The Teaching of Rabbi Dr. Gabriel Cousens

The following is adapted from Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Conscious Eating (2000), Chapter 19.

Universal compassion for all of God’s creatures is consistent with the highest ideals of many of the world religions, such as Zoroastrianism (Parseeism, as it is called in India), Buddhism, Hinduism, Pythagoreanism, Jainism, and Sikhism, all of which teach vegetarianism. Presently it is not universally practiced in Buddhism and Sikhism for perhaps the same reasons as in Judaism and Christianity. Buddha, however, is quoted in the Lankavatar as saying:

For the sake of love of purity, the Bodhisattva should refrain from eating flesh … For fear of causing terror to living beings, let the Bodhisattva, who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh … It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself, when he did not order others to kill it, when it was not specifically meat for him … Again, there may be some people in the future how … being under the influence of the taste of meat will string together in various ways many sophisticated arguments to defend meat-eating … But meat-eating in any form, in any manner, and in any place is unconditionally, and once and for all, prohibited … Meat-eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit, and will not permit.

In the Surangama Sutra it is written:

After my parinirvana (supreme enlightenment) in the final kalpa (time era), different kinds of ghosts will be encountered everywhere deceiving people and teaching them that they can eat meat and still attain enlightenment … How can a bhikshu (seeker) who hopes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings?

This teaching in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra sums up in terms of the importance of vegetarianism for Buddhism and perhaps all spiritual paths:

The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.

The present Dalai Lama has expressed a strong conviction numerous times that it is important not to harm other sentient beings (including animals). He considers it part of the Buddhist practice of harmlessness not to eat meat. Although Tibetans as a culture eat meat, Buddhists in general do not. Now that the Tibetan Buddhists are in exile, the Dalai Lama feels that all Tibetan followers, as well as other Buddhists, should conform to the Buddhist practice of vegetarianism. The Dalai Lama himself is working in the direction of becoming a vegetarian.

In Jainism, ahimsa, the doctrine of nonviolence, is a central theme. Because of this, the Jains have maintained a strong and unbroken vegetarian lifestyle throughout history. Some Jains are so committed to nonviolence that they wear a mask over their mouths so that they do not accidentally swallow any insects, and they also sweep the path in front of them as they walk so as not to step on any living creatures.

The Zoroastrian religion goes back many thousands of years and is perhaps the first religion in recorded history that taught the principles of a balanced way of life, including vegetarianism and an ecological awareness. In this religion, the title of Zarathustra was given to great sages over time, but has been most associated with their last spiritual leader, who lived around 600 B.C. He was a strong advocate of a vegetarian lifestyle.

Sikhism, developed by Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century, is not strictly vegetarian because some of its roots are from the Islam tradition. According to Vegetarianism in Sikhism, the Sikh teachings of Guru Nanak fully support the practice of vegetarianism. Guru Nanak was said to have considered the eating of flesh food improper, especially when using the practice of meditation as part of one’s spiritual life. In the West, the 3HO Golden Temple Movement is one of the biggest Sikh organizations and they are completely vegetarian. The Namdhari sect of Sikhs is also vegetarian.