“Not Food But Evil Actions That Matter”
With regards to the title, can we agree that the taking of life (for any purpose, but in particular for the purpose of the enjoyment of the taste of flesh) is an evil action? Meditators know that giving in to cravings multiplies kilesas. Giving in to the craving for flesh is no different. Killing (or paying others to kill) to obtain that flesh compounds the bad karma.
Eating of meat itself, is ok, but how is one going to acquire that meat without killing, without condoning killing, without supporting/paying for killing?
If someone found a fish that was dead on the beach and chose to eat it, that would be an acceptable action according to the criteria given in the Amagandha Sutra, as it did not involve killing, binding, cutting, stealing, torturing etc…. However if an animal is killed so that it’s flesh is made available for consumption, for the pleasure of taste, that is not acceptable, to the animal at the very least, and neither according to the criteria given in the Amagandha Sutra.
In terms of the monks and alms, I understand the Buddha did not forbid eating meat because to do so would impose extra burden on alms-givers, cause the creation of bad karma amongst alms-givers and monks who break the rules and a monk should cultivate the mental attitude of accepting whatever comes into the alms bowl as part of the practice.
There is great merit in giving alms to the Sangha, and imposing such rules on forbidding meat could cause the loss of such great merit to alms-givers. The Buddha could have weighed the harm in losing such great merit for alms-givers, against the harm done to animals in being killed for meat and evaluated the latter harm to be the lesser of the two. This does not lessen the culpability in having animals killed for meat.
If one looks at the criteria given for acceptable behaviour (killing, hurting, harming other beings…) it is clear that meat procured through the industry we have today violates the criteria of “acceptable”, given in the Amagandha Sutra and in the overall spirit of Buddhism: Benefit sentient beings, do not harm sentient beings, purify the mind.