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What kind of Vegetarian?

When I first took refuge with the Three Jewels, I did not know whether to eat meat or not.  In this place, the only active Buddhist Center is that of the Tibetan Kagyu lineage and so being a typical Chinese Mahayanist, I took to the internet to look for help.

Most Taiwanese Buddhists are on a very strict vegetarian diet that excludes garlic, leeks and some even eggs.  The Shin Buddhists near to Cleveland (the next nearest Buddhist Center) avoid red meat but they the last time I was with them for a meal, there was fried chicken on the table.

The Tibetans are so poor, usually yak meat is their only form of rich protein as they cannot have tofu easily.  When the leader of Kagyupad (and I mean 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, not the other one who got married) in exile stays in India, he was convinced by Taiwanese Venerable Hai Tao (海涛法师) to become a vegetarian which he did and he even asked his lamas who were with him to switch to vegetarianism.

Theravada Buddhists are not required to be vegetarians, but I know of many Theravedans from Singapore/Malaysia who avoid meat.  But generally, Theravada monks do not avoid meat because they get all their food from alms rounds in the morning.

The Huffington Post has an article/blog written by Liu Su Wan that addresses the issue and explains why not all Buddhist are vegetarians.  But when it came to my personal choice, I have decided to follow what the Sixth Patriarch did when he was living with the hunters.  The Six Patriarch in his Platform Sutra (六祖坛经·行由品》) stated that for about 15 years, when he had meals with the hunters, he simply avoided the meats  (“吃肉边菜”) by picking up what other things are available.

It was explained (by many FaShi 法师 in the Mahayana tradition) that being vegetarian is not required (– that means Buddha did not say you have to).  It is only an act of Dana (Generosity) Paramita,布施 (of the six Paramitas).  In Genesis 9:3, Christians believe that animals are food for human.  And Buddhism being all inclusive (包容?) agrees because in their own explanation, being in the higher realms, we have control over the animal realms and so are karmically capable of eating these if we want.  But an act of not killing them, is similar to an act of Dana,布施 .  For example, if you are rich, there is no reason why you must give your money to the poor guy on the street.  But your very act of giving is an example of Dāna (Devanagari: दान) or 财布施 in Chinese 。

I was once confronted by a young teenager why I became a vegetarian.  I gave that question a very serious thought and attempt to explain to this teenager who has no knowledge of Buddhism (never mind Dana Paramita).  Given that my practice 修行,is mainly that of the mind (修心),I told her that I am NOT a vegetarian, but I am doing something that I may stop completely whenever:

  1. I feel it is dogmatic, I should be doing it because some (higher) person said so, or some (spiritual) book said I have to.
  2. I became arrogant and felt I am more purified or spiritually better than someone who chooses to eat meat.
  3.  I am doing it to make myself thinner, healthier, have better skin etc.

For if arrogance or vanity is my reason for my practice, then it is better not to do it at all, because in Chinese this is not 修心, but an act that made me stray  further away from the Dharma.  So this act of dana has to be done as naturally as possible like the way many FaShi said it should be done with a pure heart , 清静心。

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