It is very clear we do not encourage any form of killing, whether directly or indirectly. This is a precept and we must always strive to uphold this principle. I do not want to use the word “prohibited” because in Buddhism, we do not have laws. The practice of precepts is motivated by oneself through right understanding.
Why do we use the word ‘encourage’ here? It is because when we say Pānātipātā vēramani sikkhāpadam samādiyami – we observe the precept to train oneself not to kill. It is not “Thou shall not kill” as it is not a law. The Buddha reasoned that it is good and worthy for a wise human being to refrain from killing. Why? Just as we do not like to be tortured and harmed, other living beings too do not want to be tortured and harmed. Therefore as intelligent and compassionate human beings, it is wise for us to refrain from killing.
Killing generate dark, unwholesome karmic energy. This I turn brings harm and danger for yourself in this life and lives to come. Besides, it has been seen that killing almost always brings disaster and calamity to society. It is very well understood that this is not a rule, but a training precept that we understood that this is not a rule, but a training precept that we undertake with the right understanding.
In the same token, vegetarianism is encouraged in Buddhism but is not compulsory. Why? If you make it compulsory, Buddhism will be confined to a small minority. Suppose today you are not a vegetarian, but the door is still opened to you to practise Buddhism. You start your practices, cultivate precepts and learn to meditate. In time, you start cultivating great compassion and love in your mind. Eventually you will develop a higher consciousness and reflect upon how consuming meat and fish is in fact encouraging liking. This realisation will gradually lead you to become a pure vegetarian out of great compassion and wisdom.
Consider this: If being vegetarian is made compulsory, many people will not be given a chance to develop the path of understanding Buddhist teachings, and eventually change. This is why Buddhism opens its door to all, including criminals and murderers. Whatever evil, wicked, immoral and unwholesome things you have done in you life, Buddhism still keeps the door open to all. That is why Angulimala, during buddha’s time, who killed almost a thousand people, eventually realised his mistakes and became an enlightened monk.
Vegetarianism is not even compulsory for Buddhist monks and nuns. If Buddha made vegetarianism. Compulsory for a monk or nuns. If Buddha made vegetarianism compulsory for a monk or nun, they might not be able to practise. Buddhism encourages the interdependence of the community of monks, nuns and lay people. This allows the opportunity to learn and practise the Dhamma. So if the devotees offer fish, the monks had to accept fish as food to survive. If a monk were to insist on being vegetarian, he may not be able to survive as vegetarianism is not part of the diet of the local community where the monks is living in.
What is important here is the purity of your mind! Have you heard of Adolf Hitler? Hitler was a vegetarian. The point that I am making is that one can be a vegetarian but still be evil, wicked and unwholesome. In spite of being a vegetarian, Hitler’s mind, actions and words were impure, and he brought a lot of destruction to the world. On the other hand, there may be people who are not vegetarians, but do not harm or kill living beings. Whatever he eats, his mind is full of compassion, goodwill and friendship. Which one is more superior in the practical sense? Just because someone is vegetarian does not mean he is pure. Likewise, it does not mean we discourage vegetarianism. The emphasis is on the qualities of a he mind!