Skip to content

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat
This text by Geshe Thubten Soepa presents a detailed discussion in support of vegetarianism and animal welfare. Geshe Soepa composed the first of these two texts on animal rights, The Udamwara Lotus Flower in 1995, and the second, Compassion is the Root of the Teachings in 2005. They were published together in a book in 2007 by Sera Je Monastery in India.

This publication is now available in ebook format and as a pdf file. LYWA Members can download the ebook for free from the Members Area.

CHAPTERS
Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings
Udamwara: Statements from Sutra
Question and Answer
Compassion is the Root of the Teachings

Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat

In Honour of Guru Shakyamuni

With faith in the teacher, the conqueror, who truly appeared,
directly perceived the ultimate mode of existence,
through meditation, exhausted the two obscurations
and turned the wheel of Dharma truthfully:

who am I to fathom or describe
your qualities of wisdom, love and power.

Yet if I were to express them in only four lines
it would be these:

Possessor of skilful means
who led even those full of hate like Angulimala,
those overcome by desire – the likes of Nanda,
and ignorant beings like Lamchung to arhatship.

Praise to His Holiness

Praise also to His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso,
who in our times, just like a second Buddha,
performs enormous deeds of love and peace1
to further your teachings and foster the roots of virtue2
of all the world's beings—a life-protecting lord.

I have written down here, with reference to my sources, what the Buddha said about eating meat. It will surely raise the interest of those who have trust in valid teachings and their teacher. I intend to give some explanations of how eating meat is presented in the lesser and greater vehicles including tantra.

The great Indian scholar Shantideva wrote:

Even though they intend to give up suffering
they run into the arms of the causes of suffering.
Although they wish for happiness, out of ignorance,
they ruin their own happiness like a foe.

In full accordance with what is being expressed here, we clearly realise in our daily lives that all sentient beings from humans down to ants wish for happiness and try to avoid suffering. As this attitude, the desire to seek happiness and avoid suffering, is a quality of mind, it would seem evident that there are minds at work here. The continuum of all sentient beings is in fact endowed with a mind characterised by certain qualities. This mind constitutes the true basis for transformation into the omniscient truth dharmakaya and the cessation of the two types of obscuration, including their imprints left on the consciousness. However, as we ourselves and other sentient beings are under the influence of obscurations due to confusion and ignorance, we do not know how to create the correct causes for the happiness we all desire. Likewise, we do not know how to get rid of the causes of the suffering we wish to avoid. We can even recognise the truth of this at the manifest level of our experience. Therefore, it is imperative to look for correct methods that will bring about happiness, as well as correct methods for giving up suffering. In fact those methods consist in 1) learning about the two truths, 2) meditating on ultimate truth, thereby giving up the two obscurations, and, ultimately, 3) reaching buddhahood.

However, this is not the place to discuss the possibility of finding and applying such faultless methods by examining the words of the Buddha through listening, thinking, and meditating and developing the corresponding three types of wisdom. The words the Buddha addressed to the three types of disciples3 due to his limitless capacity of love and compassion and which were laid down in 84,000 heaps of teachings are vast and profound. They are the words of an authentic person who realized the ultimate nature of phenomena as they are, meditated on the path according to that ultimate nature and managed to completely give up the two kinds of obscurations. All I can hope to achieve here is a clarification of one important aspect of those teachings: Shakyamuni Buddha rejected the consumption of meat both in the words of the lesser and the great vehicles - both in sutra and tantra. In each case he presented different reasons and types of rejection laying particular emphasis on the object of rejection i.e. meat. However, the rejection of meat procured by means of killing innocent creatures with the specific intention of eating them is stated equally clearly in the Hinayana and Mahayana sutras as well as in the scriptures of tantra. I will present the reasons and sources systematically.

In the seventh chapter of the Angulimala Sutra, a Mahayana sutra as rare as the Udamwara flower4, Manjushri asks:

"Is it true that the buddhas do not eat meat due to Buddha nature?"5 The Buddha said: "It is exactly like that, Manjushri. In the sequence of lives during our beginningless and endless coming and going in samsara there is no being that has not been our mother, that has not been our sister. Even dogs have been our fathers before. The world of those lives is like a play6. Therefore, since our own flesh and that of others is the same flesh, the buddhas do not eat meat7. Furthermore, Manjushri, the sphere of all beings is the dharmadhatu. As this would constitute eating flesh of the same sphere, the buddhas do not eat meat."

I should like to give a brief explanation of this sutra passage. We find three reasons here why buddhas do not eat meat. The first reason is expressed in terms of the Buddha's affirmative answer to Manjushri's questions as to whether this has to do with the fact that the Buddha nature8, characterised by the three natural features9, is present in the mental continuum of all beings. "It is exactly like that." The second reason is this: As there is no single being that has not been our mother or father in this process of beginningless and endless coming and going in samsara, and as we ourselves and others are of the same flesh, the buddhas do not eat meat10. And the third reason: the sphere of all beings is the dharmadhatu11 and eating flesh of the same sphere is inappropriate. In this sutra eating meat is thus being rejected through reasoning.

However, eating meat is also rejected with reference to its disadvantages. Again in the Angulimala Sutra the Buddha says:

Purna12, beings that have previously been cats, constantly attached to eating meat, and beings that reject Buddha nature will all become rakshas13 resembling cats. In the future, too, beings that have taken the form of cat-like rakshas and find killing others and eating their meat irresistible, will be the same as beings that have turned away from Buddha nature.

Here eating meat is rejected with reference to disadvantages resulting from it. Some humans, just like cats, love killing for food and eating meat. How does this desire come about? It is the result of karmic imprints from previous lives where they did not acknowledge Buddha nature and act upon it. The karmic imprints bring about the desire to kill animals and eat their flesh in this life. If they fail to acknowledge Buddha nature yet again in the present life, they will accumulate more negative karma and thereby take unfortunate rebirths under conditions where they will experience more suffering. If you acknowledge Buddha nature, you will also respect the beings of all six realms and you will be incapable of eating their flesh. Otherwise you may kill and eat them and turn into a raksha in the future.

As regards the rejection of meat based on advantages, it says in the Angulimala Sutra:

The Buddha said: "Angulimala, in countless lives, out of respect for the millions of living beings, I have given up fish, meat, fat, in fact any food associated with killing and have also caused beings to do the same. Due to this my body has become the excellent body of a buddha, characterised by the special marks. Angulimala, in countless lives I have caused millions of beings, gods and humans, to purify all the million mental afflictions. Due to that my body has become a body free from elaborations."14

In this sutra, eating meat is thus rejected with reference to the corresponding benefits.

Moreover, in the Mahamegha Sutra (Great Cloud Sutra) the rejection of meat and alcohol is presented in the context of qualities characterising the meditative concentration of bodhisattvas on the tenth level:

The Bodhisattva Mahasattva Mahamegha (Essence of the Great Cloud) asked the Buddha: "Lord, I ask for the 400 gates of meditative concentration to be explained in detail by the exalted Tathagata." The Buddha replied: "...Mahamegha, a bodhisattva mahasattva who has attained the concentration of the deep, calm ocean15 demonstrates the signs of obstacles in order for beings to renounce killing animals and eating their meat by appearing as a meat seller in places where pigs are sold. In order to bring beings to spiritual maturity he also appears as a beer drinker among beer sellers and in order to clearly show the disadvantages of drinking beer, he will even become chief among them and serve beer to beings without being attached to that activity."

This sutra rejects meat and alcohol noting the qualities that a bodhisattva attains in the context of the 400 gates of concentration, achieving the meditation of the deep, calm ocean.

In the Hinayana sutras we also find quotations relating to our subject like the following passage from the latter part of Foundations of Medicine, a text contained in the Vinaya section of the Kangyur:

The Buddha was dwelling in a multi-storey building by the monkey pond at Vaisali. In Vaisali there lived a captain called Sengge and whenever the people living nearby brought him meat, he ate it. One day he learnt from the Buddha what is true, and he did not eat meat any more. Nevertheless meat was still brought to him but it was given to the bhikshus, and in fact the bhikshus did eat it. Now the tirthikas16 made remarks about this, made fun and clapped their hands: "Knowledgeable ones, captain Sengge does not eat the meat that has been prepared for him, so it is given to the bhikshus of the son of the Shakyas. And the bhikshus of the son of the Shakyas eat the meat that was meant for captain Sengge." When they heard this loose talk the bhikshus asked the Buddha and the Buddha replied: "I have stated that meat which is not appropriate from the three points of view17 should not be eaten."

Thus the Hinayana sutra containing the Vinaya text Foundations of Medicine also rejects meat, i.e. meat that is not appropriate for eating on three counts. Nowadays, unfortunately, some intelligent and not so intelligent commentators have made the presentation of purity according to the three aspects18, namely "not having seen, not having heard and not suspecting that a being has been killed for ones own consumption" into a rule which is as well-known as a famous quotations. As far as the presentation in the Vinaya sutra Foundations of Medicine is concerned, there can be no doubt that it is inappropriate to eat meat that has been killed for oneself. However, the fact that the Buddha, referring to meat meant for someone (i.e. captain Sengge) other than those who actually eat it (i.e. the "bhikshus of the son of the Shakyas"), states "that meat which is not appropriate from three points of view should not be eaten" shows very clearly that eating meat which has been killed for others is also not pure according to the three aspects or inappropriate for eating on the three counts. To good logicians this is clearly evident at closer examination.

The fact that the meat of an animal that has been slaughtered for oneself and the meat of an animal that has been slaughtered for others is equally impure according to the three aspects or equally inappropriate for eating on the three counts is thus made clear by the Vinaya sutra Foundations of Medicine. Relying on this sutra we can therefore see that it is unnecessary and pointless to take the statement from the extensive commentary on the Vinaya, "not having seen, not having heard and not suspecting" that a being "has been killed for ones own consumption" and make it suit our own interests in a narrow-minded fashion by drawing clever conclusions from it.

Similarly, the threefold rejection of meat as impure set out in the 14 major infractions and 25 rules of conduct of the Kalachakra system has to be applied to meat of animals that have been slaughtered for either oneself or others as impure according to those three aspects. The Kalachakra is a Dharma system comprising all the points of sutra and tantra in their entirety and is therefore in agreement with statements from the Vinaya.

Now, some sceptics may still be concerned about karmic consequences from eating any kind of meat, even for health reasons—for instance the meat of water buffaloes, sheep or goats that have died in accordance with the Dharma19. They may suggest that such meat should also be abandoned. The response to that would be that, from a Buddhist point of view, this position resembles Devadatta’s understanding of what constitutes renouncing meat as presented in his Five Instructions20.

According to the Vinaya Sutra fully ordained monks are allowed to eat meat as medicine when ill. This meat has to originate from an animal that has died from natural causes. In autumn, many monks used to get ill, so Ananda asked the Buddha what to do about it. The Buddha replied that four substances, including meat and alcohol, were permissible as medicine. The monks had to find meat that was pure in the three above respects and feed it to their ill companions. In case they were not able to eat it, they were blindfolded and spices were used to cover up the unpleasant taste. This tradition strongly suggests that at the time of the Buddha, fully-ordained monks did not normally eat meat, for otherwise such special measures would not have been necessary.

Furthermore, in the context of shramana21 Dharma practice exemplified by one of the main disciples of the Buddha, the Sthavira Mahakaskyapa, who did not eat meat and did not accumulate even the tiniest bit of wordly wealth, it says in the Angulimala Sutra:

Angulimala said: "Indra, you have strayed away from the teachings. In fact it is like this: he who abandoned jewels, pearls, lapis lazuli, gold, kunda stones and the like, 80,000 vases filled with jewels, grains of gold and other precious things, cast away priceless clothes as if they were drops of spittle, renunciate of the shramana Dharma, Sthavira Mahakasyapa, main follower of the Tathagata who took up residence in the forest and also upheld the conduct of physical restraint in accordance with the twelve qualities of ascetic practice—why did the great Sthavira (Maha)Kasyapa not wear precious clothing, why did he renounce his households and uphold the conduct of physical restraint purely, giving up foods like nectar and meat dishes?

He went from house to house and whenever the householders feigned stupidity and said: 'We have nothing at all to spare, neither in front nor at the back nor on either side' or berated him, he answered 'May you be happy' and returned with an easy mind. Likewise whenever they said 'we have something for you', the Sthavira answered without attachment 'May you be happy' and returned with an easy mind.

Now if through each of (Maha)Kasyapa's own treasure vases future shramanas could have enjoyed food, drink and delicacies till the end of their lives, why did he not bequeath such enormous wealth to the Sangha? Giving up the sense of 'mine' and letting it go, making it the inexhaustible treasure of hungry ghosts, of those in need, of miserable ones and of beggars that is the Dharma of shramanas, Indra. Accumulating wealth if only the size of a sesame seed is not the Dharma of shramanas.

Who would deny—with this sutra in mind—that it would be appropriate for us who have renounced household life and taken vows of ordination, to look up to Sthavira Mahakasyapa as an unequalled model to be emulated? Although he owned the full gamut of worldly possessions, he gave up everything, realising that even the tiniest possession viewed as 'one’s own' is no Dharma of shramanas and renounced food from dead animals, thereby upholding the pure conduct of vegetarian discipline in accordance with the twelve qualities of ascetic practice! According to tradition, Kasyapa's body is still hidden in a mountain recess in India. In the future, Buddha Maitreya will reveal the exact location and point him out as a model bhikshu. May we then have the good fortune to be reborn in India and come face to face with the great Kasyapa.

As far as the use of honey22, leather shoes, white conch shells (employed as ritual implements) and silk worms is concerned, we also have the telling response to a question by Manjushri. Since what matters within worldly things is a 'reality of methods', wearing leather shoes is appropriate if the buffalo whose skin was used to make them died in accordance with the Dharma23 and inappropriate if the leather has come from an animal that was killed. The use of honey, conch shells and silk is also said to be appropriate if the material was derived from animals that died in accordance with the Dharma i.e. that were not killed especially. In the Angulimala Sutra it says with regard to this point:

Manjushri asked: "Are not honey and conch shells and shoes and silk worms like the meat of the same sphere?" The Buddha answered: "Do not speak thus, Manjushri. Having given up all worldly bodies the buddhas are not dependent on material things and therefore do not need any substances of attachment. The reality of the world is the use of material things. Materials pass from one to the other as they are used—you should not use whatever materials are at hand indiscriminately. That which has been passed on but did not originate from a killing hand is fit for use."

Manjushri asked: "If a shoemaker in the market has made leather shoes and offers them to the Tathagata, Arhat, perfectly enlightened Buddha, will he accept that which has passed through several hands?" Manjushri went on to ask: "If a buffalo has died in accordance with the Dharma and the owner has it skinned by a slaughterer, visits a shoemaker to have the leather fashioned into shoes and then gives them to someone following the rules of discipline would that be 'something passed from one to the other'?" Thus he asked and the Buddha said: "If the buffalo died in accordance with the Dharma, and the owner has shoes made and gives them to someone following the rules of discipline, then they should be accepted. Would it be fitting for a monk not to accept them? This would show a lack of compassion and the rules of discipline would be harmed."

On this occasion, in the sutra, Manjushri asks the Buddha three questions: one about honey, conch shells, shoes and silk worms, one about a shoemaker offering shoes to the Buddha whose leather has passed through several hands so that the origin is not clear, and one about another person offering shoes made from the hide of a buffalo that died naturally. The first and the last questions are being answered, but not the middle one. There is no need for that, as the answer to the last question implies that it is inappropriate to accept the gift referred to in the middle question.

Some people who fail to distinguish between intentional and unintentional actions put forward the argument that if it is inappropriate to eat meat, it would be equally inappropriate to eat rice. However, this is not the same because to give up eating meat and reduce the number of animals being killed is an act that is well within the bounds of possibility. During the cultivation of rice and vegetables there is no intention to kill beings while planting the seedlings, irrigating the fields etc. However, since there is no way of preventing insects being killed unintentionally - as this is not currently within the bounds of possibility - it is still not the same as killing on purpose. The answer to a question posed by Manjushri may serve to clear up any doubts on the part of those critics who, based on this kind of comparison, conclude that one would consequently have to do the impossible. In the Arya Angulimala Sutra Manjushri asks whether or not it is appropriate to dig up the soil and sand, till fields and cook one’s food because of unclean water. The answer is as follows: Manjushri says:

"Digging and tilling is not appropriate. Food that has been cooked because the water was contaminated should not be accepted24–in this situation, monks have to act accordingly." Thereupon the Buddha said: "That is what is called the worldly view. If there are upasakas25, stick to clean water and food. Wherever there are upasakas, there should be no digging and tilling. Where there are no upasakas, what should even buddhas do there? There are also creatures in the grass, as well as in the water and in the air. If it were like this, would there not be negative karmic effects from altogether pure actions? The question as to how you purify something that cannot be completely pure while living in the world and without giving up the samsaric body is a futile question."

The main significance of this sutra passage is that if there is a chance of giving up harming other beings, you should always make use of it. On the other hand, actions committed where there is no such possibility are not altogether free from negative karmic consequences, but, due to the absence of harmful intent, those consequences are far weaker.

To further clarify this point: one may well wonder whether predators such as tigers, lions or crocodiles live on something free of negativity. In the above quotation the Buddha suggests that this question is purely speculative. As long as those animals have their predator bodies they cannot but eat meat. With such bodies it is impossible to avoid killing. As they cannot help eating meat, the question arises whether, in this context, eating meat is indeed a negative action. The answer is: yes. Whoever kills or harms other living beings commits a negative action.

However, there are varying degrees of negativity. The force of a negative action is determined by the motivation or intention and the awareness of the one committing it–whether that agent knows the action is bad. Lions and tigers are not aware that killing prey and eating meat is bad, so the degree of negativity is less.

As they have a strong habit of killing and eating meat they cannot possibly rid themselves of negativities in their present lives. Due to their bodies, there is no way for them to overcome negativities in their present lives, however, they may overcome them in future lives. Likewise, we find it very difficult, at present, to perform any pure actions because of our bodies which are the result of karma and afflictions. So it becomes all the more evident that we need to strive for methods to attain the eighth bodhisattva level–to achieve the vajra body which exists uncontaminated by any harmful action.

In the Lankavatara Sutra meat is rejected from three points of view, i.e. 1) impurity, 2) the fact that the animals from whom the meat has been procured used to be our fathers and mothers in earlier lives, and 3) the fear that all living beings share of being killed:

Since it used to be our dear ones
since it is mixed with what's base and impure–
a mess that has evolved from blood–
as everyone is scared by killing
yogis always give up meat […26]
and drinks27 inducing inattention...

The Lankavatara Sutra also denounces the disadvantages of excess and overstatement of the advantages of eating. It says:

From eating inattention is born,
from inattention concepts are born,
from concepts desirous attachment is born,
desirous attachment dulls the mind,
Through dullness attachment to being is born–
and you will not break free from samsara.

In the same sutra, eating meat is also rejected with reference to unpleasant effects on future lives:

Killing beings for profit's sake,
trading possessions to purchase meat–
those with the karma of these two evils
wail and lament as they fall after death.

There may be no sense of causing to kill–
still the meat is not pure in three ways,
as there's no action without a cause–28
that is why yogis give it up.

All the Buddha Bhagavans,
denounce it in all ten directions:
One devours the other, falling
among the predators after death,
always born among the lowly,
smelly ones and idiots,
frequently among the outlaws:
hunters, butchers, cannibals
and among ghosts in human form,
among the various eaters of meat: as
in the wombs of cat rakshasas.

In the Elephant and the Great Cloud,
in the Angulimala Sutra,
in the Lankavatara Sutra,
I've strongly rejected eating meat.29
buddhas, bodhisattvas and the
shravakas revile it all and
those who impudently eat meat
will always be reborn as fools.30

Before I taught you to abandon
meat that was seen, heard or suspected...31
Thinkers failing to understand this
are born in places where meat is consumed.32

The arya path of liberation
is thus veiled through the fault of attachment.
Meat, alcohol, onions and garlic cause
obstacles on the arya path.
In the future proponents of ignorance,
mitigate eating meat and claim:
" As meat is appropriate, free from evil,
the buddhas have permitted it."

Food should be viewed like medicine: accordingly
yogis well versed in the Dharma eat
the gifts from their alms-round regretful as if
it were the meat of their own dear sons.
Whoever is steeped in compassion feels
that sorrow–thus have I explained.

Others33 will always dwell in the company
of wild beast such as tigers and wolves.
Whenever meat is eaten, beings are
terrified and that is why yogis,
out of compassion do not eat it.
Eating meat lacks compassion and wisdom,34
it means turning away from freedom,35
it goes against the aryas' victory banners,36
Therefore eating meat is folly.

To be reborn in the houses of Brahmins,
or in places where yogis dwell,
in homes of families rich in wisdom–
those are results of abandoning meat.

This is written in the Lankavatara Sutra. Apparently, some people have misinterpreted this sutra to the effect that it is only directed to a certain assembly of raksha men and women and does not apply to the rest of us. However, this interpretation is quite untrustworthy. Any sensible person should be able to tell from the answers to Manjushri's questions in the Angulimala Sutra and similar quotations, whether or not such arbitrary statements and distortions of Buddha's valid words should be given credence.

Futhermore, everyone familiar with logic agrees that you would have to be someone like the great forerunners Nagarjuna and Asanga–foretold by the Buddha himself–to be able to tell definitive statements from interpretable ones by relying on the criteria of special intention, contextual necessity and contradiction with reality. It would take an expert authenticated by the Buddha himself to establish any intentions at variance with his literal statements, not some arbitrary sophist expounding all kinds of interpretations.

It is not up to us or biased scholars to settle how the Buddha's teachings should be interpreted. Otherwise one might arrive at the above conclusion that eating meat has been prohibited only for rakshas. Also, if anyone were able to interpret the Buddha's teachings correctly, there would have been no need for him to predict that Nagarjuna and Asanga in particular would elucidate his teachings correctly. The above prediction from the Lankavatara Sutra already anticipates this:

In the future proponents of ignorance
mitigate eating meat and claim:
"As meat is appropriate, free from evil,
the buddhas have permitted it."


Although it is unlikely
that Dharma talk by fishermen37 like myself
can bring about any benefit, nevertheless,
how could the words of the Tathagata
fail to bring about benefit?

—with these words of relief I shall sit back for a moment now that the main body of this text is completed.

I would like to add a point His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, made at the Kalachakra initiation in Mundgod suggesting that in the past, at the time of the Great Dharma kings of Tibet, eating meat was also rejected. He said the old edicts of the Dharma kings were quite clear on this: "The monks shall learn the behaviour of the pundits and the great abbot (Shantarakshita): drinking alcohol, eating meat and the like are inappropriate."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama also said: "None of the visitors coming to Bodhgaya from all over the world offer alcohol and meat, it is only the Tibetan pilgrims that spread out their pieces of meat and liquor saying 'we are doing our offering ceremony'—I do not think this is nice, I have often said that. I also do not like the fact that during the big assemblies at the major monasteries platters full of meat are set up with the words 'we have performed an offering ceremony'. I have said again and again that it is better to set up substances like nectar pills, blessed water or black tea. And if some people claim that, according to anuttarayoga tantra, you have to take meat, the only reason that may be quoted in support of this claim is the statement about the acceptance of the five kinds of meat and the five kinds of nectar. There is no other reason. Quite apart from the fact that this refers to a very high level of realisation,38 if indeed you postulate the need for eating meat based on the statement about accepting the five kinds of meat and the five kinds of nectar, then you should be consistent and insist on the need for eating horse meat, dog meat as well as human flesh, drinking urine and eating feces."39

At the time I noted down the Dalai Lama’s words precisely: Once we accept the statement about the five kinds of meat and nectar, the claim that we must eat meat would clearly and logically imply that we must eat dog meat and human flesh, too.

The main point of the sutras quoted here is to demonstrate that the Buddhist Dharma is a teaching of non-violence. As this fundamental principle, i.e. not to harm, constitutes the core and root of the Buddhist teachings, it is important to apply and implement it. It is good to rely on statements by the Buddha when it comes to deciding what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. Is the main point of the teaching of non-harmfulness not lost, if you try and substantiate your own desires with tortuous arguments, carelessly eating the meat of killed animals?

The Buddha drew a distinction between actions that are "unwholesome by nature" and actions that are "unwholesome because of vows". As far as the latter are concerned he made certain modifications taking differences in time and place into account. For instance, he rejected daily baths for monks in some countries, but permitted them in hot countries. Likewise, he generally prohibited touching women under the influence of attachment, making nevertheless clear that, under a number of circumstances, it would be correct and necessary to touch them—for instance when a woman is in danger of drowning and has to be pulled out of the water. While allowing for such modifications considering a given situation in the context of actions "unwholesome because of vows", there was no way a licence for actions "unwholesome by nature" such as killing and stealing could be given. The latter are harmful actions regardless of time and space and even a buddha cannot change harmful karma into wholesome karma. The aspect of non-violence in the teachings of the Buddha is demonstrated by the unanimous rejection of harmful actions such as killing, stealing and the like in all the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana scriptures and therefore I rejoice in the fact that all the successors of the Buddha in the traditions of Hinayana and Mahayana, of Sakya, Gelug, Kagyu and Nyingma continue to explain and practice this teaching in accordance with the fundamental idea of non-harmfulness.

Thus I have scooped a jug of the nectar of Buddha's words from the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana, from the Angulimala Sutra and other scriptures, on the issue of giving up and accepting meat, without exaggeration nor understatement, and I have embellished it with the fresh white lotus flower of statements by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. May this offering, too, become a cloud of offerings that pleases the buddhas.

One's flesh and that of others are no different
But making a difference and eating it we have long roamed.40
The Buddha taught: everyone's realm is the dharmadhatu
one must not eat the meat of one's own realm.

Composed in the year 2620 after the Buddha's birth, the year 1995 according to the Western calendar, with the wish to benefit by Geshe Thubten Soepa.

Mangalam


The above booklet about eating meat was read through, cover to cover, by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He told me: "It is well written. It would be nice if more equally useful texts were written for people to read". I cannot express how pleased I was at these words. I would like to complement my composition by a few questions and answers concerning the topic.


Notes

1. For example. love, compassion and non-violence. [Return to text]

2. Love, compassion and non-violence are those very roots of virtue. [Return to text]

3. With the dispositions of hearers, solitary realisers and buddhas. [Return to text]

4. A flower only found at the time a buddha is born. [Return to text]

5. Manjushri is actually asking two questions that may be paraphrased in these terms: 1) Why don't you eat meat? 2) I think the reason may be that all sentient beings have Buddha nature – it that correct?. [Return to text]

6. For example, a play with changing parts. The main emphasis is on the impermanence and instability of life with its ever-changing relationships between sentient beings, not on the illusion-like nature of life. [Return to text]

7. The line of argument here is: 1) it is inappropriate to eat one's own flesh 2) one's own flesh and that of others is the same – therefore it is also inappropriate to eat the flesh of others. [Return to text]

8. All sentient beings have the potential to get rid of suffering. This is referred to as Buddha nature. It is the foundation for all good qualities such as compassion, love, and wisdom. [Return to text]

9. Buddha nature (tathagatagarbha) is attained by the power of reality. It stems from the mental continuum which goes on from one life to the next and constitutes the seed of unpolluted wisdom. [Return to text]

10. This second reason may be framed as a short dialogue: Q: Why don't you eat your own flesh? A: Because it hurts. Q: If so, is it not the case that it will hurt other sentient beings, if you eat their flesh? A: Yes, it would. Q: Then how can it be proper to eat someone else's flesh? [Return to text]

11. The dharmadhatu is the ultimate nature of mind, which is purity. The minds of buddhas and all sentient beings have this quality of natural purity. As all beings partake of this ultimate purity of mind, they all have the capacity to attain buddhahood. [Return to text]

12. Important monastic disciple of the Buddha, arhat of the Abhidharma tradition. [Return to text]

13. A kind of cannibal or blood-thirsty creature. [Return to text]

14. For example, a body which–unlike that of sentient beings–is not the result of afflictions and karma. [Return to text]

15. The concentration of the deep, calm ocean is one of 400 concentrations described in that sutra. Someone who has attained this level of concentration is able to engage in activities curbing the consumption of meat and alcohol. For the benefit of beings they will send out emanations discouraging others from killing animals, eating meat and drinking. [Return to text]

16. Followers of certain non-Buddhist philosophies. [Return to text]

17. In case one has seen or heard that the creature was killed to be eaten or if one suspects this to be the case. [Return to text]

18. The opposite of the above three aspects. [Return to text]

19. Without harm to oneself or others, which–in this case–implies that the animal has not been killed to be eaten and that its meat has no deleterious effects (on one's health). [Return to text]

20. Devadatta stipulated that 1) milk, 2) meat, and 3) salt should not be eaten, that 4) monastic robes should not be patched together from bits and pieces and that 5) monasteries should not be located in remote places but close to lay communities. Generally speaking, Buddhists do not accept these rules as valid. [Return to text]

21. Spiritual practitioner, especially one having taken monastic vows. [Return to text]

22. Although bees are only killed accidentally in the process of getting at their honey, honey is usually included in lists of unwholesome animal products as it is the result of stealing something very precious from animals. [Return to text]

23. For example, not killed for the purpose of using its parts. [Return to text]

24. According to the rules of monastic discipline bhikshus are not allowed to cultivate crops. [Return to text]

25. Buddhist householder without monastic vows. [Return to text]

26. What was left out concerns the avoidance of onions and garlic. [Return to text]

27. The Tibetan sutra text reads chang which is barley beer, but also alcohol in general. [Return to text]

28. That is the meat does not go on sale without causes, i.e. without an animal being killed. That should be clear to the buyer. [Return to text]

29. In other words: the Buddha rejected eating meat before in the Elephant Sutra, the Great Cloud (Mahamegha) Sutra, as well as the Angulimala Sutra. On this occasion in the Lankavatara Sutra he is rejecting it yet again. [Return to text]

30. To be more precise: such a person accumulates the causes for being reborn as a fool in the future. [Return to text]

31. To have been obtained by means of killing animals. [Return to text]

32. Not only will they be reborn in a country where meat is consume–they do not avoid eating meat and will therefore be reborn as beings eating meat. [Return to text]

33. Other meat eaters. [Return to text]

34. For example, eating meat causes compassion and wisdom to decrease or degenerate. [Return to text]

35. Meaning the path to liberation will take longer. [Return to text]

36. Meaning the robes of ordination. [Return to text]

37. Fishermen kill animals for a living and are not in a very good position to teach anyone about the holy Dharma–neither am I. [Return to text]

38. In fact the ability to transmute them. [Return to text]

39. That is what the five kinds also refer to. [Return to text]

40. We have long been caught in samsara and failed to break free from it. [Return to text]

Teachings on the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text.
Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave this commentary on the Heart Sutra to Saraswati Buddhist Group, Somerset, England on August 17 -20, 2007. The commentary is edited by Andy Wistreich.

Read the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text. You may also download the commentary in a pdf file.

Motivation

To begin with please review your motivation for studying this topic because without an appropriate attitude and motivation, activities are less useful and meaningful, and might be neither Dharma1 nor spiritual practice. Three scopes of attitude are considered appropriate.

If the motivation for an action such as coming, going or meditating is to avoid one's own rebirth after death in the unfortunate realms of existence, this is Dharma or spiritual practice of the most modest or least scope. The motivation is of middle scope if the aim is to avoid rebirth anywhere in cyclic existence thereby achieving one's own liberation. Finally, the highest motivation, of a person of great scope is if one practises to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings. Studying the teachings with excellent attitude and motivation is very powerful, less good is of middling benefit and the least or weakest is not so significant.

The supreme attitude or motivation, embracing all living beings, is thinking "Everything I do until I achieve enlightenment is for the sake of all sentient beings. All I do from now until my death I dedicate to every single living being without exception. Particularly I dedicate everything I do this year, this month, this week and today for the sake of all living beings."

This highest motivation "To be of benefit to all living beings I shall use my time and energy to achieve enlightenment" is important for students and teacher alike. It is dreadful if a teacher's whole reason and mental attitude for teaching is to make money, become famous, be well thought of, make friends and so forth. Likewise, if students have these attitudes, their motivation for study and practice is completely wrong.

The Kadampa lamas, great Tibetan practitioners of the past, had a saying that two particularly important focal points of any activity are at the beginning and the end. At the beginning it is especially important to have a good kuenlong – an appropriate attitude or motivation. At the end, having performed a well-motivated activity, it is important to make prayers of dedication. By making such prayers, all the virtuous goodness created by engaging in the action with such a positive motivation is retained. For example, if subsequently one gets angry without having dedicated the good energy created by an action, the anger completely destroys the benefit. However, having dedicated, even if one gets angry later, it cannot destroy the goodness. Therefore, it is very important to dedicate.

There are traditional prayers like the jam.pel pa.wo that begins, “Just as the great bodhisattvas of the past like Manjushri and Samantabhadra, made dedication, I also dedicate.” With this one mentally transfers one's positive energy to the safe-keeping of these two bodhisattvas, entrusting them with the virtue created. Even without knowing the formal words of the prayer, it is sufficient to understand the main point which is thinking that "I dedicate exactly the same as whatever prayers of dedication all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, those great holy beings made in the past and are making now." Similarly, when setting the motivation, think, "With my life, time and energy, may I too engage in every action they did and are doing for the sake of all sentient beings! May I emulate them!"

The Heart Sutra: Emptiness and Lines of Reasoning

To examine the Heart Sutra word by word from the beginning would take too long and might become tedious for those who have already studied teachings on emptiness. With some experience of emptiness study there is already some understanding, so it could feel frustrating to start from the beginning without reaching the main point.

In general there are several methods to study and meditate on emptiness. The following are the best known lines of reasoning leading to an understanding of emptiness. The line of reasoning of being free from one and many analyses the very nature of things. The vajra slivers line of reasoning analyses causes. The line of reasoning analysing the results of things is the refutation of existing and not existing. The reasoning of dependent arising is known as the king of reasoning.

From the Supplement to the Middle Way (Skt. Madhyamakavatara) by Chandrakirti, comes the sevenfold analysis refutation of self existence. Another very important line of reasoning, the refutation of production from self and other is derived from the first verse of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Stanzas on Wisdom:

Neither from itself nor from another
Nor from both,
Nor without a cause
Does anything anywhere, ever arise.2

The Prajnaparamita Sutras

The title of this sutra is The Essence of Wisdom, often known as the Heart Sutra. Just as our heart is the most important part of our body, this sutra contains the heart or essence of the Prajnaparamita Sutras, the most important teachings of the Buddha. Prajnaparamita means the Perfection of Wisdom, the Wisdom Gone Beyond or the Transcendental Wisdom.

Amongst the Prajnaparamita Sutras are the extensive, middling and concise Mother Sutras. The great or extensive one is the Perfection of Wisdom in 100,000 Verses; the middling is that in 20,000 verses and the concise one is in 8,000 verses. The Essence of Wisdom sutra is so-called because it contains the essence of all of the wisdom sutras.

Different types of wisdom analyse conventional and ultimate phenomena. The ultimate here means emptiness. The wisdom intended when calling The Essence of Wisdom a sutra containing the essence of all the Prajnaparamita Sutras is wisdom analysing the ultimate which means wisdom realising emptiness. Various levels of this are wisdom from hearing or studying, wisdom from reflecting or contemplating, and wisdom from meditation.

Wisdom analysing the ultimate analyses and realises emptiness. This wisdom is the complete opposite of the ignorance which is the true-grasping or self-grasping mind, the root cause holding us in cyclic existence. Although this wisdom and ignorance have completely opposite ways of engaging they refer to the same object. Being directly contradictory, they are complete opposites.

The Prajnaparamita Sutras explicitly teach or reveal the stages of profound emptiness. Implicitly they explain the grounds and paths, the various realisations produced or arising sequentially in the mind of the practitioner gradually progressing through the path, and the methods of practice.

Dependent Arising

Lama Tsongkhapa wrote The Brief Explanation of the Way of Discerning the Difference between the Sutras of Definitive and Interpretative Meaning more commonly known as the Dependent Arising Praise in which he explained emptiness by stating that the Buddha based all he taught on everything which exists being a dependent arising. Buddha taught emptiness never losing the perspective of it totally fitting with everything being a dependent arising.

Tsongkhapa made the point that, in the multiplicity of teachings Buddha gave, everything was taught in terms of dependent arising. In other words, Buddha never taught so that you could possibly lose sight of the view of everything being a dependent arising.

Furthermore, by teaching like that, absolutely everything the Buddha taught was aimed at helping all sentient beings to overcome all inner mental afflictions and every fault and problem deriving from those afflictions. In other words, absolutely everything the Buddha taught was aimed at bringing all sentient beings to the state of nirvana. What the Sanskrit term nirvana means is "the state beyond sorrow." This means beyond the sorrow of the mental afflictions.

By what method can beings achieve this peaceful state which goes beyond or completely transcends all inner mental afflictions? One can achieve the state beyond sorrow with the wisdom realising emptiness. At present, sentient beings are unable to see the true nature of their own minds. The wisdom realising emptiness will enable them to see this.

The presence of mental afflictions prevents us from seeing the true nature of our minds. By meditating on that nature we can overcome those afflictions, (Tib. nyon mongs; Skt. kleshas) and thus achieve the state beyond sorrow. It is said that by extinguishing karma (action) and the kleshas (mental afflictions) we find liberation. Mental afflictions impel us to engage in harmful destructive actions that lead to our experiencing suffering in the future. Karma (action) refers to destructive actions engaged in through the force of mental afflictions.

Suffering arises due to karma, and karma arises due to mental afflictions. Because of mental afflictions we engage in harmful karmic actions. Where do they come from? Tsongkhapa's text makes the point that karma and afflictions come from a particular kind of conceptualisation, the true-grasping mind (ignorance). Destructive actions (karma) come from mental afflictions derived from this true-grasping conceptualisation (Tib. nam.tok) or "superstition" - in other words, the mind of ignorance or true-grasping.

The way to eradicate this true-grasping mind is by reflecting upon and understanding dependent arising. "Dependent arising" refers to the fact that everything arises (comes into being or existence) through depending on other factors.

The Setting and Structure of the Heart Sutra

The prologue to the Heart Sutra is called "a basis for the discussion" (Tib. ling.shi), meaning the background or setting for the sutra. For example, in the case of some of the monastic precepts there is an explanation about how a particular precept came to be given. This can include a description of how a certain monk made a mistake and how, when the Buddha came to know of this he said, “This is something that the monks and nuns should not do.” From that point on the monks and nuns had to follow that precept. The background to how and why it came about is called the ling.shi or prologue.

The prologue to this sutra begins with:

Thus I have heard at one time: the Lord was sitting on Vultures Peak near the city of Rajgir. He was accompanied by a large community of monks as well as a large community of Bodhisattvas.

This is the common prologue. The next two lines form the special prologue,

 On that occasion the Lord was absorbed in a concentration called the profound appearance.

The common prologue describes how the Buddha was sitting with a great community of monks and bodhisattvas. The special prologue, that he was absorbed in a concentration called the profound appearance means that the Buddha was himself reflecting or meditating on emptiness.

Meanwhile the bodhisattva, the great being, the noble Avalokiteshvara was contemplating the profound discipline of the perfection of wisdom. He came to see that the five aggregates were empty of any inherent nature of their own.

The Buddha meditates on emptiness and throughout most of the rest of the sutra starting from "Through the power of the Buddha", he blesses and causes a change to occur in the mental continuum of two of his disciples, Avalokiteshvara (Tib. Chenrezig) and Shariputra. He blesses their continuums so that Shariputra asks Avalokiteshvara a question. The rest of the text is Avalokiteshvara's answer.

Both question and the answer arise through the blessing of the Buddha and are called the holy word of the Buddha. There are different types of word or teaching of the Buddha and one is called the holy word that comes through the blessing of the Buddha. Although spoken by Shariputra and Avalokiteshvara, with the question coming from Shariputra, and Avalokiteshvara giving the answer, it is still referred to as the Buddha's word. Specifically in this case it is the Buddha's word that comes through his blessing these two beings. At the very end of the sutra it says,

At that time the Lord arose from his concentration and said to the noble Avalokiteshvara, “Well said, well said, that is just how it is my son, just how it is. The profound perfection of wisdom should be practiced exactly as you have explained it, then the Tathagatas will be truly delighted.”

This is the Buddha's holy word spoken from his own mouth. Although more detail is possible, this gives a rough idea of the structure.

To recap, a question comes from Shariputra followed by Avalokiteshvara's answer, and both are the word of the Buddha called the "blessed word". Later where the Buddha says, “Well said, well said,” he confirms that what Avalokiteshvara said about emptiness is absolutely faultless. That is also the Buddha's word, specifically that spoken by the Buddha.

Thus there are three sections. In brief, the Heart Sutra, has three points - the question from Shariputra, the answer from Avalokiteshvara and finally the Buddha's approval.

Notes

Buddhist practice – literally that which prevents suffering. [Return to text]

Translated by Jay L. Garfield. [Return to text]

Teachings on the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text
Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave this commentary on the Heart Sutra to Saraswati Buddhist Group, Somerset, England on August 17 -20, 2007. The commentary is edited by Andy Wistreich.

Read the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text. You may also download the commentary in a pdf file.

Index Page

1:  Introduction to the Heart Sutra

  • Motivation
  • The Heart Sutra: Emptiness and Lines of Reasoning
  • The Prajnaparamita Sutras
  • Dependent Arising
  • The Setting and Structure of the Heart Sutra

2:  Dependent Arising and Emptiness

  • Dependent Arising and Emptiness
  • Questions and Answers

 

3:  How Things Exist

  • How Things Exist
  • Dependent Arising, Empty and Emptiness
  • The Two Truths

4:  The Mere ‘I’

  • The Consequence (Prasangika) School View of the ‘I’
  • Question and Answer
  • Form is Empty…the Fourfold Purity
  • Question & Answer

5:  Meditation on Emptiness

  • The Object of Negation
  • The Risk of Nihilism
  • Conventionally Existing Phenomena and Emptiness

6:  Liberation from Cyclic Existence

  • Cutting the Root of Cyclic Existence
  • The Importance of the Wisdom Side
  • Conclusion

By Geshe Thubten Soepa

This teaching by Geshe Thubten Soepa is transcribed by Carol Beairsto.  Click here to find out more about FPMT's Animal Liberation Sanctuary.  Visit Enlightenment for the Dear Animals for more resources and information about helping animals.

First, I would like to tell you a little about myself. My name is Geshe Thubten Soepa. I completed my Geshe Lharampa exam, and then taught philosophy in Asian monasteries. Afterwards, I went to Germany and around Europe for nine years at FPMT centers. I am still a travelling FPMT Dharma teacher.

I would like to say that Lama Zopa Rinpoche has taken responsibility to protect animals with his animal sanctuary project. His work is a fantastic example of a Tibetan Buddhist lineage lama. I rejoice and may these merits result in him having a long life and good health.

You, as the director of Lama Zopa´s animal sanctuary and all those who are involved, working for the wishes of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, as you know, you too are collecting good karma. I rejoice!

I say this with scriptural proof.

Shakyamuni Buddha says in the Karmavibanga Sutra,

In this regard, there are actions extending life. What are they? To give up killing, to praise giving up killing, to encourage others to give up killing, to save the lives of those sure to be killed or supposed to be killed such as humans, cattle, goats, sheep, fish, pigs, birds, game, and so on.... To protect from fear beings oppressed by it, to generate compassion towards those who do not have a protector, to generate loving kindness towards the sick, towards children, and towards the elderly, to give them food, medicine, and so on, to generate compassion towards beggars, as well as preventing war, and the like.

Similarly, the Dalai Lama has said:

Being kind to animals, saving them, and protecting them is not a matter of religion... It is something everyone should do.

Except for a few cultures and religions, and some people who naturally don’t eat meat, most of the world has the bad habit of eating meat without analyzing.

If we analyze the details, humans don´t need to eat meat. Their natural body system is not like tigers, snakes or lions. Humans don´t have fangs.

According to Buddhist cosmology, in the Abhidharmakosha it says that at the beginning of this earth, countless years ago, our lineage grandfather, Vramah and the gods and goddesses were miraculously reborn. They had light and were able to fly. They didn´t eat dirty food, meat, egg or blood. They used concentration food and nectars. (Further information can be found in the Abhidharmakosha and its commentary.)

Many years later, some gods and goddesses ate earth and dirty foods. Their light disappeared and they could not fly. They could not see their companion gods and goddesses. Then they started to have sexual relations. Generations later they ate meat and blood. They started to become violent and kill each other. That was the beginning of being human. Human translates into Tibetan terminology as “mi” or “minang”. “Mi” means "I cannot see my companion gods and goddesses."

Therefore, countless years ago, our lineage grandfather and grandmother gods, did not eat meat. Generations later eating meat became a bad habit. This explanation comes from Abhidharmakosha cosmology.

Abhidharmakosha comes from the seven arhat`s Abhidharma great Buddhist texts. It doesn´t come from Buddha Shakyamuni sutras. Buddhist philosophies agree that our lineage originated from grandfather Brahma and many gods and goddesses. Buddhist philosophy never believed in a creator god. Also, Jain, Sankhya and Carvaka philosophies don´t believe in a creator god.

But some religions believe that grandfather Brahma is creator god, such as different Hindu religions and philosophies.

Buddhist religion-philosophy believes in natural law by reason of interdependency. According to Jainism there is no creator god, but by reason believe in karma or causes and effects. Sankhya believes in "main" or principle energy. For the Carvaka,  "seeing is believing". So if they don´t see something, they don´t believe in it. (Detailed information can be found in the tenets of the various religions.)

Nowadays, we have bad habits everywhere. Millions and millions of people buy and eat meat. This creates the killing, suffering and torture of millions of animals everyday! Indirectly this creates animal hell.

Therefore all virtuous buyers, sellers and consumers create the same negative karma or sin. This explanation comes from Shakyamuni Buddha’s Lankavatara Sutra and Kalachakra tantra.

In Chapter Six of the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha says:

Hey, Mahamati, if no one eats meat in any way whatsoever, then no living beings will be killed for its sake. Mahamati, innocent living bengs are killed for the sake of their value; killing for other reasons is rather rare.

Furthermore, in the tenth chapter of the Dhammapada it says:

All tremble at violence; all fear death.
Putting oneself in the place of another,
One should not kill, nor cause to kill.
All tremble at violence; life is dear to all.
Putting oneself in the place of another,
One should not kill, nor cause to kill.

Likewise, it says in one tantra in the Kangyur:

Those who give up harming beings
Are bhiksus, sramanas, and brahmanas.
No weapons exist that don´t cause fear;
Everyone shuns them to stay alive.
Take your body as example
Don’t cause any harm to others!

It says that whoever gives up harming others, having understood this in accordance with the situation set forth, is a virtuous practitioner.

Furthermore, in our ordinary thinking, we believe that when we eat meat, it will make us strong and healthy. But in reality, it indirectly causes the decline of our physical health, mental health, brings many sicknesses such as heart and liver disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, breast cancer, diseases of the womb and digestive system. You become forgetful, less intelligent, overly aggressive and violent.

And it destroys our realizations, compassion, perfect wisdom or correct understanding and peaceful mind.

Also, you wrote about millions of turkeys, chickens and animals being killed every day for food and profit. This problem comes from nowadays our situation money has big power. Money looks like creator god. Of course, people are over-focused on making money. Even money controls leaders of countries.

They think that if they have a lot of money and can do anything. When people believe in this idea, then they care less about an ethical life and good morality. They over-focus on money which results in killing, stealing, cheating, lying, destroying the natural environment, the killing of animals and the selling of meat.

This reality is a foolish idea because it results in our poor health and brings many sicknesses. It destroys our welfare. This is my opinion. Please immediately don´t believe this. We will continually need to analyze, and come to a real understanding ourselves.

The Buddha as well as the Lankavatara Sutra says:

Hey, Mahamati, moreover, in this regard those who kill, kill and trade because they want profit. Whatever fools eat meat, buy the meat for money. Those who perform the killing want profit, so they kill animals that fly in the sky, live in the water, or walk on the earth, in many different ways--with iron hooks, slings, and nets--thus seeking profit. Mahamati, as there is no so--called meat that has not been ordered, that is without seeking and without perception, you should not eat meat.

And so, we need to develop great compassion with correct wisdom. This is everyone´s important responsibility. I will continue to read Buddhist sutras and analyze logically.

Perhaps one day I will write another book about it.