Why Vegetarianism Matters


Translated By Andrew Yang

A young friend thinks that Buddhism and being vegetarian are things mostly for the elderly. Young people have a long life ahead of them, and as long as they work hard and have luck, they will have wealth, status and fame without following any religion. The young man also thinks that vegetarianism is a religion-based practice, but for those who have a good heart and do good deeds, why would they have to become vegetarian?

Of course, Readers, if young people are willing to work hard and keep improving themselves, they may indeed have a bright future. However, if we take a different perspective, do wealth, status and fame really encompass one’s entire life? If the answer is yes, then why do some successful, brilliant people at the top of their game whether in business, politics or academia still feel unhappy and hollow? Evidently, if we measure the value and meaning of life by wealth, status and fame alone, it is illusory and nebulous. When one is momentarily seized with greed, the possible gain may make them take unwarranted risks headlong to do evil without scruples. As well, one should note that karma is relentlessly unforgiving. Once you have to bear a forthcoming karmic consequence, repentance is too late.

Viewed philosophically, life is not just clothing, food, housing and transportation, or wealth, status and reputation, for beyond material life, spirituality is indispensable. In our day-to-day life, we should embody the value of life, understand the truth of life and the universe and strive to free ourselves from birth, aging, sickness and death.

Meanwhile, we should study and work hard, learn to improve our lives, and thus elevate our spirituality. Young people who are just entering society have opened a new chapter in their journey of life, but whether they will have a bright future with a smooth sailing ahead of them is still a question. One has to wonder that if the journey of life can be truly smooth without any obstacle, then why are there sorrows, afflictions and pains everywhere in the world?

In Buddhism, life is said to be just between breaths, as a single stifled breath could send one into a different life. Among life’s eight dukkhas, sickness and death have no age limit. While death may seem distant, life is unpredictable and someone young might not outlive the elderly. Therefore, as the saying goes, “Do not wait until old age to learn the Way, for many who died young are buried alone”. Time passes quickly, and from one’s youth to old age it takes only a few decades,  which equals a sheer flash of light in the vast space time of the universe. An individual life ends up being no more than a certain combination of joy, sorrow, parting and reunion on top of birth, aging, sickness and death. This perspective, not being pessimistic, is a realization of the fact of life.

On the issue of being vegetarian, our young friend is correct in that cultivation mainly involves cultivating the mind. So long as one has a kind heart, there may be no need to practise vegetarianism. However, there are also those for whom countless animal beings get slaughtered just because of their gastronomic preferences. Can such behaviour be viewed as from a kind heart? Eating habits being practices that become natural over time, meat-eaters enjoy chicken, duck, fish and other fancy foods to the point of considering it a pleasure in life. Vegetarians, on the other hand, see them as animal carcasses and avoid even smelling them, let alone eating them to satisfy a momentary craving.

Admittedly, everyone has their own approach to life relative to their perspective and where they stand. Buddhism advocates loving kindness and compassion, and the first step in nurturing such a mind is to become a vegetarian.

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