When I first set out to spend the month of August delving more deeply into the Five Precepts of Buddhism, I had associated adopting a vegan lifestyle as being primarily about working with the First Precept, which has to do with abstaining from killing any living being. As I’ve spent the month examining the Precepts, I have begun to see that other precepts might also argue for a vegan lifestyle.
The Second Precept is a guideline that calls for abstaining from taking that which isn’t freely given. As with the other Precepts, there is a simple way to look at the Second Precept, and there is a more complex way of looking at it. A simple reading would say that this guideline is about stealing. However, if you think of all of the Precepts as being prescriptions for non-harming of ourselves and others, this guideline starts to take on more nuance. I covered some of the initial things that I was considering when I started the project in an earlier post, but I have found several other ways of practicing the Second Precept over the last month, including how it relates to my diet.
Most of you probably already know that in addition to not eating meat, vegans refrain eating any animal products, including milk, eggs, cheese, butter, and even honey. From an ethical standpoint, animals who are raised for dairy products in commercial farming environments are just as mistreated (possibly more so at times) as those who are raised for meat. You don’t have to look too hard to find videos that will show you images of cows with infected utters and the like from being hooked up to milking machines. Along the same lines, egg laying chickens on commercial farms often live in inhumane conditions, just like those raised for meat. There is little doubt that these animals are not freely subjecting themselves to this treatment. Things become a little more fuzzy when you look at animals raised in more humane environments, like many local farms. I can’t really say how the well-treated cow views being milked, but at the very least there is a question of whether that milk is really freely given.
Regardless of where my diet ends up at the end of this project, I have found a lot of value in the amount of attention that a vegan diet requires. It has made me honestly consider the impact of my diet on all living beings, including myself. I haven’t really purchased any clothes this month, but there are also things to consider in relation to this arena, beyond just avoiding leather. Regardless of whether you are vegan or not, I believe that this kind of mindfulness of our actions can lead us to make better choices, both for ourselves and for our fellow beings.