Today I will explain the Chinese character for “meat.” There's a verse which goes:
In the character for “meat” there are
The one inside is covering the one outside.
Living beings eat the flesh of living beings:
If you really think about it, doesn't it
amount to people eating people?
There are two characters for “person”（人）in the Chinese character for “meat”（肉）. One of them is eating the meat, and the other is being eaten. The person who is eating the meat has his head outside the character, and the one being eaten has his head inside. In this life, if you eat my flesh, in the next life I'll eat yours. I'll return the favor, and it'll be a fair deal. Because everyone is paying back these debts of enmity, there is never a day of peace in the world. Wars break out, and living beings slaughter one another. The law of cause and effect is never off, and each person receives exactly the retribution he or she deserves.
The person outside the character for “meat” is eating the one inside. Maybe the one being eaten was your friend in a previous life, who has now assumed a different form. If you eat his flesh, you are setting up conditions of enmity and he'll seek revenge in the future. He'll definitely eat your flesh in return, for that's the only way he can get rid of the hatred in his heart. There's no end to the cycle of vengeance. If you don't eat meat, your debts of enmity are cancelled and your enemies turn into friends. The person inside the character for “meat” may have been your close relative in a past life. Even though he has taken on a different appearance now, how can you bear to eat his flesh?
Buddhism advocates equality and compassion, and teaches us not to eat the flesh of living beings. Well, how can you break the habit of eating meat? It's very easy. When you have the urge to eat meat, just think: “That's the stinking flesh of a corpse!” If you contemplate in this way, gradually you'll lose the taste for meat. Meat-lovers ought to try this method!
A talk given on October 23, 1983