Why Buddhists Should be Vegetarian

The Buddha ate meat. This is a fairly well attested fact. The issue of vegetarianism is addressed a few times in the Suttas, notably the Jivaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya. The Buddha consistently affirmed that monastics were permitted to eat meat, as long as it was not killed intentionally for them. There are numerous passages in the Vinaya that refer to the Buddha or the monastics eating meat, and meat is regularly mentioned as one of the standard foods.

For these reasons, the standard position in Theravada Buddhism is that there is no ethical problem with eating meat. If you want to be vegetarian, that is a purely optional choice. Most Theravadins, whether lay or monastic, eat meat, and claim to be acting within the ethical guidelines of the Buddha’s teachings.

This position sits squarely within a straightforward application of the law of kamma, understood as intention. Eating meat involves no intention to do harm. As there is no intention, there is no kamma. As there is no kamma, there is no ethical problem.

The situation in Mahayana is more complicated. Mahayanists, especially in East Asia, embrace vegetarianism, often as a temporary measure for religious events, although the monastics are typically vegetarian all the time. The motivation is, at least in part, an expression of the greater emphasis on compassion in Mahayana. In practice, however, Mahayanists often adopt vegetarianism (as do Hindus) as a rite of purification. This is despite such texts as the Amagandha Sutta of the Sutta Nipata, where the Buddha insists that eating meat is not a source of spiritual impurity. Tibetan monastics, on the other hand, usually eat meat.

Despite the apparently straightforward situation in Theravada, the problem does not go away. For obvious reasons: eating meat requires the killing of animals, and this directly violates the first precept. Eating meat is the direct cause of an immense quantity of suffering for sentient beings. Many people, myself included, struggle with the notion that a religion as categorically opposed to violence as Buddhism can so blithely wave away the suffering inherent in eating meat.

Let’s have a closer look and see if we can discern the roots of this problem. There are a few considerations that I would like to begin with. We live in a very different world today than the Buddha lived in, and Buddhist ethics, whatever else they may be, must always be a pragmatic response to real world conditions.

Animals suffer much more today than they did 2500 years ago. In the Buddha’s time, and indeed everywhere up until the invention of modern farming, animals had a much better life. Chickens would wander round the village, or were kept in a coop. Cows roamed the fields. The invention of the factory farm changed all this. Today, the life of most meat animals is unimaginable suffering. I won’t go into this in detail, but if you are not aware of the conditions in factory farms, you should be. Factory farms get away with it, not because they are actually humane, but because they are so mind-bendingly horrific that most people just don’t want to know. We turn away, and our inattention allows the horror to continue.

The other huge change since the Buddha’s time is the destruction of the environment. We are all aware of the damage caused by energy production and wasteful consumerism. But one of the largest, yet least known, contributors to global warming and environmental destruction generally is eating meat. The basic problem is that meat is higher on the food chain as compared with plants, so more resources are required to produce nutrition in the form of meat. In the past this was not an issue, as food animals typically ate things that were not food for humans, like grass. Today, however, most food animals live on grains and other resource-intensive products. This means that meat requires more energy, water, space, and all other resources. In addition to the general burden on the environment, this creates a range of localised problems, due to the use of fertilisers, the disposal of vast amounts of animal waste, and so on.

One entirely predictable outcome of factory farming is the emergence of virulent new diseases. We have all heard of ‘swine flu’ and ‘bird flu’; but the media rarely raises the question: why are these two new threats derived from the two types of animals that are most used in factory farming? The answer is obvious, and has been predicted by opponents of factory farming for decades. In order to force animals to live together in such overcrowded, unnatural conditions, they must be fed a regular diet of antibiotics, as any disease is immediately spread through the whole facility. The outcome of this, as inevitable as the immutable principles of natural selection, is the emergence of virulent new strains of antibiotic resistant diseases. In coming years, as the limited varieties of antibiotics gradually lose their efficacy, this threat will recur in more and more devastating forms.

So, as compared with the Buddha’s day, eating meat involves far more cruelty, it damages the environment, and it creates diseases. If we approach this question as one of weights and balance, then the scales have tipped drastically to the side of not eating meat.

Sometimes in Theravada vegetarianism is slighted, as it is traditionally associated with the ‘5 points’ of Devadatta. Devadatta wanted to prove he was better than the Buddha, so he asked the Buddha to enforce five ascetic practices, such as only accepting alms food, live all their lives in the forest, and so on. These practices are regarded as praiseworthy, and Devadatta’s fault was not in promoting these as such, but in seeking to make them compulsory. Stories of the Buddha’s childhood emphasize how compassionate he was compared to Devadatta’s cruelty to animals, perhaps because of Devadatta’s asscoiation with vegetarianism. So rather than deprecating the vegetarians as ‘followers of Devadatta’, one could infer from this passage that vegetarianism, like the other practices, was praiseworthy, but the Buddha did not wish to make it compulsory.

To argue in such a way, however, is clutching at straws. There is a wider problem, and I think the discussions of the issue among Buddhists generally avoid this. And the wider issue is this: meat eating is clearly harmful. That harm is a direct but unintended consequence of eating meat. Since there is no intention to cause harm, eating meat is not bad kamma. There are therefore two logical possibilities: eating meat is ethical; or kamma is not a complete account of ethics.

Let us look more closely at this second possibility. The notion that actions should not be done, even when they involve no harmful intention, is found constantly in the Vinaya. For example, a monk is criticised for baking bricks that have small creatures in them, even though he was unaware of them and did not intend any harm. The Buddha laid down a rule forbidding this.

In another case, the Buddha laid down a rule that a monastic must inquire about the source of meat before accepting it. The context of this rule was that someone had offered human flesh (their own – it’s a long story!) and this rule is usually said to only apply if one has doubts as to whether the food is human flesh. But that is not what the rule states – it simply says that one should inquire as the the source of the meat, and that it is an offence to eat meat without doing so. Needless to say, this rule is ignored throughout Theravada.

These are a couple of examples in the context of causing harm to beings. There are many others. Indeed, there are several Vinaya rules that were laid down in response to the actions of arahants. An arahant cannot act in an intentionally harmful manner, so these rules cannot be taken to imply that the motivation behind the acts was wrong. The acts have unintended harmful consequences, and this is why they are prohibited.

In this sense, if the Vinaya pertains to sila, or ethics, then the scope of sila is broader than the scope of kamma. This is, when you think about it, common sense. Kamma deals only with intention and the consequences of intentional action. This is critical because of its place in the path to liberation. We can change our intentions, and thereby purify our minds and eventually find release from rebirth. That is the significance of kamma to us as individuals.

But ethics is not just a matter of individual personal development. It is also a social question, or even wider, an environmental question in the broad sense. How do we relate to our human and natural context in the most positive and constructive way?

I am suggesting that, while kamma deals with the personal, ethics includes both the personal and the environmental.

As well as broadening ethics in this way, I would suggest we should deepen it. Ethics is not just what is allowable. Sure, you can argue that eating meat is allowable. You can get away with it. That doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing. What if we ask, not what can I get away with, but what can I aspire to?

When we recite the first precept, we say, ‘I undertake the training to refrain from killing living beings’. This is a challenge, and in itself is a powerful ethics. Yet it is merely a short summary of a principle. It was never meant to fully describe the virtue of harmlessness. When the Buddha spoke of this precept in more detail, this is what he had to say:

Having abandoned the taking of life, refraining from the taking of life, one dwells without violence, with the knife laid down, scrupulous, full of mercy, trembling with compassion for all sentient beings.

This is not just an ethic of allowability. It doesn’t merely set a minimum standard. It calls us out, asking us to aspire to a higher sense of compassion, an ethic that deeply feels for the welfare of all beings. More than just asking, ‘Does this act come from an intention to harm’, we ask ourselves, ‘Is this act the best I can possibly do to promote the welfare of all?’ Rather than simply escaping bad kamma, we create good kamma.

One obvious criticism of this approach is that being vegetarian does not mean you don’t cause harm. We hurt beings in many unintentional way, driving cars, buying products, almost everything we do. If we follow this principle to its logical conclusion, we end up with Jainism, and will have to walk everywhere with a cloth over our mouth to keep the flies from dying, and a soft broom to brush the creatures away. (Note, though, that even the Jains have a complex relationship with vegetarianism.) It is simply arbitrary to identify meat eating as the cause of harm. This is, after all, the point of the well-known (though apocryphal) story of Siddhattha as a young boy, seeing the plough turning up the soil, killing some worms, and leaving the others to be picked off by the crows. Even eating rice involves the unintentional destruction of life. The only solution is to get off the wheel.

The problem with this argument is that it confuses the existential with the ethical. On an existential level, quite right, any form of life, even the most scrupulous, will inevitably cause harm to some beings. This is one of the reasons why the only final solution is escape from rebirth altogether. Yet meanwhile, we are still here. Ethics is not concerned with the ultimate escape from all suffering, but with minimising the harm and maximising the benefit we can do right here. It is relative and contextual. Sure, being vegetarian or vegan we will still cause harm. And sure, there are boundary issues as to what is really vegetarian (Honey? Bees are killed. Sugar? Animal bones are used for the purification process… )

But the fact that we can’t do everything does not imply that we shouldn’t do this thing. The simple fact is that eating meat cause massive and direct harm to many creatures. That harm is, almost always, easily avoidable. Becoming vegetarian does not involve any huge sacrifices or moral courage. It just takes a little restraint and care. This is even more so today, when there is a wide range of delicious, cheap, nutritious vegetarian foods available. The choice of becoming vegetarian is, of all moral choices we can make, one of the most beneficial, at the smallest cost to ourselves.

To return to the basic problem. As Buddhists, we expect that the Buddha kept the highest possible ethical conduct. And for the most part, he did. So if the Buddha allowed something, we feel there can’t be anything wrong with it. There is nothing dogmatic or unreasonable about such an expectation. When we read the Suttas and the Vinaya, we find again and again that the Buddha’s conduct was, indeed, of the highest order.

How then, if meat eating is an inferior ethical standard, can it be that the Buddha did it? This is the crux of the matter. And I don’t have an easy answer.

Part of it is to do with the nature of the mendicant life. The Buddha and his disciples wandered from house to house, simply accepting whatever was offered. It’s hard to refuse offerings given in such a spirit. Yet this answer is incomplete, as there are many foods, including several types of meat, that are prohibited in the Vinaya. Clearly the monastics were expected to have some say over what went into their bowls.

There are other considerations I could raise. But I don’t want to press the textual argument too far. In the end, we have a partial, and partially understood record of the Buddha’s life and teachings. For those of us who have been blessed enough to have encountered the Dhamma, we have found it to be an uplifting and wise guide to life.

And yet: we cannot let our ethical choices be dictated by ancient texts. Right and wrong are too important. The scriptures do not contain everything, and do not answer every question. As Buddhists, we take the texts seriously, and do not lightly discard their lessons. Yet there is a difference between learning from scripture and submitting to it.

There are some things that the scriptures simply get wrong. The Suttas make no critique of slavery, for example, and yet for us this is one of the most heinous of all crimes.

Why are these things as they are? I don’t know. I have devoted a considerable portion of my life to studying and understanding the Buddhist scriptures, and in almost all things of importance I find them to be impeccable. But my study has also shown me the limits of study. We cannot access the truth through scripture. We can only access certain ideas. Our understanding and application of those ideas is of necessity imperfect. There is always something left over.

This being so, it is unethical to cite scripture as a justification for doing harm. If eating meat is harmful and unnecessary, it remains so whatever the texts say. Our sacred texts are sacred, not because they determine what is right and wrong, but because they inform our choices and help us to do better.

The principle of harmlessness underlies the very fabric of the Dhamma, and if its application in this context is problematic, the principle itself is not in question. It simply means our scriptures are imperfect, and the practice of ethics is complex and messy. But we knew that already. It is not out of disrespect that we make our choice, but out of respect for the deeper principles of compassion and harmlessness.


The DEVA: totally orbsome

You’ve all heard the stories of mysterious orbs of light appearing in digital camera shots. Google ‘buddhism orbs’ and you’ll see plenty like this.

While taken as evidence for divine intervention in Buddhism, the orbs themselves seem to enjoy playgounds


Islamic ceremonies

and Christian churches just as well.

And why not, I say.

We had lots of orbs at Santi in our cave and elsewhere: the sand here is highly reflective, kick up a little dust and there’s an abundance of orbs. One of our guests was convinced they were the spirits of arahants – and who am I to say otherwise? I won’t publish any here, as there are already far too many in Buddhism who use such things as evidence of divine connections, and far too many people willing to believe them. Meanwhile, claims go back and forth as to whether such things are real, both in Buddhism and elsewhere.

But I know what you’re all thinking: How can I stop those pesky orbs from ruining my perfect photo? Just when you’ve got it framed and focused right, there comes another of those mischievous spirits to distract everyone from the real subject. Which, it strikes me suddenly, is not dissimilar to the Buddha’s response to such things.

Never fear! DEVA is here. Yes, that’s right: Dust – Eliminating – Video – Apparatus. It’s supplied by the wonderfully-named ‘Ghost Gadgets’. These are not skeptics, but ghost hunters, and they wanted to eliminate the ‘false positives’ in their search for the supernatural. DEVA is a simple unit that fits over your camera lens and eliminates virtually all orbs, which are caused by reflections from dust and the like that fall within the camera’s focal range.

The Buddhist Council needs SRE teachers in NSW

Here’s a message from the Buddhist Council of NSW. It’s an important issue, one that I’ve spoken of many times: we need more people to help with teaching Dhamma to kids in schools. Can you help?

Dear Friends

We currently have around 60 volunteer SRE teachers (Special Religious Education) sharing Dharma with children in Government primary schools around the state.

We also have  around 50 schools on our waiting list!

The beginning of the school year always sees enquiries from schools new to us wanting an SRE teacher – it’s a busy time for the team that supports our volunteer teachers and they could use more help – if you are interested in volunteering on the SRE support team (or as an SRE teacher!!) please email office@buddhistcouncil.org a brief resume.

For a glimpse of their wonderful work here’s the SRE support team’s inaugral newsletter.. http://buddhistcouncil.org/teaching/uploads/DecemberNewsletter.pdf

What’s in a name?

It’s so great to be a Buddhist student these days. We have accurate texts, well organized, and comprehensively linked to excellent translations in modern languages. The canons of Pali, Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Chinese material have all been translated into English. The traditional commentaries are also available in translation, and in addition, there is an excellent layer of modern commentary, which gives the historical and doctrinal context of any passage you care to look up. This material is all found in easily accessible forms, widely available in print, online, and various ebook and mobile apps.

As a result, one find that Buddhist generally have a good awareness of their own scriptures. They understand the historical context that they arose in, are widely read in the Suttas, and familiar with the forms that the ideas of the Suttas developed in over time. This puts their practice into context, and helps to distinguish between those aspects of Buddhism that are truly useful and those that are unnecessary.

And then I woke up. IT WAS ALL A DREAM!

The reality is a little different. Actually, the world I was describing is not so far away from what is available for Bible studies. But for Buddhists, well…

The Pali texts are available in several crappy websites, and a couple of fairly good ones. The tipitakastudies.net site is well designed, but only has canonical materials. The VRI Tipitaka site has a wide range of materials, but has a weird indexing system so you can’t link to any individual texts. Neither of these sites is connected to any translation. The translated material is available on Access to Insight and various other places. It is of vastly variable quality. Several sites offer translations that appear to be of dubious legality as regards copyringht. Understandable, as the owners of the good copyright translations – mainly Wisdom and Pali Text Society – have not made their material available on the web. The PTS, god bless ’em, continue to operate as if the internet was nothing more than a place to advertise their books.

But the Pali situation is positively excellent compared to the other languages. There is an excellent edition, CBETA, of the Chinese canon, but no translations of any major early collections of Vinaya or Suttas into English – although the Madhyama Agama is underway. The Tibetan situation is worse. Sanskrit texts are mostly available at GRETIL, but there are few translations.

With some friends we set up suttacentral.net a few years ago, which links text and translation of Pali and other languages for the four Agamas/Nikayas. This is something, but far from perfect.

So what is the problem? There are many, but let me point out a few subtle details that betray the real issue.

Take the http://studies.worldtipitaka.org/ site. It’s an excellent text, although it uses the less authentic Burmese spellings. But it’s well presented and uses innovative features, like a print on demand capability. The back end is extremely well constructed: each word is marked up and there is a very thourough indexing and organizational system.

Yet look at the title: World Tipitaka. It is no such thing. True, the editors referred to various printed editions from Theravadin countries in forming the text. But the readings are Burmese. And it takes no account of the world outside Pali. Also note that it is available in Roman script only. This limits its use as compared to the VRI site, which enables several scripts. To implement such a capability is no difficult matter. The reason for the Roman-only text is ideology. The creators think that Pali pronunciation in Thailand (their home country) is corrupt, and making people read Pali in Roman script will make them get the text right. The reality, of course, is that Pali can be read right or wrong in any script, and the the real effect will be to isolate the text even further from the uneducated. It is an artifact of Buddhist modernism, where the essentialist (notice how I avoid using the word ‘fundamentalist’?) search for true, original Buddhism, creates an artificial construct divorced from the realia of people’s lives. This ideological agenda is giving people the Tipitaka that the creators want, rather than that which the people want. And the background of this whole thing is steeped in Thai royalist politics.

None of this is to deprecate the excellent scholarly work that the group has done, or to diminish the usefulness of the site. I use it all the time, and we link to it from suttacentral.net. It is simply to understand that this text does not come in a vacuum. It arises from a particular set of ideologically-determined circumstance, and the manner in which the Tipitaka takes shape is determined by those circumstances.

The VRI Tipitaka gives another example. This one comes from the Goenka movement, and so there is a bulit-in need to authorize the late commentarial theories on which the Goenka technique, like all modern Burmese meditation techniques, is based. It does this in a none to subtle way. We all know that the Pali literature is divided into the canon, which is the Tipitaka of Sutta, Vinaya, and Abhidhamma, and the later commentarial material.

But this is not the world according to VRI. Their material is structrured like this:

Tipitaka (roman [or other script])
Tipitaka (mula) – Atthakatha [commentary]- Tika [subcommentary] – Anya [other]

So everything, including the medieval grammars and so on, is a subset of the Tipitaka. Tipitaka no longer means ‘canon’, but ‘all Pali texts’.

This tendency continues in the lower levels of organization, too. Under ‘tika’ for example, we have ‘Vinayapitaka’, ‘Suttapitaka’, ‘Abhidhammapitaka’. That is, the subcommentarial literature is now ‘pitaka’. Perhaps one could say that what is meant is ‘subcommentary to the pitaka’. Fair enough, except that we have already established that everything is categorized under Tipitaka. While one could argue the merits of one system of categorizing over another, the overall tendency of the categories as established by the VRI is to treat all the literature as subsets of the canon, rather than being a separate strata of literature.

What does this do? It means that we treat the entire corpus of Pali literature as being essentially canonical. This is no accident, as it is the way that Buddhist texts are normally used in Burmese, and to a lesser extent, Sri Lankan and Thai Buddhism.

Once more, I need to emphasize that my intent here isn’t to criticize the good work of the VRI team, who have made many previously obscure Pali texts widely available. I use their site often, it has been a reliable and useful resource.

But we can see that there is a definite ideological purpose behind their work, and that purpose affects the form of the product. In some ways that is good – they have made their text freely available, in accordance with the Goenka tradition of dana. In other ways, it influences the manner in which texts are read, biasing them towards one particular (anti-historical) perspective.

These examples are meant to illustrate a wider point, which is that large scale projects to publish the Buddhist texts are often, even inevitably, driven by concerns other than disinterested scholarship. This is true in the present, and without doubt it was true in the past as well.

The groups that have, up to the present, brought forth the major works of Buddhist literature have done a very incomplete job, and part of the reason for that is their ideological needs. They are not interested in making connections between Buddhist texts in different languages, but in isolating and canonizing their chosen texts. They have a very limited concern with making the texts available to a wide range of people who will actually learn from them. For example, Access to Insight, which is essentially a project of one Buddhist enthusiast, probably serves far more people who are interested in reading and practicing the Suttas as compared with all the high level prestige projects sponsored by kings and conducted by national universities.

How are we to proceed? IOne thing is promising: the disruptive power of open source. Something like Wikipitaka – yes, it’s a thing – is a start, but as you can see it is far from complete. Get the texts out of the hands of institutions and ideologues, and out of copyright shackles – who can copyright the Buddha’s words, anyway? Get them available in open, flexible forms, and let the magic of open source develop multiple platforms and applications.

Fake monastic email scams

This seems to be a thing. I know that email scams generally are pretty common, but I have got a lot of fake emails from hacked monastics’ accounts. Perhaps you have had similar ones: ‘Help me, I am travelling and had my passport stolen…’

Are monastics being specially targeted, knowing that their kind supporters are likely to give money? It has been going on for some years already, which suggests that they must have had some success.

In any case, just a reminder: be safe! Don’t give out your email password or bank details. Don’t open or reply to emails from ‘The Gmail team’ or similar. Gmail never uses email to communicate with their users. Use a strong password, have a different password for different things, and change them from time to time.

Most importantly, use wisdom! Monastics will not contact people at random asking for money. If you are not familar with this kind of scam already, check out the pages at Snopes, and find out about phishing at hoax-slayer. The emails from supposedly stranded monastics are a little different from the standard phishing techniques, but they have many similarities. The basic trick is to use just enough personal detail to convince the recipient that the sender is the real person.

If in doubt, as a first measure, copy a distinctive phrase from the email and google it (using “double quotes” to search for the exact phrase). I just did that with the phrase “had my bag stolen from me” and there were plenty of results showing that it is a scam. (Incidentally, use this method also if you get any request to forward emails to spread so-called virus alerts and the like.)

If you think it is a scam, don’t reply to the email at all. If you do, they will know that you are a real person who uses that email account. Best to just mark the email as spam. If you are unsure, contact a third person who knows both of you, or contact the person asking for money using some other method.

The generosity of Buddhists for monastics is astonishing and humbling. There are many unscrupulous people who take advantage of this. In some places, men will dress as monks and beg for money in the markets. This kind of email scam is just a hi-tech version of the same thing. Be wise, don’t encourage criminals in the name of Buddhism.

Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us

And thanks to Simon for this terrific article by Jonah Lehrer.

Regular perusers of this blog may remember that we have discussed causality on a number of occasions. I have advanced the apparently heretical notion that Hume was right: there’s no such thing.

When the Buddha spoke of causality, he spoke in terms, not over underlying mechanisms that mysteriously make things happen, but in terms of observing patterns: this being so, that is; when this arises, that arises. When we have observed these patterns consistently and often enough, we say that one thing is causing the other. But we have never seen the cause itself. It is just a trick of perception. While we are used to the idea that correlation does not imply causation, perhaps it is really much simpler: what we call causation is nothing more than reliable correlation.

Jonah Lehrer’s article discusses these issues in the context of medical science, and the apparently diminishing returns that are being realized by the reliance on reductive analysis. Having sat for a year on the Human Research Ethics Committee at Royal North Shore Hospital, I can confirm that in that facility, almost all of the serious research proposals were essentially reductive in nature. The exceptions were a few behavioral studies, such as examining how nurses actually used their time in the ward. But there was no effort to question the assumptions of reductive science, even when the proposals were specifically responding to the failings of reductive science.

In one proposal, for example, a new cancer drug was to be tested, and the rationale was that the drug currently in use, which had been introduced only a few years earlier, was no longer effective.

None of this is to say, of course, that reductive analysis is wrong. It is just incomplete. And, as I remarked in a comment a couple of days ago, the success of science in ‘soft’ areas like medicine seems far less obvious as compared to physics, engineering, and the like. Lehrer’s article shows how reductive analysis can be not just inadequate, but even harmful, and is often tripped up by the messiness and complexities of human beings.

Support AnimalCare in Malaysia

I received the following appeal for help via Ngawang Dorje. Thanks for showing us this inspiring example of practical compassion!

A student in Australia, James Blackwell, has nominated AnimalCare, for the Sunsuper Dreams Prize, which is AUD5,000.

AnimalCare is a charitable, non-profit organization in Malaysia that promotes caregiving to stray /street animals, helps in their spay-neuter and medical needs and to cultivate compassion to animals through education.

It was founded by Chan Kah Yein, managed single-handedly by herself and solely rely on public donations and volunteers. To date, AnimalCare has help more than 1500 street animals in achieving better health and well-being.

Chan Kah Yein holds a PhD in Mathematics Education from Deakin University and teaches at a private college in Subang Jaya, Malaysia. As an active Dhamma speaker, she is married with two children – without a domestc helper, her action speaks as loud as her words. She really puts her Dhamma talk into action.

Her AnimalCare work is documented in

She has written four books about kindness to animals:

Pawprints on My Heart – Seven Little Stories about Kindness to Animals (2008)

Indy Jones and the Four Pillars of Kindness – A Story about Love, Compassion, Rejoicing and Letting Go (2009)

See you at the Rainbow Bridge – Saying Goodbye with Love and Serenity (2010)

Do We Have a Choice? – Towards More Compassionate Eating (2011)

All her e-books can be downloaded free at

The dream with the highest number of votes will win the prize. This contest is open worldwide. Please vote for AnimalCare before the closing date, January 31st.

A vote for AnimalCare is a word for the many, many stray animals in Malaysia.

To vote:

Please forward this link to your friends and family.

Thank you in advance for your support.

King Asoka’s (ca. 304-232 BC) Rock Edict No.2, The Fourteen Rock Edicts:

“Everywhere within Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi’s [Asoka’s] domain, and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni and where the Greek king Antiochos rules, and among the kings who are neighbors of Antiochos, everywhere has Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals.”

Buddhist Fury

Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand

Michael K. Jerryson

Thanks to Annie for bringing this to my attention. This is a study of the religious and social context of the ongoing violence in Southern Thailand between Thai Buddhists and ethnically Malay Muslims. You can read the introduction on Google books. It looks like an excellent study, based on extensive personal interviews over several years.

The conflict in southern Thailand has been a dreadful one, with over 3000 dead and no signs of stopping. It provides an example of how the Buddhist philosophy of peace works in real-world contexts of violence.

UK Murder rate rose 5% last year?

So says the Guardian, normally one of the more reliable sources of news around.

But, adds the subheading, overall crimes are stable, or even falling despite the August riots. Of course, since many people won’t get as far as the subheading, they’ll miss this point.

And the 5% increase in murder rate? It’s actually a 5% increase in the number of murders in the year. The murder rate is the number of murders in a year per population. So what is happening to the murder rate?

Here’s Wikipedia’s data on the murder rates in the UK from 2000-2009: (This data is convenient to copy here, but note that it is not identical with the Home Office’s figures, available here.

1.71 1.79 2.1 1.75 1.60 1.38 1.42 1.46 1.26 1.17

So the murder rate has been falling for a decade. And the ‘5% increase’ is compared with 2009/2010, which had the lowest number of murders in 11 years, according to the Guardian; but according to the Home Office’s own figures, 2010 was the lowest since 1990. In fact the UK murder rate has been pretty much stable, apart from an increase for a few years around 2002, since the 1960s. The Home Office analysis discusses the trends in homicide:

One can assess from this analysis that the number of homicide incidents recorded in 2010/11 was not statistically significantly different to the number of homicide incidents in 2009/10 or 2008/09, despite the actual number of incidents having risen by three per cent since 2009/10. However, the number of homicide incidents recorded in 2010/11 was statistically significantly lower than the number of incidents recorded in 2006/07 and 2007/08, and those recorded between 2000/01 and 2004/05. This means the risk of becoming a victim of homicide was, in fact, lower for 2010/11 compared with those earlier years.

In other words, there’s no statistical significance to the increase. Oh, and this also clarifies that actual increase in murder rates, as opposed to number of murders, was 3%, not 5%.

So the Guardian’s heading was both factually wrong and misleading. The actual situation is that crime levels are fairly stable in the long term. But even for a respectable media outlet like the Guardian, that doesn’t make much of a headline.

All this is just one example of a trend in the (mis)reporting of violence and crime. We are constantly being told how the world is getting more violent – but the statistics tell a different story.

Do you have any other examples?