THEM BEFORE YOU EAT THEM:
Buddah on Vegetarianism
Most Reverend Antonio
Hernández, O.M.D., U.B.
ago, some wandering Buddhist monks decided to stop at a particular monastery-
- the abbot was said to be an incomparable Zen master. It was the custom,
in China as in Japan, for wandering monks to test their dialectic prowess
with cloistered monks, in exchange for food and lodging. If they won
a debate, they got to stay and eat. If they lost, they moved along quietly.
These young monks had been warned about the masters deep humility
and sharp mind. They arrived to find an old man sweeping the outer-gate
steps. They cleverly surmised that an old man doing such humble work
must be the abbot himself.
"Hey, old brother!", they called. The master stopped and looked
up at them-- they were all so young. One of them said, "Old brother,
we are Buddhists, so we do not eat meat! Yet we must kill, after all,
for we consume vegetables. Is this not so?"
The master instantly replied, "Well, as to vegetables, you most
certainly should kill them before you eat them!"
This is my favorite of the old legends of the Buddhist masters. It is
poignant to me because I am very sensitive about the subject of vegetarianism.
It seems that, having gone beyond barbarism, the carnivorous human must
now contend with weird infections and diseases, thanks to his meat-eating
ways. The worst affliction of all is to contend with that super-pest,
I readily admit that I am no vegetarian. Oh, yes, one must eat a fully
vegetarian diet (not "vegan") whenever one is within monastery
grounds. Outside, however, is another story. "With Buddha in the
heart", the saying goes, "wine and meat are nothing."
This in itself is significant because in Buddhism, "nothing"
is very important. In the Orient, wine and meat are both regarded as
medicinal as well as nutritional.
Most Buddhists are playing charades if they have convinced everyone
that they are purely vegetarian. There is no secret to this: the Buddha
refused to create a strict vegetarian rule for the Order. He stated
that it was not necessary, because the Buddhist "kosher" laws
included failsafes to protect monks and nuns from killing animals. Further,
He said that we must eat whatever there is to eat!
The Buddhist "kosher" laws are far simpler than their Jewish
counterparts: one may not kill or hunt; one may not ask another to hunt
and kill on his behalf; one may not accept meat from a deliberately
slaughtered animal for the occasion; and one may not cut a living being,
touch or ingest blood. The parallels with Jewish laws are unmistakable:
they are all anti-cruelty laws. Otherwise, there IS NO BUDDHIST LAW
AGAINST EATING MEAT.
Many American vegan terrorists insist upon using Buddhism to push their
ways on others. I wonder how theyd react if they happened to see
His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama when he first arrives in the West,
on his many travels. He and his attendant monks look for the nearest
MacDonalds, for a Big Mac! It would not surprise me to see one
of these hypocritical veggie-people slap the sandwich out of the sacred
hands of His Holiness.
This is my gripe, my favorite pet peeve: pushy vegans. What are they,
on a mission from God? Do they think that their descriptor makes them
cool because Carl Sagan called his aliens "Vegans" in his
novel Contact? Then these vegans have the nerve to confront me- - theyve
done it a lot- - and accuse me of some perfidy, because theyve
seen me eating a hot dog, or buying a chicken breast.
Let me explain something clearly: I am a doctor of Oriental medicine,
I went a long way studying to become an M.D. (but I never made it),
and have treated hundreds of patients. I will tell you right now that
if you are strictly vegan, you will be vitamin-deficient in less than
a year. If you persist, you will be DEAD. We must eat some animal protein
Anyone who argues against this point is clearly a vegan person who has
the extra $300 a month to buy bottles of pills in order to make up for
the loss of proteins and certain vitamins and minerals. Id like
to see that person try to bully a mother of several children in the
supermarket, who is praying that shell be able to make ends meet
and feed her family!
The truth is that there is no reason to force viewpoints on anyone,
especially such personal ones. I applaud and feel affection for vegetarians
with a legitimate reason for their diet- - not just an axe to grind.
Some people feel they are murderers even if they eat flesh. I can sympathize
with the viewpoint... but when do we stop calling it "murder",
in that case?
Is it not murder to live on land that once housed billions of life forms?
Is it not murder to swat a mosquito, or eradicate germs, or stomp on
a brown recluse spider? Finally, is it not "murder" to kill
vegetables? We may wait until they fall by themselves, then we might
be innocent of the crime of murder. But... didnt we have that
in mind all along? Buddhism says what Jesus once said: if you even thought
about it, you already DID it!
It seems to me that vegetarian people ought to think things through-
- to put their vegan money where their mouths are. If you deign to preach
a law, at least have the decency to live fully by that law yourself.
Not to kill or cause slaughter means precisely that- - and nothing else.
My older sister is a vegetarian because childhood issues caused her
to become ill at the very thought of meat. Yet she will on occasion
order a beef burrito. It reminds me of Einsteins sister, Maria,
who was a devoted vegetarian but loved hotdogs. Einstein said that apparently
a hotdog is a vegetable after all. His sister would laugh right along
with him whenever he made that joke.
This is what is missing in todays mock-spiritual, vegan neo-hippie
society: humor. Who says spirituality cant be fun? Why must things
be so dead-pan serious? And, by the way, WHO SAYS I cant eat that
pastrami sandwich? Did I kick the steer until he was dead? Did anyone?
If they did, how can I prove that? Buddhism does not and will not hold
me to that responsibility, but some snotty Gen-X kid will? I dont
Yes, we must do all we can to protect all that is defined as our environment,
and our fellow beings who are living in it with us. I have asked vegans
to tell me what good ideas society can implement to accomplish this
lofty goal. Their general response is either, "Duhhhhhh...",
or, "It hurts when I think!!" Im not kidding here folks...
they really say those things to me. So much for the brain-food potential
of greens and sprouts.
The Buddha taught us: "Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt do no harm,
thou shalt not cause to suffer, thou shalt not incite to slaughter,
thou shalt not cut the living, nor of the blood of any living being
touch." He also said: "All beings tremble at punishment. To
all, life is dear. Comparing others to oneself, one should neither kill
nor cause suffering." If people cannot wrap a bit of thought around
these simple teachings, they dont deserve to be vegetarians!
Rev Antonio Hernandez O.M.D. June 2003
Man in the Iron Lung
Rev Antonio Hernandez
all rights reserved