A Brief Thought from a Buddhist Who Eats Meat

Today at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation, we heard a sermon that spoke to the various ethical issues that come with the treatment of various types of animals. Of course, a subtopic at the center here is the observance of vegetarianism and veganism, something which is espoused by countless people for varying religious or ethical reasons, including many (but certainly not all) Buddhists. Since taking up the observance of a Buddhist practice a few years ago, I have personally sought to cut out as much meat as possible from my diet, feeling this is an ethically “right” or skillful thing to do from a Buddhist perspective.

At the conclusion of the sermon today, the preacher offered a beloved Quaker story. This likely fictional tale briefly follows conversations between William Penn (Founder of Colonial-era Pennsylvania) and George Fox (Founder of Quakerism) I paste this story below, obtained from Friends Journal.

“When William Penn was convinced of the principles of Friends, and became a frequent attendant at their meetings, he did not immediately relinquish his gay apparel; it is even said that he wore a sword, as was then customary among men of rank and fashion. Being one day in company with George Fox, he asked his advice concerning it, saying that he might, perhaps, appear singular among Friends, but his sword had once been the means of saving his life without injuring his antagonist, and moreover, that Christ has said, “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” George Fox answered, “I advise thee to wear it as long as thou canst.” Not long after this they met again, when William had no sword, and George said to him, “William, where is thy sword?” “Oh!” said he, “I have taken thy advice; I wore it as long as I could.”

Many of us find ourselves at different places when it comes to the ethical questions and concerns of vegetarianism and veganism. As I reflect on this story, I find myself replacing the wearing of the sword with the consumption of meat. “Should I continue to consume meat”? “Do so for as long as you can”. While many may disagree with this understanding, I find this to be a compassionate, gentle way of treating oneself and others when it comes to life transitions of this magnitude.

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