Is eating meat un-Buddhist?

16 August, 2007 – Legs and torsos of cows and pigs dangle on a hook. On a bloody table is a skinned goat, stomach cut open, teeth bared. Pieces of meat are stuck on the hands, arms, shirts, and pants of the butcher with the carving knife. Inches away from the table are the hordes of Thimphu residents, their mouths in waters, waiting in line to get their hands on the best meat, which are usually the thighs because it has less fat. In Bhutan known for its breathtaking mountains, Buddhist temples, saints, and prayer flags at every bend, the sight seems incongruous. Yet the Bhutanese have always had a strong, if not slightly obsessed, affinity towards meat. In the vegetable market and meat shops customers with prayer beads around their neck haggle for nearly every animal part – feet, brains, lungs, pancreas, tongue. At banquets, guests are served such delicacies as an ox’s heart or pig’s lungs.

During a religious ceremony, monks pay homage to god while a steaming paa sizzle in front of him. Some Bhutanese proudly declare, as if as an achievement, that he can’t possibly survive without meat in his tseom. No celebrations or festivals are complete without meat. Indeed no meal is full without meat. Meat is a part and parcel of Bhutanese Buddhist tradition.

In 2005-2006 Thimphu alone consumed about 1,200 metric tonnes of imported beef say the Bhutan Agriculture Food Regulatory Authority. That is, roughly, 9,200 cows killed. In the previous year, the Phuentsholing slaughterhouse skinned 15,500 cows, nearly all of which were sold in Thimphu.

In the same year, Bhutan imported more than 1,000 metric tonnes of pork – 12,000 pigs killed. Several more hundred tonnes of chicken, fish, and goat meat were also imported. Thimphu, officials said, was its main market. The food regulatory authority said the figures did not reflect the meat that the hotels and private individuals bought from outside and from locals inside the country.Bhutanese are, of course, not the world’s only and, certainly, not the largest carnivores. In other countries, people have an unsentimental attitude when it comes to animals. In some countries, anything that can be eaten usually is.

In Bhutan it’s the paradox of being a Buddhist and a heavy meat eater. So the question: Is eating meat un-Buddhist?

According to Lopon Pemala, a Buddhist scholar and the former Paro

museum director, “eating meat to maintain the body is not a sin” and Buddhist school of thoughts from Hinayana to Mahayana to Vajrayana generally allow it. Then again it refers to meat from animals died of natural cause, not killed.For one to qualify eating slaughtered animals, he or she must avoid animals slaughtered specifically for his consumption in which he or she is a witness; or if one has heard or doubted that the animal was slaughtered to provide meat for him or herself. Thus the meat sold in the market or in meat shops, according to Lopon Pemala, was “allowed because the animal has not been slaughtered for a specific person.” Still there are others like Bhutan’s cultural secretary, Dasho Sangay Wangchuk, who says: “There shouldn’t be any greed or desire when one eats meat. It should be solely eaten for survival.”

By Sonam Pelden, Kuensel

 Is eating meat un-Buddhist?

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