A constant and necessary part of my job is critical analysis - looking for flaws in arguments. Clients, colleagues and opposing counsel try to persuade me with a chain of reasoning that leads to a conclusion they want me to accept. They naturally emphasize the strongest links. I naturally roll out my electron microscope and scrutinize the weakest ones.
Although I try to phrase “you’re wrong” in the nicest possible way, nobody likes to hear it. Emotion aside, critical analysis is simply a search for the truth. Better to have a few ego feathers ruffled than find out the hard way.
I've been doing this for as long as I can remember – in school, in science, in law, and in everyday life so much that I've gotten used to my brain’s incessant little contrarian quips. Make a pronouncement and I’ll take a pot shot at it before the words are out of your mouth.
“All crows are black…” “What about albino crows?”
Useful in the courtroom, perhaps, but a decided handicap in polite company.
Whether I want it to or not, my contradict-o-meter starts going crazy whenever precept #1 of the Bodhisattva Precepts (Do not kill or cause suffering to other beings) or #2 (Do not take what is not given) occurs in the same thought as eating or using animal products.
My train of thought goes something like this:
It is not necessary to eat animal products to be healthy. Period.
Eating animal products creates a demand for animal products.
Producing animal products for food almost always involves killing animals and/or causing them to suffer.
Therefore, eating animal products almost always causes unnecessary suffering and offends the first precept. Animals don’t give us their flesh or milk or eggs voluntarily. We take them because we can, and this offends the second precept.
If the Bodhisattva goal is to relieve suffering everywhere, causing unnecessary suffering is exactly the opposite.
I'm quick to admit that not every case is black and white – just most cases.
If eating animal products were necessary for health, then we would have a real ethical dilemma, but it isn't, so most of the time, we don’t.
There are truly difficult occasions when insisting on strict veganism may cause suffering. When one parent is vegan and the other eats meat, they have to reach a truce over what kind of food their young child will eat. Other situations, e.g. not offending your host, can often be avoided by giving a little advance warning. I don't think people really want you to go against your conscience – after all, who would insist that a Muslim or a Jew eat pork or an abstainer drink alcohol?
There are arguments in favour of using leather, e.g. boycotting the sweatshops that make non-leather shoes, but I'm not inclined to agree that putting poorly paid people out of work altogether is a good thing, and from what I've read, the suffering caused by the leather industry is of a different order of magnitude.
One of my Zen heroes is Robert Aitken Roshi, for many reasons. A big one is his direct speech about taking compassionate action. In Miniatures of a Zen Master, he wrote:
The Dharma is pure and simple. 'Do not kill.' Denial of this truth can be convoluted and complex. 'Git along little doggie,' chants the cowboy affectionately on the way to the slaughterhouse. 'Do your patriotic duty,' advises the leader on this or that side of a war. Come on! Start at the beginning. Killing is killing. Build your case there and make your presentation there, if you have the fortitude.
Using animal products, or not, is an individual choice.
We can't judge each other's choices because we don't know what is in each other's hearts and minds.
I'm just saying what's in mine.