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Nourishing the Dhamma. Vegetarianism and animal nonviolence in Theravada Buddhism with a special focus on Sinhala Buddhism

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Stewart, JJ (2012) Nourishing the Dhamma. Vegetarianism and animal nonviolence in Theravada Buddhism with a special focus on Sinhala Buddhism. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Pāli canonical texts routinely report the Buddha as saying that a good Buddhist must never kill another living creature. Such statements are, in many cases, explicitly applied to the case of animals. Not only do such claims imply animal protectionism, but they also imply vegetarianism: if animals are not to be killed, then it seems to follow trivially that they cannot be eaten either. Yet this seemingly trivial move from the non-killing of animals to the non-eating of them is explicitly avoided in the Pāli canonical texts.
This project investigates the prima facie case for vegetarianism, both in the Pāli canonical texts and in the Theravāda tradition more widely — a living tradition that is, in certain crucial ways, based upon that textual tradition. The textual component of this investigation is largely confined to an examination of Pāli canonical texts. In respect to the lived Theravāda tradition, the project specifically engages Sinhala Buddhism as practised in Sri Lanka. The latter investigation is made possible by fieldwork conducted at various times throughout 2011 and early 2012 in the Colombo and Këgalle areas.
In the first half of the thesis, I argue that, within the Pāli canon, a conflict arises around the issue of vegetarianism. Although the canon implies vegetarianism based upon its first principles, this vegetarianism is explicitly denied. I suggest that this denial could be explained as a historical anomaly brought about by certain prudential and circumstantial factors. The non-endorsement of vegetarianism, therefore, may not represent the Buddha’s considered and final ethical view on this matter.
The second half of the thesis is primarily ethnographic in character. I argue in this section that the same conflict that we find in the textual tradition is repeated in the contemporary lived tradition. Lay informants maintained a pro-attitude to vegetarianism and generally concluded that a good Buddhist ought to be a vegetarian. Monastic informants, however, were far more circumspect about the issue and tended to remain agnostic as to whether vegetarianism was morally acceptable.
I conclude by arguing that Theravāda Buddhism, as represented by my sample of Sinhala informants and the textual tradition that operates in the background, generally favours vegetarianism, but a wide range of largely circumstantial factors results in the stymying of the expression of this vegetarianism. This unusual tension should not necessarily be taken as a defect in Buddhism - rather, Theravāda Buddhism is highly sensitive to context and encourages the negotiation of moral problems in a flexible and open-ended way. The results of this study therefore tell us something useful about Buddhist Ethics more generally.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Theravada, Buddhism, vegetarianism, diet, animals, nonviolence, Sri Lanka, Sinhala
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Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2013 01:03
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:52
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