Welcome to the forum, Chah!
You wrote, “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?”
Yes. No one said otherwise. Taking a life is an evil action.
– But someone buying meat at the supermarket is not taking a life. That animal was killed by someone else days ago.
Now, there are some minor related issues. Those could become major issues depending on the “spiritual level” of the person.
– Some people say that if people stop eating meat, that animal would not have been killed.
– That is true, but that is why I said my statement is not to condone eating meat.
– Some people (especially meditators) do not eat meat due to that way of thinking, and that is great.
But as you pointed out, the Buddha did not want to “make a rule out of it” even for the bhikkhus. But bhikkhus are not supposed to accept a meal if an animal was killed for just that meal (i.e., if a chicken was killed for the meal, for example).
The main point is that most of our actions involve hurting other living beings in some way. It is virtually impossible to live without doing harm to other living beings.
– Even when we walk, we inadvertently kill so many small creatures.
– The water we drink has so many microscopic creatures.
– When we clean the house, we inadvertently kill many living beings.
– Furthermore, if we push your argument a bit more, eating rice or any other food would be bad too. How many animals are killed by farmers when they grow any kind of food? An uncountable number of living-beings are killed when a farmer prepares the soil for planting, and even when harvesting the crop.
It is a good idea to examine the relative strengths of such inadvertent actions versus some other actions we may not think about.
– The “level of existence” or the “level of consciousness” plays a large role in the strength of a kamma. A human life is much more valuable than animal life. Even among humans, hurting one will magga phala would have much larger consequences. For example, killing an Arahant is an anantariya kamma, a much more potent kamma than killing an average human.
– Even verbally hurting another HUMAN is much worse than deliberately killing many small animals.
– Some of these discussed in, “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma”
This and related issues were discussed at the forum several times in the past. The following is one: “Abstaining from damaging plants and seeds”