Thursday, November 26, 2009

The concept of "Halal" in Buddhism

Many Buddhists are not aware that there could possibly be such thing as "halal" and "non-halal" in Buddhism, but with some difference. The word "halal" needless to say is an arabic word commonly used in the Islamic religion to mean...

"...lawful or legal... is an Arabic term designating any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law. It is the opposite of haraam." Wikipedia.

We are not going to use that meaning of "halal". But we are borrowing that term and interprete it according to Buddhist precepts and morality. Hence, a halal food according to Buddhism is a food that does not involve killing and fulfills at least the 4 minimum criteria mentioned by the Buddha in order for a meat to be considered "pure".

As for halal shares, that would be shares of companies that do not involve directly or indirectly on activities that result in committing the ten negative deeds (akusala karma). Hence, if you want to be free of akusala karma, buy only shares that are from companies that promote the ten positive deeds (kusala karma). But negative karma is not just generated from their activities alone. We also got to see how the company treats its employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders (including the environment). If a company is known to be abusing its employees, then even though its products may be wholesome or 'halal', but seriously, the company is generating unwholesome karma daily if it's involved in damaging the environment or other aspects. And everyone who works or supports its products, indirectly supports the abusive behaviour continuously. So the concept of 'halal' must also be looked at from various angles, not just the company's product or main activities.

Furthermore, due to the fact that different motivation and other factors of the actions will result in different intensity of the karma, the halal concept in Buddhism will need to have a multi-tiered halal-ness (instead of just two choices: halal or haram). In Buddhism, it's not just black or white. There are many shades in between. So we must recognise that. In applying it to food, vegetarian food will be considered more halal than meat food. And organic vegetarian food will be even more halal than normal vegetarian food. However if a tantric practitioner can transform a meat and actually benefit the animal, then whether it is halal or not, it doesnot matter anymore. This same principle can be applied in determining the halal rating for a business corporation. In Buddhism, concept are meant to benefit sentient beings. If you can benefit beings regardless of concepts, then concepts become meaningless and you can set it aside. It's like the Buddhist saying that the boat is only for ferying you across the river. Once you have crossed it, you can abandon the boat. You don't carry it with you.

So we can see an important point here about the concept of halal in Buddhism. It is not a straight jacket, i.e. either something is halal or it is not. There are various "shades" of it in between. And it is also not something that if you donot follow, you will be punish or you are condemned. In Buddhist, it is not forced, i.e. the choice is left to the individual. We create our own karma, be it good or bad. There is no holy book in Buddhism that determines for us what is always good and what is always bad. If an action results in negative karma, then Buddhists consider that "not good". If vice-versa, then "good". It's not so much that specific action itself, but other factors behind the action such as motivation and the resulting condition of the action on others.

The same action involving the same things can create a huge bad karma for one person and very little for another, and none at all for another. The case in point here is a person who eats meat and donot practices dharma nor have any good motivation for animal that sacrificed its meat. The second person practices the dharma and have positive thoughts on animals. At least for this seciond person, the animal benefits by his dharma practice. The third person is the lama who is able to transform the meat and benefit the animal that gave its meat

I can elaborate more on this 'halal' concept from the perspective of Buddhism but this is the gist of it. So as a Buddhist, I will try not to buy shares from Genting, for example, because they are involved in gambling activities. And many persons have lost millions of dollars in their activities and in fact, many people have been known to commit suicide due to having lost so much money in gambling debt. By investing in such companies, we are indirectly supporting those gambling activities and death by suicide. Remember we have not yet included the possibility of the rampant cheating that is supposedly known to be happening daily at casinos. I am not accusing any company of cheating, but we will never know, right? While I am aware that no company (and in fact no one, except the Buddha) is perfectly free from committing negative actions, we must try as best we could at the level of practice we are at.

So sometimes we think that we are good Buddhists but then wonder where do we get all the bad karma from? We don't know because we do not realise the actions that we do are in fact generating little little karmic impact on us. Remember the saying..."tiny drops of water makes an ocean"...something like that? So as Buddhist we must remember and be aware of inter-dependent factors and how everything affects every other things. It's a very dynamic system. A small action can have a huge impact.

I am not sure if you have heard of what I have written on this halal topic from any other Buddhist, but I surely haven't. However, these are merely my thoughts on the concept of 'halal' and what it would mean if applied in Buddhism. Therefore, if you think there is any incorrect interpretation or misapplying the concept, then please share your views. In the meantime, take care and may all beings be well and happy!

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