“Three Purities” & “Pig’s Delight”

golden-buddhaIn an attempt to justify their appetite for the flesh of animals, some individuals allege that the Buddha permitted the consumption of meat under three conditions, and that the Buddha himself ate pork. These are patently specious claims. 

The Pali text of the Jivaka Sutta, the source of the infamous ‘three purities’ argument, states: 

I say that there are three instances in which meat should not be eaten:

when it is seen, heard, or suspected.

I say that meat should not be eaten in those three instances.  

I say that there are three instances in which meat may be eaten:

when it is not seen, not heard, and not suspected.

I say that meat may be eaten in these three instances.  

Clearly, the Buddha is stipulating here that if a monk inadvertently consumes meat that has been placed in his begging bowl, he is not at fault. His action is pure. However, if he sees, hears, or even suspects that there is meat in his bowl, he must not eat it.  

Later commentators gratuitously inserted the phrase [that the living being has been slaughtered for oneself] after each iteration of the word ‘suspected’. The phrase does not appear in the Pali text. It is a spurious addition, making it seem as if the Buddha allowed his monks to eat meat when the animal was not expressly killed to feed them, or at least when they did not see, hear, or suspect it.  

This interpolation is linguistically unwarranted. More importantly, it contradicts the unequivocal teaching of the Buddha on the matter. The Buddha gives extensive arguments against meat-eating in the Angulimaliya Sutra, Nirvana Sutra, Karma Sutra, Shurangama Sutra, Mahamegha Sutra, Lankavatara Sutra, Maha Parinirvana Sutra, and others.  

In the Brahmajala Sutra, the Buddha Shakyamuni clearly exhorts his followers to adopt veganism:  

Monks, should you willingly and knowingly eat flesh, you defile yourselves.

Pray, let us not consume any flesh or whatsoever comes from sentient beings.  

Perhaps the most infamous of all revisionist interpretations is the one claiming that the Buddha died from eating contaminated pork. The term used in the (Pali) Mahaparinibbana Sutta to describe the dish that was served to the Buddha at his last meal is sukara-maddava, which literally means ‘pig’s delight’—a clear reference to truffles, a type of mushroom that pigs are keen to eat. The Pali term for pig meat is sukara-mamsa 

Carolyn Rhys-Davies, who served from 1923 to 1942 as president of the Pali Text Society, clearly noted the discrepancy more than seven decades ago, but proponents of carnivorism still trot out this fallacy today. Unless one is grossly ignorant of the Pali language, or is willfully misleading others, it is impossible to assert that ‘pigs delight’ means ‘delicious pork’, as if the Buddha had ordered a fancy dish at a modern Chinese restaurant.  

In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says: 

All beings tremble before danger; all fear death.

When we consider this, we do not kill or cause to kill.

All beings tremble before danger; life is dear to all.

When we consider this, we do not kill or cause to kill. 

All beings means all beings, not just humans.

About Tashi Nyima

I am a Dharma student, and aspire to be a companion on the path. I trust that these texts can offer a general approach and basic tools for practicing the Buddha's way to enlightenment. ||| Soy un estudiante del Dharma, y aspiro a ser un compañero en el sendero. Espero que estos textos ofrezcan a algunos un mapa general y herramientas básicas para la práctica del sendero a la iluminación que nos ofrece el Buda.
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9 Responses to “Three Purities” & “Pig’s Delight”

  1. They have deaf ears, blind eyes, a thinking full of desires. How could they understand love for all beings?

  2. Pingback: Three Purities & Pig’s Delight « Zen Flash

  3. Hi Bhante. This is a very minor area of the Dhamma, but you invited my attention, and so am offering it. There is a Sutta in the Sutta Nipaata of the Khuddaka Nikaaya of the Pali Canon, called the Aamaganda Sutta. I have it in front of me. Sutta Nipaata, verses 239-252.

    It is the definitive discourse on the subject, in Theravada Buddhism. In it, the Buddha explains that there are much worse vices than meat-eating. Murder (of humans), rape, torture, kidnapping (of humans). This ought to be read alongside the Dakkhina Vibhanga Sutta, where the type of animal killed is described as affecting the nature of the (bad) karmic results. This is common sense too, I think.

    A person is likely to feel worse for having intentionally killed an elephant (with blunt instruments), than for unintentionally standing on an insect.

    The Buddha did allow the eating of meat, even for monks (in the original Sthaviiravaada & Sarvastivaadin Vinayas, the latter of which is the basis for most of the original Mahaayaana Disciplinary codes).

    In the article above, you criticise the Pali Commentaries as being fallacious, but the sources you quote are much later in date, and thus from a historical point of view, further away from what the Buddha is most likely to have (actually) taught – originally.

    In the Buddha’s time, Devadatta is held to’ve proposed ten disciplinary points in an attempt to create a schism in the Sangha. That vegetarianism be introduced as a rule for all monks, was one of these ten points. The Buddha denied / refuted all ten.

    With respect, I think your stance on vegetarianism is a little one-sided, and not fully-informed. Buddhism is about moderation, in general, and contentment with what one gets. It (your stance) also seems quite strong.

    In practice, it’s a middle path.

    With Mettha,

    Arjuna

    • Tashi Nyima says:

      Dear Arjuna

      om svasti

      Thank you for your comment.

      I will not enter into arguments (which would prove inconclusive, and –I suspect— unfruitful) about the relative ‘authenticity’ of the various Buddhist traditions. Serious scholars have not harbored the uncritical conflation of so-called ‘early Buddhism’ and today’s Theravada for some time.

      There are many collections of Buddhist teachings, and there is no ‘original’ source. The Pali Canon was compiled in layers, its earliest strata dating from at least 500 years after the parinirvana of the Buddha, in a language He did not speak, thousands of miles away from the epicenter of His preaching. The Pali Canon is one among many, and it is not privileged in any substantive way. It is merely the chosen doctrine of a particular Buddhist sect.

      I do not deny that there is much wisdom to be found in the Pali scriptures, but they are neither ‘more authentic’ than others, nor especially complete. They are, in fact, more recent than the Gandhari Canon, and substantially narrower in scope than the Chinese and Tibetan Canons.

      In the spirit of seeking truth, not argument, I will comment on some of your specific statements below.

      “[…] there are much worse vices than meat-eating. Murder (of humans), rape, torture, kidnapping (of humans). This ought to be read alongside the Dakkhina Vibhanga Sutta, where the type of animal killed is described as affecting the nature of the (bad) karmic results. This is common sense too, I think.”

      Yes, there are worse vices than meat eating, but that is not a recommendation to eat meat. Killing 100,000 humans is worse than killing 10 humans, but we cannot conclude from that that killing the lesser number is authorized. Also, killing an Arhat is worse than killing an ordinary person, but that does not mean that we are authorized to kill the latter.

      “The Buddha did allow the eating of meat, even for monks (in the original Sthaviiravaada & Sarvastivaadin Vinayas, the latter of which is the basis for most of the original Mahaayaana Disciplinary codes).”

      Again, there is no ‘original’ Vinaya. And there is no allowance of meat eating. The argument of the ‘three purities’ is both specious and ambiguous. The First Precept, however, is clear: “I undertake the training of abstaining from killing.”

      The Buddha said:
      The wise who hurt no living being,
      and who keep their body under self-control,
      they go to the immortal nirvana,
      where once gone they sorrow no more.
      —Dhammapada 225

      And how does a Bhikkhu abide
      with his mind imbued with friendliness extending everywhere?
      Just as he would feel friendliness on seeing a dearly favorite person,
      exactly so does he extend this same loving-kindness
      to all beings in all eight directions,
      one by one, and as above so also below.
      —Abhidhamma Pitaka: Appamañña-vibhanga

      Those who live only for pleasures,
      and whose minds are not in harmony,
      who consider not the food they eat,
      are idle, and have not the power of virtue,
      such are moved by mara,
      are moved by selfish temptations,
      even as a weak tree is shaken by the wind.
      —Dhammapada 7

      Although a man may wear fine clothing, if he lives peacefully,
      and is good, self-possessed, has faith, and is pure;
      and if he does not hurt any living being, he is a holy Brahmin,
      a hermit of seclusion, a monk called a Bhikkhu.
      —Dhammapada 142

      “In the article above, you criticise the Pali Commentaries as being fallacious, but the sources you quote are much later in date, and thus from a historical point of view, further away from what the Buddha is most likely to have (actually) taught – originally.”

      Again, there is no ‘original’ Buddhism. There were various sects from the very ‘start’ of Buddhism, each with their own doctrine. The Theravada are one among many.

      “In the Buddha’s time, Devadatta is held to’ve proposed ten disciplinary points in an attempt to create a schism in the Sangha. That vegetarianism be introduced as a rule for all monks, was one of these ten points. The Buddha denied / refuted all ten.”

      The five (not ten) rules proposed by Devadatta (1. that monks live only in the forest; 2. that they depend exclusively on begging; 3. that robes be made from discarded rags; 4. that they dwell under trees; and 5. that they abstain from eating flesh) were meant to convey the appearance that he was more saintly, and therefore the ideal successor, to the Buddha.

      There are three reasons why they were rejected:
      1. Devadatta’s intention was to split the Sangha and advance his craving for power and fame. His concerns were not ethical, but rather political.
      2. The rules of the Vinaya were developed progressively, and always in response to specific doubts or conflicts. They were never issued ‘a priori’.
      3. The rule concerning the consumption of flesh was redundant, as it was already covered in the 4 Parajikas (offenses requiring immediate disrobing). The fourth of these is “do not kill or cause to kill”.

      “With respect, I think your stance on vegetarianism is a little one-sided, and not fully-informed. Buddhism is about moderation, in general, and contentment with what one gets. It (your stance) also seems quite strong. In practice, it’s a middle path.”

      I have been practicing the Dharma probably as long as you have been alive, and have studied extensively and intensively for these many years. Please do not assume that I am ‘not fully informed’. It is at least possible that such may not be the case… is it not?

      The middle path is beyond the extremes of nihilism and eternalism, and between self-indulgence and self-mortification. It is not an invitation to pick and choose among the 5 Precepts. Without compassion for all sentient beings, there can be no peace. Without peace, there can be no clarity. Without peace and clarity, there can be no enlightenment.

      Please know that I value and respect you as a friend. I wish you all the best, and i apologize if any of my posts seem harsh. I am intimately aware of the horrible suffering of animals (including humans!), and am committed to do my part –however small— in alleviating their plight.

      mangalam
      Tashi Nyima

    • MM says:

      And IF you do not eat meat, IF you respect life, finding your food outside of the killing area, is that a sin? Is that something that will break a Buddhist rule?

      • Tashi Nyima says:

        There is no concept of ‘sin’ in the Dharma. There are wholesome and unwholesome acts. Skillful acts guided by compassion are wholesome. While we may not be able to completely avoid all harm to other sentient beings, doing our best to minimize harm is both wise and skillful.

      • MM says:

        Well, i did not use the word “sin” as a Christian concept, but just as a metaphor. Ok, I think there is no excuse for humans to eat their brothers and sisters belonging to other species.

      • Tashi Nyima says:

        Thank you! Yes, there is no excuse. All sentient beings are worthy of compassion!

  4. Dharma fool says:

    Thank you for the clear and irrefutable references.

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