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Dharma Master Jing Kong: Vegetarianism for Health
Translator’s Note: This is an English translation of the original Chinese language text entitled ‘净空法师 素食养生‘, or ‘Dharma Master Jing Kong: Vegetarianism Supports Health’. Dharma Master Jing Kong was born in China’s Anhui province in 1927, and ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1959, at a temple in Taiwan. He is renowned as a Pure Land practitioner and teacher and his work is very popular on CD and VCD throughout the Chinese speaking world. He teaches that there are four forms of Buddhism; 1) Original Buddhism which is rare today, 2) Religious Buddhism which is a distortion of original Buddhism, but useful in conveying the Buddha’s general teachings 3) Academic Buddhism, which is too one-sided, and 4) Cultish Buddhism which is a total degradation of the Buddha’s teachings. Master Jing Kong now lives in Australia, and the Dharma talks given below on the subject of Buddhist vegetarianism, were delivered at different times in Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and cover a wide range of ideas and approaches. The Buddha taught that human beings should not kill or cause to kill, but his monks also had to beg for their living from often impoverished villagers who would give left-over scraps of food, which often included small bits of meat. Although not condoning the killing of animals, the Vinaya – or body of Buddhist monastic rules – does not explicitly outlaw the eating of meat, although of course, it is implied. In countries such as Thailand, Burma, and Laos, for instance, Buddhist monks still beg for their food from villagers and townsfolk, and are occasionally given small bits of waste meat from the family table. The monks are expected to eat this offering with a non-discriminating mind. However, a monk must never allow an animal to be killed in his presence, or killed out of his presence, specifically as a food offering. If he hears of an animal that is to be slaughtered, he must definitely not allow it. In China the situation is different as Buddhist monks (and nuns) have been forbidden from begging for well over a thousand years. Instead they cultivate the land around monasteries and temples, planting only vegetables and fruit. This means that Chinese Buddhism takes a strict vegetarian position for its followers, premised on such sutras as the Brahmajala and Surangama, etc. Master Jing Kong skilfully combines a traditional Buddhist approach to life, with a modern scientific outlook, and makes a moving and compelling case for everyone to follow a vegetarian diet for their psychological and physical well-being.
1) Dharma Talk – Singapore 2007
Living in this era, right now, it is a profound truth that we should not eat meat, as this is a very serious problem. In the past, humans ate the flesh of pigs, chickens, and sheep, which roamed free around the outside world. These animals had a very good life, only to be killed at a certain time. At that time the animals were caught and killed. Due to the natural situation of their free existences, their minds were calm and happy at the point of their deaths, and the meat obtained, was pure as a consequence. Nowadays, however, things are very different, as animals are born into cages and live a life of terrible imprisonment and suffering before they are killed – given these bad circumstances, how can their minds be happy and calm? Obviously their minds are not happy and the resultant meat is infected with this poison. Think about this truth as it is very important.
The Great Master Yin Guang (印光大师 – Yin Guang Da Shi) taught in his ‘Cultural Notes’ (文钞 – Wen Chao) regarding precepts, that many women in China do not understand the association between the state of mind and the body. On one occasion, an angry mother breastfed milk to her child, only to see that this baby died a few days later. Although the woman in question did not understand why her child sadly died, it can be assumed that it was because the milk was contaminated with her anger. If a woman has anger in her mind, she should take around two hours to calm down and relax before feeding her baby – in this way the child will not be adversely effected by the mother’s toxic anger! If this is true for humans, then how can we as humans eat the flesh of animals kept imprisoned in cages all their lives, without getting sick from ingesting the infected meat? Animals kept in these conditions have minds infected with anger that poisons their bodies with toxins.
This means that we cannot eat meat. Although I do not know the facts about other countries, I do know the situation in Taiwan. In Taiwan, for instance, a pig is raised for six months before it is killed. During that time, it receives continuous injections of hormones to make it grow quicker than is normal. It is kept in a cage throughout its short life, and then it is killed to be eaten as meat. In the case of chickens, the lifespan is six weeks. As soon as the chick hatches from the egg, it is immediately given numerous injections to stimulate unnatural growth. This is why it gets big and fat very quickly whilst spending its entire life in a cage crammed full of other chicks that never see the sun before they are killed – how can we eat them! Knowing this to be true, it is no longer possible for human beings to eat meat, as eating this contaminated flesh will only make us sick! This is why there has been so many strange illnesses and diseases contracted in modern times which are entirely diet related. Habitual meat-eaters criticise vegetarianism and say that a vegetarian diet lacks nutrition. This is not true as many monks and Great Dharma Masters (大法师 – Da Fa Shi) are stout of stature and well built, how can there be no nutrition contained within their vegetarian diet? Their bodies are very healthy, which is clear for all to see! The last time I came here, we all saw the Old Dharma Master Ming Shan (茗山老法师 – Ming Shan Lao Fa Shi), who was 81 years old at the time. As a lifelong vegetarian, he looked fit and healthy and this is why it is a great error to assert that a vegetarian diet contains no nutrition. To believe this idea is a mistake, and instead the vegetarian movement should be viewed as following a good and nutritious diet. This is surely a more preferable path than to possess a mind that does not give a thought to the well-being of that which is eaten? Vegetarianism ensures that the mind and body of a person is pure and clean, and that the ongoing maintenance of this state develops loving kindness and compassion towards the welfare of all beings. This is a truth that I feel I must teach here today without reservation.
Six months after first beginning my studies of the Buddha-Dharma, I adopted a complete vegetarian diet. I was not persuaded by another to do this, I just saw and understood the simple truth that vegetarianism is the best and most healthy diet to adopt. This truth is important for people who live in the world, as they need to understand the necessity to maintain a healthy diet that ensures a robust physical health. Physical health is dependent upon pursuing a pure and clean diet. What is taken into the body as sustenance must not be contaminated in any way, but remain completely clean. Today, it is obvious that meat is not clean even at a glance, and this is reinforced by examining it with a microscope – it is not clean but rather filthy. The wise people who follow Islam know about the importance of diet and how to defend their physical essence, but generally we tend to ignore this important factor. We only understand physical health in a superficial manner, and ignore the importance of its essential nature. On the other hand, a Muslim knows what to eat and not what to eat if he wants to ensure a clear mind and a clean body.
In my youth I was not a Buddhist. During my education I studied Islam for about a year and had many Muslim friends. I read their books and attended their mosque activities. I also participated in Christian activities, but found that I much preferred the Islamic practices. I very much appreciated their ‘Five Pillars’ (五功 – Wu Gong), which contains a great ethical flavour. After learning about Buddhism, I understood that the Dharma also teaches about inner development – which goes beyond Islamic dietary theory. Dharma practice is not only about the maintaining of a healthy physical body through dietary habit, but is also concerned with the generation of compassion. This is achieved by not eating meat and generating loving kindness and compassion toward the well-being of all living creatures. The Dharmic-dietary habit of vegetarianism has three obvious benefits; it protects life (卫生 – Wei Sheng), it guards the essential essence (卫性 – Wei Xing), and it defends the mind (卫心 – Wei Xin). It is understanding this that influenced me to embrace a fully vegetarian diet.
It also teaches within the Buddha-Dharma, that the ‘Five Meats’ (五荤 – Wu Hun) should not be eaten. However, the term ‘Five Meats’ actually refers to the ‘Five Pungent Roots’ (五辛 – Wu Xin), with the use of the word ‘meat’ (荤 – Hun), as a synonym for ‘pungent root’ 辛 – Xin). Although ‘荤’ (Hun) does mean ‘meat’, it can also be used to refer to spicy or strong roots or herbs, etc., and in this Buddhist context does not literally refer to ‘meat’. The five pungent roots are:
1) Green Onion (葱 – Cong) = Spring Onion
2) Large Clove Garlic (大蒜 – Da Suan) = Garlic
3) Chive Vegetable (韭菜 – Jiu Cai) = Chive
4) Small Garlic (小蒜 – Xiao Suan) = Shallot
5) Foreign Onion (洋葱 – Yang Cong) = Bulb Onion
Why are these foods forbidden from consumption? It is because the temper – or state of mind - needs to be guarded from harmful influences. Not consuming these foods in their raw state protects the mind and ensures that bad influences do not enter into it through dietary intake. In the Surangama Sutra (楞严经 – Leng Yan Jing), the Buddha’s teaching is very clear that if we want to avoid a negative and destructive temperament, then these five foods must not be consumed. In their cooked form these five foods generate sexual desire (through hormonal stimulation) in the mind and body. This sexual arousal in the mind and body is not a good thing, and so the Buddha prohibited the intake of these kinds of food as part of the monastic rules. With regard to those who live a lay-life, and who have a family, a little use of shallots or garlic to season food is of little issue, and is not considered a major problem. It is like when cooking wine is put into food to add flavour, when eating this food, you are unlikely to get drunk.
(Diamond Wisdom Research Studies (VII): Singapore Buddhist Lodge - Filename: 9-23-007)
2) Dharma Talk – Kowloon, Hong Kong 1998
My advice for lay people living within a family environment is to adopt a vegetarian diet in a gradual manner and not rush into it. This is because there are many misconceptions about this path that need to be reconciled. With regard to the study of Buddhist teaching, the subject of the correct diet is probably the area with the greatest difficulty of theoretical interpretation and practical application. As Buddhists we understand the profound truth that all life is interdependent, and that as a consequence, we do not want to eat meat. As living beings, we are all related to one another and it is logical to pursue a vegetarian diet. Generally speaking, people are of the opinion that a vegetarian diet does not contain any nutrition. As they also care for you, they are worried that you are not getting the right amount of nutrition and encourage you to eat more meat. This advice is well intentioned, and is not the product of a malicious mind. An understanding must be developed that the intake of vegetarian food is good for the human body, and that if you eat meat, disease develops. As I do not eat meat, I possess a healthy body. When others see this truth, they will understand. Therefore in the matter of advising others to adopt a vegetarian diet, a straightforward ‘cause and effect’ argument generally will not work, and will be met with resistance. However, if the focus is on a demonstrably healthy body – then this is the best method of persuasion because it is easy to accept…
(Benevolent Wealth Dispensing Participation Report  Kowloon, Hong Kong, May 1998)
3) Dharma Talk – Kowloon, Hong Kong 1999
Therefore, if you say to me that if I eat meat, then I will receive karmic retribution in the future, I will not believe what you are saying. I would assume that what you are saying is untrue and that you are trying to scare me into adopting a vegetarian diet. I would not be in agreement with you just because you told me such a thing, but would have to work it all out for myself. Through self-effort I would have to come to an understanding of the correctness and truth of vegetarianism – in my own case, this process took six months of thorough research, investigation, and assessment – only then did I understand the truth about adopting a vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism is the ‘Way’ (道 – Dao) of good health, and when discussing diet, many people just focus upon the physical, but diet also has an emotional side to it. Many people have perfectly healthy bodies but their minds are full of bad temper, bad moods, and negative emotions, so there is a definite link between diet and mood. From a psychological developmental position, I was not a Buddhist when I was young, but as a student I did know and live with many good Muslims and attended their Mosque. This allowed me to witness their traditional Islamic teachings first-hand. Coupled with this experience I also knew Christians, and studied the Old and New Testaments. I also read the Qur’an. After I started studying Buddhism, I suddenly realised how progressive Islamic teachings are with regard to eating animals, and understood that Muslims did not eat certain animals because of their bad or negative temperament. Islamic teaching understands diet in relation to essential health, and is a progressive teaching for its followers. Muslims are very careful about what kind of meat they eat – why is this? As with Buddhism, it is because eating meat has a physiological and psychological effect upon the human body and mind. Buddhism, however, also does not eat meat because of its compassionate attitude towards all forms of life. In this way the essential health of the body is preserved and maintained, as is that of the mind. This Buddhist attitude creates a robust and comprehensive healthiness in the body and mind.
A vegetarian diet protects the essence of life and well-being, by taking into the body only substances that are pure. This requires that the so-called ‘five meats’ are picked-out of the food. These are not actually ‘meats’, but rather the five onion-like, pungent root-vegetables which are forbidden within the practice of Buddhism because of their strong taste and smell (which resembles that of fish meat). The five pungent roots are:
1) Green Onion (葱 – Cong) = Spring Onion
2) Large Clove Garlic (大蒜 – Da Suan) = Garlic
3) Chive Vegetable (韭菜 – Jiu Cai) = Chive
4) Small Garlic (小蒜 – Xiao Suan) = Shallot
5) Foreign Onion (洋葱 – Yang Cong) = Bulb Onion
In the Surangama Sutra it is stated that these five pungent roots are not to be eaten – why does it say this? It is because the Buddha taught that if these vegetables are ingested raw – anger results in the mind – and if ingested cooked, sexual desire arises within the Body. The Buddha understood that food affects the way the mind and body operates. As the Buddha’s intention is only to create good states of mind (and body), he had the ingestion of these five pungent roots banned. It took me six months to become a Buddhist vegetarian, and this happened after I fully understood what the Buddha was saying. However, this type of change is not always easy for many, and it has a few detrimental physiological effects associated with it. This process of diet change took me six months to achieve, and now I uphold the Buddhist discipline of not eating past noon. There is no evening meal as this would contradict the established Dharma-discipline. Of course, this does not mean that there is no dramatic change in eating habits – there most certainly are – but with determination and perseverance the transformation from meat-eater to vegetarian can be fully completed. Obvious issues associated with eating just once a day involved that of losing-weight (my weight dropped to 48kg), as well as feeling continuously hungry.
Physically there are challenges, but perseverance and determination are essential to make the transition to a vegetarian diet. Others saw that my weight had dropped to 48kg and thought I looked too pale, thin and lean. They thought that I was getting sick, and so I had my physical health checked every three months and was reassured that I was perfectly healthy! After three years my bodyweight stabilised and I am as healthy as ever. I have never been ill, have never been to hospital, and have no medical records. This is because of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. I now eat one meal a day, and yet I am full of energy and spirit. I am satisfied and cannot eat another meal, this why I eat very little, as I am satisfied with a small amount. Agitation within the mind is reduced, there are fewer distractions, and attachment and involvement in the physical world is diminished. My point is that a vegetarian diet is in fact very good for humans, and we must work to convey this message to the general public who usually think it is unhealthy – it is not. Not only this, but I prefer to eat just one meal a day and I now look just like everyone else – OK?
The Buddha teaches us to, “Hold to the recitation; as the basis for human speech” – this is the essence of all progressive action in the world. In this way, good intentioned actions manifest in the world, and become clearly visible for everyone to see. Once pure action is seen, confidence in its efficacy is established in the minds of the people. My old teacher was the layman ‘Li Bing Nan’ (李炳南) – was over thirty years old when he started studying Buddhism, but it did not take him long to learn all the essentials and adopt a vegetarian diet. He took the Bodhisattva Vows and upheld their discipline within his family home. At that time in China it was also common to follow the Brahmajala disciple fully – just like a fully ordained monk would do in a temple or monastery. After taking the vows, he always controlled both his mind and his food intake. He eventually passed away in his ninety-seventh year after a lifetime of reciting sutras, and teaching, without interruption. I was with him for ten years, and very much admired his dedication, this is why I decided to learn from him – and this included how to maintain the correct Buddhist diet. I did not tell him for some time that I ate only one meal a day, when he found out, he asked me how long I had been doing this. I replied eight months, and he asked how was I feeling? I replied that I felt perfectly normal, and did not notice anything different. He slapped the top of the table and said always be like this and never ask for help – always live simple and be self-sufficient. This is why we should discipline ourselves correctly and according to the Dharma, and not depend on others, or be misled by what others say or do.
(Benevolent Wealth Dispensing Participation Report  Vol. I, September 9, 1999)
4) Dharma Talk – Australia, 1999
For example, the practice of Chinese Buddhism advocates a strict vegetarian diet. However, when this diet is first taken-up by individuals, they often become thin and look malnourished, but after a while the body stabilises and much benefit is gained. It can look bad at the start, but eventually the health of the body becomes much improved. This is because those who used to eat meat need time for the body to adjust to the new diet. The body will adjust in about one to three years depending upon the constitution of the individual concerned. If this transition can be endured, the physical health of a vegetarian is so much more enhanced than that of a meat-eater – in fact, the two cannot be compared.
(The Great Ideas contained within the Book Entitled ‘Understanding the Four Worldly Patterns’ [了凡四训 – Le Fan Si Xun] – the Secret of Reforming Life’s Destiny. Australia, 1999. NOTE: The old master delivers this lecture on a VCD alternatively entitled ‘Essence of the Book Entitled ‘Understanding the Four Worldly Patterns’ on 7 discs – the content of which is excellent!)
5) Dharma Talk – Blessed Good Fortune & Happiness – Settled at the Source
My dentist said to me, “Dharma-master, you are a vegetarian, you are advanced in years, and yet your teeth are in such a good condition.” He could not understand how this was possible without eating-meat. He continued, “Keeping good teeth is important for the health of the entire digestive system.” How are the teeth to be kept healthy? By regular brushing after every meal – this is what my dentist told me. Of particular importance is the intersection between the teeth and the gum-line – where bacteria gathers – this area should be cleaned thoroughly. After eating, the mouth should be rinsed with mouthwash and the teeth cleaned – but you do not always have to use toothpaste. Toothpaste can be used every other day, but ensure that the mouth is thoroughly washed and rinsed.
(Blessed Good Fortune & Happiness – Settled at the Source)
6) Dharma Talk - Vegetarianism
Someone once asked me, “I am a Buddhist, but my family is not, and do not follow a vegetarian diet – what should I do?” Well, this is karma related. The important first principles for Buddhists are that family relationships should not be damaged, nor Buddha-images destroyed. Many people living in families like to eat meat, and even if you are following the Bodhisattva Path, they will still want to give you meat, even if you do not want to eat it. Take the example of the Great Master Hui Neng (惠能大师 – Hiu Neng Da Shi) – the Sixth Patriarch of the Ch’an School. For years he lived among hunters, who killed their prey every day. Yet despite this company, Hui Neng maintained the pursuance of the Way (道 – Dao) without interruption. This is because he was a Dharmakaya Bodhisattva (法身菩萨 – Fa Shen Pu Sa) who possessed a bright and clear mind. Every day he would assist the hunters as they prepared their meals of meat – but he never violated the Buddhist moral principles (and ate meat) – this is why he was a Dharmakaya Bodhisattva. When others kill animals and eat meat, this should not cause you to have no compassion for them or for the animals concerned. When meat is eaten around you, simply recite the Buddha’s name (念佛 – Nian Fo), and positive karma will be generated through good intent, which will eventually change the habits of the human meat-eaters, and ensure a good rebirth for them and their animal victims - free from suffering. Regularly recite the Buddha’s Name and routinely take refuge in the Triple Refuge (三皈依 – San Gui Yi), and this will build-up such merit within your particular life circumstances, that eventually others will be positively affected and change their ways. However, this process should not be rushed, as it takes time for people to realise the positive benefits of a vegetarian diet.
A vegetarian diet supports and boosts physical health, and nourishes the mind. Not eating meat also generates compassion and loving kindness within the mind, which influences the performance of good and positive actions in the outer world. All this retains and preserves all round good health for the vegetarian. You see, whilst those who eat meat develop all kinds of ailments and diseases, by and large, those who follow a vegetarian diet experience a robust constitution and seldom suffer from serious problems. This is because it is best never to eat too much food during a single meal, or throughout the day, so that the stomach is never full to capacity or over-full. I always advise others against over-eating, although this is not always easy to follow, even for myself. The tongue tastes the delicious food and greed develops for more and more. If this habit is indulged, the digestive system becomes over-burdened and cannot function properly. If I eat too much, I am always sorry for my behaviour. This is a situation where the tongue is happy but the stomach is in pain. People often do strange things that endanger the health of their body, so it is better to take good care of ourselves and avoid these kinds of negative behaviours. If we want longevity and robust health, both the inside and outside of the body must be cared for. This means taking into consideration the health of each individual organ and its function. We must learn to love and care for our bodies in a responsible manner. What should we eat? Shakyamuni Buddha advises vegetarian food so that the stomach is not harmed by our diet. If we eat too much food, or the wrong food, we become ill so it is better to avoid a meat diet which is bad for us. Keeping a good vegetarian diet maintains a pure essence and ensures good physical and psychological health. Such a diet develops compassion and loving kindness – as no other sentient lifeform is harmed. Follow the Ten Good Deeds (十善 – Shi Shan) and all will be correct:
1) No killing
2) No stealing
3) No sexual misconduct
4) No lying
5) No flattering language
6) No insulting language
7) No two-faced language
8) No lust for wealth
9) No anger
10) No ignorance
(Undated and no venue specified)
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2015.