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In Theravada, we have established that eating meat does not break the first precept in many Buddhism SE questions (for example, this question and other questions linked in its comments).

However, beyond not breaking the first precept, could vegetarianism be used as a practice of developing compassion (karuna) and being compassionate?

Or does the practice of compassion require direct intention and direct action in allaying the sufferings of others, and indirect means are not relevant?

Bhikkhu Khantipalo defined compassion (karuna) here as:

Compassion (karuna) is taking note of the sufferings of other beings in the world. It overcomes callous indifference to the plight of suffering beings, human or otherwise. Likewise, it must be reflected in one's life by a willingness to go out of one's way to give aid where possible, and to help those in distress. It has the advantage of reducing one's selfishness by understanding others' sorrows. It is Lord Buddha's medicine for cruelty, for how can one harm others when one has seen how much they have to suffer already? It has also two enemies: the "near" one is mere grief; while its "far" enemy is cruelty.

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Compassion is a wholesome quality, but compassion cannot take you to Nibbana. We use the practice of compassion to counter cruelty in the mind. But the goal of Buddhism is not about dedicating your life to the cultivation of compassion. If that is the case, you will have nothing else to do in life other than looking for beings in misery and trying to help them. How can you even eat, drink, wear clothes if all your actions are dedicated to compassion? There are always beings who do not have food, water etc. You should give all your food to them and starve to death yourself, if compassion is all that you should cultivate.

Vegetarian food production causes much killing as well. So why not starve to death to save any possible loss of life? This kind of thinking comes from Jainism. Buddhism does not fall into these extremes. The goal of Buddhism is the end of suffering and there are other more important qualities that one must cultivate to achieve that. Being vegetarian is not one of them.

  • "compassion cannot take you to Nibbana", sure? What else is lived right resolve... take care to get not lost and spead "quotes" out of a small box. Of cource practicing eating just certain food and forget deeds in gaining it is not right resolve, e.g compassion, e.g. the virtue factor of the path. – Samana Johann Feb 16 '18 at 10:13
  • I meant compassion alone isn't enough. The right resolve is to counter cruel thoughts. It doesn't mean one should dedicate one's life to compassionate deeds. – Sankha Kulathantille Feb 16 '18 at 10:26
  • The Buddha told actually different and told of and to his disciples to keep precepts (eg. Right resolve, right compassion) even if a hardship and death. Virtue = compassion if not traced. – Samana Johann Feb 16 '18 at 10:39
  • No the Buddha did not tell to practice compassion without wisdom – Sankha Kulathantille Feb 16 '18 at 10:49
  • Did my person say that? Right resolve comes right after right view and both are the widom sections. Start to be not so narrow, Sankha Kulathantille and attached to views but try to gain the first section. Sīlena nibbutiṃ yanti. Compassion follows after wisdom: right resolve leads to virtue, compassion in action. – Samana Johann Feb 16 '18 at 10:54
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I think I see the practice of not "trading in meat, weapons, or poisons" as what you might call an "indirect" means of compassion and allaying suffering.

It might be (or become) so easy to practice, though, that it is not "going out of one's way to give aid where possible".

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If deeply wishing to live a compassioned life, to live on highest right livelihood, take just what is given into your bowl and follow the Arahats. Ask possible for going forth since not easy to manage such in other ways.

"Preah karuna" (lord of compassion) is not out of reason a usual form of addressing those who went forth.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial use or other low trades and just exchange for the world.]

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