THICH HUYEN VI
To live on a vegetarian diet is a part of Buddhist practice.
The question of eating and drinking is vitally related to all human beings. In order to live man needs food. When he was a prince, Shakyamuni Buddha uttered one sentence full of meaning, “Life depends on others’ death”. We all like to live safety from the day we have been born into this world, yet we kill so many living beings either with intention or without.
We eat, we drink, we breathe, we lie down, we stand, and we walk and commit many other actions by which, ourselves being unaware of it, many lives are affected. In this way give trouble3 to many living beings around us. But ours are definitely not the actions of such cruel people who kill to make a fortune, or purely out of joy, or for the sake of reputation. If our life does not cause the death and suffering of any living creature, then the life we live is blameless. If we aspire after such an aim, it will be very helpful we observe vegetarianism in our life.
The Northern doctrine of Buddhism follows the Path of the Bodhisattva called Bodhisattva marga; a Mahayanist observes the Bodhisattva precepts (P’u Tso chieh), under which falls the prohibition to partake of food that is prepared from the flesh of an animal. This prohibition is called Tapasa Sila Vratsa). It is described in full detail in the Maha-Simhanada Sutra (Ta Shih Tzu hou ching chuan ti san) and has received the special name of Bodhisattva Precept. The Bodhisattva Precept lays down the prohibition of food prepared from the flesh of an animal and as observed by Lord Buddha when he was called Sakya Bodhisattva, before he attained Enlightenment. (1)
Thus, to be on a regimen of vegetable diet as practiced by Buddhists is not for arousing curiosity or to seek glory. We simply have vegetable food. This practice is of utmost importance. The more a Buddhist practice vegetarianism, the better results we get. What is vegetarianism? Vegetarianism means to purify the body by fasting and abstaining from such foods as prepared out of flesh. We have plenty of plants, fruits and vegetables at our disposal. We should live on them. We should never take fish or the flesh of animals who also cling to life and fear death like us.
WHY SHOULD ONE EAT VEGETABLE FOOD?
During the life time of Lord Buddha. Once the Venerable Ananda asked, “Revered Bhante, why did you allow us formerly to partake of three kinds of ‘pure flesh’, i.e. when a monk has not seen the creature being killed or heard of its being killed for him and has nothing to suspect regarding specially arranged slaughter. But now you do not like your disciples to eat meat and fish. Lord Buddha replied, “O Ananda, in the beginning your standard of knowledge was of a low level. You had no capacity to receive the high Doctrine. So when I preached the primary tenets, I allowed all of you to partake of three kinds of ‘puree flesh’. But now your knowledge is mature enough to understand the highest Doctrine. I therefore, do not like you to eat meat and fish. To do so means to kill living beings. If we do not kill directly we do so indirectly. Thus, we lose the seed of the compassion and equality, and it is difficult to attain Arhantship in such a state”. (Maha Sinhanadha Sutra).
Lord Buddha has clearly taught us to live on a vegetarian diet so as to nourish a compassionate heart and preserve the “spirit of equality” regarding other creature. When a Buddhist has decided to follow the Doctrine of the compassionate one there is no reason why he should not practice compassion in his life in thought, deed and word, and also in connection with eating. If we want to eat flesh for the sake of taste, we should not be so heartless as to see the view of decapitated and cast off animal. We shall be called hard-hearted if we look at animals that are struggling on the chopping block or on the flesh table. How then can we call ourselves Buddhists?
If we do not feel sorry for such killing the “Seed of compassion” in us will dry up gradually, and all pious actions like chanting Sutras, meditation or intoning name of the Buddha will become useless.
Buddhism is a religion kindness, humanity and equality. Lord Buddha said “All beings can become Buddha’s, for all have the Buddha’ nature and all will finally become enlightened (i.e. I chie Chung sheng chieh hsi cheng Fu). This is the Doctrine of developed Mahayana as opposed to the limited salvation of Hinayana and of Undeveloped Mahayana. Thud, Buddhists do not look at men and animals differently. The same Buddha-nature, as a matter of fact, hinder itself equally in different, forms, of existence.
Lord Buddha taught, “All human beings have been committing many offenses since beginning less times such as killing, thus causing suffering to others. Therefore, they get severely punished, the wheel of births and deaths, the wheel of mortality”. In the Surangana Sutra, it is said, “The killing of others is bound to be repaid. Our inclination towards killing never ceases. Thus, we are never free from suffering”. We should avoid transmigration and the guilt resulting from killing. Buddhist should eat vegetable food. If we eat meat and fish we shall never be able to get out of the ocean of mortality.
Mahayanist monks consider their refusal to eat meat a means to make the charitable man aware of the need to acquire merit without committing the sin of taking the life of an animal. We have one story in the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra as follows, “Again, innumerable Kalpas ago, there was a Buddha ‘Pure Lotus Eyes’ by name. He lived a long life of forty Kalpas, and during his life time there was an Arahat who worked strenuously to convert beings by propagating the Noble Teaching of the Buddha. There was a girl named Kong-Mok, the girl with bright eyes. She made offerings to the Arahat who asked her what her wish was. The girl replied, “I made some merit on the day of my mother’s death in order to relieve her from her sufferings. I long to know in what state my mother is at present”. The Arahat took pity on her and started to meditate. He came to know that the mother of the girl had been cast into the ‘Hell of Great Sufferings’. The Arahat asked the girl what wrong her mother did during her lifetime due to which she had been cast into the hell receiving such severe punishment. The girl replied, “My mother used to be very fond of eating tortoise, especially their eggs and fish. She, therefore, destroyed countless lives for food. Compassionate One, kindly let me know how to relieve my mother”. Out of great compassion, the Arahat told to the girl to chant the name of the Buddha “Pure Lotus Eyes’ (Ching chin Lien Hua mu ju lai) earnestly and respectfully, and that she should carve images of that Buddha so that both the mother and herself could benefit from it.
After having been advised by the Arahat, the girl disposed of her precious belongings and with the money she had an image of the Exhaled Buddha made. In front of that image she paid homage and begged to know where her mother was. Suddenly, one night she saw the Buddha in the midst of a bright golden light as big as Mount Sumeru, telling her thus, “Your mother will be reborn as a son of your servant and will be able to speak as soon as she feels cold or hungry”. Before long the servant in the girls’ family gave birth to a son. The newly born child spoke to the girl three days after his birth. The infant said to the girl who was weeping bitterly, “Whatever evil deeds one had done, one will receive punishment without exception. I am your mother! After my departure from you I had been cast into a dreadful hell to suffer severe punishment. It was an account of the merit made by you that I am now born as a son of your servant. But, owing to evil deeds which I committed during my previous life, I can only live up to the age of thirteen and shall then again be cast into hell. My child, what ways and means can you find to relieve me from my suffering?” Upon hearing this the girl was certain that the newly born child was previously her mother.
The girl then asked the newly born, “Since you were my mother in your last life, you ought to know what sins were committed by you so that you were cast into hell”. The child answered, “I have committed two kinds of sins, both by destroying life and speaking evil as well as scolding others. Without your help, by practicing merit-making, I could never have been relieved from my suffering. The girl then asked the infant, “What kind of suffering were you subjected to in hell”? The mother replied, “The sufferings were so numerous that I cannot fully relate them even if I were given a thousand years to do so”. Upon hearing this the girl wept again bitterly, “May my mother be relieved from hell forever”! Later on the child died at the age of thirteen.
Meanwhile, the girl was heard praying. “O Buddha of the ten directions of space! Please be compassionate and listen to me. If my mother can be relieved from the three States of Sufferings or be born into an inferior family or will never be born a female again, I now make a strong vow in front of the image of the Buddha ‘Pure Lotus Eyes’. I shall continue single mindedly to relieve all suffering beings from the hells or any state of suffering, from each world system to help them on their way to real salvation. I shall accept Buddhahood only when I have completed the salvation all beings from their suffering”.
After having made such a firm declaration, the Buddha ‘Pure Lotus Eyes’ then told the girl, “You are really a faithful daughter to make such a strong vow for the benefit of your mother. May your mother be born as a Brahmacarin, a young Brahman? She will then live for a hundred years. After that she will be reborn in the universe where she will not suffer anymore, and there she will enjoy life for Kalpas and Kalpas until she will finally achieve Buddhahood. Then she will be able to convert as many human beings as there are grains of sand in the River Ganges”.
Shakyamuni Buddha told the King of Demons, “The Arahat, who helped the girl with the bright eyes to relieve her mother is Akshayamati Bodhisattva. The mother of the girl with bright eyes is at present the Bodhisattva of Emancipation. The girl with bright eyes is at present the Bodhisattva Kishitigarbha”. (2)
A long time ago already Kishitigarbha one philosopher Seneca said, “With every non-vegetable meal one is poisoning oneself. It follows that one kills oneself obscurely, but one does not know it, thus people meet an untimely death”. That holds true of today, as well as the famous doctor of medicine, Dr. Soteyko-Varia Kiplami said, “In all kinds of meat there is much poison which harms us”. Evidence for this is that vegetables put in water come up. On the other hand fish and meat sink down. Vegetables keep fresh for a long time, then they wither or become rotten; flesh is usually kept for many days, it becomes parched, stinking and nauseous, no one can bear its bad smell. When we eat meat we feel heavy in the body. Furthermore, animals often get many kinds of diseases, such as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, worms, etc. If we eat their flesh we, too, might probably get such dangerous diseases from them.
To avoid contagion and increase our health, we should eat a lot of vegetables. Scientists and physicians from the East and West agree with each other that vegetables, as plain as they are, are full of vitamin. Therefore, in Japan there are many vegetarians who wat vegetable food only, but out of hygiene rather than religious motives. In China there are vegetarian associations (Shis chai Hui) who only abstain from meat. There are Grass and Leaves Eating Associations (Ts’ so mu shin Hui) in France, Germany, England and America.
There are many people who misunderstand that to eat fish and meat means to become strong and healthy. As a matter of fact, non-vegetarians are not healthier than vegetarians. After many experiments Professor Trwin Fischer, of Yale University declared, “To eat meat or food which contain much nitrogen will easily affect people with tiredness, just like a man who drinks too much wine and gets intoxicated”. Mrs. White, a great scholar, said, “Fruits, soya’s, arachis, green beans and vegetables are the ‘natural food’ which feeds us. The preparation of such natural food is easy, and suitable for health. ‘Natural food’ makes our body vigorous, our spirit penetrating and avoids many diseases”.
We have to know, however, the mode of taking vegetable food which is as follows:
Program to be on a regimen of vegetable-To eat vegetarian food is necessary for Buddhists. It is a part of Buddhist practice. If we want to get the real benefit we have to follow a program according to the circumstances which we have to put up with. First of all, there are many Buddhists who cannot give up the habit of eating non-vegetarian food so as to be on a regimen of vegetable diet. In Mahayana Buddhism, there are two kinds of vegetarianism consisting of ‘Short-vegetarian food’ and ‘long vegetarian food’.
The six monthly posada or fasting days, i.e. the 8th, 14th, 15th, 23rd, 29th and 30th. These are the days on which the Four Maharayika Devas take note of human conduct, when evil demons are busy and hence great care is required so that nothing should be eaten in the afternoon. Therefore, we speak of the “fast” 30th command.
The ten vegetable food days of a month are the 1, 8, 14, 15, 18, 23, 24, 28, 29 and 30. During certain periods flesh is forbidden, also all killing, hunting, fishing, executions, etc…
The vegetable food month: This means that we have vegetable food either during the first, the 7th or the 10th month of the year.
For three whole months of abstinence, during the first, the fifth and the ninth month no food should be taken in the afternoon. The four Deva Kings are on inspection tour during these months.
If we practice the ‘short vegetable food’ principle for some time we find, on examination of our conscience, that there is nothing disagreeable in our mind and body. In this way we may gladly carry on with vegetarian food for a long time.
The method of practice:
a) Choosing and changing of food.
In order to be a regimen of vegetable diet for a long time, we should choose food in which there is a lot of protoplasm, such as tomatoes, soy’s beans, peanuts, green beans, cabbage, potatoes, gintinous or ordinary rice and so on. Then a dish has also to be charged always depending on the country, locality, climate, etc... Food should be cooked according to convenience.
b) The mode of cooking is of vital importance, too.
We should not misunderstand as though it were quite simple to prepare vegetarian food so that we need not pay too much attention to cooking. If we have good cooking materials but do not know the mode of cooking, the prepared food may sometimes have bad effects with us. If may harm our digestive apparatus. Here are a few important points we must remember:
We should not fry the food too much because the vitamin B and C will be destroyed by the boiling oil, and too much fat is likely to upset our stomach. If we fry our vegetables, we should use little oil.
When we cook or boil the food, we must put a lid on the pot so that the vitamin are not lost and we must know the right quantity of water to be used. This depends on each individual cook of a country in the cooking process.
We should avoid the following:
The benefit of having vegetable food.
Regarding an individual, the benefit of eating vegetable food is very great. A vegetarian does not only obtain favorable results in the present, but in the future also. In the present a vegetarian harvests the benefits as follows: Saving the finances, because vegetable are cheaper than meat and fish, saving time and frugality, because vegetables are cut and washed quickly, they
need but little water and are cooked in no time. Besides, firewood is spent less as well. Our body becomes more healthy, pure and lively. Our wisdom increases and it is comparatively easy to sit in meditation. In future there will be much less killing and we shall not have to repay the debt of bloodshed, obtaining thus as a result a long life in our next existence from the viewpoint of society and mankind as a whole. To live on a vegetarian diet not only benefits the individual, but also the society in general, i.e., all human beings. If everybody had vegetable food all over the world, there would be no moaning of dying animals nor there the question of destroying each other through internecine war. One great scholar has said, “If we wish to establish peace in the world, we must not consume the blood and flesh of the animals for our meals”. This sentence conveys the same meaning as the following stanza:
“If all human beings turn non-killers,
No war can take place in all the ten directions.
If in every home, every person does good actions,
There will be nothing to worry about as people will get peace”.
With the weapon of great compassion vegetarians fight for peace. The look at all living beings as they look at themselves. They identify themselves with all beings and do not wish to kill animals on account of their loving kindness. They would not, for the sake of glory and money, be so heartless as to kill their fellow beings.
If everyone in society had vegetable food, being charring the same Buddha nature Enmity and fighting with one another would very rarely take place and peace would completely be restored in the whole of the world, if all citizens of a nation had vegetable food, the strong would surely not oppress the weak and the intelligence would not encroach on the rights of simple fold. Killing one another would, in due course, completely cease as all would be fully satisfied in their desires. Where every person in the world a vegetarian, he cold share in making this world the ‘Great Land of Joy!’
Buddhists, as well as members of other religions, ought to have vegetable food. We have seen now that from a religious, as well as scientific point of view, there are innumerable benefits if one is a pure vegetarian.
Therefore, anybody who wants his body to be healthy, full of lively spirit and endowed with wisdom regarding his studies or any other work, and he who wants to save money and time and wishes to lead a harmonious and happy family life should have vegetable food. Living on vegetables makes us happier in comparison to those who live on ‘THE BLOOD AND FLESH’ of animals.
Those who are Buddhists trying to follow in the footsteps of the Buddha should practice vegetarianism. Then they many more easily attain Arhantship on account of their enlarged compassion and understanding of the4 spirit of equality.
It is said that speaking is easy, but practice very difficult. None the less, men of goodwill and virtue will always try their best to lead a life of altruism by, e.g. repeatedly practicing vegetarianism as instructed by Lord Buddha.
If we know the way how to adopt vegetarianism, we should follow the mode which has been mentioned above. We think that it is not so difficult. One important point is that we should be kind-hearted out and out.