Towards Veganism: Not All Or Nothing

Q: Your talk on vegetarianism/veganism was very thought-provoking and I enjoyed it. However, I think you were pushing too hard that Buddhists should be vegan, although a few times you did say ‘just eat less meat’. The videos and posters featured from vegan or animal-lover organisations seem to reflect you as a vegan extremist? If not, it seems that you were very influenced by such organisations. I thought you should mellow your materials to show a Middle Path which is more of the Buddha’s doctrine. I look forward to attending more of your talks.

A: Thank you for enjoying the session. Hmmm… I remember saying it’s not all or nothing and other statements to that effect many times – 10 times perhaps? I lost count. Perhaps I should say it more – at the risk of appearing naggy. I said it at the beginning, end and middle. Usually, when we encourage the kicking off of a bad habit, e.g. smoking, we talk more of quitting more instead of smoking less, because it is harmful – every single stick of cigarette. I hope you understand. I repeated that it’s not all or nothing, precisely because I know there is the possibility of selective-listening, to see the talk as extreme advocation when it is actually not. (No worries, am sure this doesn’t apply to you.) There were many humorous cartoons shown too.

Hmmm… What is a vegan extremist? Vegans are those who respect all lifeforms, who do not support extreme actions such as slavery, exploitation and killing of animals in their lifestyle. They are pro-peace for all beings – even human beings. The truth is, those who think vegans are extremist are more extreme in their thinking and lifestyle – in continually turning a blind eye to suffering of countless animals. (No worries, am sure this doesn’t apply to you.) Extreme is forcing animals to die. Extreme apathy is not sharing about such extreme suffering to lessen it. The Buddha himself speaks up against needless suffering. He is by nature a spiritual activist, sharing unpleasant but nevertheless important truths at times. (Think the First Noble Truth.)

By the very nature of the subject of the talk, it centres around extreme suffering (e.g. slavery, exploitation and killing) – which is why scenes of suffering are inevitable for us to squarely face the First Noble Truth experienced by neglected sentient beings. If you come across more effective videos and posters, do share them with me. There was particular focus on animals’ suffering because from experience, the best way to counter the main reason why people are attached to animal produce (due to greed) is by awaking their compassion.

Hmmm… What animal activist organisations do is highlight extreme suffering – which DOES exist – to awaken our sleeping conscience. We can’t expect them to highlight happily enslaved animals facing the knife – because they simply don’t exist. No meat-eater can conclusively say the animals that died for them did not go through smilar hell. Even if an animal led a good life, to be killed unwillingly is still suffering. As shared in a slide, just because killed humans led a good life does not make a serial-killer’s serial killing okay- because no one wants to die under the knife. As another example, just because Nazis killed Jews who lived well doesn’t justify it either.

If you can, do share on what you mean by Middle Path in showing materials? The subject is about something extreme – killing. Can it be depicted in a mellow way with good effect? When the Buddha taught about the suffering in the hells, he created pictures of extreme suffering in our minds. Buddhists even build hell-theme parks. Such teachings of the hells are actually much more horrendous – but the Buddha taught about them any way, for the welfare of all beings. No Buddhists say the Buddha was extreme. The talk only showed 60 seconds of hell on Earth in video – a very small sampling of the hell animals endure all their lives before meeting the butcher’s knife. I hope you understand. There was careful selection of just a single 60 seconds clip. (See video at

May all beings be well and happy, free from harm and danger.