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If someone hires a person to kill another and the plot is discovered, both the hired killer and the one who hired him will be arrested and imprisoned.

Yet, somehow, if a monk eats food given by others, no negative kamma is created, even though the monk is aware of and complicit in the process of killing, i.e. he knows someone else had to do the killing of the plant or animal for his ultimate benefit, even if it wasn't explicitly killed for him.

Even worse, someone whose profession involves the daily killing of animals as is the case in a slaughterhouse, has to bear the mental consequences of this daily ritual as well as its kammic consequences.

Yet a monk can avoid all this simply by waiting for someone to put the dead animal in his bowl. The morality of this doesn't make sense.

I would think the only morally harmless situation would be for a monk to only eat an animal or plant that had already died naturally, either by scavenging for it or waiting for another to do so on his behalf.

Question:
Can a monk choose to eat only an animal or plant that had died naturally? This either by scavenging on his own or by waiting for others to offer this to him?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ruben2020
    Jun 30 at 19:44
  • I have modified this question from, the karma or ethics of meat eating or plant killing, to one about monastic rules and dhutanga, so that it will not be a duplicate of existing questions, and still covers the original intention of the OP. And it will be reopened.
    – ruben2020
    Jun 30 at 19:46
4

This answer is based on the Theravada tradition.

Please read The Bhikkhus' Rules: A Guide for Laypeople by Ven. Ariyesako, Bhikkhu Patimokkha by Ven. Thanissaro and DN 2 for details.

A bhikkhu is a fully ordained monk who is required to strictly follow the rules of the Vinaya. All rules come with exceptions.

A monk cannot scavenge for his own food or engage in agriculture or cook his own meals. A monk is not allowed to eat fruits with seeds that can germinate and tubers that can be planted again, unless it is made allowable (kappiya) to him by a layperson. A monk is not allowed to damage or destroy plant life, so agricultural activities like tillage is not possible for monks. DN 2 states that monks should not receive uncooked grains, raw meat, cattle, fields etc.

A monk has to get his food from alms obtained from lay people. This is because the Buddha didn't want monks to become disconnected from lay people. He wanted the monks to depend on lay persons for alms and the lay persons should depend on monks for teachings and guidance. This applies to forest-dwelling dhutanga practitioner monks too.

Furthermore, it is wrong livelihood for monks to engage in agriculture, as they are meant to spend most of their time in study, practice and teaching of Buddhism.

Monks cannot choose what alms food is given to them and they must accept whatever is given to them. They cannot be choosy or fussy. They can only ask for specific food if they are ill.

Monks however must reject meat that is seen, heard or suspected to be slaughtered specifically for them. They also cannot kill an animal, or order a specific animal to be killed.

Monks must also reject alcohol and recreational drugs.

Besides these, monks cannot impose preferences or restrictions on lay persons with respect to alms food.

Devadatta once requested the Buddha to make vegetarianism mandatory for monks but this was rejected by the Buddha. Vegetarianism is also not part of the optional stricter dhutanga rules.

Karma is based on intention in Buddhism. It's not a universal system of justice. A person who eats meat that was long dead before he encountered it, does not have the intention to kill or cause killing e.g. by ordering a butcher to kill a specific animal. Plants are not sentient beings and the first precept of not killing doesn't apply to plants. There are many questions on these in Buddhism SE.

If a person wants to create his own quasi-monastic rules (beyond the Five Precepts) in Theravada Buddhism, he could choose to become an anagarika.

In some cases, The Great Standards (method to create modern exceptions to ancient rules) can be used for regional adaptation. For e.g. monks who reside in Buddhist minority countries with not many lay Buddhists nearby, may need to prepare their own food from stored raw ingredients. This is only my speculation.

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  • 1
    Thank you to both Ruben and ChrisW for pointing out the rules forbidding picky/fussy alms rounds. Jun 30 at 22:58
  • > Plants are not sentient beings There are many other and better sources than this, but it's a good start: gizmodo.com/…
    – SlowBurn
    Jun 30 at 23:43
  • Plants are certainly alive, so killing is killing, being sentient has nothing to do with it. And a lot of animals are not any more sentient than plants. And I don't see how this answers the question at all. The answer is "because that's what the rules say", but the question is "how is this rule moral?" I don't see how that is answered.
    – Davor
    Jul 1 at 10:00
  • @Davor I don't see this question as "how is this rule moral?" The question of morality for animals and plants has been answered many times over in Buddhism SE and will not be duplicated here. Please search for the "vegetarianism" tag and also search for "plant".
    – ruben2020
    Jul 1 at 10:22
  • @ruben2020 - this is the core of the question: "The morality of this doesn't make sense."
    – Davor
    Jul 1 at 10:44
2

I don't think theravada monks are allowed to pick up fruit fallen to the ground or catching it mid air let alone plucking it off lest there is a famine and in that circumstance he may pick fruit and take it to a family that has children and if offered some the food becomes allowable.

As to hinting at one food one wants. If a monk even in need of medicine needs a particular food and another monk secretly goes to request the medicine food to be prepared for alms round, if it becomes known to the recepient monk then the food is not allowable for him. This happened to Sariputta, Maha Moggalanna brought the food and Sariputta turned over the bowl.

Abandoned requisites like lodging and robes can be appropriated if they are perceived to be abandoned.

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  • Interesting story, but when monastics need medical care, it's usually provided to them.
    – SlowBurn
    Jun 30 at 23:57
  • I don't know all the rules & precedents pertaining to sickness but monastic association with lay people is heavily regulated in general.
    – user8527
    Jul 1 at 0:03
2

If someone hires a person to kill another and the plot is discovered, both the hired killer and the one who hired him will be arrested and imprisoned.

Hiring occurs before the event of taking life. Eating occurs later, i will try to explain why it matters.

Yet, somehow, if a monk eats food given by others, no negative kamma is created, even though the monk is aware of and complicit in the process of killing, i.e. he knows someone else had to do the killing of the plant or animal for his ultimate benefit, even if it wasn't explicitly killed for him.

Well in the sense that demand supposedly drives production then yes one could say that the producer's choice depends on the consumer choice.

However this is Economic Theory, it is not some law of nature. EG; Suppose person A kills an animal and asks B to sell the meat. Person C buys the meat and A & B are killed by a stray cow before they do any more killing.

Here a real example that shows that economic theory is just a theory and is often inapplicable to real life situations and here proven false by contradiction because according to the theory of economics here we can say the consumer's choice effect was canceled by a cow's choice.

Of course it gets really absurd if one keeps drawing out the implications like animals themselves being responsible for killing because they choose not to kill people and etc

According to the early buddhist texts and theravadin commentary to Dhp, the only way to truly stop killing is to attain at least the Sotapanna stage. These do not kill and will not be taking an 8th birth.

If one is not Ariya then one can't really say that one will stop killing because one will die and appear as a different person with inclinations based on prior development. No one can speak for another and if not Ariya then one can eventually start killing again in course of development, gods come born again as pigs even.

Therefore a non-ariya has too weak of a resolve to claim to having stopped beyond the breakup of the body and if he holds pernicious views then hell or animal womb will be the destination even if one abstains from killing all his life.

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  • Great answer @Letsbuddhism! Jul 1 at 1:33
  • "Here a real example that shows that economic theory is just a theory" - dear god you seriously used the "it's just a theory" defence.
    – Davor
    Jul 1 at 10:02
2

The reason (and ethics) for this is found in the meditation practice regarding states of mind and their underlying intentions (cetana).

There's no unwholesome intentions present when accepting and eating meat unless one intentionally accepts and eats meat with the purpose of killing animals. I can't imagine any monk doing that.

When killing another living being there are incredible unwholesome states of mind and defilements present. The act of killing is therefore deeply unwholesome.

In Theravada Buddhism we care about one's state of mind first and foremost and accepting and eating meat is not unwholesome in any way meaning it requires no unwholesome states of mind to perform the actions.

That's why these 2 acts are differentiated like this based on ethics.

Hope this helps.

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  • But using that same logic, you could claim that no unwholesome intentions are present when accepting or eating meat bought with stolen money. However, if you are aware that the meat was bought with stolen money, is it moral to accept it? Similarly, if you know an animal was intentionally killed for meat and killing sentient beings is presumably worse than stealing, then is it moral to accept the meat?
    – SlowBurn
    Jul 1 at 13:18
  • 1
    @SlowBurn. This is not logic. This is how the mind, Kamma and reality works and it can be tested out for oneself by practicing Buddhist Vipassana meditation. Jul 1 at 13:46
  • Oh, so then as long as the mind of a meditator is at peace with himself, morality doesn't apply anymore and everything becomes permissible and kammically neutral?
    – SlowBurn
    Jul 1 at 13:53
  • 1
    @SlowBurn are you Jain? Jul 1 at 13:54
  • @YesheTenley No
    – SlowBurn
    Jul 1 at 14:05
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theyre not complicit in the negativity of murdering or trading of murdered animals because they are begging for any type of food. it is only up to others to associate with murdering or trading of murdered animals. if a monk notices a habit in others developing of associating with those things the monk may request they cease associating with those activities, or else the monk always has the option of seeking alms somewhere else

in short no the monk is not complicit since ppl are free to function as they see fit.

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  • If someone gives you something that was stolen, and you know it was stolen and you keep it, you are complicit, both morally and legally. How is this different?
    – Davor
    Jul 1 at 10:08
  • a corpse is no longer a persons body is the difference. stealing their body and life is synonymous with killing them but this terminates upon completion of their death. having been completed one is now able to engage in the fault of being the cause of the theft to varying degrees. a beggar seeking any offered food is extremely distant from being involved with the stealing, especially if they are practicing nonattachment there is a strong argument that being a vegan with attachment to food is more involved than the former who nevertheless eats offered meat, assuming genuine nonattachment
    – bw tho
    Jul 1 at 10:44
  • I have no idea what you're talking about and how corpses and bodies relate to this in any sense. The point is you are benefiting from something that is forbidden by rules, and you know it. You don't get to say "I'm not guilty of anything" because you didn't directly participate in the act.
    – Davor
    Jul 1 at 10:55
  • it doesnt logically follow that benefitting from something immoral necessarily makes one immoral. above i explained why a corpse is not a possession and therefore has nothing to do with stealing and stolen goods. a corpse is a corpse not a possession to be stolen. what was stolen is the living things right to life aka the fault of killing, but this terminates with the completion of the killing. you dont kill or own corpses.
    – bw tho
    Jul 1 at 11:28
  • "it doesnt logically follow that benefitting from something immoral necessarily makes one immoral" - it does if your actions are complicit. And stealing was just an example.
    – Davor
    Jul 1 at 11:56
0

OP: "Can a monk choose to eat only an animal or plant that had died naturally?"

Yes. (The monk could make that choice, but as was pointed out by others the monk's should not be picky or fussy or instruct/command lay folks in what they should give them.)

"This either by scavenging on his own or by waiting for others to offer this to him?"

Yes. (The monk could do this, but then the monk would be picky/fussy which could run them afoul of vinaya rules.)

OP: "Yet a monk can avoid all this simply by waiting for someone to put the dead animal in his bowl."

Yes.

OP: "The morality of this doesn't make sense."

The monk would be faultless as it is simply not true that the monk acted as a condition for the killing of the animal. In your hypothetical, the animal was killed and dead before the monk had any contact with it. The animal was killed and dead before the monk had any contact with the person who killed it. Saying the monk is at fault is akin to misunderstanding how the law of cause and effect works. To say that the monk was the cause or a necessary condition for the killing effect would be akin to saying the effect preceded the cause. This is a logical error and not how the world works.

The law of karma is not an impersonal arbiter of universal justice meting down punishment on sinners who have transgressed some moral rules. To suppose otherwise is to believe that karma is truly existent. It is not.

Cause and effect is described over and over in the Pali suttas as:

iti imasmiṁ sati idaṁ hoti; imassuppādā idaṁ uppajjati; imasmiṁ asati idaṁ na hoti

Which has variously been translated as:

"When this exists, that is; due to the arising of this, that arises. When this doesn’t exist, that is not; due to the cessation of this, that ceases."

Bhikkhu Sujato

"When this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases."

Bhikkhu Bodhi

"When this is, that is. From the arising of this comes the arising of that. When this isn't, that isn't. From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that."

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

"If this is, that comes to be; from the arising of this, that arises; if this is not, that does not come to be; from the stopping of this, that is stopped."

I.B. Horner

The Buddha said this again, and again, and again, and again, as he taught the Dhamma to people. Your contention boils down to if the monk stopped accepting dead meat placed in his bowl, then all the suffering that resulted in the killing of the animal would cease. However, we know this is not the case simply by virtue of the fact that the killing of the animal and all that suffering that necessarily followed preceded the monk accepting the dead meat in his bowl.

To see this clearly, try putting your contention into the words of the Buddha:

"With dead meat in monk's bowls, killing of animals comes to be; from the arising of dead meat in monk's bowls, killing of animals arises; When dead meat is not in monk's bowls, killing of animals does not come to be; with the cessation of dead meat in monk's bowls, killing of animals ceases."

That is just clearly not true. Were the dead meat not in the monk's bowl, the animal would still be every bit as dead from the killing and the suffering that necessarily entails would follow.

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  • I never accused monks of being complicit in killing, I was simply posing a moral dilemma. I honestly don't agree with your reasoning. Look at it this way: A criminal robs someone of their money. They feel guilty about their crime and buy food to offer as alms to a monastic. The monastic knows the true source of the money used to buy him food. Is it moral for him to accept it? Similarly, if it's immoral for a monk to kill animals, then it's immoral for everyone to kill animals. Knowing someone else killed an animal that eventually is offered to you as alms food poses a moral dilemma.
    – SlowBurn
    Jun 30 at 21:04
  • I don't have a solution to this dilemma. That would require me to either claim the monk is guilty or innocent and I don't take a position because I simply don't know. I will say that if the monk has a better option to receive food that wasn't intentionally killed for food, it's likely more clean in a kammic sense.
    – SlowBurn
    Jun 30 at 21:06
  • What would happen if the monastic refused to accept the food that was purchased with ill-gotten gains? Would any suffering of anyone cease? You have this idea of 'morality' as a fixed law or thing. Some platonic ideal of 'morality' that is inflated and truly existent. No such 'morality' exists. Jun 30 at 21:14
  • BTW, 'guilt' is considered a non-virtuous emotion. Guilt is not helpful. Jun 30 at 21:14
  • Well, it's just semantics if you would claim someone upholds precepts because it's skillful to do so as opposed to a sense of guilt if one breaks them. I don't think the monastic would refuse the food with the thought that anyone's suffering had ceased, but rather that it was bought with stolen money and thus he would otherwise be taking what was not freely given by the true owner of the money.
    – SlowBurn
    Jun 30 at 21:17
-3

Question: Can a monk choose to eat only an animal or plant that had died naturally? This either by scavenging on his own or by waiting for others to offer this to him?

Yes, they could chose to only eat an animal or plant that had died naturally. The monastic could do this either by scavenging on his own or by waiting for others to offer him food that did not require animal death whatsoever, such as with cellular agriculture.

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  • A monk's scavenging or being choosy about what they accept would be contrary to the Vinaya, isn't that so? And so I think that no, a monastic couldn't do this.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 30 at 22:31
  • See also this quote
    – ChrisW
    Jun 30 at 22:36
  • @ChrisW But a monastic is forbidden from eating an animal specifically killed for him, so I wouldn't call that being choosy if he refused such food offerings. Seeing that animals intentionally killed for food are generally killed for the benefit of humans, it could be argued that any animal is killed for the monk in a general, if indirect sense. I guess the point here is that the monk should at least be mindful of his food source and have a natural preference for food that does not involve intentional killing of any kind.
    – SlowBurn
    Jun 30 at 22:38
  • BTW, Ajahn Brahm is a great monk and teacher and he would likely prefer food that wasn't intentionally grown, raised or killed for food consumption. I understand that such food is not always an option. I simply advocate for a mindfulness of food sources and a preference for the most compassionate sources. It's not about monks feeling bad for taking food that might not fit into that ideal category. Hope this clarifies my position on this topic.
    – SlowBurn
    Jun 30 at 22:42
  • @SlowBurn This may be useful for you: buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/37281/… Jun 30 at 22:46

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