Friday, June 27, 2008

Meat Eating Monks

I had a very strange experience the other day. I was sitting in a restaurant having lunch and two Buddhist monks were seated at the table next to me. They were in full regalia with red robes and closely shaved heads. This is not an ordinary sight at this particular restaurant. They are known for their large portions. I would even call their portions excessive. I eat there a lot, but have a couple of items on the menu that I order that are unusually small (by their standards) or I end up taking home a lot of food. It just didn't seem like a good fit to see the monks in this particular restaurant.

It got even more interesting for me when I overheard them ordering. They ordered a New York steak! Buddhists, as a rule, are vegetarian. It is a philosophy that teaches to harm no living creature. It just seemed really discordant to hear these two monks ordering a rare beef steak.

They went on to order quite a lot of food. These were not large men.

I found this all very confusing.

Now, in all fairness, all of us, no matter what our path, do not follow it to the letter of the law all the time. Nor, in my humble opinion, should we. I don't believe in getting so caught up in the 'letter of the law' that we lose site of the true 'spirit of the law.' I don't hold people to models of perfection. We all have our flaws and our struggles.

This, however, seemed particularly strange to me, because this wasn't just "Joe Smith" who considers himself to be a student of the Buddhist teachings. These were obviously men who have chosen a high level of commitment to and practice of the tenants of the Buddhist path. In some ways, I was a little 'disappointed' to see those who are supposed to be at the leading edge of the tradition, 'struggling with' (or giving in with reckless abandon) to an act that so clearly violates one of the primary pillars of the belief system.

Maybe that's unfair of me. Perhaps my judgementalness is showing through. It just seems that by their dress and public display of 'Buddhist-ness' they are putting themselves out there as representatives of the spiritual path, and to express such a clear violation of its teachings, without an obvious 'struggle' seemed surreal to me.

I certainly don't walk my talk 100% of the time. I know that I do things regularly that violate my own spiritual beliefs. I work each and every day to bring my behavior in to more successful alignment with my underlying values and spiritual beliefs.

Perhaps I need to practice a little more compassion to these fellows. I don't know their story. Maybe they were conducting an experiment to see why so many people insist on eating meat. Maybe they were testing to see if they would feel 'guilty' and be overcome with emotion after 'failing' to uphold a cornerstone ideal of their belief system. I might not know the whole story.

Or, maybe they are just human beings, walking their path as best they can and not doing it perfectly, just like me.

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