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A lecture by Venerable Master Hua at the University of Hawaii on July 21, 1989
Note to reader from Zen Fields: The contents of this lecture are difficult and challenging to many if not all of us. The point of this article is not to shame people for eating meat, nor to make people become vegan, but to offer encouragement to lessen meat consumption - even by one meal a week or month - and to draw awareness to the intimate connection between the humane treatment of animals and the humane treatment of human beings.
In the world today, there are too many who take life and too few people who save lives. Everyone knows only how to kill. Everyone has neglected to liberate life. When you kill someone, he will want to kill you back. This mutual revenge leads to the cycle of rebirth in the world of the five turbidities. When will this cycle of mutual vengeance ever come to an end?
The ancients have said,
For hundreds of thousands of years, the stew in the pot
Has boiled up a resentment very hard to level.
If you want to know why there are calamities and wars in the world,
Just listen to the sounds from a slaughterhouse at midnight.
We should base our lives on the words of Confucius: “When I see those who are alive, I do not wish to see them die. When I hear their sounds, I cannot bear to eat their flesh. Therefore a gentleman does not go near the kitchen.” For hundreds of thousands of years until now, there’s been a pot of stew. You’ve eaten from the pot of stew and so have I. This stew is a meat broth. It contains a resentment which is deeper than the sea, which is very hard to level. It’s not easy to subdue these feelings of enmity. Do you want to know why there are wars, floods, fires, and epidemics in the world? What is the reason for the suffering, killing, and bloodshed brought on by wars? Why do people seek each other out to take revenge? Because there has been too much killing. If you don’t understand, just go near the slaughterhouse and listen to the sounds that come from there at midnight—the pigs calling out, the lambs crying, the cows wailing…They are all there pleading, “Please spare our lives, Mister! Please spare our lives, Elder! Please spare our lives, Buddha!” But we pretend we don’t see or hear them crying out, and we go ahead and kill them without a second thought. As soon as we kill them, the one thought of hatred that those cows, sheep, and pigs give rise to will lead them to seek revenge in the future. This leads to disasters such as world wars and all kinds of accidental deaths. These all result from the taking of life.
However, even such retribution is not enough. Now the most devastating things are cancer and all kinds of strange diseases. Why have these appeared? Because people have eaten too much meat. Nowadays, the air is polluted, the earth is polluted, and the water is also polluted. This polluted air, polluted earth, and polluted water have produced a toxic substance, and when animals eat food which contains this kind of toxin, the poisonous energy passes into their system. Although it may just stay in their bodies and not take effect, if we eat the meat of these animals, the poison will pass into our bodies and cause us to develop all sorts of strange and incurable diseases.
These diseases which are hard to cure do not happen by chance. Behind them, there is a ghost with a grievance who wants the person’s life in payment. So now I see a lot of little ghosts everywhere, trying to make people pay with their lives or causing them to suffer various strange diseases. These little ghosts were fetuses who were aborted before they had a chance to develop into complete human beings, so they are very ruthless. They may rupture people’s hearts, or injure their livers, kidneys, or gall bladders. They destroy your five organs so that you have to die whether you want to or not. Why are they so malicious? Because you killed them first, and now they want to take revenge. Diseases caused by vengeful ghosts cannot be cured no matter what kind of doctor, Chinese or Western, you see. All you can do is take your meals and wait for death. After you take your last breath, it’s your turn to seek revenge. What I’m telling you is the most genuine Sutra!
If I say more, people may not want to listen. However, I have a fault which is that I’m willing to say something regardless of whether or not people want to hear it. I’m especially willing to say the things that people don’t want to hear. So those of you who have come here should prepare yourselves psychologically. You should tell yourself, “I don’t want to listen, but I’ll be patient for a little while and see what he has to say.” What do I want to say? I want to explain the character 肉 for ‘meat’ in Chinese. This character 肉 has the element 口 ‘mouth,’ but the bottom line is left out, meaning that the mouth is open! Why is the mouth open? To eat people! So, “In the character for ‘meat,’ there are two people.” There is a character 人 ‘person’ inside and another 人 ‘person’ outside. This shows that meat is inseparable from people. However, people should not be inseparably attached to meat. This represents a person who is eating the meat and a person who is being eaten. One person’s head is sticking out of the mouth, and the other person is inside the mouth. But since the mouth is not closed, that person may fall out. When he falls out, he may become a person again. When he becomes a person again, he will go and eat the person who was eating meat. They mutually devour each other. So, there are two people in the character for ‘meat’, and “The one inside is covering the one outside.” The person inside and the person outside are bound up in this relationship. “Living beings eat the flesh of living beings. If you reflect on it carefully, it’s just people eating people.” Since it is people eating people, might that person be my friend? I don’t know. Could it be my relative? Don’t know. Could it be my father, mother, or ancestor? Don’t know. This “not knowing” presents a lot of problems, so it would be best it everyone didn’t eat meat.
Aside from not eating meat, there’s another essential secret to preventing sickness. What is it? Not losing one’s temper. If you don’t have a temper, then your karmic creditors who want to take revenge by making you sick will have a hard time finding you. But as soon as you get mad, there’s a hole for the ghost to get in. Once the ghost finds its way in, your illness becomes more and more severe. If you want to be healthy, long-lived, and free from illness, the secret is not to eat meat, not to lose your temper, and not to smoke or drink. These are all ways to stay healthy. You shouldn’t ruin your body and bring all sorts of illness on yourself. If you do, then you’ll have to find a doctor and pay him money, and still he might not be able to cure you. Isn’t that a lot of trouble?