Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Animals and the Buddha

The Buddha’s teaching on compassion protects all living beings.

All beings fear danger, Life is dear to all. When a person considers this, He does not kill or cause to kill.” – Dhamapada

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism began 2500 years ago when a man sat under a Bodhi tree and became enlightened.  Known as the Buddha, or enlightened one, he spent the next 40 years teaching what he had discovered.  Today there are approximately 500 million Buddhists in the world.

The Dharma

The Buddha told people that the purpose of his teachings, called the dharma, was to show a path to the end of suffering.  The foundation of the teachings is morality, and it is only by developing morality that one can then discover for oneself the wisdom of the dharma. Central to the teachings is the importance it places on compassion.

In many ways Buddhist morality is similar to other spiritual paths, such as Christianity and Judaism.  The moral code is founded in what are called precepts, and most important among these is the First Precept – Do Not Kill.  Importantly, and what separates Buddhism from most other spiritual teachings, is that Buddhist morality applies to all of the beings who share the earth – humans and animals alike.


Many people don’t have the opportunity to spend time with animals, particularly farm animals.  But when we get to know turkeys and chickens, pigs, goats and cows, we find that each animal is an individual with a personality, preferences, and as strong a desire to live as any human. Animals are smart, sensitive, and emotional, forming bonds with one another and with human caregivers, too.  Like humans, animals also suffer.

Unfortunately, despite their sensitivity and capacity to suffer, we often fail to extend to animals the same compassion we try to extend to people.  Instead, they are treated as commodities, here to meet our own human needs.

Farm animals

The biggest way we exploit animals, of course, is by eating them.  Throughout the world, more than 70 billion land animals are killed for consumption every year.  In the United States alone more than 10 billion land animals are killed annually.  Worldwide, this amounts to 10 animals killed for every person.  If we add the number of fishes killed (estimated at one to two trillion), this number is much bigger.  Should followers of the Buddha be contributing to this?

Most people are not aware of the way farmed animals are treated today.  The farms of the past have been replaced by factory farms, whose only consideration is profit.  Conditions on these farms are harsh and inhumane. Hens raised for their eggs come from hatcheries, where they have their beaks seared off and then spend their lives crammed into wire cages where they do not even have enough room to stretch their wings.  Male chicks – incapable of laying eggs – are tossed into a garbage bag or a grinder to be ground up alive. The male offspring of dairy cows – referred to as veal calves – are taken from their mothers at birth and spend their entire short lives in crates confined and unable to move and fed an anemic diet so that their flesh is tender.

Finally, once their usefulness is gone – when hens can no longer produce enough eggs and cows can no longer produce enough milk – they are killed.

Right Eating (or Eating Animals)

Buddhist morality is based on one central idea – compassion.  The Buddha recognized that all beings suffer, and because of compassion he dedicated his life to helping all beings to be free from suffering.

Extending compassion to animals starts with one thing that everyone can do immediately – stop eating them.  It’s important to realize that whether you kill an animal yourself or pay someone else to do it, in order for you to eat an animal it has to be killed.

The Buddha said:

Let him not destroy, or cause to be destroyed, any life at all, or sanction the acts of those who do so. Let him refrain even from hurting any creature, both those that are strong and those that tremble in the world.
– Dhammika Sutta

Why Vegan?

The term vegan refers to someone who not only refrains from eating animals.  He or she also does not consume products that come from animals. Whenever animal products such as eggs and milk are used for food, the animals are harmed.  This is true even on the most “humane” farms which often deceptively call themselves “cage free” or “free range”.  As long as animals are used for profit, they are mistreated.

Whenever someone eats an animal product, he or she is contributing to the suffering of an animal.  In order to live a life of compassion, it is important to not cause suffering, and this means eating a vegan – or plant-based – diet.

Buddhist Monks and Teachers Speak Out

The lineage of vegetarian and vegan monks and teachers is long and distinguished. Many of these noteworthy Buddhists have spoken eloquently about the subject of eating animals.

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I undertake to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Life is more precious than anything else in the world. Even insects want to live. Whenever we break any of the Five Precepts of Buddhism, we have violated some other sentient being. Whenever we kill anyone, we violate that being at the deepest level possible. Meat eating should be avoided…
Ven. Master Hsing Yun

By eating flesh we keep a class of people in a miserable profession. It is not fair that we should force the butchers to go to hell for our sake. If we became vegetarians, then the whole world would be at peace.
– Ven. U Lokanatha

If you take meat, it goes against the vows one takes in seeking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Because when you take meat you have to take a being’s life. So I gave it up.
–  Chatral Rinpoche

It has always been my preference to be vegetarian since I became a Buddhist… If one has this deep quality of compassion that one does not want others to suffer and one knows that either ordering meat or consuming meat is going [to] bring about even the cruel upbringing and the slaughter of animals, that out of compassion one would adopt vegetarianism.
– Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

After witnessing the slaughter of an animal for the first time, I cried and made a vow to be a voice for him.
Ven. Geshe Phelgye

To practice compassion, to practice loving friendliness (Metta), to appreciate and develop the joy of life…purely because of my conscience, I thought it would be much better to become vegetarian.
Ven. Henapola Gunaratna

Eating with Compassion

There is no deprivation involved in eating a plant-based diet!  Many people are surprised and delighted by the variety of foods available from non-animal sources.  Thousands of simple, delicious recipes – and gourmet fare – are found with an Internet search.  And, hundreds of animal-friendly cookbooks are available in bookstores and libraries around the world, with more being published every month.  You can also have a choice of meals from many different cultures.

Dharma Voices for Animals

Dharma Voices for Animals (DVA) was created to support compassion for all beings among followers of the Buddha’s teachings. DVA pledges to:

  • Bring awareness to the suffering of animals caused and supported by our Community and Dharma Centers
  • Provide reasonable alternatives to the actions that cause and support the suffering, and
  • Advocate on behalf of all animals for changes that will significantly reduce that suffering.

Many in the Dharma community have too often lost sight of the enormity of suffering we cause to non-human animals, most of which can be easily avoided.  So many of us routinely eat meat, chicken, sea animals, eggs and cheese; wear animal products as clothing; and use personal hygiene and household products tested on animals or containing animal products.  Sadly, most of the Dharma Centers have not set a good example.

Join Dharma Voices for Animals  – Become a Member and Become a Voice for Animals

Watch the wonderful DVA film, Animals and the Buddha – which we highly recommend.

Visit Dharma Voices for Animals’ website www.dharmavoicesforanimals.org and give your support to DVA’s efforts to raise awareness of the suffering of animals in the Buddhist Community.

Membership is free but they do welcome donations to help keep DVA operating. As a member, you will receive updates and e-newsletters from DVA.  Your donations will not be used for salaries.  Those who work for DVA volunteer their time and are not paid.


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