Becoming a vegetarian is the single most effective thing that a single individual can do to inhibit global warming. It dwarfs the impact of switching light bulbs from incandescent to fluorescent or LEDs, driving more fuel efficient cars, using Energy Star appliances, and so on.
Some researchers report that seven acres of land are needed to support the lifestyle of a meat-eater and only one acre of land is needed to support a vegetarian. Other reports peg the acreage needed to support a meat-eater at seventeen acres.
A vegetarian eats the bounty of the land directly; a meat eater eats cows and other animals that are fed that same bounty and ninety percent of that bounty goes to support the animal. In other words, ninety percent of the food that could have been eaten by people winds up as manure.
And that manure does not go into sewage treatment plants; it goes into lakes and rivers that cities use to draw drinking water, driving up the costs of cleaning that water and causing dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and other parts of the world’s oceans.
There is considerable disagreement among researchers as to how many gallons of water are required to produce a pound of beef. It depends on where the animal is raised. However, most researchers have agreed that a good rough estimate is that it takes about 2500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef and 250 gallons to produce a pound of tofu, and about 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat.
Tofu provides about the same amount of protein per ounce as does beef yet it contains no cholesterol, the animal fat that clogs human arteries and causes strokes and heart attacks.
Carnivorous animals have little or no sweat glands; they pant to cool off. Herbivorous animals have sweat glands. Humans fall into the herbivore category.
A carnivore cannot swing its jaw from side to side as a cow does when chewing its cud. A carnivore jaw goes up and down only. Human jaws are herbivore jaws.
Every tooth in the mouth of a carnivore is a fang; there are no molars and no incisors for biting into fruit. Put a grape into a cat’s mouth and the cat will chew vigorously – and the grape will pop out, unscathed.
Herbivores include leaf and grass eaters like cows, horses, and giraffes to name a few. Every tooth in the mouth of a leaf and grass eater is a molar. The length of the digestive system of a leaf and grass eater is twelve (12) times the length of its body.
Herbivores further include nut and fruit eaters; they have incisors, not fangs, in the front of their mouths for biting into fruits and nuts. They have molars in the back for grinding the food that has been bitten off. Their digestive systems are about ten times the length of their bodies. Humans and gorillas fall into this category of herbivores.
The saliva of a carnivore is acidic and that of an herbivore is alkaline. However, a human friend of mine insists that his saliva is acidic. His diet is almost one hundred percent meat and I don’t know if that has turned his saliva acidic or if some humans really do have acidic saliva. This is where the argument that humans are omnivores begins.
However, carnivores can eat meat without developing heart trouble. Humans handle meat poorly at best; we are herbivores who eat omnivorously and that doesn’t make us omnivores.
A human cannot pounce on a live chicken and eat it. Nor can we attack a cow and eat it without cooking it first. Put a baby chicken and a grape by a human baby and the baby will eat the grape every time. It is not in our nature to kill and eat live animals. We ingest them only because the slaughterhouses are hidden from view, the meat is served up in an altered state, and McDonald’s is a clean and snappy place, a hap-hap-happy place.
Put a grape and a baby chicken next to a carnivore and see what happens.
Why are coyotes now over-running cities in the eastern U.S., wiping out local cat and small dog populations? Because the meat industry successfully lobbied the federal government to rid the west of mountain lions, wolves, and other predators so that cattle ranchers could increase their profits. When the wolves were eliminated, at taxpayer expense, the coyote population sky-rocketed because it was the wolves who kept the coyote population in check. With the wolves gone, the coyotes’ numbers have become so high they have had to migrate.
Methane gas is more than twenty times as powerful as carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming. The vast herds of animals created to supply the meat-eaters with their wasteful, disease-causing food emit enormous amounts of methane. If meat were off the menu, the size of these herds would dwindle.
Eating meat is an irresponsible and stupid behavior.
We won’t even dwell on the horror and cruelty of the slaughterhouse.
The world is not overpopulated with vegetarians. It is overpopulated with meat-eaters. If the human species were to eat in accordance with its own inherent instincts, following its own Dao (Tao), the earth could support about nine billion people, a full fifty percent more than it supports in the early years of the 21st century.
We can take a gradual route if we can’t become a vegetarian overnight. We can be a vegetarian one day per week. Before long, we’ll want to add a second day, and a third…Burger King has a tasty veggie burger, as does Chili’s and many other places. See the Go Veggie 1 Day a Week campaign.
Every grocery store carries meat substitutes. We can order a Thai dish and get it with veggies and tofu instead of chicken and shrimp. We can get a vegetarian cookbook. We can join our local vegetarian meet-up and get some recipes.
Vegetarians eat a wider assortment of food than do meat-eaters. It’s not just salads! The tofu, eggplant, pasta, bread, rice, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies and other delicious items are so much better than the bodies of slaughtered animals. Soon we will wonder how we were ever able to eat blood and guts.
Sarah Ball of PBS interviewed a famous chef in September of 2009:
Ball: You have an almost Buddhist respect for food, especially meat.
Chef: The nature of human beings is to eat meat and fruits and vegetables, and therefore we have to kill animals. I don’t have a problem with that. But it’s a sacred moment. It’s a gift of life. When we kill a lobster here, I always say, do it humanely. I don’t want the lobster to have pain. If you burn the lobster or you totally over salt it or don’t do a good job, you don’t pay homage to that life. It’s an insult. (end of quote)
That chef does not have a Buddhist respect for food. The nature of human beings is not to eat meat. Unlike a carnivorous animal, we can not run up to a cow or pig, bring it down, clamp our mouths around its neck until it suffocates, and then go to work on eating the contents of its belly. Unlike a cat or dog, we can’t pounce on a chicken, tear its feathers off and chow down. We can’t pull live fish from the water like a bear and bolt them down.
It is against our nature to eat carnivorously. No carnivore cooks its food to disguise it the way we do. We have to cook dead bodies because if we don’t, we are too disgusted to eat them.
A McDonald’s commercial showed hamburgers popping up from gardens and happy little kids picking them like blueberries and eating them. If kids could see how hamburgers are made, they would become vegetarians.
Veganism comes next; it comes naturally as we become more subtle. Look at the coarse people at the state fair eating those big turkey legs. So what if they pray over their slaughtered food? Does that make it all better? Or do spiritual stupidity and the callous, uncaring mind that goes with it become manifest in one’s food choices?
The Hare Krishna organization has a great painting of a man with an axe raised high over his head, poised to bring it down on the neck of a cow. The cow looks up at him with a face that is beginning to look like the face of a man, and the face of the man is beginning to look like the face of a cow…a great explanation of how karma (the law of cause and effect) works.
How hard is it to uphold the first precept? Some of us are lucky and do it with no effort. Others have convinced themselves that they are not subject to the law of karma. I received a notice from a Zen center in the U.S., sent by mass email, to join them for turkey at their annual Thanksgiving feast. I wrote back, saying that the turkey was a tofu turkey, right, and was disgusted by the reply. When I asked why their Zen center does not follow the precepts, they replied that another Zen center in the U.S. also has the bodies of slaughtered turkeys on its menu. And thus I learned that it is OK for one Zen center to violate the precepts as long as another Zen center is also violating the precepts.
Those two Zen centers do not need any slip and fall insurance. The law of gravity does not apply in those places, and that reduces their public liability insurance premiums. I used to think that the law of karma was like the law of gravity; gravity never quits and it can never be turned off. I was wrong. There is no karma and no gravity at those two Zen practice centers. They have transcended such petty concerns. Congratulations to the Roshis of those Centers for having transcended the laws of karma and gravity. Unless those turkeys were placed in their begging bowls as they made their rounds.
One of the Roshis sent me a snippy retort, telling me that I was “attached to vegetarianism” and needed to get over it. I guess it never occurred to that Roshi that one can be attached to eating the dead bodies of slaughtered sentient beings. Until we wake up and realize our inherent Buddha nature, we are stuck with attachments. Would the Buddha recommend that we attach to meat-eating? And “get over” the first precept?
What a pity that the Buddha Dharma in the United States has fallen to such a mundane level. Those who violate the First Precept lash out at those who don’t and make ludicrous, feeble efforts to put the followers of the Buddha Dharma on the defensive.
Those who teach that the First Precept may be violated at will, as if the law of karma were no longer in effect, are false teachers. The law of karma will no longer be in effect when the law of gravity is no longer in effect. False teachers are bound for a sojourn in the Hell of Pulling Out Tongues (that’s a traditional Buddhist hell, reserved for those who teach false doctrines. Teaching that the first precept may be ignored qualifies as teaching a false doctrine, I think).
If we can uphold the First Precept, the others should not be too hard to follow. If we really want to follow the Ten Cardinal Precepts, we will memorize and repeat them daily. Then we have to really follow all ten of them. Unless we are a self-proclaimed Roshi.
Some would argue that such criticism violates the sixth and ninth precepts, especially since it is directed at two U. S. Roshis who have done a lot of good work for the Buddhadharma. However, it is not mere fault-finding or mere back-biting to point out that a certain practice violates the precepts. Otherwise, charlatans could promote any evil path and be free of criticism. If a Roshi puts slaughtered animals on a Thanksgiving table, who is teaching the Buddhadharma? Who will dispel the darkness with a torch that has burned out?
One of the Roshis argued that to bring the Buddhadharma to the masses requires meeting them on their own terms. “If we try to stuff vegetarianism down their throats, they won’t listen to the Buddhadharma.” I get it; first you dilute the Buddhadharma, then you teach it. I guess you then try to undilute it at a later date. Why not just toss all the precepts while you are at it? That will get more people into the tent, for sure. We can all sit around, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, eating animals, and enjoying “anything goes” Zen. What a cool religion.
Let’s have three cheers for false teachers, in Chinese:
Phooey! Phooey! Phooey!
The Chinese have a saying: When spirituality disappears, morality appears. When morality disappears, ethics appears. When ethics disappears, law appears.
To that we can add: When wisdom disappears, foolishness appears. When A Zen teacher says: Eat this meat, spirituality has disappeared.
This old saying apparently developed in part from the eighteenth verse of the Dao de Jing (Tao Te Ching):
The mighty Way declined among the folk
And then came kindness and morality.
When wisdom and intelligence appeared,
They brought with them a great hypocrisy.
The six relations were no more at peace,
so laws were made to regulate our homes.
The fatherland grew dark, confused by strife:
Official loyalty became the style.
It also developed in part from this part of verse 38 of the same work:
Truly, once the Way is lost,
There comes then virtue;
Virtue lost, comes then compassion;
After that morality;
And when that’s lost, there’s etiquette,
The husk of all good faith,
The rising point of anarchy.
There are numerous Buddhist passages where someone would say to the Buddha: “It is my understanding that The World-Honored One has taught (such-and-such)” and the Buddha would reply: “Foolish man, from whom did you learn such nonsense?” I believe that if the Buddha walked among us today, he would say to those meat-eating Roshis: “Foolish Roshis, from whom did you learn such nonsense?”
In The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as The Platform Sutra), the sixth and last official Chinese patriarch of Zen, we find the following passage:
He who treads the Path in earnest
Sees not the mistakes of the world.
If we find fault with others,
We ourselves are also in the wrong.
When other people are in the wrong,
We should ignore it,
For it is wrong for us to find fault.
By getting rid of the habit of fault-finding,
We cut off a source of defilement.
When neither hatred nor love disturbs our mind,
Serenely we sleep.
If we choose to teach Buddhism by feeding the dead bodies of slaughtered sentient beings to our students, we haven’t taught Buddhism at all. How can one teach the Buddhadharma if one does not follow the Buddhadharma?
Such denunciation is not an outgrowth of habitual fault-finding; false teachers love nothing more than the silence of the intimidated. Even Hui Neng would denounce false teachers. It is habitual fault-finding that is a defilement. When a Roshi promotes meat-eating, remaining silent is Wrong Speech.
Moreover, Hui Neng was probably referring to the act of finding fault in those who do not pretend to be enlightened. Of course we must refrain from finding fault in those who make no pretension of being fault-free.
I don’t think Hui Neng was telling us to avoid fault-finding in self-proclaimed Roshis who hold themselves out as enlightened beings. Those who teach by example are false teachers when they teach precept-breaking by example. How are they different from non-Buddhists if they manifest their lives in the same way that the unenlightened do?
I neither hate nor love those false teachers, and I do sleep serenely.