Compassionate Vegetarianism

Pagoda at the Nan Tien Temple in Wollongong that the Atheist Wife visited yesterday.
Pagoda at the Nan Tien Temple in Wollongong that the Atheist Wife visited yesterday.

I think I’ve talked a few times about going vegetarian and why it’s a moral issue for me. More than once I’ve discussed why eating only cage free/free range eggs is important to me. Making the decision to eat ethically produced eggs was a big step for me in my practice of a complete and consistent life ethic. While I may have initially gone vegetarian because my wife is one and it was simply easier, my experience as a vegetarian has led me to a deeper appreciation of the practice. Now, as I am studying Buddhism, I have greater appreciation of vegetarianism as a compassionate practice, not just an ethical choice. But now, that choice has become a little more involved than it was before.

All Her Fault

You know I love the Atheist Wife. She truly is a wonderful woman and my life is so much better with her around. If anyone ever asked me for advice about picking a partner for life, I would say, “Find someone who makes you want to be better every day.” That’s what the Atheist Wife does for me and I truly appreciate that. So when I say that it’s all her fault, you know I say it lovingly.

But it’s still all her fault. 

Yesterday she went and visited the Nan Tien Temple with a friend from work. Originally her friend thought they were visiting a mosque, but that turned out to not be the case. Instead, she got to go to a Buddhist temple and I didn’t. That’s okay, because she brought me back some reading material. One of those little booklets was “Buddhism and Vegetarianism,”written by Venerable Master Hsing Yun. I’m only 11 pages in and already it is changing how I think.

Like I said, it’s all my wife’s fault.

Three Kinds of Meat

We’re all used to different kinds of meat, like beef, chicken, and pork. Aussies really like lamb here and you can get lamb souvlaki in a lot of the Greek restaurants and stalls around where we live. A gyro with lamb in it is pretty good, though I have to admit that I love the vegetarian gyro I can get for $5 down by the beach. The tabbouleh is what makes it so good, but I digress. (I also know what I’m having for lunch today.)

As I was reading the booklet, however, I read about a different three kinds of meat, which are prohibited.

“There are three kinds of meat that one cannot eat; if it is heard; and if there are suspicions about it; Being seen means seeing for oneself that the animal was killed on one’s behalf; being heard means hearing from reliable sources that the animal was killed on one’s behalf; and having suspicions means one suspects that the animal was killed on one’s behalf. If it is not seen; if it is not heard; and if there are no suspicions about it; then it is considered pure meat.”

That’s a lot to consider when determining what to eat, but I think it’s a good practice if one is a vegetarian. Many vegetarians already don’t eat meat, some for health reasons, or compassionate reasons (my wife can’t stand to think about animals killed). But this Buddhist practice gives you even more of a reason not to eat meat.


What I really liked about this passage was it’s emphasis on knowledge. The more you know about where your food comes from, the better choice you can make. Either you discover the truth for yourself or you learn from a reliable source. Either way the point is making an informed decision, not an ignorant one.

Now I’ve talked about eggs before, so let’s go with that. Free range is a better way for the chickens to live. They’re not mistreated by being kept in ridiculously tiny cages in barns where they have no room to move or any sun to enjoy. But is this really the best ethical choice about where to get your eggs?

I was reading about the different kinds of eggs one day when I came on this chart:


From this chart, certified organic eggs are the most ethical choice because they are kept in good conditions and the hens aren’t mutilated by debeaking. But I want to take it one step further.

Male chicks and hens at 18 months old are killed. Male chicks are killed at birth, meaning they don’t even have a chance to live. Hens at 18 months are slaughtered and sold, I presume, for meat products. How does this figure in to the kinds of meat you can eat?

If we’re trying to practice compassionate food choices, this is hard to countenance. The fact that animals are killed so that we can be provided with eggs (and since these slaughter practices are part of the egg industry, that is exactly what happens) means that eating eggs violates the principle of compassionate vegetarianism. So the compassionate vegetarian cannot eat eggs produced in this way.

Better Choices

Obviously, vegetarianism comes down to personal choice. I’m not presenting this in order to make anyone feel guilty. The choices you make obviously depend on your own personal ethic, which may or may not include eating meat. I’m not saying that you have to be vegetarian in order to be ethical. Instead, I am presenting information that is part of my own decision making process. The important part of this discussion, really, is the fact that more information leads to better choices. That is what I want to emphasize more than anything and hopefully encourage people to learn as much as they can before making a decision.

For me, all of this information means that I hae a choice to make. Eggs are an important source of protein for me as I try to be healthier, so they have been an integral part of my diet since foregoing meat. But I am also troubled by the slaughter practices and the fact that they are a part of producing the eggs that I eat. So what do I do?

Last night I told my wife that we were going to have to stop eating eggs. It simply is not a practice that lines up with my own ethics. Besides, there are other sources of protein and other egg-like products that can replace eggs. There is just no reason to keep buying eggs. That was my ethical decision based on the information I had available.

Like I said before, this is all my wife’s fault. Once again, she’s making me be a better person. Dammit…


About the Temple
A post where I talk about eggs

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