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​Why Become a Vegetarian?

People adopt a vegetarian lifestyle for a variety of reasons. While for some, it's to fulfill their vows, for others, it's to have a slim and healthy body; still others, for the sake of the environment and animal welfare. Vegetarianism is closely linked with religious belief and the majority of Buddhists are vegetarians.

For Compassion

Buddhism promotes vegetarianism out of compassion. Giving up meat can help relieve the suffering of animals. Many Buddhist stories and fables illustrate the importance of treating animals with kindness and respect. This core value is founded on the belief that humans and animals are kindred creatures.
Buddhism considers that all beings are sentient and animals are able to perceive or feel emotions. Therefore, it is forbidden to kill and eat animals.  The Lankavatara Sutra clearly states that "In order to guard the minds of all people, Mahamati, let the Bodhisattva whose nature is full of compassion and pity and who is desirous of avoiding censure on the teaching of the Buddha, refrain from eating meat." This passage reveals the connection between the first precept, which is "No-killing", and a vegetarian diet.

For the Environment

If we practice empathy and look at the world from a macro perspective, we will find that, besides the cultivation of compassion, a vegetarian diet can also bring great benefits to the Earth's environment. We are living in a time of multiple crises. Many people believe that ongoing serious environmental problems threaten the earth upon which we depend for our survival. Human beings raise animals for meat and have inevitably caused tremendous ecological problems. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, a book by philosopher Peter Singer which was published in 1995, provides some powerful food for thought: "…one pound of steak from cattle raised in a feedlot costs five pounds of grain, 2,500 gallons of water, the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, and about thirty-five pounds of eroded topsoil." Evidently, raising animals consumes a disproportionate amount of the Earth's natural resources. When multiplied by millions of factory raised animals, it becomes clear that the situation is not sustainable.

For a Better Health

Pesticides and insecticides are widely used today in our environment. Plants are the first organisms to be impacted by such pollutants. Next to be impacted are cows, sheep, pigs, and roosters, consuming the polluted grains and vegetables as the poisons enter their bodies. Finally, humans-- the apex consumers in the food chain--take these chemicals into our bodies. Mad cow disease, which was a problem several years ago, is a kind of zoonosis : a disease that moves between animals and humans. People developed brain-related neurological disorders after eating meat from infected cows. In addition, more and more experts believe that the viruses in foot-and-mouth disease, Avian influenza, and SARS, all came from animals when their variants became pathogenic after entering human bodies. Though we can't blame meat products for all of society's ills, there is no denying the negative relationship between consuming animals and our health. Therefore, which is better: being a meat eater or a vegetarian? The answer is self-evident. 

For a Better World

Vegetarianism in Buddhism originated as a show of respect for all lives, without killing or causing harm, rather than a notion of personal health. It is apparent that the teaching of vegetarianism in early Buddhism served to liberate all sentient beings from mental and physical sufferings. In fact, it can truly be considered  a way to purify our minds, protect our spiritual environment, and safeguard our world.  Today, by being vegetarians, we can achieve better health from the inside out. In addition to caring for ourselves and respecting life, we can also closely integrate our personal life with the world through vegetarianism. In short: for a better earth and healthier life, being a vegetarian is the clear path.

Resource: Issue 264 of Life MagazineDharma Drum Publishing Corporation