Venerable Beopjeong Buddhist Priest’s Argument Against Dog Meat Consumption (English Translation) 법정스님의 개식용반대론
Korea became a co-host of the World Cup soccer tournament with Japan in 2002. Along with this great news was criticism by foreign animal welfare organizations on Korean dog meat consumption.
For Koreans, who remember having experienced a similar situation during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the general feeling was that it was a very perplexing insult.
Around the same time, it was uncovered that Koreans in Southeast Asia were slaughtering bears indiscriminately to extract their bile and it became a global issue. This is also a very grave reality and it’s a fact that we feel ashamed about it. However, despite this, there is no way to stop the illegal slaughter of dogs and bears because most Koreans agree with dog meat and the belief in Oriental medicine that bear bile(from the gall bladder) is an important medicinal ingredient that treats diseases is widespread in Korean society.
In discussing the dog meat issue, weekly magazine Hankyoreh21 (7/19/1996) fiercely defended Korean’s dog meat consumption. Reflecting the opinions and requests from many dog meat traders and dog meat consumers, it was evident that the editorial sided only with pro-dog meat views. However, their view went in a very strange direction and were rampant with ridiculous claims.
Hence, I would like to offer advice on such wrong attitudes and sentiments and, instill the fundamental Buddhist ideology of “Humanity towards animals” to contribute to the purification of the Korean society. With support from folklorist, Kang-Hyun Ju, weekly magazine Hankyoreh21 argued that Korean’s dog meat consumption should be understood and accepted because it is our traditional food culture. Also it argued that the fact that it is also practiced in China means it is deep-rooted in old historical traditions of the East and based on the cultural pluralism of food. Moreover, Hankyoreh21 argues that the East should not be influenced by the Western ideology of “Humanity towards animals.”
In the article, three arguments are problematic, that dog meat consumption is our tradition, that it is a matter of cultural pluralism, and that the “Humanity towards animals” is a Western ideology.
First, the argument that dog meat consumption is our traditional eating habit was the opinion of the general public up until now. However, what is the definition of our tradition? Can a past history be defined as a tradition? It is difficult to define something as a tradition in an environment where traditions from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, other folk traditions, and so on, are all mixed together. However, because the Buddhist cultural tradition is still very strong in Korea, and dog meat consumption directly violates the Buddhist’s ideology of “Humanity Towards Animals”, dog eating can never be a cultural tradition and is only an habit of some people. Dog meat consumption has become conspicuous nowadays but in the past dog meat was a taboo food for women and regarded as a distasteful food that was shunned by the society. And even if it was an eating habit of the past, just because it was done in the past does not mean, we have to continue doing it today. To say we do is a false -argument. Culture must progress with the flow of time.
Politics, judicial system and human rights have gradually become more advanced with social progress. So has culture. For example, Korean traditional dress from the Joseon Dynasty called the Hanbok, is bound to gradually become simplified to facilitate daily life, even if we didn’t necessarily convert to a Western style clothing. The same goes with the dietary lifestyle.
If you were to insist on only the past and tradition, it will be like arguing that monarchy and its system of hereditary succession as part of our long tradition should be restored and current democracy abolished. It’s an argument which fundamentally cannot be taken seriously.
Even though dog meat consumption could be accepted in the past when the food was scarce and physical labor was severe, the consumption of animals that are considered companions is barbaric in today’s environment, where varieties of other meat are plentiful, where machines have replaced most of the hard physical labor, and where the noble human emotion is demanded. Because humans began raising dogs to guard homes, as bodyguards and bred horses to protect their masters’ lives on the battlefield, these animals co-existed with humans in a close relationship. Therefore, slaughtering them and eating their meat should be considered a betrayal of their faith placed in humans. Regardless of the excuses for justification, we will not be able to shake off the guilt.
Despite what I’ve said, if you insist on tradition, I would like to ask the following question. One of the origins important to Eastern cultures is Chinese culture and among Chinese food cultures there was consumption of human flesh. It began when people died of starvation due to poor harvests and were eaten, and later on people would commit murder to satisfy their appetite, such as aristocrats who would rush to take away and eat the corpses of death-row convicts. Cannibalism became endemic in Chinese food culture and even a cook book for human flesh called “Cheol-Gyeong-Lok” was published during the late Song dynasty (Reference: Gyo-Mun-Sa Publication China’s Culture of Cannibalism). Moreover, the so-called great saint Confucius also enjoyed eating human flesh until his beloved disciple Jaro was murdered and served to him as a dish called ‘Hae’. So indeed, cannibalism is a distinct Chinese tradition. But if the Chinese insisted that cannibalism must be preserved today as a part of their tradition and cultural pluralism, how would this be received?
The term pluralism is used in many fields, but this term can have a dark side of evil. There are a lot of claims of truth in this world but the greatest truth will be selected by people.
Although pluralism might be necessary to prevent excessive warlike conflicts among different parties, eventually inferior and wrong claims will naturally disappear and only one truth will remain.
If pluralism is interpreted incorrectly, it can become a shield that hides fraud, incompetence and negligence. For example, in the past, to defend his long-term seizure of power, former president Park Chung-Hee argued for a so-called “Korean style democracy” appropriate for the circumstances of Korea. However, it is a known fact that he planned to permanently hold on to power by introducing Taiwan’s Presidential system.
Third, what about the weekly magazine Hankyoreh21‘s argument that the East should not be adjudicated to the West with its ideology of “Humanity towards animals”? This is in fact a very ignorant argument that does not even need an explanation and clearly shows that the media is not up to standard. Buddhism instructs us not to kill conscious animals. In the Dangun tale containing the story about the birth of our nation, a bear and a tiger are given opportunities to become human but only the bear passes the challenge, becomes a women, marries Hwan-Woong, the son of Hwan-In (means God) and gives birth to Dangun, the progenitor of mankind. In addition, in a Dan-Guk-Gyeong-Jeon(a sacred scripture) called “Sam-Il-Sin-Go,” humans and objects are both said to hold three truths. (Humans and objects are one love and have three truths. In a popular literature Heung-Boo-Jeon, Heung-Boo, who treats a swallow’s broken leg, receives a big reward from the haven.) Thus, we know that in our traditional ideology animals and nature are understood as having a friendly relationship with humans and in Buddhism this is even more so true.
Buddhism’s ideology of “Humanity towards animals” is directly presented in the ceremony of releasing captive animals to spare their lives.
While Korea’s traditional ideology is humaneness toward animals, Western ideology has a Christian tradition where God created all things in the universe for humans and allows the destroying of environments as well as the killing of animals to eat. Anyone who is a Buddhist would have been criticized by the Christians at least once for their difference in belief. However, in this dog meat debate what a pathetic logic it is to say repeatedly that the ideology of “Humanity towards animals” is a Western ideology, as well as producing an adverse effect of idolizing the Western ideology?
The weekly magazine HanKyoreh21 should keep in mind that the Western ideology of “Humanity towards animals” moved across there from the East. Through this dog meat debate, Hankyoreh21 ended up insisting obstinately that the animal discrimination ideology is an Eastern ideology. We must examine a few points from this debate.
First of all, our society is an immature society where popular attitudes based on one’s self-interest rather than intellect abound. A lot of people from all walks of life, all political and social strata, would agree with this view.
Second, if any of the media were to fail to perform their function and only accede to the dog meat trader’s demands, it would be no more than advertising (an infomercial) rather than informed debate. In the end, the media ends up misleading the public opinion of citizens by not acknowledging its own dogmatism. If the media were to fail to realize its own mistakes and maintain a type of attitude that focused only on criticizing military dictatorships like in the past, that would result in a more dangerous journalistic dictatorship.
Third, unscientific Korean traditional medicine is encouraging the indiscriminate use of animals. Using sources collected in their natural states as medicine is a method of the old days, when the medicinal ingredients were not identified. However, if there are medicinal ingredients in these animals and they were scientifically identified, then today we can synthesize them artificially and use that medicine. And yet, Korean traditional medicine continues to practice the old methods of indiscriminately slaughtering animals to use as medicine, and if these practices are extended to using human organs, it will be no different than barbarism. Bon-Cho-Gang-Mok (a medical book written by Si-Jin Lee of the Ming Dynasty in the 16th Century) is a textbook for Korean traditional medicine composed of 52 chapters, and it has a chapter on human anatomy stating that all organs of human can be processed and used to treat illnesses.
Now is the time for Korean traditional medicine to awaken, stop inciting animal slaughter as did in the past, take a step forward towards progress and change itself as a medical science that conforms to the ideology of “Humanity towards animals”.
Fourth, despite the fact that Buddhists make up half of our total population, Buddhism hasn’t taken a leadership position in our society. It is out of step with the core of society and is neglected as a “back alley” religion. While Buddhists are fanatically passionate about their struggle for religious rights, it’s a reality that when it comes to important social issues their influence is minor. They take a backseat when the argument that today’s ideology of “Humanity towards animal” originated from the West is rampant. We must escape from this type of lower class Buddhism as soon as possible and bring about a genuine transformation.
Fifth, the basis for dog meat consumption is that a dog’s mating time is over an hour and several times longer than for cows or horses. Snakes have even longer mating time than dogs and this is the real reason why Koreans eat dogs and snakes, seeing them as sexual enhancers. Such an excessive obsession over virility by Koreans probably has a correlation to the fact that Korea ranks third in the world for sexually violent crimes. Furthermore, it can be analyzed that an excessive sexual obsession is most likely the cause of our society’s frequent orphan exports and reckless abortions. If we are only absorbed in Korean-style divisional conflicts during the day and indulge only in sexuality at night, this would be a lower class culture distinctive to Korea.
When we see people indiscriminately preying on frogs hibernating between the crevices in the creek during winter, we know for sure that Koreans have a vulgar characteristic in them.
This is because they even search for frogs with the belief it will enhance virility.
As we have examined so far, dog meat consumption is an evil custom that doesn’t belong in a modern society, as well as a vice harmful to the mental health of our citizens.
In my opinion, the fact that our society has been wasting national resources on utterly divisive internal conflicts in all walks of life, such as politics, economy and religion from ancient times is a natural result of evil practice of betrayal and a loss of trust in humanity through the slaughtering and eating of dogs which is then applied consciously and unconsciously in human interactions.
Additionally, the slaughter of dogs causes severe pollution. In the process of mass breeding of dogs, a lot of noise pollution occurs and its negative effects on the public are serious.
To solve that dog farmers commit the cruelty of forcibly bursting dogs’ eardrums to reduce the noise of barking. There isn’t anything they won’t do in order to eat dog meat.
Moreover, to flavor the meat, sometimes the dogs are hung by the neck then mercilessly bludgeoned all over with a club, bursting their internal organs and killing it brutally and heartlessly. We must indeed call this a diabolical behavior. And even after the dog is dead, it is blow torched to burn off their fur, causing odors to spread throughout the neighborhood. There are so many dog traders who make their living adversely effecting human minds and greatly polluting the society just for the eating of dog meat. This is in fact a waste of national resources as well as blasphemy against human society.
If someone were to ask me why not just preach vegetarianism instead of opposing only dog meat consumption, since dogs and cows are all animals, it’s because I take a Buddhist’s moderate standpoint.
We can never consider dogs and humans to be equal. However, by considering dogs who are closest to our lives differently, we lay a foundation for the transition of our consciousness regarding a love for the animals. Asking people to refrain from eating all meat can easily be considered as a creed of a certain religion and it will be like an argument that can never be realized.
When we prevent the slaughter of dogs, we will implicitly develop deep affection towards other animals as well. Some people may look upon the love for the animals as hypocrisy and think it replaces love for fellow humans. However, there’s not even a need for discussion on this because someone who loves animals would without a doubt love fellow humans, and also love for the animals would be an opportunity to develop unconditional love for the fellow human.
From the viewpoint of Buddhism, because dogs are very close to our lives, they are often reincarnated as humans in the infinite cycle of life, death and rebirth. When you look at the Mook-Ryun-Gyeong(a Buddhist scripture, Sutra), it’s written that the mother of Mook-Ryun(a disciple of Buddha) sinned while living, endured the suffering of hell, and was reborn as a dog.
Although this is a mythical tale difficult to believe, there is a famous tale in Buddhism during the Japanese colonial period about a man who was abusive towards his puppy, and he had dreams where his deceased mother repeatedly appeared and harshly scolded him by saying “how could you continue to abuse me so much?” Finally he came to believed that his dog was his reincarnated mother and thereafter treated the puppy with kindness.
To maintain the integrity of human life, to purify of our emotions for the peace in our society, dog slaughter and dog meat consumption must disappear. The government must strictly govern and eradicate ruthless dog killing and dog farm noise pollution from this society by actively intervening in this issue and thoroughly enforcing the current laws prohibiting this practice.
From the viewpoint of animal rights activists, Spain’s bullfighting is also a serious problem. Bullfighting is an atrocious game where the spectators enjoy the cruel and evil competition of a bull being thoroughly ridiculed and then killed with a single stroke of sword. It must be eradicated through international condemnation and pressure.
Boxing also is a cruel game that strikes the head, the most important in human, knocking people out and occasionally we can witness some of these fighters dying. Some doctors have argued that boxing should be prohibited by law. In addition, guns, knives and other weapons are common among children’s toys and promoting these to children results in the encouragement of a cruel, evil, barbaric and combative society.
If this dog meat debate paves the way to control the violent barbarism in every corner of our society, then the countless dogs already dead would not have died in vain, but would have played the role in the important foundation for peaceful society.
[September 1996 ‘World of Established Rule’]