Climate Change, Animal Welfare And Buddhism

September 28, 2016

By Avanthi Jayasuriya

The teachings of Lord Buddha found in core Buddhist doctrine such as the Dhammapada, recognize the symbiotic connection between human activities and nature, advocating the harmonious co-existence of all sentient including eco-systems and humanity. As exemplified in the life of Lord Buddha himself, his journey as Bodhisattva until the epitome of attaining the supreme state of Nibbana under the shelter of a tree, highlights the untenable historic connection Buddhism shares with nature.

As such, Buddhist teachings are intrinsically linked to the issues of the climate crisis and animal welfare; thereby providing a uniquely Buddhist insight into the root causes of climate crisis and animal cruelty, while determining prescriptive measures to minimize its detrimental consequences.

“Mindful eating”- Buddhism and Vegetarianism

Placing the mind as superior to bodily desires, Buddhism trains one to exert control over the human compulsions rooted in greed, ill will and delusion; urging to replace them with selflessness, compassion and wisdom. We, as Buddhist, are taught to develop these values in a manner that surpasses the self, and alternatively encompassing the collective- meaning ecosystems and humanity as a whole.

In other words, transgressing the idea of self and personal suffering, Buddhism trains us to be mindful and conscious of the suffering of the others. The first of the five core Buddhist precepts clearly defines Buddhist comportment in relation to causing harm to other sentient beings. We, as Buddhists, are taught to restrain from killing in three ways- either directly killing or causing harm to someone, indirectly killing and taking pleasure in the act of seeing others being harmed or killed.

Vegetarianism or the conscious choice of maintaining a plant based diet is resonant within Buddhist doctrinal values. On one hand the slaughtering of animals for meat production is not consistent with the Buddhist teachings of compassion, loving kindness and wisdom. On the other hand vegetarianism will enable individuals to reflect on their dietary patterns, allowing them to think beyond the momentary pleasure of consuming food, and to reflect instead on the inconceivable cruelty, harm and pain experienced by animals in the process of industrial farming and animal husbandry.

Practicing Buddhist principles by opting for a meatless diet would not only help individuals to embrace a healthy lifestyle by adopting better and more nutritious eating habits; but will also lead to more eco-sensitive behavior being adopted by individuals and communities which would ultimately contribute to the general welfare of animals and to the reduction of the overall effects on climate change.

Vegetarianism and climate change 

According to the United Nations, the meat production industry is one of the most significant contributors to the environmental crisis encountered at present. Going meatless also has long term implications in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the livestock sector including industrialized meat production and other animal husbandry practices contribute largely to the emission of greenhouse gases such as methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. In addition, animal agriculture also results in more dire consequences as seen in the deforestation for grazing purposes, the loss of biodiversity, and pollution of water sources due to animal waste disposal.

In effect, the choice to go meatless for a day would have an impact on determining the scale of the livestock industry, thereby leading to the reduction of the carbon footprint of each individual. Going meatless would help fulfill the individual and collective responsibility in contributing to the reduction of the adverse impacts of climate change. The Meatless Monday Campaign which is practiced across the globe, and is introduced to Sri Lanka, is an initiative which invites people to forego meet consumption on Monday as an effort to address animal welfare, climate change, and other related issues.

Vegetarianism and animal welfare

Increasing consumption patterns and purchasing levels of meat and animal products has led to the growth of industries based on animal husbandry to adopt commercial systems of production. These methods include more labour intensive, industrial farming practices which subject animals to unimaginable pain, harm and cruelty. From breeding practices where animals are raised for food and injected with hormones to expedite the breeding process, to the intensive confinement endured in housing and transportation methods upto the cruelty encountered in slaughtering methods used in meat production, the welfare of animals is in a deplorable state and is often overlooked. Therefore, in practicing mindful eating, Buddhism encourages us to consciously think of what goes into our diet and in turn of the pain and suffering the animals undergo in the livestock industry.

Going meatless would effectively impact the consumption patterns and lead to the reduction in the demand for meat, which would then result in the cutting back the scale of the meat production. Reducing the scale of meat industry would be beneficial in the co-opting of more sustainable patterns of livestock production which incorporates humane farming practices that ensure the welfare of animals.

In a wider perspective, Buddhism and its teachings, and campaigns that promote vegetarianism envisions creating a better environment and a more responsible society by developing a sustainable economy with healthy patterns of consumerist demand and production of meat, and by ensuring that individuals are governed by a sense of ecological awareness of the welfare of animals and environment.