To eat or not to eat meat is a personal question and not an ethical or religious issue. The government should be allowed to do its job – how best Bhutanese can access meat, rather than default the system while engaging in the hypocrisy.
I turned vegetarian a little over two years back. It was purely a personal decision – with no religion or health issues involved. Of course, there were encouragements from different quarters including a rimpoche-friend who advocates against eating meat. But let me share one good reason, perhaps, that made me take the final step.
While attending a Buddhist conference in Kathmandu, a panellist asked the audience, “Do you know what you are eating? Do you know where your food come from?” She was in the panel discussing about why Buddhists eat meat and why they shouldn’t. Now her question reminded me of some horrendous things I saw in slaughterhouses across the border – many years back. And really, back then it didn’t strike me anything. Maybe I was too naïve or too insensitive. But in recent years I have also heard more terrible stories of animal feeds being used in these farms. Now I am not saying that these are true stories. However, as the nutritionist said, do you really know what you are eating? Now, I wasn’t 100 percent sure about what the animal, I was eating, was fed with. Seriously. The food safety standard in our region is not that great.
Then there was also the fact that I was homing in to 50 and I felt that my body didn’t require meat anymore. I guess I have enough storage of essential vitamins like B12 that come from red meat. It does not leave our body like potassium or magnesium. We don’t run the risk of B12 deficiency easily. So I thought if I don’t need it why have some animals slaughtered, which brings me to the question of what Buddhism says about it.
From the few readings that I made, the confusion seems to have started off with the monks in Gautama Buddha’s sangha itself. They depended on the generosity of lay supporters as they went on their morning rounds for food alms. Obviously, they couldn’t dictate what people offered. In a predominantly Hindu India, people only refrained from eating beef but not other types of meat or fish. So the monks would face a simple choice – eat meat or starve. This dilemma became worse in the Tibetan highlands where no grass grows and where green vegetable is in short supply. Furthermore, Mahayana and Vajarayana Buddhism are less dogmatic than Theravada and leave this critical decision to personal choices that you can make based on your sampa (true intention). So if the intention is to survive, it is OK. But if the kill is for greed, anger or jealousy, it is not ok anymore.
Going back to Buddha, what do the scriptures say? A line from Dhammapada V 130 reads,
“All tremble at the rod. All hold their life dear. Drawing the parallel to yourself, Neither kill nor get others to kill.”
Since Buddhism encourages interpretations here are some. First, we should refrain from intentional acts of killing, but it not necessarily from the consumption of animals that are already dead. Secondly, we should not intentionally ask someone to kill for us as in, for example, make a bjob to kill a yak for us. But we cannot prevent anyone from killing either because that may be his or her traditional lifestyle or the main economic activity to feed the family or send children to school – or both. We need to be realistic too and not just religious or idealistic.
In conclusion, what should we do (as Buddhist, if I may say)? Well, just as people adopted to eating meat for practical reasons to stay alive, if one could that by staying away from meat, then just do it. And do some readings, talk to doctors, get your vitamin level tested. If you are not a toddler and you are in pretty good shape, chances are that you don’t require meat at all. And take small steps. I stopped eating pork and then after a month I stopped beef and few months later, chicken. Don’t be over ambitious.
By the way, I am the only one in my family who stopped eating meat. I still eat fish and eggs. As said, I have not been coerced by anyone to stop meat nor would I force anyone to do that either. The choice should be personal and should come from within – from our sampa. Only then it sustains.