Sunday, November 10, 2013



It is not difficult to find the full range of online and print responses, from utter condemnation to broad approval for hunting, fishing and other animal husbandry activities. I’d like to post a few remarks from our perspective as a sangha located in our Renfrew County. Here is an economy which relies on animal husbandry industry and where seasonal hunting and fishing thrive. The County is dotted with dairy, beef, pork and poultry operations. The County virtually shuts down in mid-November when hunting starts. These activities contribute economically but also, perhaps more importantly, contribute food to many families. For these reasons, we can’t simply make some broad ahistorical moral judgement and say they have to be banned because they lead to suffering.

Let’s consider a few points:
1. Buddhism avoids blanket “thou shall/not..” moralizing. Of course it promotes non-harm (a-himsa), compassion (karuna) and what is called wholesome action, in general. In some orders and in some nations, Buddhists, especially monks and nuns are required to be vegetarian and to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid harming living beings (see #3 below). But Buddhism reminds us , monks or not, that all our actions occur within the flow of karma. Therefore, any harming of living beings, either deliberate (eg. hunting, trapping, killing mice in the basement) or tangential  (Eg. Working in the fur industry, buying/eating animal meat for food), has some form of consequence for us. I won’t wade into an explanation of karma here, but only to remind us that karma is not an accounting system where any given act gets “paid for” with any given consequence. Our participation in an harming behaviour requires a certain de-sensitizing on our parts, de-sensitizing us to the suffering of other beings. This penetrates our lives and will sets us up to be less sensitive, compassionate and attentive in other parts of life. This will encourage the kind of self-focused behaviour that leads to our sense of dissatisfaction in the first place. This will keep us blinded to our true being. That is a compromise we have to be aware of and enter into at our own peril.
2. A very wise teacher of mine, who grew up on an American animal-raising farm, notes that human beings are, from a Buddhist perspective, a special class of beings, separate from animals. However, he also adds that in practical terms we remain members of the family of mammals, those who are both hunters and the hunted. Part of the circumstance of our lives as conditioned beings is the necessity that, in some way, large or small, we are part of the network of hunting/hunted. This distressful situation is intimately part of the suffering we find ourselves facing and seeking to escape. He advises that it is not whether we kill but how we live with that.
3. In some Buddhist nations there is a distinction between certain kinds of animals -vertebrates, for example, who are considered “beings” and must be avoided for food. On the contrary, others, like fish or crustaceans, say shrimps or molluscs, like clams, don’t belong to the class of sentient beings, that is, they do not experience suffering, and can be consumed. Some distinguish between beef and deer, goats and dogs. This seems like hair-splitting and self-serving.
On the other hand, vegetarian living and avoidance of animal keeping is limited to some countries , and in others is limited to clergy. In Sri Lanka, a Theravada nation, Buddhists don’t have much of an animal industry, whereas, in Tibet, a Vajrayana country, vegetable crops are weather prohibitive and meat eating and dairy farming is necessary for survival. The general public are not condemned for this since they are considered lesser practitioners than clergy. In most Asian/Buddhist nations, the avoidance of meat raising/eating is as much an economic decision as a moral one.
All of this to say, any prohibitions against animal husbandry, meat-eating and hunting/fishing is very complex for us as Buddhists. There is no universal ban to compare with Jewish/Muslim bans on pork and shellfish. Each practitioner needs to delve into the issue as part of our examination of the form of all of our life activities.

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