Here is a quandary to consider. We saw before that a causal link can be discerned between eating meat and animals being killed. Nowadays there are many persons between these two points – the slaughter man, the meat packers, the distributors, etc. but in either its simplest or its most complex form the three key participants are (1) the slaughter man, the one who actually draws the knife across the animals throat; (2) the middleman who sells the meat and (3) the customer, the person who buys and consumes the meat. The existence of these three depends on each other.
Now it is obvious why the Buddha mentioned slaughter men, hunters, deer stalkers, fishermen, executioners, etc. as those who do not practice Dhamma (Samyutta Nikaya II,256). It is also clear enough why he described people who sell meat as failing to practice Right Livelihood (Anguttara Nikaya III,208). But curiously, nowhere does the Buddha complete what seems to be the logical sequence by mentioning the third and last link in the chain, the buyer/eater. Why is this? If killing an animal is wrong and if selling its meat is wrong, why isn’t buying its meat wrong too?
Here is another quandary. The Buddha said that his lay disciples should avoid making their living by five trades; these being trade in weapons (sattha), in human beings (satta), in meat (mamsa), in alcohol (majja) and in poisons (visa, Anguttara Nikaya III.208). Although this seems clear enough, looking at it a little more carefully might reveal something relevant to the question of meat eating. Why are these trades wrong, unwholesome or kammicly negative? Let’s have a look at arms.
While the blacksmith is forging steel to make a sword he is unlikely to have any evil intentions, he is probably preoccupied with forging his steel and he certainly does not kill anyone. The arms dealer who sells the sword does not kill anyone either. He’s just selling a commodity. So why did the Buddha consider arms manufacturing/trading to be a wrong means of livelihood? Obviously because weapons, like poisons make killing possible. Their main purpose, indeed their only purpose, is to kill. The arms dealer is centrally situated in a chain that could lead to someone being killed, even though he himself does not kill anyone. A, arms manufacturer – B, arms dealer – C, purchaser and killing. Now if we reverse this sequence and apply it to meat eating then surely the same conclusion would have to be drawn; C – eating meat – B, meat seller – A, slaughter man and killing. Why in both these cases has the Buddha left out one or two of the key links in these chains?