The Buddha said, ‘Ananda, I allow the Bhikshus to eat five types of pure meat. The meat is transformed by me and they are lifeless. The lands of the Brahmin are hot and wet. The earth composes mostly of sand and stone and it is difficult to grow grass and vegetables. With my great spiritual power of compassion meat is transformed and you can taste the flesh.’
In this paragraph the Buddha talked about killing which includes meat eating. The Buddha had made the prediction that in the Dharma Ending Age many so called good teachers advise people to eat meat. They say that eating meat is the attainment of the Bodhi Path. They say by eating meat helps us to maintain a healthy body to practise the bodhisattva path. The Buddha knows that in the Dharma Ending Age there are many such deviant living beings who hold on to this evil views. That is why the Buddha needs to clarify this way of thinking. In this sutra, the Buddha clearly stated his views on meat eating. The Buddha said, ‘I allow the bhikshus to eat five types of pure meat. 1. Do not see the killing. 2. Do not hear the screams of the animals. 3. Have no suspicion that the animals are killed for me 4. The animals die naturally. 5. The remainder flesh eaten by birds. With the fulfilment of these five causes and conditions, it means that the bhikshus obtain the meat without creating the causes and conditions of killing, that the bhikshus are not connected to the animals’ death. And the hidden meaning is that the meat is the Buddha’s spiritual transformation. It is not a life form. Why did the Buddha use his spiritual power to transform the meat? The Buddha said in the lands of the Brahmin, which refers to India, the climate was hot and wet, with lots of rain. The atmosphere is wet and damp. Moreover, the land is covered with stones and sands which are unsuitable for the growth of vegetables. In this situation, if the Buddha does not allow the bhikshus to eat the five types of meat, the bhikshus would find it difficult to sustain their life. So with this mind of great compassion the Buddha transformed the five types of meat for bhikshus to eat. But nowadays people say since the Buddha allows bhikshus to eat the five pure meats so we can eat meat too. Great Master Venerable OuYi pointed out this problem and gave the following explanation, ‘People argue that if the Buddha does not allow us to eat meat, why does not he transform some vegetables so that there would be no misunderstanding in future?’ The Venerable explained, ‘When the Buddha entered the world, there should not be all kinds of strange happenings. Everything should be as normal and proper. If before the birth of the Buddha, there was no vegetable in India. When the Buddha was born, all the vegetables appeared. After his entrance into Nirvana all the vegetables disappeared. The people would feel very strange. And in the Buddha’s teaching he does not encourage such strange phenomena. The Buddha enters the world and he will not change the false appearance of the world. As it is stated in the Vajra Sutra, ‘A bodhisattva contemplates all dharma as empty yet he does not deny the false appearance.’ The Buddha has to act in accord with the causes and conditions of living beings.
After the Buddha had explained the five pure meats he continued to say,
‘It is a wrong interpretation that after the Buddha has entered Nirvana the living beings eat the meat and called themselves the Sakya’s disciples. All of you should know this, “For the meat eaters, even though they seem to attain the Samadhi, that their mind seems to open up, they are still called the great rakshasa. At their death bed they will surely fall into the great seas of birth and death. They are not the Buddha disciples. For such people there is no ending in killing each other, there is no ending in swallowing one another other and there is no ending in eating each other, how could they leave the triple realms?” ’
Now the Buddha has already entered Nirvana and there is no more five pure meat. So where to get the five pure meats to eat? And living beings say they are eating the five pure meats. How can we call such people the Buddha disciples who cultivate the Sagely Noble Path?
Why does the Buddha say people who eat meat are not the Buddha disciples? He says a cultivator who always eats meat even if he seems go attain some clarity in mind which means he has wide learning in the Dharma, he seems to be replete with some knowledge and views, he seems to have some kinds of Samadhi, the merits and virtues of concentration yet he is known as a big rakshasa. In the precept books, the Buddha seldom uses such harsh description on his disciples. For example in the bodhisattva precepts, a man knows the precepts yet he is transgressing the precepts. The harsh word the Buddha used to describe him is a deluded man, that he is not different from the animals, not different from the wood and stone. He has no proper judgement and decision. But in this Sutra the Buddha says such a man is a rakshasa, a rakshasa who has wide learning, a rakshasa who dwells in meditation. This is a big rakshasa. Such a man will sink into the suffering seas of birth and death. Upon his death, he will fall down into the three evil paths, the realms of ghosts and spirits. The first grade becomes the Great strength ghost King, the second grade is the flying rakshasa while the lowest grade the ground walking rakshasa. As he has already destroyed his Bodhi good roots he is not a Buddha disciple. Even though he still bows to the Buddha daily, recites the mantra but he has already destroyed his Bodhi good roots. This man who eats meat, who swallows flesh does not have the opportunity to put to extinction the cause and effect of retribution. As he continues to eat meat, he owes living beings the debts of killing. How can he leave the triple realm? When will he finish paying back these debts?
The Buddha continued to say, ‘You should teach people who cultivate the Samadhi to abstain from killing in the next step. This is known as the Thus Come One, the past Buddha World Honoured One second resolute, pure and clear instruction.’
Here is the conclusion of the Buddha asking the Honoured One Ananda to pass down this proper instruction to the future generations. Those who learn the Great Vehicle Samadhi should sever killing in the second step of cultivation as stated in the Shurangama Sutra, one must first sever the mind of sexual desire and secondly the mind of killing. Why does the Buddha call the meat eater a great rakshasa? In the Brahman Net Sutra it states clearly, ‘A man who eats meat severs his seed of Buddha nature. He loses the great kindness and compassion. All the living beings see him will leave him.’ At first you are a man with a mind of kindness and compassion. But when you eat meat every day, your kindness and compassion will gradually disappear. Some people say, ‘The meat and the wine just pass through my intestine but the Buddha is sitting in my mind.’ This kind of saying is nonsensical. This is because when you eat the meat and drink the wine, the rakshasa is sitting in your mind. What is meant by the destruction of the mind of great kindness and compassion? In the teaching of consciousness only, it states that our body and mind are closely inter-related. The mind will influence the body and the body will affect the mind. In the Shastra of the Mirror Sect, Venerable Master Yong Ming told us a story.
He said, ‘When the Buddha was in the world, there was a group of bhikshus who cultivated diligently in the mountain forests. Many of them attained the four types of fruitions Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami and Arahant after cultivating for three months during the Rain retreat. The monkeys in the forest witnessed that the bhikshus were sitting in meditation diligently cultivating the path. They were very happy and they offered them beautiful flowers and sweet fruits. After attaining the Sagely Path the bhikshus left and travelled on. The deviant cultivators came to the same place and found that it was a quiet place. So they settled down to practise. The monkeys saw the new comers and offered flowers and fruits too. But the monkeys found that these people were practising differently. Comparatively the bhikshus were sitting upright and looked very serene. While the new cultivators were standing on one foot, others were lying down and performed many kinds of actions. The monkeys got angry on seeing this and they forced the deviant practisers to sit down properly, to cross the legs and forced them to place the palms in the Dharma Realm Meditative Seal. At first the deviant practisers tried to fight back but they could not overcome such a big group of monkeys and decided to sit in meditation. And they found this method is truly good as many of them attained the first dhyana, the second, third and fourth dhyana. So Great Master Yong Ming said in the Mirror Sect Shastra, that our body will affect our mind. When the deviant cultivators were practising on their own at the beginning stage, none of them attained dhyana as their mind was scattered in confusion. So when we eat meat, this belongs to the bodily actions. But our five skandhas of body and mind are all inter-related. The body will affect the mind while the mind will affect the body. As we know when we learn the Shramanera awesome deportment, our posture will affect the calmness of our mind. When we conduct ourselves properly, the mind will be calm and still. That is why the Buddha criticized those meat-eaters.
In the next paragraph the Buddha gave the instructions on the problems of meat eating. The Buddha gave the following analogy, ‘if a man does not stop killing and he continues to practise the meditation, he resembles the man who screams loudly and covers up both his ears with his hands, expecting others not to hear his screams. This is known as trying to to cover up one’s faults yet his faults are most prominent.’
In the Shurangama Sutra it is said that if a man does not sever the mind of killing which means he continues to eat meat, wear and use other parts of the animals. When he continues to cultivate the great vehicle Samadhi, it is as though he covers up his ears, screams loudly and he expects others not to hear his voice. He wishes to cover up his faults and his faults are much clearly seen by others. It is impossible for him to leave the triple realm.
‘A pure bhikshu or a bodhisattva will not even step on the grass when he walks on the wild path, what is more for him to pulls up the grass? So how can he with a mind of great compassion eat the meat and drink the blood of living beings?’
Here the Buddha says that a bhikshu who upholds the pure precepts or a pure bodhisattva while walking in the small path in the remote area will not even step on the wild grass. A Buddha disciple will take care of the grass also. It is impossible for him to use his hand to pull up the growing grass. So how could a Buddha disciple who cultivates the mind of great compassion eat the flesh and drink the blood of living beings?
The Buddha continues to say, ‘If a bhikshu does not wear the silky materials and silk products in the east, the leathery and fur products on this land, partaking the dairy products such as milk and cheese, such a bhikshu is truly liberated from the world. He is here to pay all his past debts and he will no longer roam in the triple realms. Why is this so? If one eats and wears the products of the animals, one is creating an affinity with them. Just like a man who eats the various types of grains from the ground, his feet are able to leave the ground.’
The Buddha instructed us that if we wish to sever killing, we have to put a stop to three types of causes and conditions. A bhikshu who cultivates meditation should not wear, use or eat the animals products. In the east refers to China. China produces all kinds of silk, such as the plain silk, the fine silk, silk products such as the silk blankets, silk handkerchief and lastly the mixture of silk with other raw materials. The production of silk involves heavy killing. The next thing we have to stop killing is the use of fur and leather products. For examples the shoes which are make from leather, the clothes which are made from animal skin, fur and feathers. The last one the Buddha mentions is the dairy products. The first stage of milk is directly from the animals. After processing they become the cheese and fine cheese. According to Venerable Great Master Ou Yi’s explanation, the heaviest killing involves the process of silk making. The use of silk product is prohibited in both the great and small vehicles teaching. The use of leathers, furs are not allowed in the great vehicle. In the small vehicle conditions are set for limited usage. This is medium killing. Cheese and milk are allowed to use only in the case of serious illness in both the small and great vehicles. A bhikshu who does not eat, wear or use the animal products are considered having attained genuine liberation. In this life he is able to pay the debts of killing and he does not create new karma of killing. He will no longer roam in the triple realms. Why does the Buddha say this? It is because if we use their products, we are creating new affinities with them. The use of the animal products, the eating of their flesh is to create the karmic bonds with these animals. We will be unable to detach ourselves from the karmic strength. The animals will one day be born in the family, to be sons or daughters to clear this debt of killing.
The Buddha gives the analogy of a man who eats the grains planted on the ground and he is unable to leave this earth. He said once the heavenly beings from the Heaven of Light and Sound in the beginning of kalpas flew to the earth with their spiritual power. When they landed on the earth they found that the earth was covered with layers of rich and delicious food. They enjoyed eating the food so much, that their feet were attached to the ground and they lost their spiritual power to fly back to the heaven. They ate the food from the land and created the affinity with the land. As such they could no longer fly back. So when we eat the products of animals, we will have no means to leave them. When the living beings transmigrate in the six paths, we will just have to follow them in transmigration!
The Buddha concluded, ‘We should abstain the eating and use of animal products so that our body and mind will be detached from the affinities with them. I pronounce such a man is truly liberated.’
We who desire to leave the triple realms should pay attention to this teaching. We must be able to know the activities of this body, and the activities in our mind. A man who practises this way will be easy to leave the triple gem.
The Buddha concluded, ‘If you speak as what I have spoken, this is known as the teaching of the Buddha. If you do not speak as what I have spoken, this is known as the teaching of the Mara.’
If we speak as what is mentioned above, this is the proper dharma eyes store of the Buddha. If we go against the meaning as mentioned above, this is the evil views and knowledge of the Mara. In our study of the precept a question was put forward on the abstention in the use of the wool. The Buddha forbids us to use wool even though it does not involve the killing of goats. If we create affinities with them it will hinder us from leaving the triple realm.
Once upon a time, a Zen Master was walking to an ancient village. He saw a family busy preparing for a wedding ceremony. After seeing this, he said the following verses,
‘Living beings in the Saha World are full of sufferings,
The grandson marries the grandmother,
The cows and goats are sitting around the table,
Six kinds of closed relatives are boiled in the pot.’
In the world of transmigration, living beings are suffering continually. In the past before the grandmother passed away, she could not let go of her grandson. So she came back to be his wife to take care of him. The goats and cows they had eaten were their relatives now, who came to attend the wedding feast. The six types of relatives who had eaten the flesh of animals were born as animals, slaughtered and cooked in the pot. This is the karmic retribution of killing in the process of transmigration.
Venerable Master pointed out the importance of being a vegetarian besides reciting the Buddha name is based on the teaching in the Shurangama Sutra. A pure land cultivator wishes that he will have no obstruction at his dead bed. Just like a man who wishes to jump from one place to another, it is best for him to carry very little luggage so that it will not hinder him when he is to leave the triple realm. This means we must try our best to lighten our karma before we die. The safest way is to practise in accord with the Buddha’s teaching, to abstain from killing. The Buddha says he is a genuine disciple who has attained liberation.
Dharma talk by Venerable Master Shi Jing Jie on The Shurangama Sutra