Cherishing Life, Volume One, pp. 1-3
EATING MEAT: PEOPLE EATING OTHER PEOPLE
by the Venerable Abbot [Hsüan] Hua
For hundreds of thousands of years, the stew in the pot
Has boiled up a resentment very hard to level.
If you want to know why there are calamities and wars in the world,
Just listen to the sounds from a slaughter‑house at midnight.
This poem is directed toward those who eat meat and drink bouillon made from mutton, or beef, or pork. Or maybe it's cat broth or dog soup, or rat soup. Or maybe it's made from ants or mosquitoes. At any rate, the reason for the ingredients of these different kinds of broth is that for a very long time, people have assumed that they have the right to take the lives of other living creatures in order to enhance their own. In order to bolster their own physical strength and at the same time to enjoy the flavors of flesh, they deprive other creatures of their lives. That's why people eat meat. But the resentment--the anxiety and hatred--contained in that broth is as deep as the sea. That is because life after life we mutually kill and eat, eat and kill--we eat each other's flesh. You eat my meat, and then I will turn around and eat your flesh. We slaughter and devour each other in this way. and that is why the enmity is as deep as the sea, and the "resentment is very hard to level."
Every living creature longs to live and loathes to die. But we participate in‑the "survival of the fittest," as we use our power to take by force the lives of other creatures--we rob them of their lives. And at that moment before death, they experience tremendous hatred. Within their minds they harbor this hateful thought of vengeance: "You are killing me now? Well, in the future, I'll kill you. You are going to eat my flesh? In the future, I will eat yours." And they hold onto this resentment, until it becomes as deep as the sea and the mutual antagonism is very hard to level. There's no way to resolve those feelings of resentment.
So, "If you want to know why there are calamities and wars in the world"--people all over the world wonder why there are countries that fight with other countries on a world-wide scale. Why do such wars come about? There are man-made wars involving weapons and troops and there are natural disasters of water and fire. Such things happen all the time in this world. Previously it was North and South Vietnam at war; now it's Argentina and Great Britain bombing each other. Why? It's because of too much killing karma--there's such a long history of mutual slaughter which has become so complex that there's no way to clearly reckon the books. So people just strike out at their fellow beings, using modern weaponry, tanks, guided missiles, trying to overpower the strength of the opponent. So, "If you want to know why there are wars and calamities in the world, just listen to the sounds from a slaughterhouse at midnight." You'll hear the pigs crying and the cows moaning and the sheep bleating, screaming and wailing, beseeching people to spare them their lives. And when you hear those sounds, you will have a good idea of where the wars and weapons come from. There's another poem that reads,
In the Chung Wen [Chinese] character for meat are two people.
The one inside has been caught by the one outside.
So when living beings eat the flesh of other living beings,
If one really stops to think about it, isn't that just people eating people?
The Chung Wen character for meat is a picture of a mouth--an open mouth, since the horizontal stroke at its base is missing--and inside the mouth is a picture of a person, while outside the mouth is a picture of another person waiting. The person outside the mouth hasn't gone in yet. The person inside the mouth would like to escape, but can't. He's stuck inside the mouth. The one inside has grown while inside the mouth, so although the enclosure is only three-sided, he can't get out. Why is he stuck there? Basically this is a pictograph of a person being eaten by another person. The one who is eating the meat is on the outside--he still resembles a person. But the one on the inside is already no longer a person. He has turned into an animal. Not only has he turned into an animal, but he's been trapped--detained there. He can't go up and he can't go down; he's stuck right in there. He's as cooped up as if he were in a pen. The pen could be a pig pen, or a sheep pen, or a cow pen. The person on the outside is keeping watch over the pen so that the animal can't escape. He intends to eat that animal's flesh. So the poem reads: "In the character for meat are two people."
And there's another obvious thing about this character: those two people have an irrevocable connection between them. The one eating and the one being eaten have an involvement with each other that cannot be severed because they are bound up in resentment. They'd really like to get at each other.
In this way living beings eat the flesh of other living beings. Think about it. We people are living beings and what we eat is other living beings. So this is a case of living beings eating other living beings. Horses, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and dogs are all animals. And all other creatures are also living beings.
There are those who say, "Well, those creatures have been put here by God just for people to eat."
Oh? Well, for whom were people put here to be eaten by? It can't be said that creatures were put here by the gods specifically for people to eat. What's really happening in this case? It's just survival of the fittest. People are more clever and more strong, and they rely on those qualities to usurp the lives of other living creatures by force. Think about the interrelationships involved in eating meat. Isn't it simply a case of people eating people? Since this is the case, let's return to our analysis of that person inside 'the character for meat who has now turned into an animal‑‑a cow, a sheep, a horse, a pig, a chicken, a dog‑‑any one of the different kinds of animals.