For many, taking on the practice of vegetarianism is done with the idea of reducing harm to other beings. Having been a vegetarian for many years, this was also one of my principle motivations (the principle one being that I found more personal happiness and peace by not eating meat).
Does Vegetarianism Reduce Harm?
It is commonly argued that while vegetarianism does reduce harm in some ways (preventing the slaughter of animals and not actively causing another person to kill an animal for one’s meal), it is argued that there is still a great deal of harm caused.
As Lama Zopa argues in this interview:
Also, of course, many insects die in the growing of food itself. When gardens are dug and fields are plowed, so many insects get killed. As I always say, think how many die for even one grain of rice. Paddies are dug, flooded and drained; many sentient beings die at each stage of growing one crop of rice. And that rice came from a previous crop, and that from the one before and so forth back to the time when rice began to be harvested, perhaps thousands of years ago. So how many beings have suffered and died during that incalculable period? And how many people have created negative karma harming others in that way? These are unimaginable numbers. For one grain of rice.
The Bigger Solution
Vegetarianism can be a good starting point in tweeking one’s intention towards not harming others, but it obviously isn’t the main goal. One of the great things about Buddhism is the greater viewpoint it offers, showing to really help others, one has to look at the bigger picture and work for it. As Lama Zopa states in this interview:
So you can see, there’s basically no pleasure or comfort we enjoy that does not involve numberless sentient beings’ suffering, death and negative karma. That’s why it’s so urgent that we practice Dharma. It’s the most important thing we can do, more important than anything else.
If you don’t attain liberation from the ocean of samsara or enlightenment in this life, then you need to get an upper rebirth in your next life, meet and practice Dharma, develop your mind, and in that way achieve liberation from samsara and eventually the full enlightenment of buddhahood.
So achieving liberation from samsara is the main answer, the most important thing for your own sake and that of other sentient beings, for them not to suffer or die. Freeing yourself from samsara is the solution to all that. And then, of course, on top of that, achieving enlightenment so that you can liberate numberless sentient beings from the ocean of samsara and bring them to full enlightenment too. This is your greatest purpose and the best way to benefit others: achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.
Thus you can see how achieving enlightenment in order to liberate numberless sentient beings from the ocean of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment is of the greatest urgency, the most important thing in daily life. Wow!