Before we go on further – this was one thing amongst many – Ma Tzu insisted on vegetarian food. In his monastery non-vegetarian food was absolutely prohibited. It takes me back to Gautam Buddha.
Gautam Buddha was a vegetarian, strictly vegetarian. And all his followers were vegetarians. That was a revolution in a way, because man had lived as a non-vegetarian for millions of years. And according to Buddha, he would remain a barbarian unless he became vegetarian. Killing life is destroying your own possibility of growth. You have to respect life; a reverence for life will help your growth of consciousness. And he was absolutely right.
But a strange incident happened, and this will show you how man’s cunning mind takes advantage, even of masters like Gautam Buddha.
He had made it clear to everybody that, “Whatever is given to you in your begging bowls, receive it with gratitude.”
And everybody knew that they were vegetarians, so people prepared vegetarian food.
“But don’t throw anything that is given to you with love and respect. Eat everything that falls into your begging bowl.”
One day a monk came with a very puzzled look. He said, “I am in a strange difficulty. A bird flying dropped a piece of meat into my begging bowl. I was coming back from begging in the city, to settle under some tree” – in the garden where they were staying – “to eat my food. Now the problem is, if I throw out this piece of meat I am going against your teaching that, ‘Everything has to be eaten that falls into your begging bowl.’ And if I eat it, I am still going against your teaching of, ‘Always be vegetarian.’ Now what am I supposed to do?”
The whole assembly of monks also were in a strange position: how is Buddha going to solve it?
Buddha thought, “If I say ‘throw it,’ that will become a universal thing. People will start choosing: whatever is good, delicious they will eat and the remaining they will throw out. The country supports the monks. This will be against the people who are supporting you. With great hardship they earn, and you throw away their food. So I cannot say to throw it out.
“And as far as birds are concerned, it is very unlikely that again, in the centuries following, any bird will repeat this. So there is no danger, if only one person eats on one day a small piece of meat.”
He said, “Eat everything that has fallen into your begging bowl.”
And this became for the cunning mind of man a loophole, that, “Buddha is not against meat; just you have not to kill, he is against killing. If meat is given to you, offered to you, you have to respectfully receive it.”