Buddhists/Buddhism-Input and Personal Advice
Hi Anandapanyo Bhikkhu,
I was hoping you could answer a few of these questions that I have devised as part of an online interview for a class on Eastern and Western Philosophies. These all pertain to Buddhism.
1. Can a Buddhist eat meat without breaking the guideline of “not killing”?
2. How does meditation fit in with Buddhism?
3. How do the practices of Buddhism help one attain happiness?
4. If you had to pick the most important concept of Buddhism, what would it be?
5. How can Buddhism be used specifically to lessen individual (and eventually group) suffering?
Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions.
***1. Can a Buddhist eat meat without breaking the guideline of “not killing”?***
One of the Five Precepts
"Refrain from the intentional act of killing"
As Buddhists who follow the first precept, we attempt to refrain from being directly responsible for the taking of life. However, it is often difficult if not impossible to prevent indirectly being responsible for the taking of life. Even vegetarians are indirectly responsible for taking life by eating vegetables. Animals have been killed to make the clothes we wear, insecticides have been used to clean the vegetables we eat, and the cars we drive cause pollution that kills people and animals.
It is impossible to live without indirectly affecting others; however, we can mindfully refrain from any and all direct taking of life.
In the Tipitaka, the doctor Jivaka asked the Buddha about eating meat, and the Buddha answered:
'Jivaka, those who say: 'Animals are slaughtered on purpose for the recluse Gotama, and the recluse Gotama knowingly eats the meat killed on purpose for him', do not say according to what I have declared, and they falsely accuse me. Jivaka, I have declared that one should not make use of meat it is seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk. I allow the monks meat that is quite pure in three respects: if it is not seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk.' (Jivaka Sutta)
If you are unsure whether you are directly responsible for the taking of a life by eating meat, ask yourself these questions:
1. Did I kill it?
2. Did I order someone else to kill it for me?
3. Even if you did not ask, was it killed for you?
4. Am I unsure, do I have doubts?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you should refrain from eating this particular meat.
For example, eating a frozen chicken bought from the grocery store is not wrong since:
1. You did not kill this particular chicken
2. You did not ask anyone to kill this particular chicken for you
3. It was not killed for you in particular
4. You have no doubt
However, eating fresh meat or seafood is wrong since you might have:
1. Killed it yourself
2. Ordered someone (waiter) to kill it for you
3. Known it was killed for you
4. You have doubt (the restaurant has a fish tank by the door, or your father who only eats fresh seafood has cooked crab for dinner)
People who criticize Buddhists who eat meat do not understand the Buddhist attitude towards food. A living being needs nourishment. We eat to live. As such a human being should supply his body with the food it needs to keep him healthy and to give him energy to work.
***2. How does meditation fit in with Buddhism? ***
In Buddhism, the word meditate actually comes from the word Bhavana which means “cultivate mental development.” Over time, the word meditate has been used instead. People have associated meditating with sitting in a certain posture and focusing on your breath. However this is far from the meaning that the Buddha intended. This is only one of many different ways to meditate.
Some dictionaries define meditation as:
“[MEDITATION]…a state of extreme relaxation and concentration, in which the body is generally at rest and the mind quieted of surface thoughts.”
This definition is not according to the Buddha’s intentions for the word Bhavana. This is only one type of meditation. This is like saying that all food is salty. Or that all food is sour. This is not true. Only some foods are salty and some are sour. Some are both salty and sour and some are neither. However, this is the popular cultural understanding of the word meditate or meditation. This is not sufficient.
A more relevant definition from another dictionary would be:
“[MEDITATION is] the continuous and profound contemplation or musing on a subject or series of subjects of a deep or abstract nature;
Basically, Bhavana or meditation means to focus intensely on a subject or activity.
There are two main types of meditation:
Samatha meditation is the practice of clearing your mind. The main focus is to not think. For example, you can focus all perceptions and thoughts on your inward and outward breath. This can focus your mind and prevent thoughts from arising. You push out and ignore all other thoughts and perceptions.
The two main goals of samatha meditation are rest and focus.
Our job, as practitioners, is to contemplate upon and fix our problems and short-comings. Sometimes, we might get so caught up in our problem-solving that we can’t stop thinking about it. Have you ever been infatuated or in love with a person or thing? It is all you can think about. Before you sleep, after you wake, before, during and after meals and activities, it is all you can think about. No matter how hard you try NOT to think about it, you can’t stop.
In this case, samatha meditation is the best cure. Through proper practice, you will have allowed your wandering mind to rest. After some rest, you will be refreshed, and ready to attack your problem with a clear and focused mind.
Samatha meditation can be equated to sleeping or napping. After a long day’s work, your body is exhausted. So what do you have to do? You have a nice meal, watch some TV, (insert pastime here), take a nice shower and go to sleep. What does the sleep provide for you? It provides your body with rest. Once you wake up, you are refreshed, energized for another day’s work.
In addition to allowing your mind to rest, samatha meditation trains your mind to focus. You can harness this focus to sharpen your contemplations and practice.
In this aspect, samatha meditation can be likened to sharpening a knife. The more you focus, the sharper your concentration. However, just like sharpening a knife, if you don’t use it to cut something, then what is its purpose? The same applies to samatha meditation; if you don’t apply the focus to thinking and solving problems, then what is the point?
Vipassana meditation can be described as insight meditation. That is, it is the practice of discerning, contemplating and wisdom generation upon a particular topic of Dhamma.
How do we practice Vipassna?
The most simple and short answer to this question is: Just think. We already know how to think. We do it every day. Now, all we have to do is focus our thinking on a certain topic of the Dhamma. The Dhamma is basically another word for the truth of the world or how the world works. We can contemplate Dukkha (suffering), Asubha (filthiness of the body), Marana (death), and Annicam (impermanence), etc.
It is widely understood that vipassanā meditation must be done while sitting crossed legged and in a quiet place or at a temple. However, this is far from the truth. Vipassana meditation can be done in any position (sitting, standing, walking, running, lying down), at any time (morning, afternoon, night), and most importantly, anywhere.
As long as your mind is working and thinking, you are doing vipassana meditation. You can do it while working, jogging, sitting, cooking, cleaning and even while using the bathroom. Since vipassana meditation is the contemplation of truth, and truth exists everywhere, you can practice it everywhere.
For example, let’s say that you are taking a shower. You can focus your mind to see how before you took the shower, you were dirty. While taking the shower, the level of dirtiness decreased and the level of cleanliness increased. When you finish taking the shower, you can see that your state of cleanliness at the beginning and your state of cleanliness at the end are different. This is the contemplation of Annicam (impermanence). Through this type of thinking, you can see clearly how your state of cleanliness has changed.
Imagine that you are angry at someone. The contemplation of why you are angry can be considered vipassana meditation. Or suppose you really want to buy something that is grossly out of your price range. The contemplation of the pros and cons of the item and its purchase is vipassana meditation.
The ultimate goal of vipassana meditation is the release from wrongly held viewpoints, which will ultimately result in the destruction of the causes of suffering.
Once we see the truth, the way the world truly works and operates, we will no longer have delusional thoughts about it and will therefore live in harmony with the world. When we want the world (or the people in it) to be a certain way, and it is not, that is when problems arise (physically and emotionally). However, once we realize and correct our misperceptions related to the desire to dictate how the world spins, we can do away with the related problems.
For example, suppose you really want to buy a certain item (purse, car, house, game, etc.) and you can’t seem to change your mind. The point of vipassana meditation is to discern the positive and negative points of buying this item. In addition, it is also the discerning of what expectations you have for this item and how you might or might not get that which you desire. Once you have all the information, you can make an educated and informed decision as to what you should do. This way, no matter what happens, you are fully prepared and ready to accept the consequences.
***3. How do the practices of Buddhism help one attain happiness?***
Understanding cause and effect
Buddhism teaches us to find the cause of our problems. Once we find that cause, we can take steps to destroying it. Once the cause is destroyed, our problem will never return. If we have one less problem that will not return, is that not happiness?
Learning about yourself
The more we know about ourselves, the more we will be able to commit to actions, speech and thoughts that will truly benefit our lives and bless us with true happiness. True happiness comes from the inside out. We must learn about ourselves. Through learning about ourselves, we begin to understand others.
Compassion and forgiveness
Compassion and forgiveness are key concepts in Buddhism. However, to give compassion or forgiveness without right view is to merely create a higher sense of ego. To forgive, we must first recollect an instance when we have committed the same type of action. We must first understand the motives justifying our actions and the effects of our actions. Without understanding why we have committed an action, we will not be able to allow others to do the same. Through understanding our own actions, we will be compassionate and forgiving towards others as a result.
For example, if someone cuts in front of you in line at a bank, this might make you angry. You might try and calm yourself down by telling yourself that this person:
(a) Didn’t see you
(b) Is in a hurry
(c) Is having a bad day
If you try to have compassion or give forgiveness, it will only be given based on a condition. The danger of having compassion or giving forgiveness in this manner is that it is conditional. If compassion or forgiveness is based on a condition, it will only stand as long as the condition stands. Therefore, if you find out later that they:
(a) Did see you
(b) Were not in a hurry
(c) Were not having a bad day
You would no longer be able to forgive or have compassion for this person. This is because your forgiveness and compassion was born out of a condition.
In order to truly feel compassion or give forgiveness, you must first understand the action. Begin by internalizing. Ask yourself: Have I ever done this? (cut in line, taken someone’s place, …) If not, ask yourself a second question: Have I ever done something like this?(made others wait, been inconsiderate of others,…) Once you find a situation in which you have done it, you will understand firsthand why you did it. You will have empirical knowledge as to the cause and effect of your actions. You will be able to see both sides of the situation. Through this understanding you will understand why others do it. Then you will be able to generate true forgiveness and true compassion. In addition you will be able to make better decisions and be more aware of the effects of your actions.
True freedom - Living life without conditions
So much of our lives are based on conditions. Conditions, just as everything in the world, are subject to Annicam (change, impermanence). Therefore, if our lives are based on conditions that change, when that change comes, we will experience suffering. We often hear others and (most importantly) ourselves say:
“I would be happier if I had … (BMW, new bike, new girlfriend, more money…)”
- We assume that we would be happier if we had a new BMW. But we forget about what comes with it – security issues, gas prices, expensive maintenance, driving people around and/or people wanting to borrow your car.
“I wouldn’t be so mad if he/she did …. Instead of …”
- We think we would not be so mad if others changed their actions or speech, however, even when they say things differently or act differently, we still get mad. This is because the anger stems from perceptions inside of us, not from the actions of others.
“I am so lonely, if only I had someone …”
- We think that our loneliness will be gone if only we had someone. However, even when we have someone, we still feel lonely, regardless of whether they are close by or not. This is because the loneliness comes from inside.
All these statements are based on conditions. Once the condition changes, our satisfaction and happiness also change. Therefore, learning to live without setting impermanent conditions is the way to a happy life.
Joseph, I will answer #4 and #5 in the other question. I see you have posted the same question twice. I think I have written close to the character limit. I will answer answer #4 and #5 in the other post.