From His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s book Path to Bliss: ”Some people misunderstand the concept of karma. They take the Buddha’s doctrine of the law of causality to mean that all is predetermined, that there is nothing that the individual can do. This is a total misunderstanding. The very term karma or action is a term of active force, which indicates that future events are within your own hands. Since action is a phenomenon that is committed by a person, a living being, it is within your own hands whether or not you engage in action.”1
One of the actions that we do several times each day is selecting and ingesting food. Our choices of the food we select determine the type of karma that we incur. The Sanskrit word Karma (or kamma in Pali) literally means action. The law of karma is a law that has been put into motion via the creative consciousness. This law has not been actualized by the minds of human beings. As a natural law all beings are subject to this law. The causal effects of this natural law are not based on belief or acknowledgment. There seems to be more to this law then human beings realize. For help in understanding this law, human beings have for millennia turned to spiritual teachers for guidance.
The spiritual teacher states that the explanation is karmic. “We can divide this whole universe into five categories, according to the number of the five elements or essences in each category. These elements are earth, water, fire, air and ether or akash. The entire plant kingdom comprises the first category since it contains only one of the elements—that of water. The insect world, snakes and poisonous creatures underground make up the second category, where the two elements of earth and fire are active. In the third category are the egg born creatures such as the bird kingdom, containing the three active elements of water, fire and air. The fourth category is comprised of all the animals, the category in which all the elements are active with the exception of ether or akash, the reasoning element. The human being having all five elements within, is the top of creation.
The living must subsist on the living here, but spiritual teachers always advise us that we should collect the least burden of killing during our life span. Since we have such a heavy load and store of karmas with us already, we should try to reduce that load—rather than add to it. For instance, if we are given eighty pounds of weight to carry, we can barely walk; it is difficult to even stand under it. But if we are merely wearing a shirt on our back, we can run. In the same way, the karmic burden we create for ourselves by killing birds and animals for our food is much heavier than that of killing vegetables. It is not that we do not take life, it is a question of the degree of life which we consume.
We can clearly see this law at work even in this world. For if we pluck a flower from another’s garden, at the most we can be reprimanded. But if we slay another human being, we are imprisoned for life or executed. Similarly, the karma we collect from eating vegetables during an entire year can be cleared from our path by a day’s meditation. But if, on the other hand, we are carrying on a wholesale killing of creatures in higher categories for our stomach, and yet we are meditating at the same time, we are losing whatever we are gaining. The balance remains the same, and there is no value in our meditation at all. And if we don’t do our meditation and go on increasing our load of karmic debts, it then becomes impossible for us to carry on, to bear up under the weight. We are then pulled back to this world again and again.
Spiritual teachers always point out to us that we should try to leave this world, for a place where one soul kills another for its living is not worth our existence at all. But when our purpose of existence becomes God realization, naturally our course is to remain vegetarian during our life span.
The spiritual teacher was asked, “How can we explain vegetarianism to those who say, ‘Why should I give up eating meat when someone else does the killing, if I don’t kill the animal myself?’”
“Then it becomes a question of supply and demand,” the spiritual teacher said. “If all the local inhabitants of a city one day decide not to buy any meat from the shops, the next day we won’t find any meat for sale. When we demand, the supply comes. Animals are killed because we encourage killing. Actually, we are as much a part of the killing as if we had done the killing ourself. We are prompting others to kill for us; we are provoking them; we are part of the conspiracy of that killing.”
Continuing, he smiled and said, “I once met a Buddhist and we discussed the subject. I put forth the argument of how can one justify eating meat, since it is a known fact throughout the world that Buddha was non violent, a vegetarian. Buddha would not even kill an insect. The Buddhist said to me, ‘Oh no, no. I never kill either. My servant just brings meat for me and I never even so much as tell him what I want. He just goes to the market, places the food on my table and I eat.’
“I asked, ‘Who pays for it?’
“He replied, ‘Oh that is only a little bill I pay every month.’”
He continues in a more serious vein, “You see, these explanations are just justifications for our weaknesses. We do not really try to analyze the basic reason why we are not to eat meat, why we are not to kill. If we understand the reasons behind it, naturally we do not share in it.” 2
Some Quotes from Gandhi
- In order to get meat we have to kill. 3
- I hold flesh food to be unsuited to our species. 3
- The choice of one’s diet is not a thing to be based on faith. It is a matter for every one to reason out for himself. 3
- There is a great deal of truth in the saying that man becomes what he eats. The grosser the food the grosser the body. 3
- I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants. 3
- Man is more than meat. It is the spirit in man for which we are concerned. 3
- But the basis of my vegetarianism is not physical, but moral. If anybody said that I should die if I did not take beef or mutton, even under medical advice, I would prefer death. This is the basis of my vegetarianism. 3
- Therefore, I think that what vegetarians should do is not to emphasize the physical consequences of vegetarianism, but to explore the moral consequences. 3
- Path to Bliss, The Dalai Lama
- Becoming A Vegetarian, Published by Radha Soami Satsang
- The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism, M. K. Gandhi
Diet For A New America, John Robbins
The China Study, T. Colin Campbell
The Bloodless Revolution, Tristram Stuart
Photo Credit: By Robert Stevens.