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Zen & Vegetarianism

To kill an animal you need to feel cruel, angry or indifferent.  This feeling combined with the karma Mental imprints created by the volitional thoughts and acts of a deluded mind of killing itself plants painful a karmic seed.  Also, these feelings will affect your ability to practice compassion and meditation. 

Eating meat isn't quite the same.  Avoiding meat out of compassion for animals is a great practice but doing it because you want to feel better than meat eaters is at best a mixed blessing.  As always, your motivation is important. 

Vegetarian diet is practiced by all Zen monks, but circumstances need to be taken into account.  Master Hui Neng lived with hunters and ate vegetables from their pot, which contained meat.  In some countries the climate makes an all vegetable diet impossible.  Also, monks that beg for food must gratefully accept whatever is given, even meat.

The teachings and customs on vegetarianism are complex, but there are a few things everyone could recommend of lay practitioners.

At a minimum, don't kill animals and especially, don't make a living out of killing animals
Don't order one to be killed for you or chose which one should be killed
   (such as picking lobsters at a seafood restaurant)
Always consider the animal gratefully if you do eat meat.

Also, if you want to try vegetarian diet, it will be no fun if you just take the meat out of western meals.  There are plenty of tasty vegetarian Chinese and Indian dishes.  Most cities with a Chinese community have at least one vegetarian Chinese restaurant.  They often have a backwards Swastika on the front, an ancient Buddhist symbol, to indicate they  serve vegetarian food.

If that is too much commitment, you might consider a common lay Chinese custom.  Some Buddhists treat the 1st and 15th of every month as days of serious practice and reflection.  They would avoid movies, television etc, instead meditating, being selfaware and eating no meat at all.

The key here is that your motivation should be clean.  Buddhist precepts are not handed down by God to tell you what to do.  They are advice on behaviour that will help or hurt you.  You are not judged, but advised.  You should follow whatever precepts you can.  Don't worry if you can't follow all of them all of the time.  As the Buddha said, refusing to take any vow because you can't take all of them is like a thirsty person that finds a river, but will not drink because they can't drink all the water.

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