A Buddhist at Thanksgiving

The Buddha’s modern followers shouldn’t feel their spirituality conflicts with the autumn holiday.

by Trent M. Kays

Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, searched for answers to life’s questions more than 2,500 years ago. Though the Buddha never celebrated Thanksgiving, Buddhist Americans must balance his ancient beliefs with our country’s historic holiday.

Buddhists are traditionally considered vegetarians, but not all Buddhists practice in the same way. The Buddha never forbade meat. In fact, the Buddha also never created rules. He set up guidelines, but he also acknowledged that everyone has a different path to enlightenment.

So as a Buddhist, I have no qualms about eating meat. This is particularly important because I am cooking a Thanksgiving turkey this year.

I know many Buddhists who eat meat. The issue of eating meat can be contentious for some Buddhists. However, it needn’t be. Many see Buddhists as vegetarians because the Buddha suggested humans should refrain from killing. He meant we should not contribute to the suffering of the world.

However, the Buddha never said to not eat meat. Instead, he stressed that all life is worthy of reverence. So, this Thanksgiving as I prepare my turkey, I will understand it as not something separate from myself, but as something part of myself.

As a Buddhist, I find it quite easy to mindfully consume meat. I think about the food I am eating, about its place in my existence and how I am able to spread compassion because of it.

Throughout his life, the Buddha suggested the way to enlightenment was through the identification of suffering. That is, life is suffering, and by knowing this, we can begin to work toward eliminating it.

The turkey’s suffering didn’t end at its death. It continued in and through me. I absorbed it, and as such, I better understand the suffering around me.

This Thanksgiving, I will eat meat as I always do: mindfully. I hope you all do the same. Namaste.