The Love of Life

31. Mercy Begins at the Dinner Table

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During the Ming dynasty, a Buddhist called Wang Ch’eng was always willing to help others, especially orphans and the poor.

Every day Wang chanted Buddhist sutras, or scripture. In general, he was very pious, but for some reason, there was one rule of Buddhism he did not obey: he was not a vegetarian.

He lived during a bad period. There were many disasters. Bandits and outlaws roamed the country. Wang was worried. He heard that a monk living in a cave practiced Buddhism so hard that he could tell the past and the future. He knew the causes of present conditions and the effects the future would bring. Wang decided to visit him for instruction, even though the way was long and dangerous.

Finally, after many difficulties, Wang reached the monk’s cave. He addressed the monk. “Your heavenly honor, the world today is full of bandits and outlaws. The people are oppressed by those bearing weapons. We do not know how to keep living. We living creatures are drowning in a sea of disasters. We call upon you, sir, to show mercy by giving us a hand and helping us survive.”

The monk smiled. “You are Wang Ch’eng, aren’t you?”

Wang was startled. “Yes, sir, but how could you know my name? What is your honor’s instruction?”

“If you cannot be a vegetarian, you’re just wasting our time with these questions.”

Wang continued asking questions, but the monk had no more to say to him, so Wang had to go home and think over what he had learned. He decided that he really did have to stop eating the carcasses of dead animals.

Several years later, Wang presented himself at the cave again. When the monk saw him, he laughed. “That’s more like it! You have understood, and you have finally taken the teachings of mercy to heart.

“We live in treacherous times. The country is full of bandits. Only those who do not kill may live in peace. This is the balance of the universe.”

With that, the monk closed his eyes and continued his meditation.

Wang Cheng returned home to tell everybody that nobody who kills any living creature can hope for peace, because killing causes killing. If you eat meat, you are responsible for many deaths, so even if you do good deeds, you cannot enjoy true peace. To enjoy peace, you have to earn it by creating peace, not suffering. The best way to do that is to respect all life and eat only vegetarian food.


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