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Becoming a Vegetarian
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Becoming a Vegetarian

It’s midnight. Sitting alone with a cup of tea in my hand, I came to enjoy the silent beauty of the chilly evening; my mind that had been tangled by trifling affairs during the past few days gradually settled down.

The book Letters on Great Compassion by the renowned master Shagyatso Zhirangzhu sat silently near me, calling for my attention. Despite my surging physical tiredness, I reached out and started reading in the dim light this book that had once struck me deeply. Soon my ruffled mind was soothed and heartened by the earnest advice; I immersed myself once again in the chapters that admonish killing and advocate vegetarianism.

Closing the book, I let my mind run free: Beings in the animal kingdom have been humans’ closest companions. The lakes with sparkling ripples, the lush emerald pastures, and the deep forests are their abodes, their sweet homes. Generation after generation, animals live in various niches provided by Mother Nature; they have flourished and blended well with heaven and earth, presenting a picture of an easygoing and pleasant world.

Yet humans often rob this peacefulness. The animals, possessing neither weapons nor mighty strength, may have wished eagerly to live harmoniously with humans. However, such a wish is thoroughly crushed like a bubble by the onslaught of humans’ ruthless behavior.

The bleak atrocities inflicted by humans on animals has played out shockingly—their flesh and blood devoured, their young ones butchered. With crimson blood splattered and carcasses littered around, the animals’ old sweet homeland has turned into a scene of utter desolation. Disasters inevitably befall at any moment, the beautiful landscape, enshrouded by fear and misery, soon will fall into darkness. At the same time, the act of the humans’ irresponsible killing constitutes a major cause of world disasters such as famine, epidemics, and wars….

Contemplating on and on, my heart could not but begin to tremble. Shaken, I asked myself, must I, through my eating of meat, become a willing accomplice to those who kill living beings? I scolded myself again and again and I felt the pit of my stomach tighten.

Influenced by the way I was brought up, I have been quite habituated to meat eating. After entering Buddhism, I tried to abstain from meat a number of times, but those attempts were aborted due to various reasons. Even as the wish to become a vegetarian has always been deep in my heart, it has not been powerful enough to crack the castle occupied by the bad habit of meat eating.

To counter my old corrupt habit, recently I reviewed the teachings from former excellent beings on vegetarianism and on prohibitions of taking life. My growing repentance, like an invisible whip, lashed on my recalcitrant mind again and again, and the fire of compassion finally began to flare up in my heart. Pushed by a strong reserve, my dormant wish started to wake up and grow; I could no longer remain indifferent and partake without restraint the flesh of my previous parents.

I made up my mind that from today on, I would refrain from eating meat for a year and, in order to remind others and myself around me, I’ll reflect deeply and write articles on vegetarianism and lifesaving. May the breeze of love blow away hostilities in our hearts; may the warmth of compassion disband the age-old harsh act of taking others’ lives.

In the Paranirvana Sutra, Lankavatara Sutra, and other Mahayana scriptures, as well as in the teachings of eminent beings like Masters Lien Zi and Ying Kuang, there are ample citations of the immense merit of saving lives and the grave fault of meat eating. Master Hong Yi has specifically pointed out:

Animals are no different from us
They are also living beings, only with duller minds.
We should instead be compassionate toward them.
I ask all of us to stop killing and to save animals’ lives
Refraining from eating their flesh, this is called loving all beings.

Love and compassion should be the timeless tradition of humans. But many obstinate Buddhists, I myself included, still remain untouched even as they face volumes of teaching on compassion. Meat eaters satisfy their own palates at the cost of other beings’ lives and sufferings. What makes it worse is that some people with ulterior motives brazenly engage in sacrificing animals and enjoy their flesh and blood, while proclaiming to practice the secret Mantrayana. To be genuine spiritual practitioners, we should ask ourselves: All animals have been our parents previously; if we remain numb when having food made from their flesh and blood, are we claiming it as a sign of having realized the indivisibility of purity and equality?

The distant sky dotted with the Milky Way and beyond reminded me of the coming and going of time and tide. Human civilization has made quantum leaps to new heights; how can we not outgrow the primitive habit of hunting and brutality? In the West today, becoming a vegetarian is a new movement, and I believe this trend will spread all over the world, together with a reduction of killing animals. May the warm breeze of Dharma soon dispel the dark cloud of taking lives, may the sun of compassion rise in the hearts of all beings and shine brilliantly!

7th of October, Year of RenWu
December 11, 2002
Midnight at Ma’erkang

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