Anyway, here is a series of questions that if answered satisfactorily, I believe would lead to much clarification of the issue at hand. Satisfactorily not meaning any pre-conceived answers I may have come up with but rather a thoughtful answer that seriously and intelligently answers the question(s) at hand.
Hi Polar Buddha,
I'm not sure if I am able to give you answers that will be satisfactory. Anything that is constructed (which also includes your questions, incidentally) is by their nature going to be unsatisfactory, at least in some ways. That is due to the anicca... the lack of inherent finality.
It's not going to stop me from trying to share my views.
Please note that the argument which follows don't really necessarily have anything to do with the idea of buying meat, or eating it (it just happens to be the context for me to write in), any more than it has to do with making an effort to pay attention to our own habits, intention and volition, how they might color our perceptions of the world... and therefore how they might affect the way we do our own practices... along with the way we frame our own ideas to others (whether it be questions, arguments (veiled or otherwise), responses, etc).
I think paying attention to these kind of things would be by far more important to our practice, than whatever ideas there might be about our food consumption pattern.
Does a vegetarian actually save animals from being slaughtered or perhaps just prevent a few more animals from being bred?
It would be my understanding that once a cow/livestock animal is born on a farm, it's destined for slaughter/becoming a milk cow (then maybe later slaughtered). So being a vegetarian isn't going to save animals in the long run, although some livestock may live slightly longer lives as a result of vegetarians cutting down on overall demand for meat products in a given year.
If less animals are bred as a result of the combined reduction in demand from vegetarians, are vegetarians actually saving beings from suffering (accepting rebirth)?
If less animals are being born, then that means there are less of them being born. It's that simple.
Why the need for all of that papanca? Where did it come from, exactly? I think this is something which might be more worth investigating, rather than making some convoluted interpretation for an imaginary scenario... especially just to affirm one's views. That is not what will lead to liberation.
To what extent does responsibility extend in the causal chain? Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Buddha didn't say it was bad for lay followers to buy meat. If every individual is responsible for their part in the causal chain even if they are two-four times removed from the source then what does that say about other products we buy that lead to the death of living beings and beings whose species are disappearing around the globe rapidly. For example, certain ingredients in shampoo are harvested from trees that are being grown in southeast asia and vast tracts of forest are being cut down to make way for these trees, hence tigers in indonesia have lost much territory, been killed and are dying out in that area. To what extent is it wrong to live in a sprawling suburb instead of a densely packed city given that suburbs take up more land, thus cause more habitat to be removed from the wild and which causes the deaths of thousands of animals in the process of building? Is there a slippery slope once we start taking personal responsibility for actions not done by us, not seen or heard by us, not capable of being stopped by us and not explicitly approved by us?
All of that seems like too much worry... which is papanca.
If someone sees that there is something which he can do, then he should do it. It's that simple. Really! There's no need to worry about what he can't do... or to build a kind of worldview in which he feels like he can't do anything.
It reminds me of the sutta where a man just allows himself to be taken, like a rag doll, only to be carried over to a fire pit, and then thrown in. To me, that is underdeveloped volition. It's no good for practice.
Does eating meat imply the tacit consent to the farmer to slaughter living beings even though that person eating meat would never harm a living being willingly themselves and who would by default become a vegetarian if the livestock industry stopped altogether?
If a person buys a meat, then he's handed over his money to a slaughterhouse. There's no question about that. (The market is only a middleman.) To not acknowledge this, especially if the person is aware of where the meat came from, would be an exercise in willful ignorance.
I don't think that to intentionally cultivate one's own ignorance (and also the poor volition) is even good at all for the practice. Discernment is one of the seven factors for the awakening (dhamma vicaya). We should exercise that to its fullest if we want a mind that is well trained, and also able to tell the difference in between things.
If someone in here, for example, wants to try justify buying their meat via using the Pali Canon... then I think they should know that the bhikkhus don't buy or even procure their own meat. They basically wait for it. (Or at least I think the sincere ones do.) This difference seems to be quite significant to me. If the person can't see this... then I think there might be no hope for that person to extricate himself from any kind of dukkha, especially the subtle ones.
Given the enormity of the livestock industry, does your not eating meat really make a difference and on what basis would you make that assertion?
There are 10 billion people in this world. I think that killing just one person should also be seen as insignificant considering this number. It's not going to make any kind of dent to the population, at all... yet, it's still a gross action. Why?
Just in case anyone in here doesn't realize the enormity of that above number: If a person kills 1,000 people a week, and then tries to keep up with that action weekly, till all of the current population is completely wiped out... that's going to take him 192,307 years to complete the task. That even makes the killing of 1,000 people in a week seem like it should be insignificant.
Obviously, none of that has to do with numbers.
It has to do with the kamma and its fruits... which includes the actions coming out of everything and everyone that are around you; how you do your practice within that; whether you can manage to get your own habits, intention and volition trained well enough (not to mention whether your own discernment has been developed well enough, for you to be able to train these, in a way that is wholesome), so that you can be liberated from all the dukkha, which will inevitably arise out of all of that.
There's a famous saying from the Dhammapada that talks about drops of water dripping inside a jar...
The insignificance (or the enormity) of it all has nothing to do with it, period. It's not for the lazy, or even fainthearted. The Mahayana traditions even have these strange ideas of there being various kinds of bodhisattvas, who aren't even fazed by any of that, for Buddha's sake. I believe that Theravadin practitioners are capable of developing that kind of strong volition in their own practices... without having to be a bodhisattva.
Finally, do people who live in well developed nations, nations without significant poverty or the threat of famine or malnutrition if a vegetarian diet was taken up, have a greater ethical responsibility to become vegetarians due to the fact that they can actually afford to do so?
As far as I know, many of the people in India are poor by our standards... many of them are (or were?) vegetarians. Also, we still would need to have plenty of food for the cows, if we wanted meat. Even the chickens, if we wanted a regular supply available.
I want to stress again that none of this really has anything to do with the idea of meat eating, but to do with our perceptions and views, how they're constructed, and how these would affect our own practice. There are always a lot of subtle things going on with that... it would take a sharp mind to discern all of these wholesome and unwholesome states. It takes a lot of hard work, and meditation.
We really need to develop our mindfulness and concentration, to the extent where we will not lose ourselves so easily in that kind of fabrications... so that we will not get swept away into the wild ocean of samsara, which makes up this world.