Dharma, nonviolence and vegansim

In a not-unexpected turn of events, I ended up in a back-and-forth with one of the many Gary Francione citing vegan advocates on twitter who seem hell bent on misappropriating every eastern religion they can find in order to claim that faith traditions thousands of years older than the modern animal rights movement inherently require veganism. I’d love it if it were true, but, of course, it isn’t, and all of the cherry-picking of the dharma in the world to try and make this claim won’t make it true. Things started here:

@wchanley There’s no moral justification for anyone, particularly Buddhists, to continue the violence of animal use. Veganism is the answer

While I obviously have no issue with vegan advocacy, as an animal rights, social justice issue, I did take exception to LiveVegan’s characterization that there was some special vegan onus on Buddhists. I tried explaining that the monastic rules required that animals not be killed specifically for the consumption of monks and nuns, and that working as a butcher would be wrong livelihood, and that taken to its conclusion, dharma tradition could create a vegan future, as a result.

This seemed to fall on predictably deaf ears, as LiveVegan apparently googled for a few passages from some cherry-picked sutras that suited his/her taste and decided I was unaware that the Lankatavara Sutra among some other mahayana sutras criticize meat eating. But that’s the very point he/she was missing. Some mahayana sutras criticize meat eating; they do not imply or require veganism, and these sutras have not traditionally been used as a foundation for ethical veganism within Buddhist communities.

The problem, here, and it’s especially galling among GLF followers, is that folks don’t ever seem to know enough about the faith traditions they’re citing; some mahayana traditions encourage vegetarianism on some canon grounds, but they do not – as of yet – require veganism, no matter how much I’d like it if more people went vegan.

LiveVegan then decided to chuck his/her religious justification altogether, claiming that it was irrelevant what any religion had to say on the matter (which rather begs the question why single Buddhism out for special criticism in the first place). Trying to have it both ways instead of admitting you don’t actually know what you’re talking about is annoying, to be sure, but alas, unsurprising.

The whole exchange is on my Twitter feed if you’re interested, but the basic point is this: vegan advocates, do you really need to misappropriate Buddhism, Jainism or some other faith tradition in order to advocate veganism and animal rights? Are your arguments for animal rights not strong enough to stand on their own, without trying to claim that some religion you (very likely) don’t actually practice says things you want it to say (regardless of the facts) about veganism? Why eastern traditions in particular? Because Western religious chauvinism paints them as incense-waving, “exotic” pacifists?

Veganism as a moral position, and animal rights, as a social justice issue, are worthy enough to stand on their own merits. They don’t need your flawed claims about the dharma in order to be valid on their own.

One Comments

  • ryan

    July 6, 2011

    Well said. And as I mentioned on twitter, it works in the opposite direction in a somewhat similar way, when Buddhists will say, "But Buddha ate meat, so I can, too!"

    It doesn't really matter whether Buddha was vegan, whether he ate meat, whether he died because of tainted pork, etc. He encouraged followers to question everyone, including him, so using Buddhism to say, "Well, Sidhartha ate meat, so I can, too!" puts the responsibility on some dead guy rather than taking one's one responsibility to make a morally skillful choice.

    … Ryan, vegblog.org


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