Lotus Buddhism / FAQ / Nichiren Buddhism and Vegetarianism

Nichiren Buddhism and Vegetarianism

Traditional views in various societies tend to merge the image of “Buddhist” as being “Vegetarian”.  Where did this idea come from?

Tracing back the history of Buddhism, we find that the Brahmin, or “the seekers of the truth” in ancient India - where Shakyamuni Buddha lived – were all devoted individuals who chose to dwell in forests and retreats, spending their time in deep meditation and in teachings of their disciples.  The daily life-energy they needed for their body to operate was well acquired by eating fruits and vegetables.   Differently from other classes of society, they regarded killing of animals as unnecessary and as an action of cruelty.

It is the act of cruelty that Buddhism opposes. 

Animals do not have to experience pain at death. There are examples of some African tribes’ hunters, who tranquilize their prey by saturating the arrow they use with chemicals derived from plants, so that the animal would not feel pain or consciousness at death.  Prevention of pain and sufferings – even in the human tradition of hunting animals – is a mark of human compassion and care.

Buddhism is for all humanity

At the same time, Buddhism is not a teaching for a specific category of people, such as those who meditate in retreats, or monks in temples. It is a teaching for all humanity.  There are billions of people whose diet is based on the meat industry - and those people cannot be excluded from attaining enlightenment as they are - depending on what they eat.  Buddhism is not about food diet, it is about overcoming hardships and attaining enlightenment. It is possible to remove harm and prevent cruelty - so that animals do not have to experience pain at death.

Nichiren’s teachings against cruelty

Nichiren considers as evil any action intended at cruelty and harm.  Cruelty against animals is evil.  In modern terms, as Buddhists, we should support social movements acting against aggression and violence towards animals.  At the same time, we should ensure that the food industry is regulated to prevent cruelty and pain. 

Putting animals to death is completely justified in cases of medical necessity (many animals are euthanized to ease their sufferings when being sick).  It is also a necessity  to reduce the number of ferral animals in order to protect the food industry (based on farming and growing vegetables).  However, as it is the case in administering tranquilizers in culling of animals (aimed at protecting the vegetable food industry) - putting animals to death can be done in the meat industry without the animals feeling pain. This is practically possible, and belongs to the responsibility of relevant authorities to enforce. 

Buddhism is reason, and its spirit is that of transformation.  It would be hypocrisy and lack of wisdom to ignore the fact that millions of people are in need of the meat industry for their survival.  Buddhist compassion is not just for animals but towards all people as well.  It is against Buddhism to create tension and accusation dividing humanity into two categories of people: vegetarians and no-vegetarians. 

Providing practical solutions, such as eliminating pain of animals in the food industry, and also providing more creative and cheap food solutions based on vegetables - this would be a solution, which can minimise or eliminate harm to animals.

Acknowledging diversity of people

A great number of individuals were born in societies, which consume meat for food.  Human societies are diverse in their ways of seeking survival and growth of their children.  As the Lotus Sutra states:

“living beings have different natures, different desires, different actions, and different ways of thinking” Lotus Sutra Ch. 16 p. 267  Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching for all humanity, it encompasses all people as they are, regardless of their personal differences or ways of life style. 

In fact, Nichiren makes it clear that all of his followers who chant NamMyohoRengeKyo should transcend all differences among themselves.  He makes this a rule, and warns against using any categorization, which differentiate between people based on their personal choices:

“if any of Nichiren’s disciples disrupt the unity of many in body but one in mind,

they would be like warriors who destroy their own castle from within.” WND1 p.217

Buddhism does not condition attaining enlightenment by the type of menu or diet of practitioners, and is against differentiating between people, or dividing the society into whatever categories of classification.

Meat consumption does not necessitate cruelty

Cruelty has no justification - and the meat industry can be regulated so that animals can pass into the phase of death without being consciously aware - and without any pain.  Avoiding cruelty is possible, and it is an expression of the level of awareness and compassion of the community we live in.  (It is compassion itself that requires that sometimes animals are put to death to stop their sufferings, and this is administered by putting them into a deep sleep). 

Vegetarianism does not relate to spirituality. 

There are examples of vegetarian monks who were involved in actions of violence.  In Nichiren writings we find records of Buddhist monks, all traditionally vegetarians – who, while observing the precepts of not killing animals - they were involved in killing people (with “armed priests” shooting arrows at their opponents):

 “Then the chief priest [Myōun] and his disciples employed all the rites

of the True Word teachings in their prayers to vanquish the enemy

and even ordered their armed priests to shoot arrows at the Minamoto soldiers”.

WND 1 p. 795

“ I am vegetarian, but I work in the meat industry! How to reconcile this?”

This question was asked by a youth in one Soka discussion meetings, sincerely concerned about her situation as being vegetarian, but has to take work in a restaurant serving hamburgers and other meat based products.  One answer was that Nichiren Buddhism is against creating the feeling of guilt in people.

We cannot demand society to change its rules to suit our thinking.  Meat industry is covered by government regulations to ensure procedures to prevent cruelty and pain in animals used in the food chain.  The responsibility in how the animal was treated in the meat industry belongs to relevant authorities, who can do something about it, and not to people who are working in restaurants.  It is the responsibility of social authorities to ensure no cruelty was practiced in the meat industry and it is our civil right to demand steps to be taken in that direction. 

The karmic effects of any action return to those who committed the action.  Therefore, the karmic effect of action against animals returns to those who committed cruelty. 

Buddhism does not support creating guilt or dividing people into categories of “spiritual hierarchy” depending on the type of food consumption.