Spiritually Justifying Use of Animal Products?

Q: I once watched a Buddhist TV programme in a Taiwan in which the Master said that we should avoid using leather products eg. bags, belts and shoes etc. and that we should chant some sutra to ‘chaodu’ the affected animals (for better rebirths). Are you able to advise me on this?

A: It is common to know that Buddhism encourages vegetarianism (for those who wish to cultivate greater compassion to help more beings), but it is also true that the Buddha urged veganism (no consumption or use of any animal products – including milk, cheese, cream, honey, silk…) towards the end of his teaching career. You can see this in the Surangama Sutra: http://moonpointer.com/index.php?itemid=2449 This is because animals need to be trapped, reared and exploited for animal products to be possible. And the animals get killed in the end for their meat and such too. Usually, for beginners, vegetarianism is good ‘enough’ – unless they are already ready to go further.

As for chanting to chaodu, many chants can be used. The easiest is the name of Amituofo. However, this is not to say every time we chant Amituofo, the cows from which the leather used come from will definitely go Pureland – because the consciousness of the cows, if not yet already reborn, must generate faith, aspiration and practice (the three provisions needed) to reach Pureland. If not, and if already reborn, merits dedicated to them after chanting can help alleviate their suffering. We should avoid doing this to continually ‘justify’ our use of animal products though. If it is so easy to ‘send’ the deceased to a better realm, the Buddha wouldn’t encourage vegetarianism or veganism to avoid support of killing.

6 thoughts on “Spiritually Justifying Use of Animal Products?

  1. Hmm. I think it is best left to the individual to decide whether or not to use leather products or animal by products. Many buddhist traditions also use large drums made from animal hide for their ceremonies. The decorated brocade and altar cloths used in many chinese temples for their ceremonies also contain silk as well.

    Sometimes there is little choice for the individual like for example conscripts who need to wear leather army boots.

  2. The choice is always left to individuals… while the slaughtered animals have no choice.

    Drums and ceremonial brocades should go vegan too. Recently, the 17th Karmapa advocated less use of silk.

    Am sure there are non-leather materials that can be used to make army boots – just as there are vegan boots out there on sale. Perhaps vegan army personnel should write in to suggest this.


  3. Perhaps this is the exact moment we should exercise our Kalama’s spirit.

    ‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering” — then you should abandon them.’ – The Kalama Sutta

    Just because some Buddhist Traditions use things that involved animal products doesn’t mean it is okay or should be encouraged, or that we shouldn’t voice our concern. Does the monasteries cease to operate if these things are not used? Certainly not, but the animals will certainly cease to breathe if such items continue to be produced.

    It’s true that one individual little voice might be ignored like the leather army boots case, but we can always try our best to voice our concerns to the authorities. If not, we are simply just not doing anything and are resigning to ‘fate’. Maybe start a petition?

  4. Every purchase of animal products shows how oblivious one is to suffering. And that very purchased shows the animals how unkind one could be. There’s no kinder deeds than to avoid to purchase any animal products as much as possible. (G)

  5. Hi,

    I think there are many traditions that allow the use of animal products.
    The therevadin traditions also use milk in offering to the Bodhi tree.

    Many Mahayanan schools also use animal products in the form of drums etc as stated by annon.

    Perhaps the large monasteries can start being an example by removing the large drums use for ritual music and stating the reason why.

  6. Let’s not think in terms of allow or not according to this and that… by looking at the real world situation now. ‘Cattle reared for milk production are exploited and made to suffer, just like animals reared for meat. They suffer from lameness, mastitis (inflammation of the udders) and other illnesses and – worst of all – they are forcibly separated from their calves just days after they are born so that humans can drink their milk. Cows are not some kind of special animal that produces milk automatically: just like every other animal, including us, they only produce milk to nurse their young. Male dairy calves, meanwhile, are useless to the dairy industry and are usually shot at birth.’ – http://viva.org.uk/goingvegan/index.php Would the Buddha be agreeable to milk offerings if milk came this way? No.

    Large Mahayana monasteries should do away with animal hide drums. Yes, but they already are in many case vegan. Large Theravada monasteries might not have these drums but they should encourage vegan diet among laity too, and in effect urge vegan offerings.

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