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Venus Flytrap or Vegetarian? Decisions, Decisions

This article written by Jason Grooms.

A question that always comes up when people find out I am a Buddhist is “are you a vegetarian?” or “Do you kill bugs?” It’s an interesting assumption that people equate Buddhism with nonviolence; one that gives me a great feeling that we are sending the right message. But this base assumption can often lead to misunderstanding, even among practitioners, especially among new lay persons. To what extent does the first Buddhist precept (Do no harm to living creatures) apply? Recently I was posed an interesting question that at first seemed like a simple answer, but it got me thinking. Is it ok, as a Buddhist, to raise a Venus Flytrap?

There are several answers to this. In many traditions, the first precept is strictly adhered to. Monks sweep the ground in front of them when they walk to prevent the accidental killing of unfortunate insects or worms. In many western interpretations it’s not even seen as a necessity to be a vegetarian. So where is the middle ground? The question comes down to the understanding of “intent.”

First let’s get it out of the way that a Venus Flytrap does not “need” flies to live. Water, the right amount of light and fertilizer will do just fine. But what if it catches one in your house? Have you done harm to that fly by setting up the circumstances for the harm to occur? Not necessarily. Inline with the teachings of the Buddha regarding the “Middle Way” you must look at what is the natural way of things. That flytrap would still have caught flies in the bog just as much as it would in your house.

I was listening to the story of a Buddhist monk who had come to America. His host was driving him to their destination when he realized that the monk had not eaten on his entire journey and must be very hungry. Given the fact that they were in a remote area of Texas, there weren’t a lot of options for restaurants. His host was frantic over the lack of vegetarian fare they would find, but the monk tried to put his mind at ease by letting him know he would be fine eating anything that was available. He recounted a tale of the Buddha himself being offered food when staying in the home of a villager. The food contained goat, but the intent was pure (of both the villager and Buddha himself.)

The point is to remember in all decisions, whether it be about a pet (or predatory plant in this case) or a dietary choice, the right intention is what’s important. Buddha taught (and it is echoed by HHDL) that a good deed caused from wrong thought is still bad Karma, while a good intentioned act that may end in harm could still be good karma.

This article written by Jason Grooms.

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