Sunday, January 28, 2007

The View is the Final Reference Point

Subsequent to the Wisdom series, Venerable Bhikkhuni Shing Yi has sent us more verses on positive attitude, but this time accompanied by cartoon sketches depicting the action of a young monk, perhaps signifying that it’s best to cultivate these habits from young. As Buddha said, “You are your own master.” So the choice of self reflection or gossip, of engaging in virtue or vice, is all yours, but the benefits of the right choice based on right view/understanding, the every first of the eight noble paths to understanding the Four Noble Truths, are contagious.


Do not gossip while discoursing.
Always reflect on your errant ways in solitude.

The ground,
when planted with vegetables,
makes it tough for weeds to grow;
The heart,
when filled with virtue,
makes it difficult for vice to form.

Speaking of right view, here I would like to share a passage that I have read in the book, What Makes You Not A Buddhist, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (2007, Shambhala, Boston & London):

The View is the Final Reference Point (p. 108-109, Conclusions)

All methods of Buddhism can be explained with the four seals – all compounded phenomena are impermanent, all emotions are pain, all things have no inherent existence, and enlightenment is beyond concepts. Every act and deed encouraged by Buddhist scriptures is based on these four truths, or seals.

In the Mahayana sutras, Buddha advised his followers not to eat meat. Not only is it nonvirtuous to bring direct harm to another being, but the act of eating meat does not complement the four seals. This is because when you eat meat, on some level you are doing it for survival – to sustain yourself. This desire to survive is connected to wanting to be permanent, to live longer at the expense of the life of another being. If putting an animal into your mouth would absolutely guarantee an extension of your life, then, from a selfish point of view, there would be reason to do so. But no matter how many dead bodies you stuff into your mouth, you are going to die one of these days. Maybe even sooner.

One may also consume meat for bourgeois reasons – savoring caviar because it is extravagant, eating tiger’s penises for virility, consuming boiled bird’s nests to maintain youthful-appearing skin. One cannot find a more selfish act than that – for your vanity a life is extinguished. In a reverse situation, we humans cannot even bear a mosquito bite, let alone imagine ourselves confined in crowded cages with our beaks cut off waiting to be slaughtered, along with our family and friends, or being fattened up in a pen to become human burgers.

The attitude that our vanity is worth another’s life is clinging to the self. Clinging to the self is ignorance; and as we have seen, ignorance leads to pain. In the case of eating meat it also causes others to experience pain. For this reason, the Mahayana sutras describe the practice of putting oneself in the place of these creatures and refraining from eating meat out of a sense of compassion. When Buddha prohibited consumption of meat, he meant all meats. He didn’t single out beef for sentimental reasons, or pork because it is dirty, nor did he say that it’s OK to eat fish because they have no soul.

In my personal opinion, Venerable Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse has explained cogently the greater purpose of not eating meat. It’s more than merely observing a Buddhist discipline of becoming a vegetarian. Instead, it’s about cultivating compassion, and understanding the truth of not clinging to self.

No comments: