Wednesday, June 28, 2006

KILLING IS BAD KARMA: EASTERN VS. WESTERN VIEWS ON ANIMALS

According to Eastern philosophy, humans amass great amounts of negative karma from abusing animals and/or people. Since we can sense, but not see karma, it is assumed that karma is either a myth or a trivial matter - nothing to be concerned about. But the great Hindu saints and Buddhist bodhisattvas inform us that our karma, which we create all by ourselves, is the reason we continue to suffer and reincarnate. We knowingly or unknowingly create our own good - or bad - karma with every single thought, word and deed.

Karma as the Webster Dictionary puts it:

1.) in Buddhism and Hinduism, the totality of a person's actions in one of the successive states of his existence, thought of as determining his fate in the next.

2.) loosely, fate; destiny.

Here's how I define karma:

For every action there is an equal or opposite reaction. Karma travels with you; it never goes away and it always keeps perfect score, and your karma has been with you since your soul was created (how ever many lives that is). It is like a guide keeping you in line and making sure you get everything you deserve, good or bad. In other words when you harm others you are harming your self; when you are good to others you get good things in return.

Much of what Western societies believe about animals can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, Romans and various interpretations of the Bible. About the time Buddha reached full enlightenment, ancient Greek philosophers believed that Greek men were superior to all other humans and animals. In Eastern cultures, animals are given much more consideration than Western societies give them, although animal cruelty has always been a universal scourge. Animal cruelty exists for two main reasons: it provides income and/or it provides pleasure.

To a Buddhist or Hindu, it makes perfect sense not to kill animals. In Western societies, animal cruelty is considered an unavoidable fact of life, and in some instances, cruelty to animals is a preferred lifestyle. Yet, virtually all of this mass exploitation is unecessary. Not a single slaughterhouse, fur coat, hunting season or rodeo do we need. This entire man-made cornucopia of massive butchering, suffering and subsequent bad karma is totally unnecessary.

Unlike the Judeo-Christian tradition, Buddhism affirms the unity of all living beings, all equally posses the Buddha-nature, and all have the potential to become Buddhas, that is, to become fully and perfectly enlightened. Among the sentient, there are no second-class citizens. According to Buddhist teaching, human beings do not have a privileged, special place above and beyond that of the rest of life. The world is not a creation specifically for the benefit and pleasure of human beings. Furthermore, in some circumstances in accordance with their karma, humans can be reborn as animals and animals can be reborn as humans.

In Buddhism the most fundamental guideline for conduct is ahimsa: the prohibition against the bringing of harm and/or death to any living being. Why should one refrain from killing? It is because all beings have lives; they love their lives and do not wish to die. Even one of the smallest creatures, the mosquito, when it approaches to bite you, will fly away if you make the slightest motion. Why does it fly away? Because it fears death. It figures that if it drinks your blood, you will take its life. . . . We should nurture compassionate thought.Since we wish to live, we should not kill any other living being. Furthermore, the karma of killing is understood as the root of all suffering and the fundamental cause of sickness and war, and the forces of killing are explicitly identified with the demonic. The highest and most universal ideal of Buddhism is to work unceasingly for permanent end to the suffering of all living beings, not just humans.

Speaking of Buddhists, one of the world's most respected spiritual leaders - the 14th Dalai Lama - has repeatedly spoken in favor of vegetarianism, and he also favors animal rights causes. A few years ago, the author of this blog mailed a letter to the Dalai Lama (to his Dharamsala, India address), and his personal secretary replied that His Holiness was very much in favor of vegetarianism. The information below was obtained from PETA's KFC website and other websites concerning the Dalai Lama.

In his appeal, His Holiness writes, “On behalf of my friends at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), I am writing to ask that KFC abandon its plan to open restaurants in Tibet, because your corporation’s support for cruelty and mass slaughter violate Tibetan values … I have been particularly concerned with the sufferings of chickens for many years. It was the death of a chicken that finally strengthened my resolve to become vegetarian. … These days, when I see a row of plucked chickens hanging in a meat shop it hurts. I find it unacceptable that violence is the basis of some of our food habits. … It is therefore quite natural for me to support those who are currently protesting against the introduction of industrial food practices into Tibet that will perpetuate the suffering of huge numbers of chickens."

" In the mid 1960s, the Dalai Lama was impressed by ethically vegetarian Indian monks and adopted a vegetarian diet for about a year and a half. While he has eaten meat in moderation ever since, the Dalai Lama has repeatedly acknowledged that a vegetarian diet is a worthy expression of compassion and contributes to the cessation of the suffering of all living beings. However, he eats meat only on alternate days (six months a year). He is a semi- vegetarian, though he wishes to be a full one. By making an example of cutting his meat consumption in half, he is trying to gently influence his followers.

This Thanksgiving, staff of the Fund for Animals are thanking the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, for recent statements in support of animal rights. In an audience with representatives of The Fund for Animals earlier this month, the Dalai Lama commended the animal rights movement for working to end the suffering of animals, and urged everyone to consider a vegetarian diet. Speaking with The Fund for Animals' national director, Heidi Prescott, and program coordinator, Norm Phelps, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize recipient said, "People think of animals as if they were vegetables, and that isn't right. We have to change the way people think about animals. I encourage the Tibetan people and all people to move toward a vegetarian diet that doesn't cause suffering."

His Holiness also condemned the abuse and killing of animals for entertainment purposes, such as the practice of hunting wild animals for sport. The Dalai Lama invited the Fund for Animals to work with his government in exile in India to help encourage people to become vegetarian and to protect animals from suffering.

Tibetan Buddhist master, Chagdud Rinpoche, stated: "Saving and protecting life creates tremendous virtue. All beings are equal in that they all seek happiness, don't want to suffer and value their lives as we do."

Eastern philosophy is a vast and extremely profound subject. Eastern religions have been a source of fascination, guidance, and enlightenment for thousands of years. To this day, India , Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet continue to produce most of the world's great enlightened masters. Understanding karma is critical to understanding Eastern philosophy. - By Scott Palczak