17th October 1999

Front Page|
Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports|
Sports Plus| Mirror Magazine

The Sunday Times on the Web


The Buddha's discourse with Jivaka

Atrocities for the dinner table

Recently The Sunday Times carried an article on the Jivaka Sutta by Ven. Soma Thera. Mahipali has read this discourse in the Buddhist Canon many a time. It occurs in the Middle Length Collection or Majjhima Nikaya and has often been cited in defence of meat eating by Buddhist monks.

By Mahipali

What does the Jivaka Sutta actually say? In the preamble to the discourse, Jivaka, a famous paediatrician and general physician, tells the Buddha that he has heard it said that living beings are killed for the sake of Gotama and that He partakes of such flesh. Jivaka then asks whether those who say so tell the truth or whether it is a falsehood.

The Buddha replies, "No they do not tell the truth; they misrepresent me with a palpable falsehood". Then he adds, "I say Jivaka, that flesh is not fit for consumption on three grounds - seen, heard and suspected". The Pali words are dittham, sutam and parisamkitam. (not mutam as the Ven. Soma states). What Mahipali has given is the literal and only possible translation of the original terms. But down the ages this has been interpreted as meaning "seen/ heard/suspected to be the flesh of animals specifically slain for monks". The "specifically slain for monks" part was introduced by the authors of commentaries at some unknown time, but quite early on in the history of Theravada Buddhism.

In 1993, D.K.Jayawardana, wrote an interesting booklet The Buddhist View On The Eating Of Animal Flesh, in which he discusses this particular discourse. After reading his booklet, Mahipali read the discourse in its original Pali once again. Then he realised that Mr. Jayawardana is perfectly right.

What does Mr. Jaywardana say about the Jivaka Sutta and its commentarial interpretation?

He says that what the Buddha has said is that what is seen, heard or suspected to be flesh is not fit for consumption. It is the preamble which speaks of reports that the Buddha ate flesh of animals killed for his sake and this the Buddha said is a false accusation. To the words seen, heard and suspected, the commentator has added "as having been killed and prepared for sake of monks".

The Jivaka Sutta ends with a vivid description of the demerit (apunna should not be translated as 'sin', which has strong connotations associated with the Christian notion of "original sin") accruing to a person who is responsible for the following for the sake of the Buddha or Buddhist monks: (1) Telling someone to go and fetch such and such a living being; (2) The suffering experienced by that living being as it is taken away tethered at the neck; (3) Giving an order for that living being to be slaughtered; (4) The sorrow and suffering caused to that living being in the process of slaughtering; and (5) Treating the Buddha or a disciple of his with food that is not proper for them.

In the middle of this discourse the Buddha refers to the characteristics of the Buddhist monk. He is one who extends loving kindness to the entire universe without exception. When he is given food on the alms round, he partakes of it unbound and unattached, not intending to do any harm to self or others. By implication, he can in no way encourage the offering of flesh for his consumption.

This is what the Jivaka Sutta teaches. The Buddhist layman has to take account not only of this but also the important Dhammika Sutta and other discourses in which the Buddha has exhorted that one should neither kill, nor cause others to kill, nor encourage it when others kill.

We cannot forget that the only encouragement that killers of the factory farm industry want from us is that we buy the flesh they produce. We have also to remember that the Buddha has said that trading in flesh is against right livelihood.

So, whether monks wish to be treated with flesh of slaughtered animals or not, the spirit of Buddhism does not allow us lay people to eat flesh or offer it to others, including the monks. It is not because of 'sin', nor even for sake of health (although this is a vital consideration), but essentially because it is not right to kill animals, that vegetarians refrain from eating animals.

A true vegetarian will never treat another human being with contempt, whatever that person eats. What one eats is a matter left to each individual to decide. But that does not mean vegetarians are to be advised to keep their mouths shut, when atrocities are committed for the sake of the dinner table.

Index Page
Front Page
Sports Plus
Mirrror Magazine

More Plus

Return to Plus Contents


Plus Archives

Front Page| News/Comment| Editorial/Opinion| Plus| Business| Sports| Sports Plus| Mirror Magazine

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Hosted By LAcNet