About once a month, I go with a friend or two to a very unpretentious Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant (Van Hanh) far on the other side of the city. I discovered it a few years ago. It is operated by Buddhist nuns from Vietnam. And the food is great.
My usual companion on these visits often repeats two things in relation to the restaurant, usually variations on:
1. “I don’t know why there isn’t a long long of people waiting outside the door of this place.” That means something, because he has the money to eat in any restaurant he wishes, but he really likes the food at that vegetarian restaurant, and considers it a still-undiscovered gem for most people in the city.
2. “There is no good reason to eat meat.” He says this partly because the Vietnamese restaurant offers very tasty vegetarian “fake meats” in the dishes prepared. The Mahayana Buddhists of China and of Vietnam have a long tradition of preparing delicious vegetarian meat substitutes, and have made something of an art form out of it. So as my friend points out, there is really no good reason to eat meat for either taste or health reasons (science in general says that a vegetarian diet is healthier). And he would also add (as he frequently does) mention of the huge damage done to the environment by the meat industry, for example the continuing cutting of ecologically-valuable rain forest in South America so that immense cattle ranches might take its place.
Any thinking person will ponder such issues, and one person who not only ponders them but writes about them is an Australian-born Theravada Buddhist monk who goes by the name Shravasti Dhammika. And what is even more interesting is that he writes about challenging subjects in a remarkably straightforward, balanced, and sensible way. It is a welcome relief from the fanaticism, extremism, and unthinking dogmatism that so often accompanies discussion of controversial topics.
Of course, being a Buddhist monk, he approaches subjects from a Buddhist perspective. For example, in the matter of meat eating, he begins with the premise that “both cruelty to and killing living beings is against the first Precept.” With irrefutable logic he cuts no slack for Buddhists who continue to habitually eat meat:
“Farmers do not raise cows or chickens for fun; they do it because they can make a living by selling them to the abattoirs [slaughterhouses]. Likewise abattoirs don’t slaughter animals for fun, they do it to make a profit. They sell their meat to the processors, who sell it to the local supermarkets or butchers who in turn sell it to the consumers. Any reasonable person would agree that there is a clear trajectory, a discernible causal link between the farmer or the abattoir and the consumer. It may be a distant link but it is there. Put in its simplest terms, people would not slaughter animals if other people did not purchase meat. So this is the fifth point — eating meat is causally related to the harming or killing of living beings and thus is connected to some degree to breaking the first Precept.”
He does not hesitate to jump into topics such as same-sex marriage, writing:
“A tragic number of homosexuals indulge in and fall prey to shallow promiscuous lifestyles. Marriages or partnerships that were recognized by the state and affirmed by society would offer a healthier alternative.”
I like his realistic approach to issues such as love, a subject that for the world in general is wrapped in illusion and fantasy. He approaches the matter head on:
“As my reading and reflections proceeded, I soon became aware that a swirl of myths surround love. The most noticeable of these myths is that love is a widely felt and easily evoked experience. It is celebrated endlessly in song and story, it is ardently professed, hailed as the solution to many — sometimes all — human problems. Yet while love is not necessarily rare, it is certainly not as common or as enduring as is generally supposed. The divorce statistics from most developed countries show that between 40 and 55 per cent of marriages end in divorce, many of them acrimonious. And people who stay married do not always still love their spouses. The endless sorry parade of cases that come before family and small claims courts shows that relationships between siblings, in-laws, neighbours and friends are not as enduring as we so blithely suppose.”
He uses such doses of realism as a jumping-off point for a reasoned discussion of what love really is, beyond the illusions.
His writings range far and wide into the problems common to humanity, and into various intriguing byways of Buddhist history, travel, and teachings.
I mention all this because he now has a website offering his essays on a wide range of subjects, all free of charge. They present much food for thought. You will find them at: