"All the world's a stage we pass through." - R. Ayana
Tuesday, 28 June 2016
5 Ways Vegetarianism Could Save the World
5 Ways Vegetarianism Could Save the World
5 Buddhist Teachings and Teachers
Recommending a Vegetarian Lifestyle;
5 Reasons it’s the Ethical Thing
Buddhists are vegetarians.
Did the Buddha actually suggest a vegan lifestyle? And, putting aside
Buddhists, why is the meat industry growing when the science says it’s hurting
our planet? These are the questions that frame our special feature focusing on
Vegetarianism: five ways it could save the world, five Buddhist teachings that
recommended veganism, and five reasons it’s just the ethical thing to do. And,
since not everyone reading this feature is a Buddhist, let’s start with the
56 billion farmed animals are killed each year by humans — 10 billion land
animals in the U.S. alone. 3,000 die each second.  This does not include
countless fish. Billions of animals suffer and die painfully — animals who,
according to scientists, are sentient and feel emotions. . Put another way,
each person who eats meat, is directly responsible for the lives of an average
of 95 slaughtered animals each year. 
According to most
scientists, animals are sentient and feel emotions. Contrast this happy pig to
the unhappy pigs on a factory farm below.
Buddhist, 5 Ways Vegetarianism Could Save the Planet
The data and
science do suggest vegetarianism could indeed save the world. There’s a big “ism”
in this statement. The only way vegetarianism could help save the world is if
at least 25 percent of us stopped eating our earthly companions — non-human
sentient beings. How is it possible that simply reducing demand for meat
could save the planet? The most compelling reasons include:
emissions — the meat industry is
one of our largest polluters, more than all cars and planes put together
scarcity of land — 30% of the
available ice-free surface area of the planet is now used by livestock,
estimated to soon increase to 45%
inability to feed our population:
perhaps more urgent than the environment is our inability to currently
feed the world’s population, in part due to the unbalanced allocation of
land: meat production uses 23 times as much land as crop production.
overuse of important resources
such as water — and pollution of water.
demand for meat by any sizeable percentage, would ease many of the issues and
pressures identified by experts.
Demand for meat
around the world is growing, with over 56 billion animals slaughtered each
year, increasingly from factory farms who are major polluters.
serious about global warming and the environment, even modest reductions in
dependence on meat will have a higher impact on the environment than things
such as emissions controls on automobiles.
restaurant steak on the plate could represent 9,000 liters of water, 40
kilograms of poop (waste), 4 kilograms of feed and more emissions pollution
than a car might create on an hour-long drive to the restaurant.
Animals are Sentient and Feel Emotions say
supports the view that animals are sentient, which makes the ethical arguments all the
more compelling. “A prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists
and other experts made a strong declaration, endorsed by Stephen Hawking,
affirming that all “nonhuman animals… including octopuses” are sentient and
feel emotions such as fear and happiness. We wrote about this in a popular
Buddha Weekly feature: “Prominent scientists declare “All non human animals …
are conscious beings.” (View here>>)
challenged readers: “The advance in non-human rights begs the question, from a
Mahayana Buddhist perspective, when we promise to liberate all sentient beings
— or not to kill — just who do we include? If our definition includes all
beings down to insects and octopuses, how do we reconcile our dependence on
“lower” beings for survival?”
His Holiness the
Gwalwang Karmapa is a vegetarian and recommends the lifestyle to Mahayana
Gyalwang Karmapa gives a very direct answer: “We say I am going to do
everything I can to free sentient beings from suffering. We say I am going to
do this. We make the commitment. We take the vow. Once we have taken this vow,
if then, without thinking anything about it, we just go ahead and eat meat,
then that is not okay. It is something that we need to think about very
carefully.” The Dalai Lama also strongly recommends vegetarianism.
Buddhist teacher Theodore Tsaousidis, of the Grey Bruce Mindfulness Centre, to
put this in perspective. He didn’t sugar coat his view:
“If you claim to be
a compassionate person or Buddhist in the 21st century and still eat meat,
there are possible elements of pathology, hypocrisy and ignorance that beg
examining the ethics and Buddhist perspective, let’s start with five ways meat
is damaging the environment and our world.
Meat consumption is
growing in developing nations. There won’t be enough land to support the
growth. It is estimated 45% of non-ice land in the world will be used for meat
production within a few years.
Just the Facts: Why
the Meat Industry is Damaging our Environment
industry is one of the largest emissions contributors, producing more
emissions than all the automobiles and planes put together. This issue will
only be exacerbated by the expected growth of our population 4 billion. As a
practical consideration, putting aside environment, ethics and all, there is
not enough land to produce that much meat. It’s worth remembering that
developing nations are quickly becoming advanced nations, increasing demand for
some simple, largely indisputable, well-cited facts, that lead to the concept:
“5 Ways Vegetarianism Can Save the Planet” story, only some of which we quote
here (we recommend a read of the article of the same name in The Guardian>>)
Factory pig farm producing
waste products. Unlike organic farms, large scale factory farms product more
pollution than a small human city.
One — 18% of Global Climate Emissions are a result of meat production, more if
you include supporting factors 
farming is responsible for 37% of all methane emissions “which has 20 times the
global warming potential of CO2.”
eat about 230m tonnes of animals a year, twice as much as we did 30 years ago,”
according to The Guardian newspaper. “We mostly breed four species – chickens,
cows, sheep and pigs – all of which need vast amounts of food and water, emit
methane and other greenhouse gases and produce mountains of physical waste… UN
calculated that the climate change emissions of animals bred for their meat
was… more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.”
The meat industry is
currently the largest methane producer, and the biggest contributor to
pollution and global warming.
Scientists pegged the number at much higher, because they include extra
considerations like clear-cutting oxygen producing forests to favor animal
agriculture, fertilizers and many other factors, such as transport, bringing
the total up to 51%.
words, if only 25% of the world’s population converted to vegetarianism, the
impact on the environment would be staggering. That’s a fact, not even arguable
(although certainly some will try. Which brings us to fact Two — the population
and turbulent weather are two of the consequences of global warming.
Two — It takes 23X as much land to grow our vegetables as to raise meat
livestock — not enough land to feed the expected increase in world populations.
according to facts cited in the Guardian feature: “Nearly 30% of the available
ice-free surface area of the planet is now used by livestock, or for growing
food for those animals. One billion people go hungry every day, but livestock
now consumes the majority of the world’s crops.”
words, when the population grows by only 3 billion, we’ll need to consume
another 15% — assuming demand per person doesn’t increase as nations grow richer—and
we’ll have another 500 million starving humans. For livestock, 45% of land in
the world — and unlikely possibility, even if we clear cut the few remaining
forests (which leads us to the third fact — deforestation). Not all land is
suitable for livestock. Of course, speaking facetiously, if the polar icecaps
keep melting we may have more land for meat.
requires extensive land, water and natural resources.
way, in the US. alone, 13m hectares of land are used to grow vegetables, while
it takes nearly 23 times that much, 302m hectares for livestock. “The problem
is that farm animals are inefficient converters of food to flesh,” writes the
Guardian. For example, pigs need 8.4kg of feed to produce one kilogram of meat.
Three — Millions of hectares of trees cut to produce burgers
in general is causing deforestation, mostly for meat and a few crops such as
palm oil and soya. Write the Guardian: “Millions of hectares of trees have been
felled to provide burgers for the US and more recently animal feed for farms
for Europe, China and Japan.” 6m hectares of forest land a year are lost
(roughly twice the size of Belgium) with most converted to farmland. Putting
aside the destruction of animal habitat there’s an enormous climate cost. The
second largest crop to go on that clear-cut land is soybeans, mostly grown to
feed the cattle.
Clear cutting is
necessary to create more land for meat production. Currently, 36% of non-ice
land in the world is used in meat production, expected to grow to 45%.
Four — A single cow farm can generate as much waste as a small city
Guardian: ” Industrial-scale agriculture now dominates the western livestock
and poultry industries, and a single farm can now generate as much waste as a
city. A cow excretes around 40kg of manure for every kilogram of edible beef it
puts on and when you have many thousands crowded into a small area the effect
can be dramatic. Their manure and urine is funneled into massive waste lagoons
sometimes holding as many as 40m gallons.”
Using arable land for
crops versus meat production could have more impact on global warming than
emission controls on factories and cars.
goes on to present shocking pollution statistics, such as “most summers between
13,000 and 20,000 sq km of the sea at the mouth of the Mississippi becomes a
“dead zone”, caused when vast quantities of excess nutrients from animal waste,
factory farms, sewage, nitrogen compounds and fertilizer are swept down the
might river.” There are nearly 400 dead zones that have been identified,
largely due to animal farming.
Five: Current meat animals drink too much: producing a pound of beef requires
9,0000 litres of water
It may not
be a top of mind issue in North America, where water is somewhat plentiful, if
polluted. But in most other parts of the world, water shortage and clean water
is a serious, even life-threatening issue.
requires approximately 9,000 litres of water (20,000 pounds) to produce one
pound of beef, 1,000 litres to produce one litre of milk. A broiler chicken
“only” consumes 1,500 litres. Pigs are the worst, with the largest pig farms
consuming as much water as a normal-sized human city.
Indicated on map are
areas of the world with not enough water for survival. Meat production uses a
disproportionate amount of precious water resources and contributes to the
pollution of remaining water.
There is no
doubt that farming consumes the majority of our water, 70% according to expert
estimations, but this number could be dramatically reduced if we transitioned
more food output to crops versus meat.
instance, potatoes take between 60 and 229 pounds of water per pound of produce
— as compared to 20,000 pounds of water for a pound of beef. 
Cows feel emotions,
according to the majority of scientists. A glance at this happy cow reinforces
Line — Meat a higher negative impact on the environment as compared to other
If we put
aside ethical and Buddhist arguments, the meat industry is harmful to our
collective help. Even a modest decrease in demand for meat can result in
positive environmental returns. Significant decreases in demand could,
literally, save our planet.
5 Buddhist Teachings and Teachers
Recommending Vegetarian Lifestyle
only proves horrendous impact of the meat industry on climate change and our
it asserts rather forcefully that even fairly simple non-human animals and
birds — including fish — are sentient and have emotions. Both positions might
be debatable, but these facts are credibly established. Which returns us to
ethics and Buddhist teachings, since helping sentient beings is one of the most
important compassion foundations of Mahayana Buddhism.
annual vegetarian festival in Thailand celebrates the good karma of a non-meat
stated the strong position of Buddhist teacher Theodore Tsaousidis: “If you
claim to be a compassionate person or Buddhist in the 21st century and still
eat meat, there are possible elements of pathology, hypocrisy and ignorance
that beg reflection.”
harsh? Not if you consider the First Precept of the Buddha, “Abstain from
Taking Life.” And not, as Mahayana Buddhists, when we vow to “benefit all
sentient beings.” Practicing Mahayana Buddhists reinforce that vow and belief
each day when we take refuge.
on his very strong position:
one keeps looking to the Buddha for direction as to whether it is permissible
to kill and eat animals, then one doesn’t understand the aim of his teachings.
If you, on a basic level, understand the fundamental technology and methodology
of Buddhist’s teachings, then whether the question is simple or complex, it can
be answered strictly by applying the method the Buddha expounded —which is to
ask the question and experience the answer for oneself.
do this, one must attend to one’s raw feeling. Without getting entangled in the
interpretation of various sources, we can just feel and attend to one question:
“Is my action inclusively wholesome, good, compassionate and freeing?”
Tsaousidis is a meditation teacher from Grey Bruce Mindfulness Centre, who
lectures regularly at Gaden Choling Toronto and a Medicine Buddha Toronto
events and retreats.
asserts that sentient beings include fish, birds and animals. Buddhism might be
the middle way, but there is really not much middle ground for a Mahayana
Buddhist with regards to eating meat. In Theravadan Buddhism, perhaps, there’s
a little leeway, but the Mahayana Buddhist is above all compassionate and
working for the benefit of sentient beings.
I didn’t ask the butcher to kill the animal, meat is okay, right?”
early Buddhist monks were instructed by Buddha to eat whatever is given to them. This could include
meat, provided they were certain that the animal was not butchered for their
benefit. Which, of course, is a wide loop hole, if you consider this to mean
“it’s okay as long as I didn’t instruct them to butcher the meat.” However,
most reasonable people understand that meat is only butchered due to our
demand, so we are all involved in the decision.
taught the precept to “abstain from taking life.” This is defined as any
breathing life form.
Buddha said, in early Theravadan sutras: “Monks, I allow you fish and meat that
are quite pure in three respects: if they are not seen, heard or suspected to
have been killed on purpose for a monk. But, you should not knowingly make use
of meat killed on purpose for you.” In this case, Buddha is teaching that monks
should not reject alms, and also it’s important not to waste meat that is
already butchered. Generally, this is not interpreted to mean approval of the
practice of eating meat itself.
hamburger factor. Countless hectares of forest are cleared each year to support
the growing popularity of the hamburger.
correct? No intention is a thin argument.
It came down
If monks were given meat, they could eat it because they had no intention to do
harm (it was given to them, not requested by them) — therefore there was no
negative karma. That’s not saying there was no harm done, only that there is no
specific ethical problem if there was no intention to harm. It’s a thin
argument, perhaps, considering there is knowledge that harm was done, but it’s
technically correct in terms of karma.
Animals feel emotions.
since most of us are lay practitioners, we more or less order or buy meat
knowing it must be killed for our benefit. Therefore, our middle ground becomes
one of — “I’m not ready to be a monk today, but sometime in the future…” If we
really want to look the other way, we can also hide behind “no intention to
cause harm” but it’s not an easy argument to make when we knowingly buy the
around the world feel happiness, pain and suffering. Here are two happy friends.
sutras, on the other hand, for the most part reject meat and emphasize
compassion to all sentient beings — which we now know include non-human
animals, birds and fish.
Dalai Lama: “The best thing is to give up meat.”
In answer to
the direct question, “Is it permissible for Buddhists to eat meat?” the Dalai Lama
replied in November 2009:
“The best thing is to give up
meat entirely. Sometimes one’s lifestyle and circumstances provide no
alternative but to eat meat, and in these cases one should eat as little meat
as possible. Tibetan monasteries and nunneries in south India became entirely
vegetarian 15 years ago. Festivals and ceremonies in all Tibetan monasteries
and nunneries should be completely vegetarian.” 
The Dalai Lama often
teaches the benefits of vegetarianism, or minimizing the consumption of
Holiness 17th Gyalwang Karmapa: Doesn’t eat meat because “of the intense
suffering that the animals”
Karmapa, who is a vegetarian, gave two reasons why he suggests not eating meat (on
the official website of the Karmapa): The first reason is the intense suffering
that the animals who are killed go through. Every single day millions of
animals are killed to feed us, and many are subjected to terrible conditions to
provide us with food.”
reason is even more directly hard-hitting from a Mahayana Buddhist point of
say I am going to do everything I can to free sentient beings from suffering.
We say I am going to do this. We make the commitment. We take the vow. Once we
have taken this vow, if then, without thinking anything about it, we just go
ahead and eat meat, then that is not okay. It is something that we need to
think about very carefully.”
The most Venerable
Thich Nhat Hanh advocates not only vegetarianism, but activism.
five other notable Buddhist teachers say about eating meat
Here are a few
(there are thousands to choose from) from the great teachers:
Bikkhu Bodhi: The first precept,
to abstain from killing, includes the “taking of life of ay being with
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche: “We must
not hurt other people and animals.”
Thich Nhat Hanh: “No killing can
be justified…. We must also learn way to prevent others from killing.”
Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje
Rinpoche: “Meat, the sinful food.”
Lama Zopa Rinpoche: ” As there
are more and more people becoming vegetarian, that means less and less
animals will be killed. So it is very important. In the world people eat
meat mainly because of habit; so many people have not thought that the
animals experience unbelievable suffering.” 
The most Venerable
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche teaches “we must not hurt other people and animals.”
reasons becoming a vegetarian is the ethical thing to do
say we should have started here — with the ethics of meat. In general, most non-sadistic
people understand animals suffer. Culturally, we are brought up to accept the
practice as “survival” even after it has been demonstrated that vegetarianism is
healthier and less expensive.
meat farming produces more methane and greenhouse gases than any other industry.
The root of
“immorality” of meat eating lies in two premises, backed by science:
that animals are sentient, suffer
and feel emotions
that the meat industry is
unhealthy for our planet.
If those are
accepted, practicing Mahayana Buddhists should, according to many Buddhist
teachers, include meat animals in vow “to free all sentient beings from
suffering.” The greater threat — that of the world slowly eaten away by an
environmentally dangerous meat industry —also can’t be ignored as explicit in
that vow. Suffering is suffering. Sentience is sentience. And each person who
becomes a vegetarian saves an average of 95 animals each year. 
consequences of excessive meat production will be felt even in the short term.
reasons to abstain or cut back on meat eating are simple:
to he environment: the meat industry is one of the world’s greatest threats to
the environment in terms of pollution, land and resource consumption, and
Eating animals increases demand for slaughter (approximately 95 animals per
year per person), which creates the suffering of billions of sentient beings,
all of whom feel emotions.
of food: Since meat animals require approximately 23 times more land than
equivalent plant crops, dedicating so much land, water and resources to meat
animals, makes it difficult to raise enough food for our current world
teachings: Abstain from taking life, defined as any breathing animal, and
having compassion for any sentient being.
As land and resources dwindle, and population grows, meat will become
unaffordable, creating inequities around the world.
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