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Why Animals Matter: Buddhist Quotations

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May all beings be free from enmity;
May all beings be free from injury;
May all beings be free from suffering;
May all beings be happy.

Buddhist Prayer for Animals to be Free From Suffering.

This article consists of four sections:

Page one Introduction, History and Basic teachings
Page Two Why animals matter in the Buddhist tradition 
Page Three Reasons why Buddhists should be vegetarian or preferably vegan
Page Four Modern Day Buddhism and vegetarianism/veganism


Why do animals matter in the Buddhist tradition ? Why should a Buddhist be a vegetarian and preferably a vegan? Why should animal rights be important to Buddhists. To answer these questions and others lets take a look at the Buddhist tradition, its teachings and philosophy as it applies to our relationship and treatment of the myriad of living beings with whom we share this planet.

Keep in mind that a basic precept in Buddhism is that of non-harm, Ahimsa, a Sanskrit term meaning to do no harm, no violence.  Ahimsa is and was an important belief amongst the religions that originated in ancient India, namely Hinduism, Buddhism and especially Jainism. Ahimsa is a rule of conduct that prohibits the killing or injuring of all living beings. It is closely connected with the idea that all kinds of violence bring about negative karmic consequences, I will explain more about Karma later. Although the technical term Ahimsa, unlike in the teachings of Jainism and Hinduism, is not used in Buddhist scripture in so many words, it is  nevertheless practiced in its essence albeit perhaps not to the extent as it is in the Jain tradition, but like the Jain's, Buddhists have always condemned the killing of all living beings.

Therefore actions which result in the taking of life, directly or indirectly, contradicts this basic Buddhist precept. 

But first in order to understand the Buddhist perspective concerning our relationship with non human animals a short history and basic teachings of Buddhism is helpful.


Buddhism began in the 6th century BCE with the birth of Siddhartha Guatama who is sometimes referred to as the historical Buddha. Siddhartha was born into the Shakya clan, in the plains of Lumbini, in present day southern Nepal

The early life of Siddhartha was one of opulence protected from the reality of life by his father Uddhodana the king of the Shakyas. Siddhartha however became curious about life outside his protected environs and soon realised that existence involved much suffering.  He consequently renounced his comfortable life, leaving behind his wife and newly born son to seek out a more meaningful existence and try to understand why all creatures suffer, and find out how they could escape from suffering. At the age of Twenty nine Siddhartha began the homeless life of a monk.

After begging for his first meal he made his way to the mountains where lived many hermits and sages seeking religious enlightenment. On the way he came across a flock of sheep being driven towards the city of Rajagaha to be sacrificed. Among the sheep a lamb was injured and Buddha feeling compassion for the poor creature picked him up and followed the shepherds into the city and prevented the sacrifice from taking place asking King Bimbisara to stop animal sacrifices saying :

All beings tremble before danger, all fear death. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill.
All beings fear before danger, life is dear to all. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill.

Dhammapada 54

Moved by Siddhartha's words the King became a follower of the Buddha.

After leaving  Rajagaha, Siddhartha studied with the sage, Alara Kalama, under whose tutelage he learned to calm his mind, but still he did not discover freedom from suffering and in time through diligent study he knew as much as his teacher. Siddhartha than received tuition from the sage Uddaka Ramaputta under whose guidance he learnt to still his mind, emptying it of all thoughts and emotions. Nonetheless the mystery of suffering eluded him. By this time the Buddha determined that he should find the truth in his own way by his own efforts and embarked on the path of asceticism, a common practice in India in those days when wondering monks left their families to pursue religious enlightenment with austerities such as starving themselves or living off very little, lying on beds of nails and other grievous hardships. He made his way to a place called Uruvela near a village and the river Nera˝jarā, here he met five other men each of whom were also on a similar spiritual quest. These men where ascetics and became his companions.

Over a period of six years Siddhartha practiced extreme asceticism reducing his eating until he ate nothing at all. After passing out as a result of his excessive practice and being revived and cared for by a passing  shepherd boy, Siddhartha realised that asceticism was not the way; had the shepherd boy not helped him he would have died without attaining enlightenment and understanding the reasons for suffering. His companions left him for a time thinking he had reneged his ascetic vows.

One morning, a girl named Sujata offered Siddhartha some milk-rice porridge and said to him: "May you be successful in obtaining your
wishes!" The same day Siddharth accepted an offering of soft Khusha grass and sitting upon this in the classic meditation pose under a fig tree, now known as the Bodhi tree, Siddhartha vowed to remain in a state of meditation until he understood the nature of suffering and attained enlightenment, he said
"I will not leave this spot until I find an end to suffering." During the night he was assailed by the constant attempts of Mara*1) the evil one who attempted to distract Buddha from his worthy quest. Hoping to turn Siddhartha's attention towards pleasure he tempted him with his beautiful daughter, than bolts of lightening and heavy rain and finally armies of demons to distract him. At length defeating the temptations of Mara  Siddhartha realised the cause of suffering and the way to remove it. Gaining supreme wisdom he understood the nature of reality and attained enlightenment.

A less literal interpretation of Buddha's enlightenment and his battle with Mara may have been as follows. As Siddhartha entered a deep state of meditation he let go all outside disturbances and thoughts of the past or the present, pleasure or desire and turned his attention towards finding the truth about life and the nature of existence. He contemplated the cause of suffering and how all beings can be free from suffering. While doing so his mind was beset by distracting images, some tempting him with pleasure others distracting him with fearful imaginings, intrusive thoughts turning his attention to the past and than to the future. However after persistence his mind became calm like a still pond, he recalled previous lives, and he saw beings born and reborn in a continuous cycle of birth and rebirth in accordance with the laws of cause and effect called karma. He understood that grasping craving and desiring resulted in suffering, and  kept all beings trapped with in this cycle. 

Now that Buddha had reached enlightenment he now was free from the type of thinking that resulted in suffering, he had reached a state of being, enlightenment, called nirvana.

After his enlightenment he was known as Gautama Buddha, or Shakyamuni Buddha or simply "The Buddha", which means "the enlightened one".

Thereafter for the next 45 years he travelled around central India acquiring many adherents, teaching anyone who would listen. He established  a community of followers called the Sangha, which in time became the Buddhist monastic order.  He died aged eighty by which time his teachings were widely accepted and the Sangha firmly established.

Since this time Buddhism has spread to many countries changing and adapting to various cultures and is now the 4th religion of importance in terms of numbers of followers. In recent years Buddhism has increased in popularity in the west.

Basic teachings

The following is a very basic account of the teachings of Buddha after his enlightenment. These teachings are of course central to Buddhist belief and practiced in modern times.

Buddhism like all religions is a complex topic and an in-depth discussion is beyond the scope of this article. Below are very basic facts concerning the teachings of Buddhism. For more detailed information please refer to the links at the conclusion of this article.

Buddhism varies considerably depending upon tradition, from the very ritualistic Tibetan Buddhism to the more simple approach of Zen.   Buddhism is more than a religion and is considered a philosophy or way of life. In addition Buddhism has also been described as a science of the mind as it's teachings provide a deep understanding of the human mind presenting  an advanced and effective psychological approach to life and its problems, factors which may have increased its popularly in the west.

Buddha taught many things, one of the most important of which were the four Noble truths:

The first noble truth is that life is suffering, both physical - pain, illness and death - and psychological - fear, loneliness, frustration, anger and so on.

The second noble truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion, desiring things to be different than they are. Grasping craving and desiring leads to suffering and furthermore the ultimate desire for continued existence leads to a continuous cycle of death and rebirth, which continues the cycle of suffering.

The third noble truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness attained by abandoning desire and aversion, the abandonment of which is the state of Nirvana and the cessation of continual birth and rebirth.

The forth noble truth is that following the the Noble 8-fold Path leads to the end of suffering and the achievement of self awakening. The Noble
8-fold Path is a way taught by the Buddha to become moral in both word and deed, to practice right livelihood, to be aware of our thoughts and to develop wisdom.

Briefly The eight fold path:

Right View -To Understand and accept the four noble truths.

Right Intention - This means to be determined to follow the eight fold path.

Right speech - The use only of kind, compassionate words, to refrain from gossip and back biting, lying and swearing.

Right Action - To practice good needs and avoid wrong doing such as theft, killing, sexual misconduct, drinking alcohol or taking drugs 

Right Livelihood - avoiding a job that involves violence to any being, for instance a butcher, a soldier and instead to be employed in tasks that help people or animals

Right Effort - Make an effort to think good wholesome thoughts whilst  trying to avoid all evil thoughts

Right Mindfulness - To remain mindful  or aware of your body and mind and of your immediate environment and circumstances.

Right Concentration - Refers to the practice of meditation

The path of a Buddhist advocate in short is to lead a moral life, be mindful and aware of thoughts and their actions and to develop wisdom and understanding.

Buddha admonished his adherents to follow a way of life based upon the five precepts which followers vow to undertake:

1) I undertake the precept to abstain from killing living beings

2) I undertake the precept to not take what is not given

3) I undertake the precept to abstain from sexual misconduct

4) I undertake the precept to abstain from false speech

5) I undertake the precept to abstain from liquor that causes intoxication and heedlessness.

All the precepts are of course important for a follower of Buddhism but for our discussion the first precept is of great importance in considering our behaviour towards all beings, not just the human beings.

Buddhists believe in Karma, a cause and effect consequence of our behaviours. Most importantly Karma emphasises the importance of our actions and our need to be responsible for them. Karma is effected by both present and past incarnations.

Meditation plays a significant role in Buddhism as a means to achieve enlightenment.

Next: Page Two Why animals matter in the Buddhist tradition 


Learn more about Buddhism

BuddhaNet - Worldwide Buddhist Information and Education Network

Buddhism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

1)  "In Buddhism, Māra is the demon who tempted Gautama Buddha by trying to seduce him with the vision of beautiful women who, in various legends, are often said to be his daughters.[1] In Buddhist cosmology, Mara personifies unskillfulness, the "death" of the spiritual life. He is a tempter, distracting humans from practicing the spiritual life by making the mundane alluring or the negative seem positive."

Early Buddhism acknowledged both a literal and "psychological" interpretation of Mara. Mara is described both as an entity having a literal existence, just as the various deities of the Vedic pantheon are shown existing around the Buddha, and also is described as a primarily psychological force - a metaphor for various processes of doubt and temptation that obstruct religious practice.

Mara (demon) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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