within my own life, that would have an influence on this situation, if I so choose? Buddhist ethics are progressive - and focusing on my Circle of Influence will make it increase. According to Sangharakshita, 'Non-violence, or Love, is a principle, and being a principle there is no limit to the number of ways in which it can be applied...no one is so skilful in his conduct that his practice of it could not be better. As the most direct manifestation of one's Going for Refuge, the potentialities of Non-violence, or Love, are infinite.' (Ten Pillars, p.63). Vegetarianism is an expression of the First Precept in relation to food. Can I take my practice of the First Precept any further? Obviously, this question applies to vegans and non-vegans alike; any of the Precepts can be practised more and more

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ď ’ intensively. Veganism is a practice which can always be taken further, regardless of one's starting point. Buddhist ethics are about intention. It may be that, for whatever reason, we cannot adopt a fully vegan lifestyle at this point in our lives, whether for health reasons or for some other reason. Perhaps the practice of veganism is simply outside our Circle of Influence. But that need not be the end of the story. We can still cultivate an intention to reduce our intake of flesh foods to whatever degree is possible for us. Our intentions do fall within our Circle of Influence. Part of spiritual practice is being aware of the tension between what we would do ideally, and what we are doing actually - and letting that tension flower into a genuine aspiration to change ourselves. In applying a Buddhist ethical framework, plus Steven Covey's ideas, to the problem of factory farming, I have tried to show that it is possible and desirable for all Buddhists to move in the direction of veganism. I am aware that some Order Members will feel that I am taking an extreme position but, to my mind, the situation itself is extreme.

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 The situation today Because the problem is so huge, there is always the danger of apathy and inability to connect with the issue. But I believe this must be due to a lack of knowledge about what is really going on, and perhaps a failure of imagination. In fact, it doesn't really take much imagination: despite the efforts of the farming industry to keep things hidden, sometimes we still do see lorries crammed full of cattle and sheep on the motorways, or we might catch a whiff of the odour of the poisonous slurry from factory farms as we drive past them in the countryside. We have all heard the horror stories of what happened to Jews all over Europe in the Second World War. We may have seen Schindler’s List and The Diary of Anne Frank. People sometimes marvel that the ordinary citizens of Europe did so little to avert such unimaginable evil as the systematic transportation and extermination of millions of people. Even today, people sometimes ask the older generation of Germans, 'How is it that you didn't do anything to stop it?' and some responses that have been reported are along the lines of 'but it was normal, everyone was part of it, yes we knew it was wrong but what could one buddhism on a plate | thebuddhistcentre.com

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ď ’ person do, we had other problems, problems of survival, we didn't have time to do anything about it...' Of course, the Holocaust involved transporting and killing millions of people, whereas factory farming only involves transporting and killing animals - this is obviously a major difference. I have no wish to minimize the Holocaust, nor to over-dramatize factory farming. There are many significant differences between the two scenarios, but there are some obvious similarities as well. The main similarity is the systematic violence inflicted upon the innocent by the more powerful, and the fact that this evil was/is being conducted on an industrial scale, with the complicity of society in general. One interesting difference between the two scenarios is that in the Holocaust, the main negative emotion driving it was hatred hatred of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and anyone considered to be unacceptable - whereas in the case of the animals suffering on today's factory farms, the main emotion driving the animalbased food industry is human greed and craving. My observation is that most people don't actually hate animals or consciously feel any negativity towards them; it is just that their own

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ď ’ perceived needs and pleasures are given far more weight than any inconvenient truths about how those needs must be met by the unfortunate sentient beings who are being exploited. Greed is just as destructive as hatred; it seals the fate of millions of helpless creatures whose entire existence is used to satisfy human craving.

The future Let us take a more optimistic look at the problem of industrial animal production and, just for a moment, let us imagine a different scenario. Let us imagine a world in the future where animal suffering is taken as seriously for farm animals as it is for domestic pets today. Let us dream for a moment that the majority of the world has become vegan or vegetarian, and that there are no more intensive factory farms crammed full of tormented and distressed animals. Just as we now no longer punish criminals by disembowelling them in public and hanging them, in the same way imagine a more civilized world in which people generally disapprove of all forms of cruelty. Imagine a

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ď ’ world in which it is no longer politically correct systematically to exploit and butcher millions of helpless animals on an industrial scale. Then imagine how those people of the future will think of this period of human history, the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when the scale of factory farming reached its peak, when powerful corporate interests drove industrial animal production to the very limits of depravity. Perhaps those people of the future will ask - 'How is it that you didn't do anything to stop it?' According to Bhante, 'The Buddha says that if one has only compassion for the sufferings of other living beings, then in due course all other virtues, all other spiritual qualities and attainments, even Enlightenment itself, will follow.' (The Essential Sangharakshita p.563). There are many people working to improve conditions for animals today. See for instance the ordinary but heroic people on this inspiring 'Mercy for Animals' video http://mercyforanimals.org/i-am-mfa.aspx . Within our Buddhist movement, I find it heartening that most if not all of our retreat centres do vegan catering, and that many of our urban Centres, including Birmingham, have a policy of buying only

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ď ’ vegan products for the Centre (apart from dairy milk for classes). I hope that all my brothers and sisters in the Triratna Buddhist Order will continue to support this positive trend, will continue to develop compassion for the sufferings of sentient beings, and will undertake a progressively more thorough-going practice of the First Precept by moving more and more towards veganism.

Samacitta, Birmingham, November 2011

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 Resources World Vegan Day (www.worldveganday.org.uk) is held on November 1st annually. The Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation (VVF) has a million recipes for such nice things as vegan crème cheese/vegan sour crème/cheesy sauce and mayo: all at www.vegetarian.org.uk.

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Profile for The Buddhist Centre Online

Buddhism on a Plate  

Buddhism on a Plate: the case for Buddhists to go vegan. An essay by Samacitta, chair of Triratna's Birmingham Buddhist Centre.

Buddhism on a Plate  

Buddhism on a Plate: the case for Buddhists to go vegan. An essay by Samacitta, chair of Triratna's Birmingham Buddhist Centre.