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1. Introduction

Environmental concerns are now so serious because humans have developed modern technologies to consume and reproduce that can cause destruction the ecological foundation for human life. The major challenge is the question on what values and practices would encourage people to consume and reproduce less to protect environment and living beings. Actually, religions in the world have not face with these environmental issues but the core teaching is still aiming to conserve and build up happiness on the environment where human beings is living. Especially, Buddhism has many intellectual and spiritual resources that promote an environment ethics. The typically simplest level is not harming that is so fundamental to Buddhism ethics. When excessive consumption and reproduction are harmful to environment, these activities have to be solved out. Buddhist teachings reveal the useful ways to limit such activities. The typical practice is vegetarianism that engages many interests from Western scholars and people. Therefore, in this paper, the article focuses on the analysis of Western Buddhism towards vegetarianism as the way to cope with environmental issues, especially protect lives of living things in the ecology.

In fact, the issue of eating or not eating meat has been debated for a long time among many contemporary Westerners as being considered a classical ethical dilemma for people who are aware of conditions for animals serving for consumption purposes (Ruby 2012, p. 141). Being a moral issue and personal life choice, vegetarianism has met many arguments across continents and centuries. Most of debates have been examined in relation to religious, social and environmental obligations for not consuming meat. More importantly, this concern has become more popular as the increasing alarms for food security and the environmental influences of food production. Hence, vegetarianism is a matter not only for morality but also rational concern. 

2. The analysis of Western views for vegetarianism

In the philosophical history, Western arguments for not eating animals have occurred in a long time (Micheletti & Stolle 2010, p. 125). Some of Westerners are attracted to come to Buddhism in order to practicing vegetarians as their motivation. The following paragraphs will examine well-established arguments among Western Buddhists who are practicing the moral imperatives of vegetarianism.

2.1 The rights and interests of animals

With the increasing in food production, there is a distress on the effect on animals that are being killed, processed and eaten by humans for food consumption. There are three main considerations that are necessary to investigate for the view of animals as less valuable and less intelligent than humans.  Firstly, according to the research of Singer (1995, p. 50), animals have to suffer unkindness or harm during the time of being grown and killed for food. For example, the extensive animal suffering can be found in debarking of chickens, branding of cattle and castration of hogs. Most of animals are raised on the factory farms and have to experiencing genetic treatment, antibiotics as standards for food processing.

Secondly, there is a viewpoint that points out the intelligence and awareness in animals (Kendrick 1998, p. 213). In other words, animals have the right as a sentient being, a subject of life that has the right to live and experience life. Clearly, human cannot understand exactly on what animals are experiencing. They have a complexity regarding to neurophysiology that can response to pain and injury  (Frith 2003, p. 459). Therefore, human should consider the experience of animals and respect them by not eating them.

Thirdly, in reality, there are some animal species that become a helpful member within the families or human activities. For example, dogs are members in police teams to save people or dolphins rescue people in the ocean. It can be seen that animals can functions in a highly structured group such as gorillas and chimps. The behaviors demonstrated in groups prove that the social skills of some animals are highly appreciated.

2.2 Personal health issues

According to the article of Craig & Mangels (2009, p. 1266), a vegetarian diet has many physical health benefits such as increasing energy, reducing illness, losing weight and detoxification. On the contrary, eating meat can cause lower life expectancy due to health diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes in the event of highly consumption animal foods. In reality, chemical additives to meat such as antibiotics and growth hormones can impact negatively on consumers (Corpet 2011, p. 310). There are some consequences due to the use of antibiotic such as diarrhea, pneumonia and even death.

From the position of vegetarianism, it is not only for physical health but also promoting for mental health such as a calm mood, less exposure the passions of desires and anger. The result is peace and less aggressive at the same time an increase in compassion for others. When giving up meat, people would experience these states of mind because decreasing the consumption of toxic hormones and pesticides from animal products. More importantly, people can feel less guilty from not causing animal suffering and enhance the relationship with the natural world.

2.3 Environment considerations

Many Western researchers argue that farming factory can have serious impacts on ecosystem health (Goleman 2010, p. 50). To elaborate, there are many problems such as soil erosion, deprivation of stream habitat, deforestation and desertification. It can be seen that local wildlife animals are being replaced by feeding animals. Moreover, the emission from factory can contribute to greenhouse gas issues that increase the risk of global climate change. Some environmental concerns for the widespread use of pesticides in industrial agriculture express the contamination as negative effects on food chain. From the viewpoint of vegetarian, people do not consume any products being harvested from modern industrial methods. This implication means they can avoid causes for the ecosystem health. Especially, for meat production, these processes impacts strongly on the surrounding environment.

2.4 World hunger problems

Looking to the use of grain to feed for animals, vegetarian people argues that it can save a lot of starving people from other areas and in the world (Kalof et al 1999, p. 500). Furthermore, in order to maintain the meat production system, it is required lots of water to consume for growing food. While in other places, water is very valuable for them to survive. It seems that there is in need of reduction some meat production and animal factory to save useful resources for other areas that is more in need of natural resources. In the other world, it can save environmental resources and help to balance life from different natural characteristics.

2.5 An ethical development

Traditionally, the abstaining from eating meat has been identified with the religious belief and practices (Dugan 1994, p. 80). Western Buddhists develop spiritual discipline not only for the commitment but also for virtue ethics. It comes from the desire to do good for oneself and make the world more flourishing and nurturing (Clark 2004, p. 138). Within the Buddhist traditions, the avoidance of eating meat also represents for not harming precepts. For some points of view, the culture of meat eating can cause some abuse to animals and non-ethics. Practicing vegetarianism, people can develop empathy and ethical sensitivity to take responsibility for other living beings. This approach encourages the development of human ethics that raise concerns for others. It also can contribute to build up moral awareness of human in their activities.

3. The Buddhism views for vegetarianism

From the perspective of Westerners, there are many concerns for animal suffering, personal health, environment, world hunger and ethical development. Similarly, Buddhist philosophical resources are also supporting for vegetarianism. There are a number of Buddhist texts mentioning the abstaining from animal food. Hence, Western Buddhists are looking for a way to express spiritual intentions through food choice as the good option.

Clearly, Western Buddhists collect a wide range of Buddhist resources from many traditions. Originally, Buddhist materials are from Asian and now become more popular in Western countries. Due to cultural influences, it is can be identified that Western Buddhists have some rational practices for vegetarianism. The following paragraphs will look at vegetarianism from many Buddhist traditions to examine how it is different from Western Buddhism.

3.1 Theravada tradition

According to Perrett (1993, p. 82), early Buddhists in India have been strongly influenced by the Jain tradition that focuses on non-harming and killing. The actions causing violence are encouraged to avoid, because it will lead to injury for oneself as the law of karma. In the Buddha’s teaching, the Four noble truths doctrine indicates the philosophical context for non harming by demonstrating the nature, origin and cessation of suffering  (Tsering 2005, p. 50). In order to release suffering, the Eightfold path practice also enhances moral practices especially “Right Conduct” based on the principle of non-harming. Additionally, the first precepts emphasize on the not taking life as the top criteria for a Buddhist follower.

Theravada monastic tradition is more about self-discipline and practices of restraint. The non-harming teaching means to conduct eating disciplines for minimizing harm and cultivating compassion for other beings. From the Buddhist’s aspects, plants suffer less than animals, so removing animal foods reduces general suffering. Moreover, it is a way to improve the future rebirths into higher realms (Haidt 2003, p. 852). The law of karma here is to motivate good behavior and paying respect to all life.

3.2 Mahayana tradition

The Mahayana schools pay more importance on helping others to achieve freedom from suffering. Today, Western Buddhists learn ethical resources from Chan and Zen traditions in respect of vegetarianism (Welter 2008, p. 113). The Bodhisattva ideal calls for the saving of all living beings including animals. Caring for animals by not killing or harming is the way to develop compassion for others. In additions, dependent origination model is the twelve links of cycle to illustrate the endless round of sensation, desire, grasping and karmic formation. Understanding this principle, it explains the ecological relations that raise human concerns for reducing impact on the ecology.

In Mahayana tradition, vegetarian ethics is formulated based on the concept that all beings have Buddha nature (Williams 2008, p. 50). In the event of taking animal’s life, it is the destruction of Buddha nature within the animal. For one who would like to awake, this is necessary to restrict from eating meat.

3.3 Vajrayana tradition

In contrast, due to climate and geography, Tibetans are usually having meats in their meals because their native lands are not good for agriculture development. However, within the Buddhist’s believers, compassion is very significant. Some Tibetan Buddhist monks are tying to become vegetarianism. This is very challenging for those who pursue this practice of non-eating meat. Furthermore, giving up eating meat can cause less resistant to illness because they are lacking of butter, curd or flour in the environment that is extreme cold of high altitudes. With the practice of meditation to train the mind for cultivating bodhicitta as the hope for all beings attaining enlightenment and be free of suffering, it is helpful to strengthen the capacity to eat vegetarian.  

3.4 Western Buddhism tradition

Practically, Western Buddhism has applied a number of the principles and practices as identified aboved to support for vegetarianism. In the contemporary Western society, mindfulness becomes more popular as the way for calming the mind and present (Hanh 2016, p. 50). Especially, when practicing mindfulness in eating, the awareness of food, the action of bite and the taste are boosted. According to Lawrence (2002, p. 283), mindfulness of eating can increase the sensitivity to animals, the environment and relationships to others. Interestingly, environmentally concerned Buddhists have raised problems for ecological outcomes of meat eating. This action is considered a method of violence that can impact on human health and the sustainability of the earth.  Vegetarianism therefore can be regarded as a component to social change to promote compassion, interdependence and mindfulness. It is the core of Buddhist practices to liberate all beings from suffering.

4. Some explanations for Buddhist vegetarianism as activism

Bearing in mind animal welfare activism, some Western plans to improve farming conditions but not considering in respect of the religious factor. There are many non-profit organizations working for the purpose of humanitarian animal concerns. A vegetarian Buddhist can join these activities as it has them same purposes with personal motivation to support for animal welfare but there is in need of a whole community of Western Buddhists to contribute as activism in the western animal welfare movement.

In some circumstances, Buddhist vegetarians are very helpful for the environmental movement and its attentiveness to agriculture pollution, use of pesticides and chemicals (Herzog & Golden 2009, p. 485). While Buddhism stresses on non-harming, this can be very valuable to address environmental concerns about the impact of consumerism. It can be said that Buddhist vegetarians are potential to offer wisdom in their experience in choosing a moral ethic in consumption and eating. From a Buddhist perspective, an act of compassion strongly adds to social conditions peaceful relations. Ethical development can be gained in food choices to strengthen human ability to cope with even greater ethical challenges such as war, poverty and injustice.

Overall, Buddhist vegetarians are suitable to work as activism as it can link the inner aspect to social aspects. It is the integration of one’s pains to the pain of the world. More over, the responsibility is emphasized in Buddhism as the consequences for the karma effects. Then, peace is the target to practice mindfulness. Buddhist activists would have to work hard and persuasively to change industrial practices to provide alternatives and offer support for people who commits with non-eating meat.

5. Conclusion 

Consequently, as the increasing of environmental problems, especially the destruction and harm to living animals in the universe, this issue has engaged many discussions from scholars and experts to deal with this fact. The over consumption and non-stopping craving of human can cause imbalance in the environment. Hence, Western Buddhism expresses concerns to this issue and tries to protect lives of living things by the approach of vegetarianism. The paper starts with the analysis of Western views for vegetarianism by indicating the rights and interests of animals, personal health issues, environmental considerations, world hunger problems and an ethical development. It seems that from the viewpoints of Western Buddhists, these factors are elements and motivations for them to pursuing vegetarianism that is rational and realistic. Next, the Buddhism views of vegetarianism are also elaborated throughout many traditions such as Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana and Western Buddhism. There are differences in the view of vegetarianism among traditions. However, they have the same approach and value of the Buddha’s teachings. The main point is to release suffering for all living beings and develop compassion to others. Vegetarianism is the way that helps the follower in Buddhism to reach enlightenment and liberate all beings from suffering. Lastly, some explanations for Buddhist vegetarians to become activism are mentioned to demonstrate the contribution of Buddhist’s perspective towards environmental issues for the lives of animals. The reason are identified as the main doctrines and principles in Buddhism focuses on the interdependent relationships, the responsibility of an action, the practice of mindfulness and the achievement of peace in mind as well as in other beings’ relations.


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