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Buddah on Vegetarianism
Most Reverend Antonio Hernández, O.M.D., U.B.

Long 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 master’s 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, the vegetarian.

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 they’d 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 MacDonald’s, 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- - they’ve done it a lot- - and accuse me of some perfidy, because they’ve 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 to survive.

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. I’d like to see that person try to bully a mother of several children in the supermarket, who is praying that she’ll 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... didn’t 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 Einstein’s 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 today’s mock-spiritual, vegan neo-hippie society: humor. Who says spirituality can’t be fun? Why must things be so dead-pan serious? And, by the way, WHO SAYS I can’t 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 don’t think so.

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!!" I’m 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 don’t deserve to be vegetarians!

© Rev Antonio Hernandez O.M.D. June 2003

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Rev Antonio Hernandez


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